The rural fight against fascism

Katie Thorburn looks into the group saying no to bigotry in New South Wales’ Central West.

USyd is a hotbed for politics. Yet often enough we don’t look outside our university bubble to see the activism occurring in other communities, particularly regional and rural communities. There’s a stereotype that those outside of the inner-city are bigots or, at the very least, politically disinterested. I looked into a Facebook group that is fighting the far right in regional towns, to see if the Central West features more bigots or resistance to bigots.

The page ‘The Central West says “no” to Bigotry and Fascism’ is largely run by residents of Bathurst, a regional town in Central West NSW. Bathurst is one of the largest regional cities in the area, alongside Orange and Dubbo. Over the years far-right groups like Antipodean Resistance, Reclaim Australia, and the UPF have tried to influence the locals.

“The Antipodean Resistance activity here in Bathurst is the major issue,” the administrator of the page tells me. The source, who wishes to remain anonymous, adds that “there are a number of Newcastle True Blue Crew who moved into Lithgow to stir up opposition to a proposed mosque there.

The page started in response to posters advertising the Antipodean Resistance group in  Bathurst in early January. The Antipodean Resistance is a neo-Nazi and fascist group in Australia whose slogan is “white revolution is the only solution.” The likes of Nick Folkes and Toby Cook—well-known fascist leaders—have directly tried to influence the area by visiting into towns like Lithgow. Infamous far-right figure and current Australia First Party chairman Jim Saleam even attempted to run for the seat of Cootamundra in last October’s by-elections, coming last in the process.

“The target audience of this page is anyone who opposes bigotry in all forms,” the admin says. “Although I started this page in response to what was happening in my own town, I signal boost for left-leaning pages all around Australia and sometimes beyond, and I have followers around the world at this point.”

The page has had several wins so far. It has prompted locals to take down Nazi posters and speak up in discriminatory situations. The page has also networked with other anti-fascist groups, such as Yelling At Racist Dogs.

Predictably, the page faced backlash at first. The admin says that there were “a number of nippers (highschool aged wannabe nazis) in Blayney and Mudgee” targeting the page when it launched.

The admin says that there is a bit of truth to the claim that rural people are intolerant of difference.

“I do believe there is [a] stereotype of regional towns being bigoted and it was somewhat true of the older population,” they said. “Until about 2015, people I knew were starting to follow pages like Reclaim Australia [and] UPF.”

However, they added, “But Bathurst at least had been pretty progressive among younger residents.”

There seem to be structural issues affecting left-wing organising in regional towns.

“There are actually quite a lot of left leaning people in regional areas, the problem is with them meeting each other,” they explained, “Finding the other people who share your views & organising is the hardest part about fighting fascism in regional areas.”

The admin suspects that long-time locals are not members of Antipodean Resistance; they think that the fascist group has probably sent members from the city to Bathurst, to spread their message westwards.

“You could say I’m becoming radicalised,” the admin reflects. “But I wasn’t radicalised by the left, it was exposure to the right that radicalised me.”