A fringe anti-Islamic group’s hate campaign against Muslims has sparked a backlash, with police investigating death threats and an apparent attempted murder, and a warning that this report contains offensive language.
SARAH FERGUSON, PRESENTER: Police and Australia’s domestic spy agency are investigating a fringe anti-Islamic group waging a hate campaign against Australian Muslims.
The Australian Defence League has been following and photographing Muslim women on public transport, displaying anti-Islamic posters outside mosques and filming at Muslim schools and posting the videos online.
The League, which incites its followers to violence, is led by a former soldier who claims to have support from within the Defence Force.
His group has only a few paid members, but an unknown number of followers. The campaign has fuelled a backlash, with police investigating death threats and an apparent attempted murder.
Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop has been investigating the Australian Defence League, and a warning: this report contains some offensive language.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP, REPORTER: This is the Australian Defence League in action, waging a vicious hate campaign against Muslims on the streets of Sydney.
AUST. DEFENCE LEAGUE MEMBER: We are not a hate group, but we are a group that does hate Islam – period.
RALPH CERMINARA, PRESIDENT, AUST. DEFENCE LEAGUE: We have Muslims gang raping, killing the father and mother for an unpaid bill, just the other day. Molestering seven girls in one day. Multiple wives. Female genital mutilation. Spreading their disgust for our country and our Government.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: The Australian Defence League is a far-right anti-Islamic group set up in 2009. It’s a registered not-for-profit organisation. Its mission is to have Islam banned in Australia.
RALPH CERMINARA: Hello everyone. I am the president of the ADL, the Australian Defence League. I’m also an ex-soldier from the Australian Army.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Ralph Cerminara has been the Australian Defence League’s national president for more than three years. He’s been visiting mosques to put up anti-Islamic posters, ratcheting up tensions with the Muslim community with his poisonous rhetoric.
RALPH CERMINARA: So we’re not out there going after Muslims with pitchforks and things like that.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: But you are going after Muslims individually?
RALPH CERMINARA: Well of course. They’re coming after us. They’re raping our children. They’re raping our families. They are – now in the west, it’s pretty much a crime capital of Sydney and we all know what’s going on down there.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Ralph Cerminara uses social media to campaign against the country’s Muslims. This was recently posted on Facebook.
RALPH CERMINARA (male voiceover, Facebook post): “I’m calling for the end of Islam in our country and hopefully the world. If Muslims have to die then so be it. It is us against them.”
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: And Ralph Cerminara made this call to action to more than 12,000 followers.
RALPH CERMINARA (male voiceover, Facebook post): “Do you have bed sheets walking around in your community? Do you know what is under that sheet? Take photos wherever you are and send them to us.”
(In person)… We’ve encouraged the public to actually take photos of people in public areas where, legally, you’re allowed to take it.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: The Australian Defence League has been stalking Muslim women on public transport.
This mother of three was on the morning train in Sydney just over a fortnight ago when she was secretly photographed by an Australian Defence League member. She had no idea what had happened until she got to work. She’s still so scared; she’ll only speak to us anonymously.
ANONYMOUS WOMAN: My friend called to warn me that my picture was up on the ADL Facebook page. As soon as I saw the picture, I went into shock.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: The picture was accompanied by this caption.
ADL FACEBOOK PAGE CAPTION (male voiceover): “Are you having problems getting a man? Then join Islam, taking the world’s rejects, paedophiles and weak-minded people for thousands of years.”
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: It provoked vile comments on the Australian Defence League Facebook page.
Fearful for her safety, the woman turned to Maha Abdo from the Muslim Women’s Association.
MAHA ABDO, MULSIM WOMEN’S ASSOCIATION: Why are they attacking women? Why are they taking photos without their consent? Whether it is racism or it is not, it’s not about that anymore. It’s about the effect of their words and their – you know, their reaction on normal, average people.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: The woman is now on stress leave.
ANONYMOUS WOMAN: When I’m alone, I have panic attacks. I need to, you know, see a counsellor and work through my fears to see if I can go back on a train and get over this.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Ralph Cerminara is unapologetic about targeting Muslim women.
RALPH CERMINARA: They are putting that hijab on themselves, the same as a person putting up a satanic star around their neck. We know what they stand for by putting that on.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: So they deserve to be ridiculed online?
RALPH CERMINARA: Um, well, in a public forum, if that’s the way it has to happen, well then so be it.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: In the videos it makes, the Australian Defence League boasts of strong support from within the Defence Force, including amongst naval officers in Operation Sovereign Borders.
This song, by an ADL member, is called Border Patrol. It’s a violent call to arms against Muslims and asylum seekers.
RALPH CERMINARA: We have a huge support from the Defence Force – or the personnel in the Defence Force, I should say. There’s a lot of members in the Army that are still naturally involved with us, and when the time comes, they will be on our side.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Earlier this year, the Navy launched an investigation into the involvement of Navy personnel in the Australian Defence League. This month it announced several sailors had been dismissed for bigoted posts on social media, but it found no serving Navy personnel were ADL members.
Two months ago, Nathan Abela was made the Australian Defence League’s Western Sydney president.
He’s been stirring up trouble by handing out anti-Muslim pamphlets at shopping centres.
Nathan Abela also targeted Australia’s biggest Islamic school.
NATHAN ABELA, ADL PRESIDENT, WESTERN SYDNEY: Absolutely ridiculous. Why do you need 10-foot walls outside a school with a security checkpoint for a simple mosque and school? What’s going on in there?
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Last month, he filmed the Malek Fahd School in Sydney’s south-west and posted the video on YouTube.
NATHAN ABELA: Why do we need four f***ing locks in the middle of Sydney with a mosque in it and children like this? So, I dare say they’re keeping and locking up people inside there…
RAY BARRETT, PRINCIPAL, MALEK FAHD ISLAMIC SCHOOL: He was indicating that things might’ve been going on here, like terrorism. Why somebody would indicate that there was something un-Australian going on behind the walls when all it is is one of New South Wales’ top schools.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: It so worried headmaster Ray Barrett that he called the police, who alerted the counter-terrorism command and ASIO.
RAY BARRETT: It was the subsequent Facebook comments that disturbed some people. Comments like, “Wait until people are inside the mosque and then we’ll do an RPG and a C4,” and for people my age, I had to Google that to know it’s rocket-propelled grenades and plastic explosives and, you know, pretty damaging – or inciteful – inciteful stuff.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Students were appalled by the comments about their school.
RAY BARRETT: What did you think about it?
RAY BARRETT: Stupid?
STUDENT II: Terrible.
STUDENT III: It was very racist.
RAY BARRETT: Yes.
STUDENT III: Yes.
RAY BARRETT: And how’d you feel about that?
STUDENT III: Threatened.
STUDENT IV: I thought it was really disrespectful of him to start trouble throughout the community.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Nathan Abela’s campaign provoked a series of threats from Muslim activists.
ZAKY MALLAH, MUSLIM ACTIVIST: Hey, Nathan? You and your other ADL thugs … we will take you on, nose to nose.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Some went even further.
MUSLIM ACTIVIST II: Nathan, you are making yourself a clear target for the Muslims out there. … If you do not accept Islam as your salvation, there will come a time where Jesus, peace be upon him, he will come back. And when he comes back, he won’t be in (inaudible). It’s either you will accept Islam as your salvation or you will die by the sword.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: A few days later, gun shots were fired into Nathan Abela’s home.
NATHAN ABELA: Went like this (opening blind and looking out of window), looked, (closing blind) went like that, “Nathan, is that you?” Turned around and f***ing yes, it is and just f***ing – from about here to where the table is, I jumped and I was bang, bang, bang, bang, fired at.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Where did the bullets go?
ZAKY MALLAH: I was surprised that it happened, but I was more surprised that it didn’t happen sooner.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Muslim activist Zaky Mallah says the ADL was looking for trouble.
ZAKY MALLAH: I think everything that Nathan Abela and Ralph have done has built up to the point where an individual or a group of individuals have taken the laws into their own hand and decided to do something about it.
NATHAN ABELA: I’m adamant it’s – the Islamic community have their hands deep into what happened. They are involved in what happened, definitely.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Nathan Abela claims the ADL is still receiving threats like this one:
CALLER: I’m going to put a whole clip in you, you f***ing dog. Do you know who you’re f***ing with, you piece of s**t?
MALE VOICE: Who am I f***ing with?
CALLER: The whole f***ing clip, I’m going to f***ing put it in you, you ****sucking mutt, righteously.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Last week, anxious Muslims met with police to demand action against the Australian Defence League.
WOMAN: Why aren’t you saying that this is not acceptable in Australian society the same way that everyone’s quick to jump on the barrel as soon as a Muslim person steps out of line?
MAN: They are a serious threat to public order and danger to community harmony and that’s why we are here tonight.
NICK KALDAS, NSW DEPUTY POLICE COMMISSIONER: It’s unacceptable, we will not tolerate it and we will be there to do something about it.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Senior police say they’re taking the conflict seriously.
NICK KALDAS: There is a fairly large investigation going on at the moment in relation to all the stuff they’ve done on the internet. There’s also some legal advice that we need to get and some of the offences we can’t charge until approval’s given by the Attorney-General’s Department, and that will be pursued, obviously.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: Police have since laid charges against Nathan Abela, including trespassing and using the internet to menace, harass or offend.
Australia’s most senior Muslim leader, the Grand Mufti, is urging Muslims not to turn to violence.
IBRAHIM ABU MUHAMMAD, GRAND MUFTI OF AUSTRALIA: Angry reactions will not bring your rights. Angry reactions will make you a suspect, instead of a victim. And this will open avenues for the real suspect to evade justice.
SEAN RUBINSZTEIN-DUNLOP: He warns the ADL poses an extreme danger.
IBRAHIM ABU MUHAMMAD: They want to explode society. Organisations created in the name of defending Australia want to start a fire in all Australia. They deal with the most precious thing a human being has, and that is his beliefs.
SARAH FERGUSON: Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop reporting.