Telegram app becomes haven for neo-Nazi propaganda

“Want to do a sticker race”

Long before neo-Nazi propaganda started popping up this year on sites around the town of Wollongong and in Sydney’s CBD, the man calling himself Underland had started networking in Australia’s extremist scene online. Recordings of his communications obtained by this masthead reveal that Telegram served as the perfect platform. This allowed him to mask his identity as he sought advice and new introductions from entrenched extremist figures.

After Underland was directed to the Melbourne-based European Australian Movement on a neo-Nazi channel hosted by Telegram, Underland began communicating. His contact uses the pseudonym “Aussie Meditations”. In February, age and The Sydney Morning Herald identified the user of this pseudonym as Stefan Eracleous, a young former Liberal MP turned neo-Nazi from Victoria. Eracleous was responsible for a January 19 propaganda video showing three masked neo-Nazis burning an Aboriginal flag, reciting a white supremacy manifesto and attacking Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe.

In May, Underland asked Eracleous what “stickers do you have a [sic] how much do they cost… Me and some of the boys would like to have a sticker race.

Eracleous responded quickly, offering extremist stickers and posters that were “very cheap and good designs”.

It’s unknown if Eracleous helped Underland obtain neo-Nazi material, but it seems likely. After the pair exchanged messages, Underland embarked on a propaganda campaign around Wollongong, placing stickers and posters at several sites.

One of Underland’s goals appears to have been recruiting. Posters encouraged people to connect with his new neo-Nazi cell, the Illawarra Active, through his dedicated Telegram page. Young Australians were particular targets, with graffiti, stickers and posters placed on walls and signs at the University of Wollongong. Underland and a small number of others have also targeted local migrant communities. A Telegram post uploaded by the group shows him putting up “Islamists not welcome” posters at the Omar Mosque in Wollongong.

The exchange of messages in which ‘Underland’ requests neo-Nazi material from a Melbourne-based extremist.

Budding racists who responded to requests to follow Illawarra Active’s Telegram account have been confronted with increasingly disturbing content online. On May 21, the account shared a video promoting Australia’s European Movement and urged its followers to help “free” one of its leaders. The man is out on bail in Melbourne as he faces assault charges. His case has been turned into a rallying point by neo-Nazi groups across Australia.

On June 2, the Illawarra Active account shared material created by a group banned as a terrorist organization in Australia, the National Socialist Order based overseas. It included a video outlining core beliefs set out in a white supremacy book, Headquarterswhich has been used as inspiration by terrorist actors around the world and which advocates violent conflict with society at large.

“Terrorgram”

The New Zealand Royal Commission called after the Christchurch massacre noted that the Australian terrorist who carried out the atrocity was a follower of the views held in Headquartersespecially the idea that violent action should be embraced to accelerate the reach and power of white nationalism.

An image on Illawarra Active's social media site.

An image on Illawarra Active’s social media site.

The number of Australians who responded to the propaganda campaign by following Illawarra Active’s Telegram account appears to have been no more than around 50 at any one time, even after the group secured a publicity bounce from a Mercury of Illawarra June 6 article titled “Police investigate ‘white supremacist, neo-Nazi’ leaflets found on University of Wollongong campus”.

But while the group remains small, its Telegram channel reveals dedicated subscribers using the encrypted platform to communicate, publicize events and liaise with other neo-Nazi cells across Australia.

Researchers from the Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism in the United States recently described how Telegram has enabled the formation of a so-called “Terrorgram” community, which uses the encrypted platform as “the main point of organization online, identity building, propaganda distribution and more”.

The researchers analyzed thousands of Telegram messages from two new militant neo-Nazi networks to get a sense of their “diffuse networks” and their connection to the “threats of real violence they pose”.

The report warns that even small online cells can pose a tangible terrorist risk, citing the June 2021 foiling of a terrorist plot in Texas by a member of one of the two networks analyzed in the report.

“Telegram is in many ways an ideal platform for dangerous actors. It has good features, communications are encrypted, its user base is growing, and content moderation is virtually non-existent,” says Lydia Khalil, researcher at the Lowy Institute and author of the next book. Rise of the far right.

Obviously in Underland’s Telegram story, there’s a hunger to get off the internet and into the real world. In a thread with Adelaide terror suspect Eracleous and several EAM members, Underland discusses buying a large block of land to ‘create a decent community’ and starting a party White Australia policy. Political or racist violence is a deliberate theme in many posts.

Unintended consequences

But Underland’s online activity also has an unintended consequence, revealing a series of clues to his true identity. Three years of his internet posting, scrutinized by anti-fascist researchers from the White Rose Society, reveals a job (arborist), first name (Adrian) and initial (J), all pointing to a 34-year-old Wollongong man called Adrian John Carr.

Adrian John Carr claims his social media sites were hacked.

Adrian John Carr claims his social media sites were hacked.

Further research online shows that Carr used her real name and email address to create a Skype account. His profile picture displays the name Underland. An archived Twitter account reveals a similar connection between Carr and the Underland alias.

When called out by that masthead, Carr denied being Underland, saying his various social media accounts had been hacked. “I was defrauded, my identity was stolen,” he said. He did, however, confirm that he was the author of a since-deleted post from his Facebook page that described Jews as “scum.”

Other members of Carr’s cell include Wollongong man Ben Thomas, 36, whose identity is revealed by the distinctive hand tattoos which appear on both his Facebook page and Telegram page from Illawarra Active. Thomas’s hands can be seen on some of the cell’s propaganda videos spreading neo-Nazi propaganda around Wollongong. He could not be reached for comment.

Well Thomas.

Well Thomas.

Another cell member, Geoff Abel, 30, shares with Carr and Thomas a history of police attention for alleged criminal activity, with Abel having spent several stints in prison.

A NSW man who had been approached to join the group described Carr as its key player and noted that its members had almost all experienced family and mental instability and trauma as younger men. The man, who asked to remain confidential, blamed “internet users” for radicalizing Carr.

“I don’t like what AJ [Adrian] do. I don’t like spreading hatred. But you have to ask yourself, ‘why is Adrian the way he is? What makes these young men from the regions slip through the cracks?’ »

A global challenge

The young men of Illawarra Active seem to enjoy the brotherhood formed first in the neo-Nazi Telegram community and then in person as they urge each other to become more radical.

Geoff Abel.

Geoff Abel.

As researchers overseas have observed of European and American neo-Nazi and white supremacist Telegram groups, Australia’s “terrorgram” community is also notable not only for its extremist camaraderie, but also for its resilience.

Discussions involving Carr and his fellow cell members seem to look to the recent arrest of like-minded Australians by Federal Police counter-terrorism teams as a reason to continue their fight, rather than rethink their views.

It also shows how quickly a small group of disorganized and disillusioned men from regional Australia can fall into the orbit of highly organized international extremist groups. The National Socialist Order is banned in Australia as a terrorist group, but Illawarra Active has freely shared its propaganda online.

Khalil, a terrorism watcher, says local extremist groups are increasingly crossing national and international borders.

“Right-wing groups are increasingly convinced that they must organize globally to address global challenges,” she says.

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About Shirley A. Tamayo

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