WHEN John Safran arrived in Bendigo for the first anti-mosque rally in 2015, it wasn’t hard to find the action.
“It’s cool how you don’t need Google Maps for these protests, you just stroll towards the distant shouts of ‘Nazi scum off our streets!’”
He had only just started field research for his next book, Depends What You Mean By Extremist, and it was one of his first direct encounters with the United Patriots Front.
Those familiar with Safran’s television, radio and print work will know his style – put yourself in situations anyone would find cringeworthy, or dangerous, and just keep pushing. And, in parts, become the story.
That was certainly the case in Bendigo.
He followed the UPF crowd into a local pub after the rally, and after a few hairy encounters, was able to endear himself to the group. So much so, some of their leaders eventually tried to form a rap troupe with him.
Safran devoted an entire chapter, and a little more, to his visits to the anti-mosque rallies in Bendigo.
His ability to become embedded on all sides of the “conflict” – from Danny Nalliah’s Catch the Fire Ministries, to the Melbourne Anarchist Club – gave a unique insight into the rise, and partial fall, of Australia’s far-right.
Safran was also able to explore some of the deepest and darkest corners of Australian radicalism. Without prejudice, his experiences flow from one key player to the next.
The characters are all allowed to speak for themselves.
Safran is bemused as Musa Cerantonio recites Monty Python lines, he walks through Lakemda’s Haldon Street wearing a Jewish skullcap, attends a truce meeting between Reclaim Australia and No Room for Racism, and watches an ISIS video in an Islamist’s loungeroom.
At times, it shows the human face that is often behind extremism. At others, it exposes some of the hypocrisy present in the entire “anti-Islam” debate, with some patriots’ real motives laid bare.
Spoiler: it might not be all about Islam in the end.
And, as has been the case for several years, Bendigo just happened to be caught up in the middle of it all.