'Wake up, Aussies': Far-right Pauline Hanson supporters dressed as Muslims storm church
A far-right nationalist group that links itself to Pauline Hanson stormed a church service on Sunday dressed in mock Muslim attire and chanting anti-Islamic slogans, leaving some members of the congregation "deeply
The incident, on the NSW Central Coast, reflects the emboldened attitudes of anti-Islamic groups following the political rise of the One Nation leader, and has triggered calls for the new Parliament to retain the full strength of racial discrimination laws amid a new push for the repeal of section 18c.
About 10 Party for Freedom members on Sunday disrupted the morning sermon at the Gosford Anglican Church, which is widely known for its embrace of multiculturalism, and refugees and asylum-seekers.
Party for Freedom is an anti-Islam, anti-immigration party whose Facebook page features Senator Hanson as its profile picture.
Father Rod Bower said halfway through his sermon at around 9.30am, members of Party for Freedom, dressed in mock Muslim attire, burst into the church.
"Using a loud speaker starting to abuse me in particular for the work we do … they violated our sacred space," Father Bower said.
"It was typical rhetoric from the extreme right, vilifying Muslims and multiculturalism as a whole.
"[They said] Muslims are taking over, they had some prayer mats and mock prayed, they had a recording of the Koran being sung."
In video footage of the incident, the intruders can be heard speaking sarcastically of the "rich tapestry of Islam", claiming "the western world is living in denial".
When the group leaves the church a few minutes later, it warns the congregation: "do not promote Islam".
Some parishioners can be heard laughing afterwards, however Father Bower said some were left "deeply traumatised", especially older people, parents of young children and asylum seekers in the room.
"People were confused and I had to reassure them," Father Bower said.
The incident was reported to police, and has prompted a security review at the church.
Video on the Party for Freedom Facebook page shows members of the group dressed in mock Muslim attire and boasting about the incident afterwards.
"We just went into Father Rod Bowers' church and let him know we're not happy with his … nonsense about sponsoring Islam and multiculturalism," one man said.
In another video apparently filmed nearby, a member of the group says "keep voting Labor and Liberal and this will be the future. This is the future of Australia with cultural diversity, with mass Muslim immigration into Australia. You voted for it."
The man continues: "You are being replaced, your government is at war with you. With mass third world immigration and Islam coming into Australia to take over, when will the Australian people wake up? It is time to wake up, Aussies."
Such sentiments echo that of Senator Hanson, who is pushing for a royal commission into Islam, wants the intake of Muslim refugees and other migrants to cease and would ban the burqa and niqab in public places.
Father Bower said the rise of the One Nation Leader, whose party has snared four Senate spots, was "symptomatic of a group of people feeling marginalised".
"Pauline Hanson is a very clever manipulator of those people and … will exacerbate their fear," he said.
The incidents follow reports that several senators, including those from One Nation, want to strike off section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act.
The section makes it unlawful to publicly "offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people" on the basis of race. Opponents say the measure restricts freedom of speech.
Father Bower said the incident at his church "highlights the need for 18c".
"if you lose 18c then this kind of vilification and abusive behaviour will go even more unchecked," he said.
Comment has been sought from Party for Freedom and One Nation.