Far-right group dressed as Muslims interrupts church mass in Australia
The group Party for Freedom gathered at Gosford Anglican Church in New South Wales on Sunday to stage a spectacle in which they pretended to pray while using a loudspeaker to blast out what sounded like a Muslim prayer. They then chanted slogans against Islam before leaving, ABC reports.
Later the group took Facebook photos at a pub in full Muslim garb while being questioned by police. They claimed on their page that the protest was against Father Bower, who preaches at the church. They say they are against his making friends with Islamic preachers and being favorable toward a multicultural Australia.
"It was … just out of the blue, some of the congregation were quite upset," Father Bower told ABC, shocked that the disturbance had to happen halfway through his sermon.
"I recognized one of the participants and clearly they weren't Muslims — it was mock attire,” he added. "I took a minute or so but I worked out who they were. I quietened the congregation down – they were a bit distressed."
The group denies its behavior was inappropriate, its leader Nick Folkes telling the Australian broadcaster “I don’t have to apologize because we didn’t hurt anybody, it was only words and it was a protest sort of thing, it’s very different to going with the intention of physically hurting somebody.”
He added that he had received text messages from people inside, and that the whole affair was tough to coordinate, being a “difficult location.” But he also claimed his group “didn’t interrupt communion, we had people actually inside waiting for the signal.”
During their performance the group also chanted support for the One Nation party, according to the Guardian, and criticized the Liberal and Labor parties for their friendly stance toward Muslim nations. However, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson has since said the group’s protest is “counter-productive” and wished to disassociate herself from it.
Father Bower said: “I accept and even support their right to have a peaceful assembly in a park – across the road even. But to come in and violate our sacred space and traumatize our congregation is simply unacceptable."
People inside the church turned their backs and found the whole exercise quite uncomfortable, it is being reported.
The Party for Freedom also are apparently ardent Donald Trump supports.
They recently held a ‘Trump Patriots BBQ’ and even used the slogan “Make Australia Great Again” – an altered version of the American Republican presidential candidate’s mantra.
Following the demonstration, Sydney Muslim cleric Imam Afroz Ali called it “very intimidating… I am sure that they saw it later as quite silly and stupid, but at the time it must have been very disturbing.”
Demonstrations of anti-Islamic sentiment are not uncommon in the country. Mosques have also become frequent targets, as was the case in the southeast of Perth in June, when a petrol bomb was thrown at a mosque, endangering hundreds of Muslim worshippers inside. The hate crime was evident from the offensive graffiti sprayed on the walls.