ANTI-MOSQUE campaigners felt a deep sense of persecution after scapegoating Bendigo Muslims, further entrenching the alienation that many already felt, an inquiry has been told.
Liberty Victoria has warned that extremism of all types will keep festering in the state without changes to deep-seated social inequalities.
"Extremism is a symptom that something in society is not right. It is not the illness itself," the group has told a parliamentary inquiry delving into Victoria's growing far right movement.
Liberty Victoria is not the only group to mention Bendigo in a raft of newly published submissions to the parliamentary inquiry.
Multiple groups have specifically mentioned Bendigo and the backlash to the proposed mosque as they chart a movement invigorated by recent pandemic shutdowns.
Together, the submissions paint a portrait of an anti-Mosque movement crucial in uniting far-right groups across the country both on the ground in Bendigo and online.
Each shines a spotlight on a host of different facets of the far-right movement, from methods to motivations and law enforcement.
The Online Hate Prevention Institute linked a Bendigo mock beheading "stunt" to a push by some extremist groups to raise funds and gain publicity, both online and in news reports.
Charles Sturt University experts did not refer to Bendigo directly, but did talk about mock-beheadings in a list of incidents across the state over the years.
"Victoria is the location of a substantial amount of extreme right activity in the last two decades," the university's Dr Kristy Campion said as she listed 18 "serious" but by no means comprehensive events.
Liberty Victoria used Bendigo to illustrate the way some residents scapegoated Muslims as a way of appealing to socially and economically marginalised people.
Unreasonable fears about Bendigo being overtaken by Sharia law paved the way for racial scapegoating, it said.
Scapegoating became a key feature of a 1000 person rally in Bendigo in 2015, organised by groups including the United Patriots Front, Reclaim Australia and Rise Up Australia.
The protests might have further marginalised some local participants, Liberty Victoria suggested.
Protesters ended up with a "deep sense of social injustice, and public contempt for nationalist groups and local objectors' concerns reinforced their perceptions that they were persecuted and silenced", according to research it quoted in its submission.
Even non-violent far right actions like the anti-Mosque protests impacted Bendigo Muslims, the Centre for Resilient and Inclusive Societies.
"Some members of the local Muslim community felt so unsafe that they would no longer leave the house alone or after dark," it said.
The inquiry has so far published 17 written submissions from groups and individuals, five of which mention Bendigo's anti-Mosque movement directly or indirectly.
It has also heard from 22 witnesses including Bendigo resident Margot Spalding, who co-founded a multicultural action group at the height of the anti-Mosque movement.
"Leaders have to stand up and speak publicly about the value of cohesion," she told the inquiry last week.
More on this story: Bendigo's ancestors handled religious differences better, research suggests
Many of the submissions suggest there are no easy solutions to combating far right extremists' growing influence.
Liberty Victoria is among those to argue part of the solution is early intervention measures to undermine far right groups' recruitment.
The only way to do that is to address bigger structural problems that fuels inequality and injustice.
"Finding ways to silence right-wing extremism, or indeed any other form of extremism, will not cure the problem, it will mask it until a new form of extremism arises," Liberty Victoria told the inquiry.
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