Australia: Right-Wing Protesters Impersonate Muslims, Disrupt Church Service

Party for Freedom
Protesters from the Party for Freedom, dressed in mock Muslim attire, pose outside Gosford Anglican Church on New South Wales Central Coast, Australia, on August 14. The protesters disrupted a service at the church. Party for Freedom/Facebook

Members of a right-wing, anti-immigration political party in Australia interrupted a church service on Australia's east coast, impersonating Muslims and criticizing Islam.

The protesters, dressed in mock Islamic robes and headdresses, disrupted a service at the Gosford Anglican Church on the New South Wales Central Coast on Sunday. The group played Muslim prayers on a loudspeaker and pretended to pray.

The group, who are affiliated to the Party for Freedom, said it targeted the church because the pastor, Father Rod Bower, had previously shown support for Islamic clerics and multiculturalism. Video footage showed one of the protesters saying: "This is cultural diversity, mate. The rich tapestry of Islam that we'd like to share with Father Rod, and the congregation, and the social justice agenda we hear all the time."

Bower shared a video of the protesters on social media, saying that they had traumatized the congregation and frightened children at the service.

#Auspol @PaulineHansonOz supporters impersonating Muslims interrupt service @anggoscom. frighten children.

— Fr Rod Bower (@FrBower) August 14, 2016

The chairman of the Party for Freedom, Nick Folkes, said that he did not regret the stunt but admitted that police had spoken to him about the incident. "I don't have to apologize to 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," said Folkes, according to Australian broadcaster ABC.

The party's slogan is "Make Australia Great Again," mimicking the trademark statement of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. The Party for Freedom is also a strong supporter of Pauline Hanson, the leader of the right-wing One Nation party. Hanson, who was elected to the Australian senate in 2016, has called for a royal commission into Islam and a ban on the building of new mosques in Australia, as well as demanding a zero-net immigration policy. One Nation released a statement on Monday saying that it had no official affiliation with the Party for Freedom.