Appearing in shackles, Jack van Tongeren, 57, the leader of the right-wing Australian Nationalist Movement (ANM), pleaded not guilty to conspiring to commit arson at the hearing in the Western Australia District Court on Tuesday. 

Van Tongeren, a Vietnam veteran who had spent years in jail for earlier attacks on Asians, only spoke to deny the charge of conspiring in June to firebomb four restaurants in Perth. 

Two of his associates in the ANM, John Anthony van Blitterswyk, 53, and Matthew Peter Billing, 33, denied similar charges.

The case was adjourned until June, when a trial date will be set. 

Separate charges of criminal damage and wilfully destroying
property relating to an ANM poster campaign and racist graffiti were also adjourned to June.

Alternative viewpoint

Speaking outside the court, Billing defended van Tongeren and said he expected the three would be acquitted.

"A lot of you people demonise him, but just because he has an
alternative viewpoint does not make him dangerous"

Matthew Peter Billing,
Australian Nationalist Movement

"A lot of you people demonise him, but just because he has an alternative viewpoint does not make him dangerous," Billing said.

Van Tongeren was released from jail two years ago after serving a 12-year sentence for organising an anti-Asian campaign, including the firebombing of five Chinese restaurants.

He was arrested in August 2004 after a manhunt, which was followed two weeks later by the arrests of van Blitterswyk and Billing at a rural property north of Perth.

The court was told former ANM recruits would testify that van Blitterswyk planned to "shoot it out" with anyone who tried to
arrest him and "beat Ned Kelly's record of killing policemen".

Ned Kelly was a famous 19th-century Australian outlaw.