As the scope of the storming of Washington’s Capitol Building became clearer with further footage being released, along with a broadening of reports, many Australians remarked that there was no way that sort of scene could transpire in this country.
But one only has to cast their mind back to the 2005 Cronulla riots to reveal that a large number of far-right white supremacist types are capable of mobilising in a semi-coordinated manner, even when they don’t have a belligerent leader goading them on.
With a now defunct long-term whites only immigration policy as a foundation, our nation’s authorities have for decades turned a blind eye to grassroots right-wing “patriot” groups.
Indeed, Australia remains the only member of the Five Eyes security alliance not to have classed at least some far-right extremist groups as terrorists.
And Morrison and Co’s ongoing refusal to directly censure former US president Donald Trump for his obvious incitement of the rioters at Capitol Hill, will not go unnoticed by these racist elements who are simply itching to reclaim a continent that was stolen in the first place.
ASIO boss Mike Burgess told an estimates hearing in October that his intelligence agency is focusing additional resources on an “evolving threat” comprised of “extreme right-wing individuals”.
In fact, last year, this took up between 30 to 40 percent of his agency’s counterterrorism investigations.
These reactionary types, the top spy explained, have been emboldened by the COVID-19 conspiracy theories, seeing “the pandemic as proof of the failure of globalisation, multiculturalism and democracy, and confirmation that societal collapse and a ‘race war’ are inevitable”.
Back in February last year, the ASIO director general warned that the Australian “extreme right-wing” is a growing threat. Burgess described them as meeting in small cells in the suburbs to “salute Nazi flags, inspect weapons, train in combat and share their hateful ideology”.
And the Australian Strategic Policy Institute goes further. At a forum last September, it found that within western democracies globally, “racism and xenophobia are becoming normalised” with populist right-wing discourses moving into the mainstream, which the pandemic has only intensified.
The rising right
The second half of the last decade saw a plethora of right-wing groups forming in Australia. The first was Reclaim Australia, which began mobilising in early 2015. It was followed by splinter group the United Patriots Front, with far-right poster boy Blair Cottrell as its lead.
These groups – and others like them, such the Antipodean Resistance and Cottrell’s new gang, the Lads Society – are made up of Anglo Australians, who espouse fascist and neo-Nazi values, as well as those of Christian fundamentalism.
The Australian street-level far-right groups are nationalistic, anti-Muslim and xenophobic in the extreme. In fact, our local grassroots white supremacists are much like the American breed, except they prefer the southern cross to the stars and stripes.
And the most harrowing incident this “Aussie patriot” movement has produced was the Christchurch massacre. In March 2019, a 28-year-old man from Grafton walked into two mosques in the southern New Zealand city and gunned down 51 worshippers like he was on PlayStation.
The prejudice up top
However, right-wingers in Australia aren’t confined to young men sitting around in their parents’ garages watching Romper Stomper. There have been more formal organisations, such as the Q Society, Fraser Anning’s momentary Conversative National Party and the Australian Christian Lobby.
These organisations do stand apart from the street-level groupings in so far as how they organise. However, these entities are happy to fraternise with the grassroots patriots and also serve to lend them an air of legitimacy.
Our garden-variety white supremacists have also been given the nod of approval from some of those serving in federal parliament. Liberal Nationals MP George Christensen and One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson both addressed Reclaim Australia rallies in mid-2015.
Of course, these parliamentarians are often seen as fringe MPs harbouring views not found at the centre. That’s until contemplating that all Liberal and Nationals senators voted in 2018 to support a Hanson motion asserting “It’s okay to be white”: a well-known white supremacist slogan.
And then on considering our head of state Scott Morrison, we find that just a fortnight ago he refused to condemn Christensen and Liberal MP Craig Kell for spouting Trump-style conspiracy theories on social media.
“Australia’s a free country, there’s such a thing as freedom of speech in this country. And that will continue,” said the PM, as he took affront to any suggestion he should curb his MPs from telling right-wing fibs.
And it’s certainly comforting to know that just like his former counterpart Donald Trump our top minister asserts the right to spread disinformation in the new post-truth political climate.
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.