Mar 9, 2021 | AIJAC staff
This fact sheet is current as of March 2021
Far-right extremism is a growing threat around the world, including in Australia. While far-right groups were once fringe, today they are able to amplify their messages via social media and have found new ways to recruit, organise and incite violence, representing a potential terrorist threat.
In February 2021, the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) confirmed that extreme right-wing groups are more organised, sophisticated and security-conscious than in the past. Of the 19 major counter-terrorism disruptions in Australia since 2014, two were related to far-right extremism.
In response, Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton indicated he would add the Sonnenkrieg Division (SKD), a group active in the UK and Europe, to Australia’s list of banned terrorist organisations. It will be the first listing of far-right organisation in Australia.
A spokesperson for Minister Dutton told media: “The Government considers that SKD’s active promotion and encouragement of terrorism has the potential to inspire Australia-based extremists.”
While SKD supporters in Australia are not known to have incited or committed violence at this point, it must be noted that far-right extremism is transnational. Extreme right-wing groups share a culture of fundamental opposition to mainstream society, idealising a revolution in the name of the white or “Aryan” race, share their extremist views online and draw inspiration from each other.
Recent far-right terror attacks include:
- The 2019 Christchurch massacre by Australian Brenton Tarrant that killed 51 people in two mosques (New Zealand).
- The 2019 El Paso Walmart attack by Patrick Crusius that killed 23 people (United States).
- The 2019 attack on Halle Synagogue by Stephan Balliet that killed two people (Germany).
- The 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh by Robert Bowers that killed 11 people (United States).
- The 2018 shooting at the Poway synagogue in California by John Timothy Earnest that killed one person and injured three others (United States).
- The 2015 Charleston Church shooting by Dylan Roof that killed nine people in South Carolina (United States).
- The 2011 attack by Anders Breivik that killed 77 people (Norway).
Many modern far-right groups are inspired by these terror attacks and support the “white- replacement” theory, which places the blame on “the Jews” for the claimed demise and destruction of the “European” race, culture and civilisation, including in Australia. Both Tarrant and Crusius promote a radical view of the Great Replacement conspiracy, known as “accelerationism”, which advocates that the demise of Western governments should be accelerated to create radical social change and establish a whites-only ethnostate.
Coronavirus and the far-right
Many far-right movements have sought to take advantage of conspiracy theories related to the pandemic, including opposition to lockdown measures and mandatory vaccination.
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) reported that, “COVID-19 restrictions are being exploited by extreme right-wing narratives that paint the state as oppressive, and globalisation and democracy as flawed and failing.”
ASIO added, “We assess the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced an extreme right-wing belief in the inevitability of societal collapse and a ‘race war’.”
The pandemic has also led to the proliferation of antisemitic conspiracy theories online attempting to connect Jews and Israel to the coronavirus crisis.
Some conspiracy theories have accused Jews or “Zionists” of making the pandemic for the purposes of “global domination”, to impose a “New World Order” and for profit.
Antisemitic content was also spread online using the #COVID48 hashtag, which compares Israel to the virus and reflecting past depictions of Jews as viruses seeking to take over the world.
According to Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Ministry’s annual report, over 2.3 million antisemitic posts were detected online in 2020 from nearly 413,000 users in English, French, Arabic, German, Spanish, and Russian on Twitter, 4Chan, Bitchute, Stormfront, Gab, Minds, and 8Kun.
Far-right extremism in Australia
While far-right extremism has long existed in Australia, in recent years its threat has grown considerably, partly influenced by international far-right groups that spread their views to Australians, online and recruit via social media forums.
In September, ASIO stated that up to 40% of its counterterrorism efforts were now directed at far-right extremist activities, an increase from 10-15% before 2016.
New groups have emerged and existing groups have become more radicalised and increased their memberships. Meanwhile, in October 2020, the Australian Federal Police also reported seeing a rise in young people being aggressively radicalised online amid an increasing threat from right-wing extremism. In Australia, far-right extremism is increasingly growing online, especially among non-mainstream social media forums, including those with end-to-end encryption.
Recent examples of far-right extremist activity in Australia include:
- In 2020, Phillip Galea, a member of Reclaim Australia and the True Blue Crew, was found guilty of preparing for a terrorist act and making a document likely to facilitate a terrorist act.
- In 2020, the AFP charged two men in NSW with terrorist offences, alleging they were planning to purchase military equipment, including guns and bombmaking equipment. These men had links to far-right supporters in the UK, and an arrest was made there as well.
- In 2020, Tyler Jakovac of Albury was charged with urging violence against members or groups and advocating terrorism. Police allege he used the messenger service Telegram to urge the killing of “non-whites, Jews and Muslims.” Jakovac allegedly used a far-right group that featured Nazi symbolism to urge violence against other races and religions.
- In 2017 white supremacist Michael Holt was jailed for stockpiling homemade guns and weapons across Sydney and expressed an intention to commit a mass shooting at a Westfield shopping centre.
In Australia, there is a range of far-right groups, movements and far-right-motivated individuals that have been active in recent years, many with connections to international groups.
Some groups have formed and morphed into new ones. For example, Reclaim Australia turned into the True Blue Crew and the United Patriots Front. The United Patriots Front became the Lads Society. In 2018, the Lads Society infiltrated the Young Nationals. The Lads Society gave way to the Nationalist Socialist Network led by Thomas Sewell.
There was also the now-defunct Antipodean Resistance (AR) — a Neo-Nazi hate group formed in October 2016, which went by the slogan “We’re the Hitlers you’ve been waiting for” and used the swastika and Nazi salute. AR promoted and incited hatred and distributed racist, homophobic and antisemitic posts and propaganda. In 2018 its website was shut down by its hosting provider.
Today far-right groups and movements in Australia include: The National Socialist Network, the Proud Boys, Sonnenkrieg Divison, QAnon, the Base, the Australian Defence League, Right Wing Resistance, the Nationalist Australian Alternative, Soldiers of Odin, the Patriotic Youth League, Blood and Honour, and the Australian Nationalist Movement.
Many of these far-right movements adhere to the same “great replacement theory” that motivated the Christchurch killer. According to this theory, white Europeans are threatened by increasing non-white immigration and are therefore facing “white genocide”. These movements generally hold antisemitic and racist views of society.
Far-right threats to Jewish communities
Jewish communities have long been targets and victims of right-wing extremism. The culmination of the dangers of Nazi ideology manifested in the Holocaust with the murder of six million Jews between 1939 to 1945. The ideology of Adolf Hitler as laid out in Mein Kampf; ideas of racial supremacy; conspiracies about Jewish power, including the infamous forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”; and promoting Nazi symbols such as the swastika continue to be among modern far-right groups.
In recent years, Jews, particularly in the United States, have been the victims of far-right extremism including the 2018 shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh where a white supremacist killed 11 people, as well the Poway synagogue shooting that killed one person and injured three others.
In 2019 in Germany, a far-right extremist attempted to enter the Halle Synagogue on the Jewish Holiday of Yom Kippur, and when the attacker could not gain access he shot and killed two people nearby. German Federal investigators called the attack far-right and antisemitic terrorism.
The antisemitism of far-right groups was also recently on display during the US Capitol riots in January 2021. For example, a man was wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” T-shirt with a skull and crossbones and under it the phrase “work brings freedom.” Another person had a T-shirt inscribed with “6MWE” which is an acronym common among the far-right standing for “6 Million Wasn’t Enough.”
Threats to Jewish communities in Australia
Australian Jewish communities remain concerned by threats from extremists. In Australia, many Jewish schools, synagogues and community centres have security guards and security protocols.
In 2020, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) released a report on antisemitic incidents, stating that between 1 October 2019 to 30 September 2020, there were 331 antisemitic incidents logged by volunteer CSGs, official Jewish state roof bodies, and the ECAJ. The total figure consists of 188 attacks and 143 threats.
Far-right groups and individuals involved in incidents noted in the ECAJ report included: The National Socialist Network, Nationalist Alternative, Thomas Sewell, Blair Cottrell, Charlie Brownau, Dan The Oracle, Danny Fitzgerald, David Hilton, David Hiscox, Jamie Jae, Matty Rose, Raymond Foster (“Nacherel”) founder of The Australian Vanguard (TAV), Ryan Fletcher, and White Dog. For details regarding the specific antisemitic incidents see the ECAJ report.
The Australian Jewish Community has appreciated and benefited from Commonwealth funding towards Jewish community security costs, especially under the current Safer Community Fund grants.
In March 2021, Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton indicated he would add the Sonnenkrieg Division (SKD), a group active in the UK and Europe, to Australia’s list of banned terrorist organisations. It will be the first listing of a far-right organisation in Australia and was banned in the United Kingdom in 2020.
Deakin University academic Joshua Roose said the ban was “more likely linked to an ally banning them than any strong presence on the ground in Australia”.
Other Western democratic nations have proscribed far-right groups.
In the UK, as well as SKD, National Action and other far-right groups are banned and members have been convicted of terror-related and other crimes.
The Neo-Nazi group Combat-18 is proscribed in both Germany and Canada, but it does not have a similar listing in Australia, despite being linked to a 2010 shooting at a Perth mosque. The men involved in that incident did not face terror charges but were instead prosecuted for causing criminal damage, discharging a firearm across a road and possessing an unlicensed firearm.
Moreover, the Neo-Nazi group Blood & Honour, which is active in Australia, is banned in several countries including Germany, Russia and Canada.
In February 2021, Canada became the first jurisdiction to list as a terrorist entity the Proud Boys, a white supremacist group that was allegedly heavily involved in the January 2021 storming of the US Capitol. At the same time, Canada’s Public Safety Minister also designated The Base and the Atomwaffen Division (AWD). These designations allow Canadian police to freeze these group’s assets, and charge anyone who supports these groups. Commentators assessed that the designations would make it much more difficult for those groups to operate in a meaningful way on Canadian soil.
The transnational nature of extremist organisations, including functional networking and collaboration online, is a compelling reason for Australia to list as terrorist organisations US-based far-right-wing extremist organisations including the neo-Nazi group AWD, which has been linked to murders in the USA, and The Base, a militant white supremacist organisation, which actively promotes an international programme.
Australia should also take lessons from New Zealand following its Royal Commission into the Christchurch massacre in 2019. The inquiry found a series of failures ahead of the terror attack, including a failure to focus on far-right terror threats.
In addition, the Australian Government should demonstrate proactive leadership and develop a new national anti-extremism strategy aimed at aggressively combatting extremist activity and dangerous conspiracy theories, in order to prevent violence and foster a more socially cohesive society.
AIJAC also believes that educating young Australians about the dangers of Nazism and the devastation of the Holocaust has a role to play in countering extremism. Recent surveys show that younger generations are lacking awareness about the Holocaust. While education on the Holocaust is included in the Australian curriculum, currently it is only mandatory in Victoria and New South Wales.39
While Holocaust education on its own is not sufficient to stop antisemitism and racism, it can help counter religious, racial and political sources of hatred. It can also teach lessons that promot
e an appreciation for democracy and human rights, as students learn how easily Germany descended from democracy into dictatorship. This awareness can help prevent young people from being attracted to extremism or becoming bystanders to it.