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Tracing the Evolution of Far-Right Movement Framing in Australia

Tracing the Evolution of Far-Right Movement Framing in Australia
19th December 2022 Dr. Gerard Gill
In Insights

Introduction

This Insight uses current and archived online content and social movement framing theory to trace the ideological progression of major currents in Australian far-right extremism, starting with the watershed Reclaim Australia movement. By studying the frames used online by successive far-right groups, an increasingly extreme public face can be seen, culminating for the moment in the current group, the National Socialist Network.

Methodology

Framing processes are considered to be a central dynamic in understanding social movements. Movement actors take part in meaning-making for a range of audiences including members and sympathisers, opponents, and the wider public. 

Benford and Snow describe three core framing tasks social movements engage in:

  • Diagnostic framing – articulating the problem and attributing blame.
  • Prognostic framing – concerned with what will happen and what is to be done.
  • Motivational framing – impressing the need for action and movement participation.

These three framing tasks form the basis of my analysis of six key social movement organizations active in Australia between 2015 and 2022. This reveals a narrative of how far-right extremism in Australia has manifested during this time period.  

Reclaim Australia

A pivotal moment in Australian right-wing politics came in 2015 with the Reclaim Australia movement. The movement ostensibly coalesced in response to the deadly Lindt Café Siege of 2014. While Reclaim Australia rallies were driven by strong anti-Muslim sentiment, organisers claimed no racist intent, instead pushing a ‘patriotic’ branding.

Diagnostic framing

Reclaim Australia frames the problem they seek to address as an attack on Australian people and values by Islam and Muslims. Australia is framed as a successful multi-ethnic (a loaded term being deployed as an alternative to loathed multi-culturalism) country at risk of losing an ill-defined national character through political correctness and diversity. A typical expression of this reads:

“Australia is a nation of many people groups with the majority being Caucasion [sic] and Christian. We have successfully embraced multi-ethnicity for decades…Yet, all of a sudden we have to make all these changes to the way we do “Australian” in order to cater to an minority [sic] who refuse to integrate anyway.”

Prognostic framing

Reclaim Australia’s proposed solution to the ostensible problem is to wind back the clock on societal changes and expel Islam and Muslims from public life:

“If Islam cant’ [sic] cope with how we do “Australian” well then perhaps Islam needs to move along to somewhere where they are not so offended by the locals.”

The expulsion of an entire religious group is justified by claiming it will accomplish: 

  • the protection of legal equality, apparently threatened by nebulous ‘cultural considerations’
  • freedom of speech, apparently curtailed by obligations not to offend or racially vilify, 
  • and gender equality, defined as the absence of extreme practices commonly associated with Islam but realistically rare, such as child brides and female genital mutilation.

Motivational framing

The motivational framing common in Reclaim Australia texts is that of the movement participant as a heroic protector of the Australian Way of Life. The movement’s logo invokes the Red Ribbon Rebellion, a precursor to the Eureka Stockade and an act of defiance that Reclaim Australia positions as the birth of Australian democracy. This use of White Australian history positions the populist-Nationalist movement member as the true Australian, both victim and hero. 

The United Patriots Front

The Reclaim Australia rallies were where neo-Nazi Blair Cottrell met future National Socialist Network leader Thomas Sewell, at the time young and politically inexperienced. The two formed the United Patriots Front (UPF), with the stated goal of protecting Reclaim Australia supporters from the spectre of violent communist counter-protesters.

Diagnostic framing

The UPF maintain the framing of Islam as the enemy of Australian values. However, they extend Reclaim Australia’s hostility towards political correctness into an outright rejection of egalitarianism. Cultural diversity is presented as a plot to destroy White Australian culture. In a departure from Reclaim Australia’s insistence that the problem is only the non-assimilation of other religious and cultural groups, the UPF reject cultural and racial mixing as “a plan to kill you.”

Prognostic framing

The UPF is upfront and prescriptive about what must be done about Australia’s problems. Movement texts state that the organization itself must be highly centralized and hierarchical to prevent subversion and instil discipline. Furthermore, the goals of the movement are to be pursued on two fronts, with a political party pursuing electoral power while the UPF itself ‘“ill continue to dominate the streets.”

Pacifism is explicitly rejected. Willingness to partake in violence is couched in terms of self-defence against leftists, however, reference is also made to violence being a natural right, bestowed upon man from birth. Ultimately, the movement’s goal is said to be “to be the greatest political power.” This will be achieved by first winning some degree of popular support, then building the movement around a powerful singular figure.

Motivational framing

The UPF motivates through the idea of becoming a hero of the people, and through the fear of cultural and racial extermination, which said hero must struggle against. The much-vaunted Australian Patriot is a man of action, discipline, sacrifice, and duty, and he is framed as being engaged in battle in which the only options are win or die.

The Lads Society

After the dissolution of the UPF, members rebranded into a short-lived group of nebulous purpose called The Lads Society. Lads Society membership also contained members of the neo-Nazi Antipodean Resistance. The Lads Society presented as a men’s only club with facilities such as a boxing gym and a library replete with far-right literature.

Diagnostic framing

The Lads Society frames the problems facing Australia as a loss of values and character. The values being lost, according to the group, include community, personal responsibility and commitment. Deeper within the writings published on the website, there is a post explicitly promoting National Socialism. According to this piece, white people in Australia are being eradicated, and whites must have exclusive possession of the country to prevent this.

Prognostic framing

The Lads Society’s immediate goals are framed as self-improvement for its members. In a blog post entitled ‘Mind, Body and Spirit’, the author states that the movement’s success is to be measured by every member becoming an ‘Übermensch’, elevating themselves above mediocrity in body, mind, and spirit. The group’s texts tell of their belief that contemporary Australian society is on the verge of collapse and, once this occurs, the group’s Übermensch will have the opportunity to step in and take over.

Motivational framing

The Lads Society motivates members and would-be members by promising a community and social network “committed to restoring the traditional elements of our nation as our forefathers envisioned”. They offer relief from social isolation and hopelessness.

The group also appeals to being on the right side of a struggle for the white race. The blog post on National Socialism positions lack of action for “racial survival” as a fatal flaw:

“You are White; you have a common race with us; if you don’t fight for our race, you are fighting against our race. You must get involved in the struggle or you will be condemned to history as a traitor and a coward.”

Antipodean Resistance

The more explicitly Nazi element in the Lads Society was largely due to members they inherited from another group, Antipodean Resistance. The leadership of the infamous Iron March network were proactive in supporting the formation of various groups. This is shown in private message logs in which advice and assistance were provided to several groups including Antipodean Resistance. 

Upchurch describes a loose network borne from Iron March as the “skull mask network”, identifiable by symbols such as the skull masks worn on occasion by Antipodean Resistance members. The network adheres to an esoteric accelerationist version of Nazism wherein a racially pure society will emerge from an age of corruption and chaos – the Hindu Kali Yuga – believed to be the current age.  

Antipodean Resistance, unlike their predecessors, were uninterested in populism, striving instead to create a fanatical vanguard. The group was heavily influenced by the work of James Mason, and members had met with him. 

Diagnostic framing

Antipodean Resistance consider Australian society to be “terminally ill”, painting a picture of a feminised, weak and degenerate populous. According to the group’s website:

“The most important thing we have to remember is the reason society has gotten as bad as it has is that White Men have dropped the ball. We’ve let Jews, nonwhites, feminists and degenerates run our nations into the ground…”

As with the Lads Society, Antipodean Resistance consider society to be collapsing, a situation welcomed by the group.

Prognostic framing

Antipodean Resistance describe their work as rallies, postering, social events, and creating videos and murals, as well as “other activities not mentioned on the website and elsewhere”. Members must reject “degeneracy” such as drug use, homosexuality, and alcoholism. The group emphasises action and dedication to the cause as an entire lifestyle.  Change is sought through the action of a fanatic vanguard rather than a mass movement – various revolutions including that of the Chinese Communist Party are cited as proof of concept for this. Though such framing may strongly imply violence, for obvious reasons the group denies any violent intentions, insisting that these are unnecessary against a system that is destroying itself. 

Motivational framing

Antipodean Resistance frame themselves as a movement whose time has come, playing on the frustrations of the small segment of the population who may sympathise with them. A typical statement is: 

“We have had enough. We refuse to keep sitting by and watching our people falter. We will be at the forefront of Australian National Socialist activism, filling a long empty void”.

The National Socialist Network

By 2020, remnants of The Lads Society and Antipodean Resistance coalesced into the NSN, who preach the esoteric Nazism of Antipodean Resistance but present themselves as peaceful ‘activists’ out to win hearts and minds to their cause. 

The NSN take a careful line with regard to the Christchurch shooter, Brenton Tarrant. Over the years, Tarrant maintained online relationships with most of the groups discussed in this article, having interactions with the UPF, TBC, and Lads Society. Before the Christchurch attack, NSN leader and then-Lads Society President Thomas Sewell attempted to recruit Tarrant, however, the latter declined, citing his imminent travels. 

NSN leader, former soldier and one-time compatriot of Cottrell, Sewell is currently on bail awaiting trial on charges of armed robbery, assault, and violent disorder. While Sewell frequently complains on Telegram about State repression of a peaceful NSN, whose stated goal is to create a parallel society based on National Socialism, the group enjoys connections with several violent organisations across the world. These include Combat 18, the Proud Boys, The Base, and the Nordic Resistance Movement.

Diagnostic framing

The NSN, like its predecessors, continues to rail against the supposed displacement of whites and white culture. They are also, more than previous groups, focused on the “beast system” and their repression by said system – represented by anti-terrorism raids on members. These are seen as a Jewish plot. Familiar tropes of a culture and country in decline are deployed. Australia is described as a “sinking ship” wherein degeneracy is rife and white people are being replaced.

Prognostic framing

The NSN are preoccupied with the need to ‘Tribe and Train’ – to build a tight-knit cadre and hone their physical fitness. This is in service of building a fledgling community, positioned to take over after the collapse of society. The group are at pains to stress that they do not engage in illegal behaviour, claiming it is unnecessary as the hated system will destroy itself. Other statements in the group’s writings are more ambiguous, however:

“A revolution requires revolutionaries. We need men who are willing to do whatever is necessary regardless of the consequences…In organising a National Socialist revolution, the only criterion that must be applied to every decision must be that of effectiveness. Methods which help advance our movement are good methods and those which do not are bad.”

Motivational framing

The NSN inspires commitment to their cause by framing the ‘Aryan Australian’ as coming from a tradition of struggle and rebellion. They reframe Australian history along primarily racial lines, deploying statements from wartime Prime Minister Billy Hughes about Australian soldiers in World War I fighting for White Australia specifically, and telling an alternative ANZAC story based around white preservation.

At the same time, the NSN portrays participation in the struggle as a life-or-death obligation, on which the fate of White Australia depends. Heroic sacrifice is depicted as the only way to survive. By combining the esoteric Nazism of Antipodean Resistance with the patriotic trappings of Reclaim Australia, the NSN invokes the idea of a uniquely Australian Nazism. 

Conclusion

In the time period studied for this article, we can see the fascist hard edge of the Australian far right assert its primacy in movement framing. Ideologically, the NSN can be seen as a continuation of Antipodean Resistance but with diagnostic framing more preoccupied with ostensible government repression, and conspiracism in keeping with the milieu of the COVID-19 era. With the addition of motivational rhetoric invoking myths of White Australian history, the NSN encapsulates all that came before it. Given the far right’s progression so far from the ‘patriot’ brand to barefaced racial hatred, what comes next may be cause for some concern. 

Gerard Gill, PhD, is an independent researcher on extremism, with a particular interest in conspiracism and the far right in Australia. He has experience working in Countering Violent Extremism and as a consultant on the implementation of online safety legislation for the Australian Government.  

Twitter: @G_A_Gill