In December 2022, a six-hour siege in Wieambilla, Queensland, ended with six people dead. Police had attended a property as part of a missing persons investigation and were immediately showered with gunfire. Two were killed, as was a neighbour who arrived to investigate. Finally, the three assailants – brothers Nathaniel and Gareth Train, and Gareth’s wife Stacey – were shot dead by members of the Special Emergency Response Team (SERT).
All three killers held strong conspiracist and anti-vaccine views. One of them in particular has since been found to have posted paranoid diatribes on several online forums. These posts vary in their content, but among them, there is evidence suggesting an association with the ‘Freedom Movement’ – a movement borne out of anti-vaccine protest but growing to become more all-encompassing and conspiracist in nature.
Anti-fascist researcher Tom Tanuki commented of the Wieambilla incident on Twitter:
“I think this is what can happen as the wave of conspiracist ‘freedom’ sentiment breaks apart. Most people trail away and move on, but a fraction take all those shrill calls to arms (often just uttered in aid of someone’s GoFundMe or political campaign) very literally.”
Associate Professor Josh Roose, from Deakin University, characterises the beliefs of the killers as a “Lego set of conspiracy narratives”, with various ideological and religious influences, including a preoccupation with the apocalypse as well as a hatred of society and the authorities. For instance, in a video recorded during the siege, police are referred to as devils and demons, and it is apparently this characterisation that informed their reaction to the police presence.
The Freedom Movement, which exists in similar forms across a number of countries, is likewise comprised of a range of influences and beliefs. While opposition to the COVID-19 vaccine and associated lockdowns has been central and formative, other elements present in varying degrees include a QAnon-esque concern with Satanic paedophiles, sovereign citizen practices, anti-trans rhetoric, and general conspiracist fodder such as the New World Order and the Great Reset.
Importantly, both the beliefs of the Wieambilla siege perpetrators and the ideological content of the Freedom Movement contain a notable millenarianism – a belief in the end of the current world and the emergence of a new, better world. Millenarianism is not present in all conspiracism but is strongly associated with cults and violent extremism. A number of factors contribute to the potential for violence, including whether a movement is active or passive in their apocalyptic beliefs, and whether a complete break with mainstream society is sought.
Another related theme linking the two groups is that of Christian nationalism. This set of beliefs blends political nationalism with a characterisation of the nation as fundamentally Christian and further asserts that this national identity is under attack. Within both the writings of the Freedom Movement and those of Gareth Train, right-wing, nationalist politics are intermingled with talk of God and Biblical demons. Research on this phenomenon during the January 6 attacks in the US suggests that Christian nationalism can contribute to violence when combined with factors such as perceived victimhood and conspiracism.
For this Insight, I examined the extensive post and chat history from 13 Telegram channels linked to the Australian Freedom Movement. Using keyword searches, I identified a large number of posts framing the mission of movement adherents as a spiritual, religious (Christian), existential struggle. While this is far from the only stream of thought running through this multifaceted movement, it warrants particular attention as it is one of the more extreme narratives. The posts discussed are suggestive of both millenarianism and Christian nationalism, as well as their associated dangers.
One common theme throughout the posts and chats is that of an ‘awakening’. An awakening or the ‘Great Awakening’ is a common concept among Christian revivalists as well as QAnon adherents. Its meaning is fairly self-explanatory – the masses, or at least a certain subset of them, undergo a period of increased awareness and epiphany and are awakened to a transformational truth about the world. Within the Freedom Movement lies a narrative of the challenge and process of awakening, wherein a new, somewhat vague, spiritual reality is discovered. Various Telegram posts read:
Australia needs a miracle of awareness and awakening.
Can it even happen?
*THE GREAT AWAKENING*
Spiritual awakening hurts.
Spiritual awakening will leave you feeling alone at times.
Spiritual awakening will test you to your limit.
Spiritual awakening will often break you before you can put yourself
However, spiritual awakening is worth it …
Ultimately, the awakening leads to shock and panic for the evil globalist elite as people become awakened to their nefarious schemes:
The momentum is building, Aussies are awakening.
Those cowards and spivs aiding & abetting Medical Fascism
will be bought [sic] to justice.
WE ARE OVER THE TARGET PATRIOTS. ANONS AND FREEDOM
FIGHTERS….//// Hundreds of millions into BILLIONS of
humans have wakened up through the Great AWAKENING…
They are getting REALLY scared of the rallies.
They can’t stop the awakening.
Hold the line people.
Stay positive and stay calm.
Wheels falling off fast!!!
This theme is essential to the movement as it sets the ‘awakened’ apart from the shadowy cabal and the duped masses, creating the in-group-out-group dynamics necessary for radicalisation to violence.
Within various posts by adherents of the movement, explicit religious themes are employed to frame the problem (evil and apocalypse) as well as the solution (Christian revival and awakening). In one instance, an image of Beyoncé on a horse is said to be “more blatant satanic idolatry right in our faces”, symbolising “a demon riding one of the four horses of the apocalypse”. Other posts tell of a society that has lost its way and succumbed to evil:
These are the children of the beast system.
They have grown up with mind control, propaganda, social engineering
and the absence of God…
and they have slid completely into darkness and depravity.
Further posts detail the plans of Satanic elites working to corrupt and destroy society:
The Luciferians are preparing to shut down everything
… then reset it all and bring it back in their own
diabolical, totalitarian design that they named The Great
Reset… Ultimate surveillance state and humanity enslaved.
This is real and coming. God help us all.
What’s happening is not communism, what’s happening is
not fascism, what’s happening is totalitarianism by a group
of very wealthy satan worshipers who hate God and all of his
creations … This is why they are altering our DNA, animal DNA, plant
DNA (GMO’s) so it is all their creation and no longer God’s.
More biblical prophecy unfolding by the day.
We are on the road to the one world government, one world religion
and one world leader.
These things are written and must come to pass.
Ultimately, however, in the eyes of the adherents, these evil forces are due to be defeated by the Freedom Movement, and a new world will prosper:
Take a good look around and try to take it all in because this shift that
we have been waiting for for so long has started and nothing can stop
the massive changes that are about to happen.
It’s going to be Biblical.
We have God on our side…good luck with your evil agenda…we will
never give up.
All of the above frames the movement’s struggle as an existential war. Many posts imply that this “spiritual war” is a non-violent struggle:
This is spiritual warfare.
Please share a comment about your experiences with the topic for our Community
We are in a spiritual war so put on the Armour of God.
However, others are more ambiguous:
Life is very different around here now.
It feels like a war zone… because it is.
A common thread among those who do not explicitly preach non-violence, either sincerely or out of fear of legal repercussions, is to make it clear that war has been declared on them by the government, cabal, or New World Order. This victimhood narrative is common in extremist groups of all stripes, as it shifts responsibility for future events and excuses a range of responses, including potential violence:
Once you really understand these people hate us…
none of this is a shock or a slap in the face.
It’s war on the people by corrupted creepy clowns…
plain and simple
A nation that cannot see that war is being waged upon it,
has no chance of defending itself against it.
Australia is being poisoned, jabbed, robbed and rain bombed by
enemies that have infiltrated our country…
We must be very cognisant that this is the open declaration of war on
anyone who dares question the narrative.
Given the diffuse nature of the Freedom Movement, attributing blame for the deaths in Wieambilla, or speculating on the risk of more violence, remains a challenging and arguable task. However, the millenarian tendency shown in this Insight is a relevant factor. Millenarian movements have shown a propensity towards violence, but this is far from certain and is dependent on a range of factors including local conflict-resolution mechanisms, as well as interaction with ideological authorities and interaction with the despised ‘other’.
Leonard Weinberg and Ami Pedahzur argue that the reality of millenarian groups is one of splintered and diffuse sources of authority on various topics including violence. This is certainly the case within the Freedom Movement, which is leaderless and prone to infighting. This makes classifying the group as violent or non-violent difficult, and it may be more prudent for analysts and authorities to instead consider this matter in terms of the risk posed by the potentially violent themes and motifs which appear in their rhetoric, such as millenarianism and Christian nationalism.
Another factor within a millenarian group that influences the potential for violence is its interaction with the ‘other’. The implications of this rest as much, or more, on perceived rather than actual danger. The murders in Wieambilla are a clear example of this, wherein the perpetrator’s view of the police as “devils and demons” appears to have determined their lethal response to the approach of investigating officers. To a lesser extent, this may be seen in Freedom Movement adherents’ antagonistic interactions with police and onlookers at rallies and demonstrations.
The Freedom Movement in Australia has emerged from broader anti-mandate and anti-lockdown sentiment and coalesced as a more extreme conspiracist movement, with demonstrated millenarian tendencies. While no direct causal link has been found with the events in Wieambilla, it is unrealistic to deny any relationship, given the movement’s centrality in the country’s current conspiracist milieu. While the way forward with this information is debatable, it cannot be ignored.