10 December 2022

The shifting face of the far-right

Over the period of COVID-19, far-right beliefs have taken new shape. Image: iStock.

Kirralee Nicolle

19 May 2022

March 2020: Australia begins its first lockdowns to combat the rising threat from COVID-19.

June 2020: A Star of David and the slogan “4th Reich” are found spray-painted on the wall of a kindergarten in Albert Park, Victoria.

January 2021: The Age publishes a report about a neo-Nazi group camping in the Grampians over the Australia Day weekend.

July 2021: The first anti-lockdown protests are staged in Melbourne. Protests continue for months and grow to focus on vaccination mandates.

August 2021: Stickers are found placed across Melbourne which feature the Star of David, the numbers 911 and a QR code, which leads to a website blaming the events of 11 September, 2001 on the Jewish people.

17 May 2022: Two Jewish men are assaulted outside a Coles supermarket in Elsternwick.

Within Australia, there has been a marked rise in the number of incidents of far-right extremism toward members of the Jewish community over the period of COVID-19.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry reported a 35 per cent increase in anti-Semitic attacks between October 2020 and September 2021.

In their 2021 report, ECAJ reported 447 anti-Semitic incidents, including 272 attacks and 175 threats, up from a total of 331 the previous year.

According to a Guardian report from last Wednesday, the percentage has increased to 37 per cent this year compared to last year.

Jewish Community Council of Victoria president Daniel Aghion said that he believed that many recent anti-Semitic attacks were the actions of people who felt frustrated, angry and cooped up during COVID-19 lockdowns, who then took their frustrations out on their keyboard.

Mr Aghion said that a recent feature of anti-Semitic sentiment was a focus on the occupation of Palestinian territory by Israeli forces.

He said that the view underpinning this sentiment seemed to be that the actions of the Israeli government reflected on all Jewish people.

Mr Aghion said that many attacks were still “garden-variety anti-Semitism” or neo-Nazi sentiment. He said this common type of neo-Nazism accused the Jewish people of trying to take over the world.

Besides anti-Semitic attacks, Australia has seen the circulation of far-right conspiracy theories and anti-vaccination ideologies.

Sometimes these elements are tied in together.

Read more: Faith, fear form valuable dialogue with Bonhoeffer

According to Ridley College theology lecturer Reverend Dr Michael Bird far-right thinking tended to manifest among those who held a view that a particular country or people group was more important than another.

Dr Bird is a biblical scholar and Anglican priest who writes about theology and contemporary issues at his blog, Word from the Bird.

He said that those with far-right motivations tended to see themselves as the last and only defenders of their country.

Dr Bird used the example of North America, saying that the desire to defend a particular way of life was a key feature of far-right sentiment in the United States.

He said this included the view that liberty was paramount, as well as a narrow view of what it meant to be human.

Dr Bird said this kind of thinking tended to be more obvious in places where there was an influx of migrants, such as the United States and across Western Europe.

He said there was a danger in replicating these elements of nationalism in American culture, and that Christians should instead uphold a Christ-centred view, or one which resisted alignment with either left or right-wing ideology.

Dr Bird said that combining Christian beliefs and nationalist sentiment always ended badly.

“[It causes us to] lose the integrity of our faith, and we lose the very fabric of our testimony in the Gospel,” he said.

Macquarie University Honorary Professor of Politics Dr Marion Maddox concurred that a belief in an “inherent natural hierarchy” was a feature of far-right extremism, but added that another feature was the desire to overthrow democracy.

Dr Maddox authored the 2005 book God Under Howard: The Rise of The Religious Right in Australian Politics and has taught Australian politics and religious studies in universities in Australia and New Zealand.

She also said that increasingly there was a view among Australian Christians that evangelicals and Pentecostals were the “true Christians”.

Dr Maddox said that American puritan history was imbued with the idea that government was the enemy.

She said that close ties to this history meant both evangelicals and Pentecostals in Australia were at risk of adopting a similar notion that government was a threat.

Lobbying agency the Australian Christian Lobby has been critical of government responses to COVID-19.

Read more: ‘Inappropriate’ or ‘not necessarily unethical’? Australian Christian Lobby tactic raises eyebrows

The agency, which describes itself as “non-partisan”, saw an increase of more than 60 per cent in donations over the 2020–2021 financial year as compared to the previous year.

Dr Maddox said she saw the Australian Christian Lobby as a right-wing extremist group.

She referenced the example of Kimberley Hone, a federal National Party candidate for the NSW seat of Richmond, who stated to a Pentecostal church congregation in her electorate that her “ultimate goal” in entering politics was to “bring God’s kingdom to the political arena”, as reported in the Guardian.

In a YouTube video, Hone told the congregation that she was “so glad” that they no longer trusted the government.

Dr Maddox said that she believed the desire by Hone to bring her faith so clearly into the political realm signified that the understanding of democracy was unclear in Australia.

She said that were Scott Morrison to be re-elected this election, she would be concerned that the religious right were becoming a threat to democracy.

The Australian Christian Lobby has been approached for comment.

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