Far-Right Hate and Extremist Groups
Australia’s history of far-right and white supremacist activism, often rooted in its colonial experience, has resulted in racist policies and laws regarding the dispossession of Indigenous people, white supremacy, and xenophobic politics. This history parallels in many ways that of the American experience.
Beginning in 1901, the year its six colonies were joined together to create the Commonwealth of Australia, a self-governing and domestically sovereign entity in the British Empire, Australia passed legislation to restrict non-white immigration into the country that lasted until the legal regimes was dismantled between 1949 and 1973 (these policies were akin to the United States of America’s Immigration Act of 1924 that restricted immigration to “Nordics” until 1965).
Australia First Party (AFP)
Australian Christian Lobby (ACL)
Australian League of Rights (ALOR)
Australian Natives Association, Inc. (ANA)
Australian Protectionist Party (APP)
The Australian Vanguard (TAV)
Binary Australia (BA)
European Australia Movement (EAM)
Love Australia or Leave Party (LAOL)
Golden Dawn Australia (GDA)
LGB Alliance Australia (LGBAA)
Nationalist Alternative (NA)
National Socialist Network (NSN)
One Nation Party (PHON)
Proud Boys Australia (PBA)
Rise Up Australia (RUA)
SA Mens Health Club (SAMHC)
Society of Western Australian Nationalists (SWAN)
True Blue Crew (TBC)
White WellBeing Australia
Additionally, Australia has a horrific history in terms of its treatment of the Aboriginal population, which is also akin to the oppression and dispossession of Indigenous populations in the U.S. The colonial government engaged in violence against the Aboriginal population, up to and including massacres. In 1928, the Coniston massacre is considered the last officially sanctioned attack, but there have been many more violent incidents since that time. Oppression of Aboriginal people continued. A permit system restricted movement and work opportunities for many Aboriginal people and many had their land taken from them. In the 1950s, the national government pursued a policy of “assimilation” which sought to achieve full citizenship rights for Aboriginal people but also wanted them to adopt the mode of life of other Australians, meaning suppressing their own culture. Children were often removed from their families, a policy that didn’t end until the early 1970s. In 1962, the Commonwealth Electoral Act finally provided that all Indigenous people should have the right to vote in federal elections (prior to this, Indigenous people in Queensland, Western Australia and “wards of the state” in the Northern Territory did not have the right to vote unless they were ex-servicemen). In 1965, Queensland became the last state to confer state voting rights on Aboriginal people. A 1967 referendum amended the constitution to remove discriminatory references to Aboriginal people and giving the national parliament the power to legislate for them. Regardless, discrimination against Aboriginal people remains to this day.
In the early twentieth century, a cabal of reactionary groups, referred to as the Old Guard, agitated against communism and trade union movements, while incorporating paramilitarization and strains of white supremacy. In the 1930s, groups supportive of Benito Mussolini and Hitler’s regime formed. A key far-right activist in this era was Alexander Rud Mills, who railed about “Jew-worship,” favored Scandinavian pagan religions, and was a prominent supporter of the Australia First Movement, an anti-British movement that transformed into a right-wing, anti-Semitic movement of Nazi and Japanese sympathizers. He continues to inspire racist groups today. The aftermath of World War II saw a diminishment of support for some of these ideas in the wake of Hitler’s genocidal actions and loss, but white supremacy was not diminished. Various racist movements continued to thrive, pushing for Australia to be a white nation. And like the United States, these movements engaged in violence against communities they believed had no place in Australian society, including the Indigenous population, immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community, left-wing groups, and others perceived as threatening white dominance.
Much like in the U.S., the Australian far-right has exploded in recent years, with the rise of new white supremacist organizations and movements, many connected online to activists in other countries. Violence from these quarters is also rising, and sometimes is exported. The 2019 Christchurch, New Zealand, mosque massacre was perpetrated by an Australian who had connections with white supremacists at home and abroad. The Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) said in 2019 that about a third of its counterterrorism investigations involved far-right extremism. In December 2020, a parliamentary vote authorized an inquiry into this issue by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (the committee was disbanded, along with this effort, after the 2022 elections, having only issued one interim report). In 2021, ASIO deputy director-general Heather Cook said up to 40 percent of the agency’s counterterrorism efforts were now focused on potential violence by far-right groups or individuals. By November 2021, that number was up to 50 percent. In February 2022, ASIO’s annual threat assessment revealed that minors made up 15 percent of all investigations with experts pointing out that a “newer and younger generation of neo-Nazis and white supremacists are emerging from modern suburbia.” In March 2021, Australia designated its first far-right extremist group, the UK-based neo-Nazi Sonnenkrieg Division, as a terrorist group, effectively outlawing it. The designation means that membership in, association with, or providing support to the group is a criminal offense. In November 2021, Australia designated the neo-Nazi group, The Base, a U.S-founded group whose leader is reportedly living in Russia, as a terrorist organization, in effect disbanding the group there (The Base was also banned by Canada, New Zealand and the U.K.). In early 2022, the American-based Atomwaffen Division was added to the list. In 2022, the state of Victoria passed legislation banning the public display of Nazi symbols such as the swastika. The law carries punitive measures that may include a prison sentence of up to 12 months, a fine of up to roughly $15,000, or both. Other states are considering passing similar legislation to stem the rising tide of far-right extremism. In 2022, Victoria also officially launched its own investigation into the rise of far-right extremism.
There are other parallels between the U.S. and Australia. An Australian referendum in 2017 legalized gay marriage, enraging anti-LGBTQ+ groups in the country, who warned ridiculously and much like their allies in the U.S. after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, that polygamy and pedophilia would be legalized in short order. Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, from 2018 to 2022, was prominently anti-LGBTQ+, against conversion therapy bans, and attempted to push through a “religious freedom” bill, originally an American idea, that activists warned would be a “license to discriminate” against the LGBTQ+ community under the guise of religion. The bill failed. Morrison’s positions were supported by Australian anti-LGBTQ+ organizations, who continue to agitate against the community. Regardless, additional LGBTQ+ equality laws have been passed and Australians are generally supportive of expansive LGBTQ+ rights and have legislated as such, including for adoption, marriage, and protection from discrimination. Several states have moved to ban “conversion therapy,” the dangerous practice of attempting to change LGBTQ+ people’s identity. Victoria, Queensland, and the Australian Capital Territory all banned the practice, with Victoria having the strongest ban that includes a ban on the practice by religious organizations. Still, anger over these advances in equal rights fuel anti-LGBTQ+ activism in the country.
Since the pandemic, Australia has also faced protests over lockdowns and other measures that have brought together various extremist groups in the same way such protests created alliances between white supremacists, militia members, and Trump supporters in the U.S. during the pandemic. In January 2022, a combination of antigovernment sovereign citizens – a movement that originated in the U.S. and whose members do not believe they have to follow any federal laws–and anti-lockdown activists were involved in protests in front of the Old Parliament House, home of the Museum of Australian Democracy. One man lit the entrance to the building on fire and was arrested for arson. In 2021, anti-lockdown protesters in Melbourne rejecting pandemic measures urinated on a shrine, attacked journalists, spat on nurses, and intimidated vaccine clinics into closure. The protesters included QAnon conspiracists as well as other extremists. Also in 2021, on the steps of Victoria’s Parliament House, protesters displayed nooses, revolutionary symbols and assassination threats delivered by megaphone. A Sydney Morning Herald columnist described the events as “a faint but disturbing echo of the murderous insurrection on the US Capitol.” Some Victoria elected officials praised the crowd’s passion, and one MP denounced the pandemic “tyranny” while flanked by an alleged neo-Nazi bodyguard. That same week, Victoria’s counter-terror police arrested a man for allegedly encouraging others to storm parliament and execute the Premier.
This mix of social isolation and reactions to the pandemic were found to be aiding the growth of far-right extremism according to a 150-page report produced by the Victoria state parliament in late August 2022. The report documented that neo-Nazism and other far-right extremist ideologies are a growing threat in Victoria. The report further said that the growth of these hateful ideas was creating the risk of violence toward marginalized groups. The report pointed to misinformation and conspiracy theories spread on social media and the normalization of anti-immigration rhetoric in mainstream media as playing a key role in potentially radicalizing vulnerable people and making them more susceptible to racist narratives. The report specifically noted that multicultural groups, women, and the LGBTQ+ community were common targets of far-right extremists. The inquiry into rising extremism was initiated by the Greens Party after a January 2021 neo-Nazi gathering in the Grampians and the erection of a gallows outside parliament in November 2021 as MPs debated pandemic legislation. The report included a dozen recommendations to address rising far-right extremism, including changes in gun laws and projects to build social cohesion.
There are other forms of nationalist extremism found in Australia. In recent years, there have been a spate of attacks against Sikhs reportedly by far-right Hindu nationalists. In 2021, a group of Sikh men were attacked and their car severely damaged. After the attack, Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) State Senator David Shoebridge, who had already spoken out against the threat posed by far-right Hindu organizations, raised the issue in the state parliament. “I have not seen a single report of a violent act coming from any part of the political spectrum from the Indian community other than the extremist, right-wing Hindu nationalist part of the community,” he said. The group Hindus for Human Rights Australia agreed with Shoebridge that hate has no home in their community and issued a press release rejecting nationalist extremists. Hindu nationalists have also been blamed for rising Islamophobia in the country.
Note on longstanding but not recently active Australian neo-Nazi and racist skinhead organizations:
GPAHE recognizes that this list understates the number of far-right extremist groups in Australia. For example, certain international racist skinhead organizations such as Combat-18, the Hammerskins (in Australia, the Southern Cross Hammerskins), and Blood & Honour, have long had a presence in Australia but have had no recent public activities. These groups have been impacted by the pandemic and by federal investigations and raids inspired by fears of far-right violence after the Christchurch attack and the January 6 American Capitol insurrection, as well as damning media attention. The hours of undercover video and audio recordings included in the exposé by The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, and “60 minutes” revealed a cult-like breeding ground for extremists working to foster societal collapse and a white revolution. Neo-Nazi leaders were taped advising members to hang onto their guns and raise funds to buy up rural property for a new, racist state.
The reports also showed close coordination between Australian and international neo-Nazi networks. And because these groups have been deplatformed from social media, it is hard to know to what degree they continue to function. In addition, three international neo-Nazi groups, The Base, American-founded but whose leader is reportedly in Russia, Atomwaffen Division, an American-headquartered group with a long history of violence that recently rebranded as New Socialist Order, and Sonnenkrieg Division, headquartered out of the UK and a close ally of Atomwaffen, were recently banned. Though these groups no longer exist in Australia, it is very likely that former members are involved in other far-right groups or activities.