Warnings Australia's far-right could exploit the coronavirus pandemic

A terrorism studies expert says elements of Australia's far-right are planning to use the coronavirus crisis to stoke resentment against migrants.

People wearing masks in Sydney's CBD.

People wearing masks in Sydney's CBD. Source: AAP

A terrorism studies expert has warned Australia's far-right could use the coronavirus crisis to stir anti-migrant sentiments.

Charles Sturt University's Kristy Campion told SBS News on Monday there is evidence that far-right groups and individuals were looking to capitalise on the instability at this time.

Although far-right groups in Australia have not engaged in protests similar to those taking place in the US, Dr Campion said they were exploiting the pandemic in their own way.

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A woman walks past a new sticker for the white supremacist Patriot Front group during coronavirus protests in Washington.
A woman walks past a new sticker for the white supremacist Patriot Front group during coronavirus protests in Washington. Source: Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa USA


She said Australia's far-right extremists were "very connected" with the US and regularly share ideas with counterparts.

"What we are seeing is quite a bit of chatter online increasingly looking at this as a way to achieve ideological goals," she said.

"The COVID crisis is very much being exploited to achieve that."

Far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was prominently involved in a recent protest in Texas against coronavirus measures.



Far-right groups - including the white supremacist Patriot Front outfit - have also been linked to otherwise-legitimate protests in US cities such as Michigan and Washington. 

"The protests provide a way for these groups to mobilise and build networks," said Dr Campion, who researches right-wing extremism. 

"But what we are seeing online goes a lot further than just protests.

"Far-right extremists are talking about things like sabotage and coughing on minorities to infect them."

Legitimate protestsProtests against measures to stem the spread of coronavirus are springing up across the United States. against the coronavirus lockdown in the United States have been exploited by fringe groups.
Protests against measures to stem the spread of coronavirus are springing up across the United States. Source: Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa USA


In Australia, far-right extremists were using the coronavirus pandemic to single-out migrants and other targets, Dr Campion said.

"If we step away from specific formal organised groups we can see a lot of online activity happening in Australia," she said.

"In Australia these white supremacist groups have a general opposition to immigration and other faiths.

"That plays out in ideas intersecting with tropes around the virus. For example, the 'China virus' nonsense."



In one recent incident, a Nazi flag bearing "COVID-19" was tied to a Chinese flag and hoisted above a phone tower in regional Victoria.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is among a number of politicians to condemn the racist abuse levelled at Chinese-Australians during the coronavirus outbreak.

Dr Campion said it was crucial for researchers to understand the link between such attacks and the influence of right-wing supporters online.

"We have seen what looks like an uptick in racist attacks against immigrants during coronavirus and we need to explore that more," she said.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000. SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at .


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3 min read
Published 20 April 2020 at 6:21pm
By Steven Trask