Some white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups in Australia have welcomed the rise of coronavirus, praising the closing of borders and hoping it will bring about a "societal collapse".
As global disinformation and conspiracy theories around coronavirus are on the rise, some in the far-right in Australia have welcomed the virus as a means of achieving political objectives.
A far-right researcher, who goes by the pseudonym Andy Fleming, has been watching the online chatter from far-right and neo-Nazi groups closely over the last few months and said it has been “disturbing”.
He told SBS News white supremacist groups have welcomed the closing of international borders and the banning of foreign nationals from entering Australia.
“They’re delighted, ‘get rid of the foreigners’ they say. It panders to very strong and pre-existing xenophobic sentiment. It is a foreign element and it is parasitical; it ties in the idea that social decay and disease is brought in by foreign elements from Asia,” Mr Fleming said.
While many applaud the shutdown of borders, a smaller group is even welcoming the virus itself.
Dr Kristy Campion from Charles Sturt University said that those welcoming the virus are hoping it will bring about a social collapse and chaos that could give rise to the conditions suitable to the expanded growth of a far-right movement.
“Accelerationism is a strategy to achieve their ideology. They believe you need to capitalise on social unrest and destabilise the state. Turn people against each other and rupture community cohesion,” she said.
“Quite a bit of chatter online is increasingly looking at this as a way to achieve ideological goals. COVID is very much being exploited by that.”
The COVID-19 crisis has seen a rise in the number of street attacks on Australians of Asian backgrounds being publicised on social media and in the mainstream media.
Far-right researchers from the anti-fascist research group the White Rose Society said that while these anti-Asian sentiments have been pushed by white nationalist groups they are also easily seeping into the mainstream.
“People are extremely isolated online in their homes, they are spreading hate and conspiracy, people are becoming radicalised through the extreme accessibility of this material in the mainstream space,” a spokesperson for the group told SBS News.
Far-right groups have displayed racist banners in several cities in breach of lockdown laws, which were then posted on social media by accounts linked to the Proud Boys movement.
These posts have been seen by SBS News and include material blaming Asian-Australians for the virus and calling for an end to multiculturalism.
The posts were shared by Blair Cottrell, who was found guilty of inciting hatred, contempt and ridicule of Muslims over a video of him beheading a dummy in protest of a Bendigo mosque in 2017.
5G, wellness bloggers and the far-right
The White Rose Society researcher said they had also seen a disturbing linking of the material shared by far-right groups and some wellness bloggers and anti-vaccination groups.
They mainly include conspiracy theories linking COVID-19 to the 5G network and alleging the virus is a bioweapon developed by China.
“The far-right doesn’t need to do all the propagandising, other movements are doing the work for them,” the researcher said.
“We are seeing yoga mums talking about setting fire to 5G towers … I wish I was joking,” they said.
All the researchers told SBS News that the confusion and fear surrounding COVID-19 had created fertile ground for the far-right in Australia and that their ideas and views were getting much more traction than they usually would.
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 sbs.com.au/coronavirus.