The impact of the Cronulla Riots on the evolution of the Australian far-right

By MATTEO VERGANI

White supremacists used to be a violent and isolated racist and anti-Semitic political vanguard. In recent years, we have seen former neo-nazis moving towards the political mainstream and forging alliances with activists from Black, Asian and Jewish backgrounds in the name of anti-Muslim agenda.

This does not mean that anti-Semitism disappeared from the radar: far-right groupsstill target Jewish communities, which often do not overwhelmingly support activists that ally with former neo-nazis. However, the identity of the Australian far-right has somehow changed, as also suggested by previous research on this topic.

Ana-Maria Bliuc, John Betts, Muhammad Iqbal, Kevin Dunn and I have just published an article where we study how and why the Australian far-right changed its political focus and identity.

We examine over 14 years of online communication between members of Stormfront Downunder, the Australian sub-forum of the global white supremacist community Stormfront.org. We analyse members’ language use and discourse before and after the 2005 Cronulla Riots.

Our study finds that the riots were associated with significant changes in the collective beliefs, emotions and consensus within the community, reinvigorating a sense of purpose with a stronger anti-Muslim agenda. For example,  we find that after the Cronulla riots the use of words like “Islam”, “Muslim”, “Lebanese” sharply increases, together with words like “immigration”, “multiculturalism” and “culture”, and words related to violence such as “bash”, “violence” and swear words.

The mainstreaming of far-right movements and their shift towards anti-Islamic agenda is a global phenomenon. Our study finds evidence that the 2005 Cronulla Riots played a major role in triggering this process in the Australian context.

Our article has been accepted for publication in the journal New Media & Society. You can read the article pre-prints here.