Reclaim Australia is a re-energised Australian radical nationalist movement with distinct features that may provide it with greater longevity than previous radical nationalist groups. Its broad and fluid ideology, lack of focus on individual leaders and adherence to learning from other radical nationalist groups’ past mistakes could, in the long term, make Reclaim Australia far more formidable than many may believe.
Reclaim Australia’s ideology is predominantly anti-Islam. It works well because it ties in with Western democracies' general fear of radical Islamic terrorism. It is undeniable that Islam’s profile has suffered as a result of terrorist violence.
State’s ‘war on terror’ assists movement
Australia’s fear and concern about Islamic terrorism has become almost state-sanctioned. Mainstream politicians, including Prime Minister Tony Abbott, are often reminding the Australian public of the threats made to our way of life by Islamic radicals. As Abbott said:
… the Daesh death cult is … coming after us.
Such sentiments repeated to the public will have an impact on how Australians view Islam. The average Australian will not always make the distinction between radical Islam and practising Muslims. Reclaim Australia appears to understand this and its anti-Islam position is given greater credence because it is implicit of the view of wider society as a result of the “war on terror”.
This is unlike the anti-multicultural groups of the 1980s and Hansonism of the 1990s, which could cite only perceived threats to Australian culture and society or broad threats to our economic way of life. Reclaim Australia is able to use the threats of terrorism that mainstream political leaders are strongly articulating. The movement can argue that it is part of the broader international response to radical Islam.
In addition, Reclaim Australia carries with it a wide collection of the usual nationalist ideology. Typically, it appears to rejects globalisation and embraces pan-nationalism. Its economics appears to be protectionist, or at least has a clear role for government intervention.
Reclaim Australia’s position is probably best articulated through the propaganda arm, The Nationalist Alternative, which was established last year. It argues that the agenda of Australian nationalism is to promote Australia as:
… an organic nation founded upon Western/European ideals, and created by it’s [sic] descendants primarily the Anglo-Saxon-Celtic ethnicity as well as fellow Europeans from northern, central, southern and eastern Europe.
A movement, not a party
Reclaim Australia clearly has an organisational body and maybe a leadership. At one time, nationalist activist Shermon Burgess was associated with the protests.
The ‘great Aussie patriot’ Shermon Burgess in his own words.
However, Reclaim Australia is essentially a movement, not necessarily an organisation. This is an important distinction and has strategic advantages. As a movement it is allowed undefined policy positions. People will see what they want to see in the movement.
This is why Reclaim Australia is able to attract stringent Australian patriots, fascists, Christians and radical nationalists. As a grassroots movement with an undefined leadership or structure, it is difficult for opponents of Reclaim Australia to target them.
Previous radical nationalist groups like National Action and the Australia First Party have had high-profile leadership in Jim Saleam. For critics of radical nationalism and media, this has provided a focal point for disapproval.
To date, Reclaim Australia has not been overly burdened with leadership. It is more akin to the US' conservative Tea Party movement or the anti-Julia Gillard rallies during her term as prime minister.
The risks of protests turning violent
The violence that has broken out at Reclaim Australia rallies across Australia has been interesting to observe. An examination of media images taken during the last round of protests suggests that anti-racism protesters have actually been more likely to commit acts of violence against police than Reclaim Australia protesters.
The Reclaim Australia movement’s efforts to depict itself as a series of peaceful protests is a lesson learnt from the experience of previous radical nationalist groups. Political violence attributed to National Action during the 1980s and 1990s gave it notoriety but lost supporters.
At various times, National Action has stormed government buildings, university campuses and Liberal Party functions. There were even accusations of firebombing its opponents’ cars and systematic harassment of journalists. These acts of political violence caused National Action to be subject to police special branch and ASIO investigations.
Radical nationalist groups that target the state and media persons seldom do well in attracting broad support. Rather, for Reclaim Australia, it is important that radical Islam is seen as the threat and perpetrator of violence.
If Reclaim Australia is to build upon its support, it needs to continue modelling itself as an ally of broad Australian nationalist values and be seen as less radical. Its downfall may come if individuals begin to emerge as its leader or it begins to seek political party registration. Both will make the movement a clearer target and less fluid.
A further risk is that Reclaim Australia becomes dominated by extreme right-wing groups unable to contain their extremist views. The Australian people are critical of Islamic extremists but equally critical of extreme nationalist views.
Reclaim Australia may become more viable if it can remain broad-based and be seen as peaceful, a supporter of Western democratic ideals and aspiring to be nothing more than a movement. Any variation from this approach will see it lose any public credibility it might earn.
Troy Whitford does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
Authors: The Conversation