Infiltrating democracy: non-violent strategies serving violent ideologies

We must not overlook the non-violent strategies serving the hostile ideologies of the far right.

Protesters at Reclaim Australia Rally in Martin Place Sydney. 4 April, 2015 | Anthony Brewster / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In 2018, the far right Lads Society (formerly United Patriots Front group) infiltrated the New South Wales Young Nationals, the youth wing of the National Party in Australia. Together with neo-Nazis in Antipodean Resistance, the new members were successful in registering for the party without declaring their far right allegiances. Soon after, they were successful in electing one of their own activists, Clifford Jennings, to the Young Nationals executive. This allowed the Lads Society activists to make racially biased motions to champion white immigration to Australia and restrict all other ethnicities.

This infiltration was only halted when their activities were revealed by Australia’s public news broadcaster, the Australian Broadcast Company (ABC). The National Party itself is a right-wing socially conservative party which draws much of its support from rural Australia. The National Party, with the Liberal Party of Australia, form the Coalition, a right wing bloc that has governed Australia since 2013. The Lads Society and Antipodean Resistance almost succeeded in taking control of the youth wing of a major pillar of Australia’s system of government. Had they not been uncovered, they may well have become entrenched in the structures of Australia’s federal party system, through ultimately either standing as candidates (or supporting sympathetic candidates) for the House of Representatives or the Australian Senate.

This strategy is called entryism and it is not original. In short, entryism is a process by which members of a politically-motivated organisation join another party or group with the often clandestine aim of changing the latter’s principles or policies and/or exploiting their resources. According to political extremism expert John Tomlinson, this strategy has three primary objectives: to identify support for its own cause in a targeted party, provoke or exploit division in a targeted party in order to achieve power, and shift the nature and direction of policy in the targeted party.

Entryism can become a mechanism for incrementally and covertly shifting political boundaries and norms towards extreme or fringe belief systems. By virtue of this, entryism is both deliberative and clandestine, as its success predicates on the suitability of the target, requiring target-focused research; and secrecy, for the targets must be unaware of the entryists’ true intentions for the strategy to succeed.

Beyond political organisations, entryism can target institutions such as law enforcement, the military, the civil service, intelligence agencies, and businesses. By targeting institutions, entryists can acquire power over others, proselytise and recruit, or rectify deficiencies in operational skills and knowledge. It can provide access to restricted resources, such as explosives, or sensitive information. Such infiltration can therefore enable the execution of violent strategies.

In 2009, Australian members of the Ku Klux Klan boasted that they had infiltrated the then-emergent Australia First Party. The far right Australian League of Rights, urged its adherents in 1964 to engage in entryism, ranging from party infiltration to subverting the core values of the main parties, through to gaining leadership positions, and branch stacking. During that time, they also targeted the right wing Liberal Party and the National Party. As far back as the 1920s, however, Australian fascists exhorted followers to infiltrate and subvert the left wing Australian Labor Party and trade unions from within, with far right actors in Australia seemingly being unconcerned about which party they try to infiltrate.

Entryism is not unique to Australia. In the United Kingdom, the neo-Nazi Satanist Order of Nine Angles seeks to destabilise institutions like the military, law enforcement, or the clergy through “insights roles” operations, which amount to entryism. In the United States, American members of Identity Evropa are believed to have attempted to influence the Republican Party. Later that year, a speaker at the Unite the Right Rally, James Allsup, became the precinct committee officer for the Republican Party and urged others to “take over” the party. So entryism, it would appear, is a reoccurring feature in the political landscape, exploited by extremists to damage the democratic order and further their exclusionary agenda.

Entryism is not confined to far right organisations. As noted elsewhere, Leon Trotsky and his followers of the far left exploited the strategy as early as 1934 to expand their reach into other left wing political parties. In the 1980s, a Trotskyist group called Militant tried to infiltrate the British Labour Party to influence their policies. Nor is infiltration solely political. Organised crime organisations have been known to attempt infiltration against law enforcement, and it is common in fraud crimes. This is generally for personal benefit, while usage by political actors is to further their political, ideological or religious agenda.

A corrosive threat

Entryism receives less attention than the violent strategies and tactics that traditionally accompany extremist ideology. Nonetheless it is important to recognise the various strategies, violent and non-violent, that extremists use to advance their ideology. On the far right, these ideologies have exclusionary, authoritarian, and anti-democratic agendas: not only is democracy opposed, it is often targeted.

This strategy is clandestine, deceptive, and conspiratorially targeted at democracy and its institutions. It opposes the norms of liberal democratic culture, spanning from open discussions, free deliberation, and informed choice. By being inimical to democratic culture, it can subvert democracy, taking the power from the citizens and placing it in the hands of a self-selected elite. Entryism is therefore a means through which anti-democratic agendas can be realised.

It allows the far right to subvert mainstream political parties, divide and polarise the community, and turn people against one another. It has the capacity to disrupt or pervert the liberal democratic order, erode trust in democratic processes, and tarnish democratic institutions. Ideologically, the far right reject democratic concepts and value systems like the equality of citizens and representative democracy. At the least, this could result in the reduction of rights of citizens, racially biased immigration processes, and the normalisation of extreme right wing policies and positions in society at large.

Beyond politics, the infiltration of military and law enforcement institutions is a different threat. Instead it incurs risk in terms of accessing classified systems, leaking intelligence and private information, sharing training and security knowledge, intimidating targets, improving extremist capabilities, enabling unlawful conduct, and threats to public safety. In a case recently, a US Army soldier shared sensitive details about his unit to the Order of Nine Angles in an attempt to orchestrate an ambush. It therefore carries an immediate threat to life and the broader community.

Addressing entryism

Disappointingly, there is little incentive to prevent entryism from being exploited. One member of the Lads Society who engaged in entryism was expelled, and two were suspended. Later, another twenty-two people were banned from the Young Nationals. To an entryist whose purpose was to subvert the party anyway, such punishment is hardly a deterrence. Successful entryists – who manage to fly under the radar – are rewarded by being able to shift the ideological topography of their target. Unsuccessful entryists, however, can still benefit from (largely negative) media attention. In the Australian case, therefore, the rewards currently far outweigh the risk of detection.

Entryism must be taken seriously as a threat to democratic processes and institutions. To do so, there is a need to:

  • Acknowledge that political ideologies hostile to democracy will not confine their activities to violence, but will use non-violent means to subvert and suborn the democratic order.
  • Identify potential vulnerabilities that entryists may exploit to gain entry to target institutions, and implement processes to identify entryists after access is gained.
  • De-incentivise and deter entryism of political organisations through reducing the risk/reward balance through hefty personal fines.

It is up to democratically elected governments to safeguard their processes and institutions to maintain the integrity of their own principles. It is not enough to simply ban entryists and rely on existing processes following their failure. Entryism – at least, in its far right guise – seeks to corrupt and subvert democratic order and institutions to serve their own agenda, and transfer power to their self-selected elite. For democracy’s sake, then, we must not overlook the non-violent strategies serving the hostile ideologies of the far right that ultimately further their agenda in mainstream institutions.

Ms Kristy Campion is a guest contributor for CARR and a historian who specialises in terrorism and extremism.

© Kristy Campion. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).

This article was originally published at CARR’s media partner, Open Democracy. See the original article here.