Lede: In this second part of a two part series, Senior Fellow Dr Mario Peucker discusses the nature of radical-right recruitment in relation to ideologically explicit versus ideologically covert strategies of recruitment – unpicking a key debate about the role of ideology in radical-right mobilisation.
The horizontal dimension of recruitment: ideologically explicit or covert
The above outlined vertical dimension of recruitment approaches interacts with what we may refer to as a horizontal dimension: the role that far-right ideologies play in the recruitment process. While joining a far-right group represents a significant step in the radicalisation trajectories of some or many individuals, the primary motive to do so may not always be ideological in nature. Accordingly, as our research indicates, recruitment efforts of far-right groups and movements in Australia are not always centred on ideology and are sometimes more tailored to respond to social, psychological or other personal needs of potential new recruits, such as seeking a recognition, respect and a sense of belonging to a community.
The level of ideological explicitness in far-right recruitment can be described on a continuum ranging from openly stating a group’s ideological positions to deliberately hiding or disguising them. Making an assessment on this question is difficult as we, as researchers, are often not in a position to ultimately determine what the ‘real’ goals and ideologies of a certain far-right group or actors are – even when we interview or analyses the material produced by far-right actors. We have to rely on an analysis of various sources which may offer an indication of ideological positions and possible strategic attempts to hide (parts of) their ‘true’ agenda.
- Ideologically unambiguous recruitment
Notwithstanding this caveat, there is evidence that suggests that some of the currently most active actors within Australia’s far-right sit at the explicit end of this continuum, frequently posting openly antisemitic, Nazi glorifying and White supremacy statement and videos and expressing urgency to take action against what they consider White genocide or replacement. Their efforts to recruit individuals into a national socialist pro-White movement appears straightforward and unambiguous, with seemingly no hidden ideological agenda. The leader of one of these groups, for example, used his Telegram channel to call on “White men with Blood and Honour” in Australia, committed to the “racial struggle” for the survival of the “our race”, to send an email to his organisation.
- Ideologically disguised recruitment
One of the predecessors of that particular neo-Nazi group used to take a different, ideologically less overt approach to recruiting new members: Presenting themselves as a men’s only club with its own gym, they marketed themselves as a place where men can exercise and train together, experience as sense of belonging and brotherhood and build a community of people who help each other, also with employment. They used to run gym work-out sessions and had regular fight nights but they also offered occasional history lessons, assumedly with an ideological twist. This recruitment model, based less on ideology, was eventually abandoned by the leader of this group, who subsequently shifted towards an ideologically more open and explicit recruitment approach, as mentioned in the paragraph above.
Another prominent figure in Australia’s far-right nationalist scene and co-founder of one of the country’s most prominent and notorious far-right groups in the second half of the 2010s (now defunct) is still active, as an individual without organisational affiliations, on alt-tech social media platforms and messaging apps. His posting activities revolve primarily around offering advice on building physical strength, dietary issues and “women and girlfriends”. While his posts resemble comments from a self-declared life counselling coach, they are usually delivered with a subtle ideological undercurrent of nationalism, White supremacy and male superiority – sometimes mixed with statements about how to build a nationalist White movement or recommendations of nationalist podcasts.
Stevie Voogt’s (2017: 40) argues that some White supremacy actors in Australia have adopted an “anti-Muslim focus … as a strategic approach thought to attract greater numbers of supporters to the far-right.” Our own research confirms such an assessment. The Australians branch of a globally active neo-Nazi group, for example, has for years put up stickers with the words ‘No Islamic takeover’, together with an email address and URL, in an alleged attempt to recruit new members. Given the neo-Nazi outlook and agenda of this group, also illustrated by the Nazi SS Totenkopf symbol (skull-and-crossbones) displayed on the sticker, it is likely that such an anti-Muslim message does not reflect the true and full ideological agenda of the group. This constitutes an example of recruitment strategy, based on a partially concealed ideological agenda.
Conceptual clarity on recruitment process and content
The proposed two-dimensional conceptualisation of far-right recruitment seeks to assist in our analysis of both recruitment process (from active to passive) and content (from ideologically explicit to covert), and the interaction between both. And there is still a lot of empirical work ahead of us to grasp the complexity of far-right recruitment activities, in particular in relation to the effects of different forms of recruitment. Conceptual clarity and analytical rigor will help on this way towards a better, evidence-based understanding of these phenomena and processes, and it is also, and especially, crucial for the development of effective prevention and intervention programs. Far-right groups’ recruitment efforts are constantly adapting to changing environments and they have, in part, become increasingly sophisticated and strategic. The stakes remain high as far-right extremist continue to target in particular young people in Australia and elsewhere, many of whom facing economic, social and psychological uncertainties in a post-pandemic world. If we accept that prevention and early intervention is central to any effective strategy to respond to right-wing extremism, we need to understand processes of recruitment and self-recruitment, pay attention to ideological, social and psychological susceptibilities and vulnerabilities among parts of society and find ways to strengthen their agency and capacity to navigate these uncertainties, both online and offline.
Dr Mario Peucker is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Senior Research Fellow at Institute for Sustainable Industries and Liveable Cities (ISILC), Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia. See full profile here.
© Mario Peucker. 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).