It is currently a time of significant change and upheaval for many individuals and families around the world. In the span of a few weeks, millions have lost their jobs and filed for unemployment whilst others struggle to keep up with online education and remote work. The world as a whole has had to learn to live in fundamentally different social conditions than ever before. The far right, however, has kept itself very busy, looking for new ways to sow further discord into everyday society.
On 22 March 2020, the FBI warned American society that white supremacists were encouraging members to spread the coronavirus to Jewish people and police officers. This included having infected populations cough into spray bottles which would be used in markets, businesses and places of worship. Anti-Chinese rhetoric has also featured prominently with sites encouraging individuals to commit acts of violence. Conspiracy theories about the origins of coronavirus have been rife, including anti-Semitic theories that Jewish communities had created the virus to increase vaccinations and that Chinese diaspora were spreading coronavirus to create a Chinese Empire.
Southern Poverty Law Centre researcher, Cassie Miller, has described how far-right groups seek to further destabilize society by taking advantage of the current health crisis. One method is to enact violence on minority groups in society. The other: advocate for conspiracy theories. Arguments advanced by Political Commentator, Milo Yiannopoulos, suggest that coronavirus is the “biggest hoax of our lifetime,” whilst evangelical leader, Jerry Falwell Jr, argued that the coronavirus was a North Korean bioweapon. Khalil and Roose at the Lowy Institute recognise how extremists often use three methods of action during crises: challenge state legitimacy, shift blame onto certain groups in society and encourage violence against outsiders.
Miller-Idress, an American University sociologist, argues that as society adapts to the increasingly uncertain world, opportunities open up for the far-right’s conspiracy theories to become even more popular. As individuals experience increasingly unexplainable or confusing events, they will often seek out explanations which help them understand the world. Alt-right arguments provide reasons for why events are occurring, providing comfort to people even if they aren’t factually true.
Don’t be mistaken, the alt-right is actively pushing their agenda at this very minute. They suggest that the current world order is one that is destined to fail and that it is the responsibility of individuals to stoke social division and violence to accelerate its demise and rebuild a new society. Far- right organizations have pointed to the devastation in Europe as evidence that hard-borders are the future and that even after COVID-19 is controlled, migration should be severely restricted. Other arguments are that ethnic minority groups are to blame for the current situation overseas, encouraging racialized attacks on people of Asian descent.
The threat of the alt-right and Neo-Nazism should not be underestimated. In America, they have already caught the attention of the FBI and Attorney-General. In Australia as well, governments must play close attention to terrorist threats and acts of violence. As society spends more time indoors and on the internet, individuals who grow increasingly anxious can turn towards these ideas as a means of comfort and solidarity.
There is little doubt that for a long time to come, people from minority backgrounds will find themselves the target of increased racism and xenophobia. These legacies of coronavirus will not easily disappear. However, it is essential that such actions be condemned and monitored carefully. With extreme ideologies growing increasingly popular, it is essential to stop discrimination at the root.