Radicalisation and White Christian Nationalism: How the Far Right Meets the Extreme Right Wing

CW: Neo-nazism, anti-trans protest, right-wing extremism. And no, I’m not posting photos from the protest. Okay. Read on.

It’s funny how you squabble over words when you’re a writer. Last year, I had a quick conversation with another writer about the difference between the far right and the extreme right when it came to certain movements in Westernised countries. To him, the extreme or hard right was Neo-Nazis. To me, it was fundamentalist churches. I happily conceded the point. It was all semantics, really, and we all moved on with our lives. 

On Saturday, March 18th, the Venn diagram of far-right and extreme-right ideology overlapped on the steps of Parliament House in Melbourne, Australia. I wish I could say I watched in disbelief as Liberal Party MP Moira Deeming took to the microphone beside anti-trans campaigner, Posie Parker, while Neo-Nazis gave the Seig Heil behind her. I say I “wish” I watched in disbelief because this one wasn’t hard to see coming. Because here’s the thing: you don’t just land out of nowhere and plonk yourself in the extreme right wing. You get there by degrees. We boil the frog slowly. But we boil it nonetheless.  The ability to see the trajectory when you are in it, balls and all, is pretty darn impossible. All you see is the ‘rightness’ of your own opinion, and the cacophony of confirmation (bias) you see ‘evidenced’ around you.

As I sit here on a Sunday night and type, my phone is pinging. Twitter is alive with political gossip as the Leader of the Liberal Party in Victoria, John Pesutto, has just informed Moira Deeming that her position in the Party is untenable and he will be moving to expel her. Leaks from a Liberal Party WhatsApp Group that clearly espouse the anti-trans values Moira Deeming expresses have been tweeted out. The fallout from this protest is potentially going to roll for a while. 

This heart of mine is heavy. Heavy for trans-women. Heavy for trans-men. Heavy for Jewish people who should never have been forced to see what they saw in the pictures that flooded Twitter and the media. 

But it’s time we talk about radicalisation, and how the far right meets the extreme right wing. It’s time we take our societal temperature and see just how close to boiling that metaphorical frog really is.

It might sound like I’m catastrophising, but White Christian Nationalism is on the rise in the USA, and we would do well to spot it in its infancy in Australia before it gathers momentum. A full year ago, spurred by the findings of the January 6th Committee (which examined the Capitol Siege in Washington following Trump’s Presidential re-election defeat), the New Yorker reported on White Christian Nationalism and warned that this phenomenon was gathering momentum. Let’s be straight up about this, too: it’s a bonafide threat to democracy. The sociologist in the article explained how the rightward lurch of the Supreme Court of the United States, the repeal of Roe vs Wade and the subsequent battle over women’s rights, as well as decisions on guns, environmental regulation and separation of church and state are being viewed by researchers not so much as disparate events but “as part of a broader cultural, religious and political phenomenon — one that is rooted in a specific reading of American history and, in particular, Christianity’s role in it. They call this concept white Christian nationalism.” [1] 

While in the American example, American exceptionalism and history factor in, I’d argue those things are less important than the Christian element. For a long time, Christian colonialism (a topic for another day) has fuelled the idea that there is a divine correctness in Christianity and that this ideology should be spread to the ends of the Earth as part of what Christians call “the Great Commission”. My observation is that there can be a sort of ‘divine urgency’ built into the pursuit of that ideology and its spread.  

Add to this the fact that Rushdoony’s ‘Biblical Reconstructionism’ gave rise to the Dominionist idea that there are seven mountains in society that Christians are to take dominion of. Inherent in that languaging is a certain militance and aggression that should send red flags waving due to its diametric opposition to the sacrificial and loving nature of Christ. BUT! That seems to matter not a great deal to many of today’s neo-charismatic evangelicals. 

In an article in Time Magazine in November of last year, Perry and Whitehead remarked, “Christian nationalism is currently a minority position in the United States. Most Americans don’t believe that America has a special relationship with God, or that the federal government should declare the U.S. a “Christian nation,” or that being a Christian is important to being truly American. And most Americans want a separation of church and state. Moreover, tracking such views over decades shows they are slowly declining, not growing. But that’s not what white Christian nationalists believe. In fact, we find white Christian nationalists are uniquely confident about their prevalence and the growth of their own views.

The article went on to show how data indicates that these white Christian nationalists  (WCN) believe that far more people share their views than the number who actually do. [2]

Ladies and gentlemen, the echo chamber makes the voice of agreement far louder than the voice of reason. And that is why we have every reason to be concerned. In America, patriotism plays into the WCN viewpoint. They believe that America is a Christian-founded nation, and adherence to Christian ideals is the right way for the nation to continue. Frankly, I’ve heard many a preacher spout similar ideas about Australia. While WCN can be traced back to the 1600’s, sociologist Samuel Perry points out that it tends to “bubble up when white Christians feel threatened by outside forces—amplified by war, heightened immigration, or periods of economic stability.” [3] 

I’d argue a pandemic can be such a catalyst, especially when an apocalyptic worldview would dovetail nicely into that picture. We were taught this is the end times. We were raised to believe the rapture was imminent and we needed to save the lost. We were told that great trials and tribulations would befall the world, of wars and rumours of wars that would signal the second coming. The fear is real. The triggers are real. The bubbles are there.

The EU is beginning to pay attention to this issue of far-right extremism, appropriately, I’d say, as I have this gnawing feeling (having observed Christian culture for some time now) that where the USA goes, Australia and Europe tend to follow.

But Google White Christian Nationalism here in Australia, and you don’t see much. Or you didn’t until this weekend. More will emerge, I’m sure. But first, let me tell you this — Australians need to step on this now. 

The Australian Picture

Last weekend, at the Mitcham Bowls Club if memory serves, ex-Member of Parliament Kevin Andrews spoke at a Faith and Freedom dinner. A Church and State Summit was held in Brisbane in early March, featuring a panel discussion around “arming Christians to influence culture” via political activities. [4] The Summit was said to have been attended by ex-deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, among others, and featured advice on American strategies that could be deployed by the cohort to increase their influence. 

It landed around the same time the Australian Christian Lobby sacked managing director Martyn Iles, and signposted its intent to move back into a more politically heavy space rather than the more evangelical Iles approach. [5] While the article that broke the news of Iles sacking called it “an identity crisis”, I don’t believe that to be the case. I believe the Australian Christian Lobby is still the same group it always has been: still heavy with hyperbole, fear-mongering, and from what I’ve seen, a little light on actual facts. But this time, it’s taking the numerical gains reached under Iles and throwing them behind what I can only guess would be the dark arts of lobbying. It makes it dangerous, I believe, for any politician to engage with them. 

Two years ago, another Church and State Summit boasted speakers/attendees like Martyn Iles, George Pell, Senator Matt Canavan, and then Liberal National MP George Christensen. The annual Church and State conference was established by blogger David Pellowe. According to Sydney Criminal Lawyers who posted an article on the Rising Christian Right, Pellowe has “been caught in the past taking a selfie with members of white nationalist group the Proud boys. And he’s the editor of The Good Sauce Website which, on perusal of its articles, looks like it would appear to the National Socialist Network and former Senator Fraser Anning.” He is also alleged to have written an article that takes aim at the campaign to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody. [5] 

I haven’t looked at the website. Nor would I want to if its contents are truly that abhorrent. Happy to take the word of Sydney Criminal Lawyers writer Paul Gregoire on this one. But if you’re wondering who the National Socialist Network are, they were the subject of a documentary and investigation into Neo-Nazism in Australia, and are white supremacists who have faced calls for them to be classified as a terrorist group. [6. 7]

Australia is fresh off the back of an inquiry into extremism. But not enough people know about the findings. The inquiry cited growing concerns about the far right in Australia. “While the focus of violent extremism has overwhelmingly been Islamist terrorism and radicalisation, there is a need to widen the scope of what counts as ‘violent extremism’ in an era of alt-right and populist impulses, which largely hark back to ideas of national chauvinism and returning to traditional ideas of ‘order’, both publicly and privately. Significantly the relationship between acts of (terrorist) violence and gendered violence is gaining attention.” [8] 

The inquiry went on to discuss key themes that emerged in the research into far-right extremism. These included “mutually enforcing” far-right and anti-feminist sentiments. “Anti-feminism appears to be a ‘uniting ideology’ in far-right extremism. It brings together key themes that animate far-right ideology, such as hierarchy, order, power and a preference for ‘tradition’; it also becomes reinforcing when those who hold far-right views believe ‘the system’ works against them, and harbour a sense of ‘aggrieved entitlement’ which is related to ideas of relative deprivation (that minorities and women benefit at their expense). I’ll admit this link between anti-feminist sentiment and far-right extremism was jarring to read, but findings in Europe seem to indicate the same or similar things. [9]

It might, on the surface, seem like Saturday’s protest wasn’t typical in that it was supposedly a “Let women speak” event. But this particular branch of feminism was the terrority of TERF’s: trans-exclusionary radical feminism. And that’s a topic (too large for today) that overlaps with the chauvinistic, traditionalist, anti-progressive sentiments that do track as on-brand for far-right extremism.

This is all good in theory. But what is the lived experience? 

Certainly, my experience in right-wing life included anti-feminist ideals, including feminine submission and traditional gender roles, as well as ideas that God’s government is higher than the government of man, and that traditional values should remain over ‘ungodly’ progressive values. My experience was so immersive, so sincere, so echoic that I believed there to be eternal consequences should I fail to live this way and reach other people with this “truth.” I say ‘echoic’ because no one in my immediate circle would have been able to correct me. Having been homeschooled, immersed almost daily in church activities, and completely surrounded by people who subscribed to the same school of thought and doctrine, I don’t believe there was anyone in my world who had enough free thought or influence to challenge problematic concepts.

I write this because it’s all fine to be enraged. It’s all nice to think you were never part of the problem. But I was. I was part of the problem. I was anti-feminist and anti-choice. I believed things about LGBTQA+ people that physically make my stomach churn right now.  

Yes, I do concede that I was raised in this way of thinking, was completely surrounded by people who echoed and reinforced these doctrines, and had very little choice in my formative years. I am buoyed every time someone says to me, “You always seemed different,” but it doesn’t ease the pain of knowing that, should I not have married the man I married and should he not have offered me the safety and protection to leave that group, I may have been at that rally on Saturday. And I would not have seen that my proximity to Neo-Nazis made me part of the problem. The cognitive dissonance would have been rattling around in my head, and I would not have seen the overlapping Venn diagram of anti-trans hate and antisemitism/racism / domestic terrorism. I would not have acknowledged that in groups adjacent to mine, the hatred against trans people is as vitriolic as the hate against Jewish people during the holocaust. If that seems repulsive to read, just look at what was behind Moira Deeming on the steps of Parliament as she spoke. 

This is why I refuse to separate the dangers of far-right ideology and extreme-right WCN-type ideology.  Because what is psychologically adjacent to us is easier to accept. And this is why we need to be aware of what is bubbling away in the far-right. This is why we can’t let the anti-trans campaigners pull the wool over our eyes as they try to downplay the connection. Those Nazis turned up to support their cause. 

I’ll also say this: I would not have identified as a Nazi if I were there. I would have spouted the ideology that the Jewish race are God’s chosen people, and it’s so sad that the message of the campaign would be overshadowed. But this is the danger. People who have been radicalised in or into these groups rarely see themselves for what they truly are. We tell ourselves that we are doing God’s work, standing up for what Australia needs, and saving people. We tell ourselves we aren’t homophobic because we have a gay friend. We tell ourselves we aren’t racist because we have people of colour at our churches. Maybe not all of us are racist. I certainly don’t think I ever was. Heck, the presiding apostle of the network I was in was a Malaysian man of Tamil (Indian) descent. But I didn’t see, believe in or acknowledge the privilege I had as a white woman, or the ways in which systemic racism affects people of colour. I sit with this heaviness now. 

Here’s what I did do, though. 

I did support my then-husband as we made inroads into the National Party. I did sit in a National Party meeting knowing fully well several other members had signed up recently as part of a coordinated effort to disendorse Darren Chester (a Federal Member of Parliament) over his support of marriage equality. I did so knowing we were on a mission to block marriage equality at all costs, believing there to be national and eternal consequences if we failed. I did vote for his disendorsement, even though it made me feel ill. I was aware of a coordinated campaign by a very small group of people to make the backlash against Chester seem gigantic. In fact, it was only tiny. Ignorable. Insignificant. 

These are things I did. Things I am deeply ashamed of. But I was inside the dominionist movement that set out to infiltrate politics and bring the will of God on Earth through influencing politics and gaining political power. I read the emails from our international network head, emails that instructed us on what to do. I was in meetings where political dominion was discussed. I was in meetings and social situations where anti-gay and anti-trans rhetoric was discussed. I was a partner in a “Kingdom business” that was part of a church effort to have 20 “kingdom businesses” in my town by the year 2020 and take dominion in the business district.  I discipled younger members of the church towards finding their area of dominion and chasing it down. I sat in church meetings and kept timestamps of where the messages needed to be censored before they were put up on the internet so that the preacher wasn’t hit with religious vilification action or employment consequences. I did it all in service of what I then thought to be a loving God. But what I now see as founded on the idea of total depravity outside the bounds of Christian, anti-LGBTQA, complementarian (anti-feminist) legalism.

Like the movement I was in, I believed we were sent by God to save people from the error of their ways, “the spirit of the age,” as we called it. Like the movement I was in, I believed we were custodians of a higher truth — a higher law. I read books about martyrdom and was willing to “lay down my life for the cause.” Yes, that is the exact line repeated ad nauseam in my world. Other lines featured, too. 

“You learn by obedience, or you learn by pain.” 

“If you obey the words of the father, all will go well for you.” 

“Let’s cross over to take over.” 

“Dominion in every domain.” 

There was even scripture in there. “The kingdom of Hell suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.”  The meaning I made of that? If you weren’t for us, you were against us. And we were on a mission from Heaven.

Read into that what you will. I am confessing for me and only me. But I am telling you my belief that this rhetoric still goes on, that this strength of conviction and commitment still exists in groups like the one I exited. But draw your own conclusions as I have not set foot inside my old church (or any other one for years)

It was bloody hard for me to look in the mirror when the scales first fell from my eyes. Was I homophobic? Even though two of my best friends were gay, and I was married to a man who “used to be gay” (Pffft. Read more on that here). Was I transphobic? No! I wasn’t afraid of these people! I believed that Christ in me was the answer for them. If I read the research on the profound damage that sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts left or the data on their overwhelming failure to do anything it claimed to do, I would have explained it away.  When you are brainwashed, you can’t afford not to explain it away. Your entire identity, security, social situation, goals, and worldview is wrapped up in this call, this move of God, this group sent to save the lost. This “Heavenly mandate.” 

I was also miserable. Sparkly, vivacious, but miserable and traumatised. 

I changed my mind quietly long before I finally got out. And getting out cost me a lot. So did staying quiet for seven years. So did speaking out last year though it made my soul lighter. I am making the decision to be vulnerable here and fess up to what I believed because I want you to know this: people don’t know they are radicalised. You can’t pop that bubble for them all that easily. And if you are radicalised into far-right Christian ideology, you are a long way down a continuum that leads nowhere good, and it’s unlikely you can see it for what it is. That’s why we need to see it and slow or stop the creep of radicalised or far-right groups into positions of power. Let me show you how the creep works.

Ideas of traditional marriage are adjacent to non-support of marriage equality. 

These ideas are adjacent to the passive non-support of LGBTQA+ people. 

Passive non-support is adjacent to active anti-LGBTQA+ rhetoric

These ideas are adjacent to violent attitudes toward this group, and violent attitudes adjacent to violent intent. I could go on. At every step of the way, selective evidence, confirmation bias, and even the Bible can be cherry-picked within a persecution complex paradigm to ‘confirm’ dangerous ideas.

 Do it individually and it’s bad. Do it legislatively and it’s disgusting. Do it societally, and history tells us through other means where that leads. I don’t even want to type the words.

You might say that right now, I am catastrophising. And certainly, I am painting a dramatic picture. But I do it on purpose because while the far-right argue the slippery slope of trans and gay rights, and take to the streets to protest as they did at the anti-trans protest on Saturday, they are, in fact, on a slippery slope of their own. 

I don’t expect anyone from that cohort to see it. Looking back, I’m surprised I did. I was the eldest daughter of Christian ministers. I was devout—raised on the idea of dying to self so that Christ could live through me. I was raised to know that the world’s wisdom was inferior to the inexplicable, revelatory wisdom of God. I was of a higher order, chosen for such a time as this to seek and save the lost. 

I was. Wrong. 

That’s why we need to be aware of radicalisation. Radicalisation is a process. It is best explained as when a person undergoes “a transformation over a period of time.” [10] It can be gradual. It can be fast. 

Reflecting back, I was trained to look for moments in people’s lives when they might be more open to the idea of God. Things like the death of a partner or parent, of a grandparent, the loss of a job, a personal crisis, an unhappy or abusive relationship or an outside crisis that might destabilise them. These were moments when a friendship could be struck. After a friendship was solidified, I was trained to introduce more friends from my group, and then bring the target person to church events before inviting them to church. If you look at the “Act Early” website from the UK (instructing us on what to look for when spotting radicalisation), these things all ring true as triggers for radicalisation. 

There are said to be four stages in radicalisation. [10]  They are as follows: 

The pre-radical stage is when a person joins or identifies with a group or organisation.

The self-identifying stage is when the person believes and accepts the beliefs and views held by the group or organisation.

The Indoctrination stage occurs as the person is groomed by the group or organisation, pulling them further down the pathway of transformation.

The Terrorism stage is when a person becomes involved in committing terrorist acts. 

In my opinion, most concerning churches and groups stop at the third stage. They do not encourage terrorist acts. Mine certainly did not encourage terrorism. That is important to clarify. At no point did they endorse terrorism in any way.  

They believed, believe, they are bringing about God’s will for Australia. They are willing to lay down their lives for the cause. Such is the strength of their conviction, a conviction motivated by love. My concern is that these ideas lay the kindling. The outside world can bring the kerosene and the match. We rely on safeguards like the Ten Commandments, Christian and pseudo-Christian morality, and common sense to ensure this goes no further. But is that enough for all people in all far right and extreme right churches? One can only hope and watch.

It’s difficult for me to read websites that chart the progress of radicalisation and recognise it to be a road I was on. It’s harder still to watch fringe groups develop and thrive during difficult times like the pandemic. I watched conspiracy theories take hold in certain groups of people during that period. (Qanon, Flat Earth among others). I watched, from my vantage point as an exvangelical writer and podcaster, as the far-right talk in many American and non-American churches and church-adjacent groups took on some truly strange undertones. I thank — I dunno, something — that life afforded me the opportunity to wake up. Many won’t. Many will continue down that slope of radicalisation, willing to lay down their lives to save the world from the things they believe to be evil. 

Who knows what that will look like? 

Progress is not a given. Not when the right wing is organising and fighting back. Slowly, quietly, behind the scenes. Politically, organisationally, and pseudo-religiously. It’s hiding, but on On Saturday, we saw it in plain sight. 

May we have woken to the danger in our midst. 


1. Luo, M (2021). How White Christian Nationalists Seek to Transform America. The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/podcast/politics-and-more/how-white-christian-nationalists-seek-to-transform-america

2. Perry, S., & Whitehead, A., (2022). Why White Christian Nationalism isn’t Going Away. Time Magazine. https://time.com/6233438/white-christian-nationalism-isnt-going-away/ 

3. Understanding White Christian Nationalism. Yale ISPS. https://isps.yale.edu/news/blog/2022/10/understanding-white-christian-nationalism 

4. Dennien, M., (2023). Long march: the right-wing Christian plan to infiltrate politics. SMH, https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/long-march-the-right-wing-christian-plan-to-infiltrate-politics-20230306-p5cpod.html?fbclid=IwAR2vhG9qedePTVaRbbIV6o1XTC1boRo4KQrXCvdKyszlO99N0CyT9ZCdDpA 

5. Segaert, A., (2023). Inside the Australian Christian Lobby’s Identity Crisis. SMH, https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/inside-the-australian-christian-lobby-s-identity-crisis-20230228-p5co7y.html 

5. Gregoire, P (2021). The Rising Christian Right: Dual Citizens of Australia and the Kingdom of God. Sydney Criminal Lawyers. https://www.sydneycriminallawyers.com.au/blog/the-rising-christian-right-dual-citizens-of-australia-and-the-kingdom-of-god/ 

6. McKenzie, N., Tozer, J., (27 January 2021). “Neo-Nazis go bush: Grampians gathering highlights rise of Australia’s far right”. The Sydney Morning Herald

7. Darling, Alexander (28 January 2021). “Calls for cross-burning neo-Nazis camped in The Grampians to be classified as terrorist group”. ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). Retrieved 5 April 2021.

8. Agius, C., Cook, K., Nicholas, L., Ahmed, A., bin Jehangir, H., Safa, N., Hardwick, T., and Clark (2022). Mapping Right-Wing Extremism in Victoria: Applying a gender lens to develop prevention and deradicalisation approaches. Parliament of Victoria. https://new.parliament.vic.gov.au/49338a/contentassets/82461965c3b84017a1c42439fdcf2ee0/attachment-documents/013._attach1_agius_barnet_nicholas_woolley_cook.pdf 

9. Pauwels, A (2021). Contemporary manifestations of violent right-wing extremism in the EU: An overview of P/CVE practices. European Commission (Home Affairs) https://home-affairs.ec.europa.eu/system/files/2021-04/ran_adhoc_cont_manif_vrwe_eu_overv_pcve_pract_2021_en.pdf 

10. What are the stages of radicalisation? Act early, UK. https://actearly.uk/radicalisation/the-stages/ 

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