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Thu, 21 Sep 2023

Extremist views infiltrate land claims

Image: Markus Winkler

James Cook University researchers say sovereign citizen ‘superconspiracies’ are influencing Indigenous and other groups associated with native title claims and may be leading some down the path of extremism.

Claire Holland is a senior lecturer in law at JCU and a co-author of a new paper on the subject. She said the Australian Native Title Act 1993 provides for the recognition of rights and interests to land which arise from the traditional laws and customs of Australian First Nation peoples.

“We investigated how individuals who either disagree with the premise underlying native title, or who have suffered negative impacts through the course of native title claims, may be either targeted by or swept up in Australian sovereign citizen superconspiracy rhetoric,” said Ms Holland.

Pascale Taplin, lead author and native title anthropologist, said superconspiracies are non-ideological beliefs that influence a person's worldview, and ultimately impact the way they interact with society.

“Someone who subscribes to a superconspiracy believes that many or several conspiracies are interrelated,” said Ms Taplin.

She said the sovereign citizen conspiracy theory holds that government and legal institutions are illegitimate, and that an individual can declare themself as a ‘sovereign’ individual.

“They believe a sovereign person exists outside of the law and of the jurisdiction of government and the courts. Sovereign citizens often believe the existing government is an illegitimate corporation,” said Ms Taplin.

She said the popularisation of sovereign citizen theories, including amongst Indigenous communities, is affecting the work of practitioners in the native title processes.

“People who are drawn to relatively moderate online content may be radicalised through gradual exposure to extremist anti-government sentiment and hate speech,” said Ms Taplin.

She said there is at least one Facebook page that invites people to become involved in positive relationship-building or empowering Indigenous experiences, but eventually reveals itself as a front for a community heavily influenced by extremists who espouse hate speech and threaten race-based violence.

“Native title practitioners are seeing an increase in native title claimants who are actively engaging with politically disruptive and problematic sovereign citizen superconspiracies.

“Dissatisfaction with the native title process acts as a hook to create buy-in to progressively more radical and extreme content,” said Ms Taplin.

She said the authors believe that practitioners within the native title process should receive training to work with groups whose members are exposed to sovereign citizen arguments, in order to steer claimants away from radical and harmful content.


Pascale Taplin
E: pascale.taplin@outlook.com