One of Australia’s most notorious anti-Islam activists and former head of the far-right group United Patriots Front has converted to Islam, joining a trend of prominent right-wing figures who’ve embraced the religion for its conservative stance towards masculinity, gender roles and the LGBTQIA+ community.
Shermon Burgess became a national figure during the 2010s for his involvement in now-defunct far-right nationalist groups United Patriots Front (UPF), Reclaim Australia and the Australian Defence League.
Notorious for his role in the 2015 anti-Islam protests that centred on the construction of a mosque in Bendigo, Burgess was instrumental in organising dozens of protests alongside neo-Nazis Blair Cottrell and Neil Erikson. At its height, his social media page “The Great Aussie Patriot” would share racist, inflammatory content to tens of thousands of followers.
Half a decade on, Burgess’ personal Facebook account is now adorned with a cover photo of a Palestinian flag overlaid with the Shahada and features posts praising an Islamic prayer mural in the regional town of Jindabyne.
The former activist’s conversion is part of a global trend of prominent right-wing figures courting Muslim fanbases, sometimes by converting to Islam.
In the eyes of a new generation of conservatives, changing societal expectations around gender norms, masculinity and LGBTQIA+ rights have superseded asylum seekers, Islamic terrorism and sharia law as the single greatest threat to Western values.
The intersection of homophobia, transphobia and misogyny between former adversaries has led to an unlikely allyship between the far-right and conservative Muslims, particularly with young men.
Other members of the far-right, such as self-proclaimed “theocratic-fascist” Matt Walsh and commentators Candace Owens and Jordan Peterson, have been capitalising on their new-found popularity amongst the Muslim community.
Clips from Walsh’s anti-transgender documentary What is a Woman? subtitled in Arabic have been gaining traction amongst young Muslim men on social media, despite the fact that Walsh has condemned Islam.
In Europe, several prominent Islamophobic politicians went on to convert to Islam, such as far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders’ former right-hand man Joram van Klaveren, who converted in 2012 after studying the Quran for an anti-Islam book he intended to publish. Arthur Wagner, a leading party official for the far-right German party Alternative for Germany converted to Islam in the same year, even as his party claims “Islam does not belong in Germany”. In France, Maxene Buttey, a local councillor for the far-right party Front National, converted to Islam before being suspended from the party.