The Dark Side of Nonviolent Action?

Right-wing Populism and the Use of Nonviolent Action

In: Populism
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  • 1 Department of International Relations, Gadjah Mada University59166, Yogyakarta, DIY, Indonesia
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Given a perceived qualitative and quantitative shift in the use of nonviolent action by rightwing populist actors in recent years, this article based on case studies from Austria (the Identitarian movement) and Indonesia (the 2/12 movement) discusses the methods, legitimacy, and effectiveness of the use of nonviolent action by right-wing populist movements. It finds that the use of nonviolent action by those actors is largely pragmatic and tactical and that it often is borderline in terms of remaining nonviolent. It further identifies that in line with right-wing populist ideology, rather than only addressing state authorities and elites, the movements addressees of the nonviolent action are often minority groups or people supporting minority groups. Developing a classification of nonviolent action in democracies (dissent, civil disobedience, political disobedience) the article further finds that right-wing use of nonviolent action has a tendency towards transcending normal dissent towards political disobedience.


Given a perceived qualitative and quantitative shift in the use of nonviolent action by rightwing populist actors in recent years, this article based on case studies from Austria (the Identitarian movement) and Indonesia (the 2/12 movement) discusses the methods, legitimacy, and effectiveness of the use of nonviolent action by right-wing populist movements. It finds that the use of nonviolent action by those actors is largely pragmatic and tactical and that it often is borderline in terms of remaining nonviolent. It further identifies that in line with right-wing populist ideology, rather than only addressing state authorities and elites, the movements addressees of the nonviolent action are often minority groups or people supporting minority groups. Developing a classification of nonviolent action in democracies (dissent, civil disobedience, political disobedience) the article further finds that right-wing use of nonviolent action has a tendency towards transcending normal dissent towards political disobedience.

1 Introduction

Nonviolent action is often perceived of being employed by actors that have less rather than more political and economic power and thus often linked to the political left. In recent years though, it seems that there has been a qualitative and quantitative shift in the use of nonviolence by actors on the political right and particularly by actors on the political far-right, who have at least in some countries been much more engaged in nonviolent action on a range of issues from anti-immigration, anti-abortion, anti-gun control, anti-mask during the Covid-19 pandemic. In several instances, they have been creative in applying a range of nonviolent methods and repertoire that was not frequently used before.

This paper, aiming to show the global scope of this shift, looks at two case studies of far-right movements who in recent years deliberately, creatively and (to a degree) successfully engaged in nonviolent action – the Identitarian movement in Austria and the 2/12 Islamist movement in Indonesia. It starts by developing a classification of different forms of nonviolent action in democratic systems (dissent, civil disobedience, and political disobedience). Then, after introducing the case studies, it posits the use of nonviolence by these movements within these categories, identifying several common features. The paper further discusses far-right nonviolent action as expression of the global rise of right-wing populism. It argues that this link to populism can account for certain specific features of far-right nonviolent actions, such as its targeting of minorities and its tendency to blur the boundaries between dissent and political disobedience, as well as between nonviolent action and violence. The paper also problematizes a view of nonviolent action as a mere strategic tool.

1.2 Terminology

According to Lukes the political right is defined negatively as reactive, as a variety of responses to the left.1 O’Sullivan divides the right into four types: reactionary, moderate, radical, and new. Authors also distinguish the term extreme right, which is classified as a sub-group of the radical right.2 Eatwell classifies the radical right through four main traits: 1) anti-democracy; 2) nationalism; 3) racism; and 4) the strong state.3 Extreme and radical right movements are also often classified with the term populist right.4

Mudde defines populism as an ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, “the pure people” versus “the corrupt elite”, and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté générale (general will) of the people’.5 It claims that the aspirations of a homogenous people are stifled by morally corrupt elites and thus decries pluralism and compromise. Brubaker argues that Mudde’s definition is too narrow in addressing the horizontal effects of populism, the element of exclusion, as the definition of who the people are is often performed by excluding certain groups as not belonging, what Brubaker calls the ‘downward focus of populist anger and resentment’.6 Brubaker argues that right-wing populism ‘construes the people as a culturally or ethnically bounded collectivity with a shared and distinctive way of life and sees that collectivity as threatened by outside groups or forces.’7 Right-wing populism thus both excludes “others”, such as immigrants and minorities horizontally and certain parts of the elite – culturally cosmopolitan and part of the establishment – vertically. He identifies five core elements of populist repertoire: 1) antagonistic re-politicization (the claim to reassert democratic political control over domains of life that are seen, plausibly enough, as having been depoliticized and de-democratized, that is, removed from the realm of democratic decision-making), 2) majoritarianism (the assertion of the interests, rights, and will of the majority against those of minorities), 3) anti-institutionalism, 4) protectionism (the claim to protect the people against threats from above, from below, and, today especially, from the outside, and 5) populist style.8 This style has many aspects but is opposed to what is seen as acceptable speech, valorizes common sense and devaluating complexity using a “low” style that favors raw and crude (but warm and unrestrained) over refined and cultivated (but cool and reserved) language and self-presentation.9 The rise of right-wing populism can be linked to a number of developments, including the weakening of traditional political parties, neo-liberal globalization which led to rising inequality and was also accompanied by rising immigration in Western countries and produced socio-economic and status fears among lower and middle-classes. Authors find similar explanations for the rise of Islamic populism. Hadiz, for example, argues that like all populisms, the evolution of the “new Islamic” variant is closely linked to the preponderance of marginality, social dislocation and uncertainty fueled by the pressures of neo-liberal globalization, being ‘but a mirror image of the rise of populist tendencies in the West.’10 As the distinction between radical, extreme and populist right is fluid and arguably there has been quite some intersection between a radical and extreme right in recent years in many countries, this paper will use both the terms far-right and right-wing populism to define these actors falling within those two categories.

This paper will use the term right-wing nonviolent action for the use of nonviolence by actors on the far-right. Gene Sharp defines nonviolent action as a ‘generic term covering dozens of specific methods of protest, noncooperation and intervention, in all of which the actionists conduct the conflict by doing-or refusing to do-certain things without using physical violence.11 As a technique, therefore, nonviolent action is not passive. It is not inaction. It is action that is nonviolent.’ This paper follows Sharp’s definition, using his technical definition that is not laden with any wider political or ideological meanings. It also employs Sharp’s methodology of 198 methods of nonviolence as a frame with which to analyze nonviolent action by far-right actors. More recent scholarship uses the term tactics for what Sharp calls methods. It will thus use the two terms interchangeably in this paper.12

2 Democracy and Nonviolent Action

Literature on democracy and nonviolent action is spread out across several fields. One strain of literature about democracy and nonviolence is largely focused on the United States and frequently based around the 1960s US civil rights and anti-Vietnam war movements with a strong focus on civil disobedience.13 There is also a lively strain of literature about social movements and contestation.14 Another, more recent strain of literature on nonviolence in democracies broadly deals with changes in how authorities deal with nonviolent action with a focus on changes in response from states regarding nonviolent activism from the anti-globalization and environmental movements.15 In addition, there are some important reflections on authority, legitimacy, and civil disobedience, by philosophers, first and foremost among those Rawls, Gewirth and Dworkin.16 Trying to synthesize debates in this diverse fields, this paper will in this section discuss the question of when the use of nonviolent action in a democracy is justified and legitimate and suggest a classification of the use of nonviolent action in democratic systems.

There are many definitions of democracy and many forms and shapes of democracy.17 What all of these have in common is that democracy is based on principles of self-government and popular sovereignty. These mean that citizens in a democracy have some say in how decisions are made and what decisions are made (directly or indirectly). These features (among others) seem to provide the democratic state with a higher degree of legitimate authority then monarchies, oligarchies, or dictatorships. Nevertheless, all actual democracies fall somewhat short of the ideal of democracy and given that most current democracies are representative democracies and follow majority rule, there will always be a part of the citizenship that might disagree with the decisions made by the current ruling government.18 Given that elections only take place in some interval, citizens in a democracy thus should have and usually do have the right to voice their dissent to decisions made in that democracy. This right to dissent is closely connected to a range of freedom rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and press freedom and expressions of dissent are usually seen as part of political participation in a democratic civitas.19 Further, all countries face instances of what Galtung terms structural and cultural violence, which might warrant nonviolent action to foster justice-seeking change.20 Democratic countries usually set rules and boundaries about which expressions of dissent are allowed, where and when dissent can be expressed in the public. These rules and boundaries exist for a variety of reasons, but one of the major justifications usually surrounds issues of public order and public safety. For example, in most countries, demonstrations need to be registered with the authorities beforehand, there are negotiations of which public spaces can be used or occupied by the protesters. Many democracies also have limits to freedom of speech to prevent forms of hate-speech and racism.

In terms of nonviolent action, Sharp’s methods of nonviolent protest and persuasion can be closely linked to dissent.21 Shows of dissent are regulated, but normal parts of democratic contested politics and as a means of waging conflicts nonviolently should be encouraged, rather than repressed, given that they fulfill important functions in majoritarian democracies. One would though expect that it is more frequently used by those who are in the minority on certain issues or in opposition to the current government as those in majority would have the power to change laws and policies and thus would have less need for expressing dissent. Political dissent is limited and in principle respects the law as well as the normative authority of the political system. The scale and scope to which political dissent is allowed in a democracy is itself part of contested politics and frequently renegotiated. Most democratic countries also allow and have rules for nonviolent forms of noncooperation, such as labor strikes to express economic and political grievances. Nonviolent action in democracies can also broadly be distinguished on whether it is horizontal or vertical. In vertical nonviolent action citizens address the state and its organs when using nonviolent action, while in horizontal nonviolent action other groups of citizens, associations or corporations that are not directly linked to the government are the addressees of grievances.

Meanwhile, civil disobedience goes one step further by accepting the legitimacy of the political structure and or political institution but resisting the moral authority of the resulting laws. ‘It respects the legal norm at the moment of resistance and places itself under the sanction of that norm. […] Civil disobedience aims not to displace the lawmaking institutions or the structure of legal governance, but rather to change the existing laws by demonstrating their injustice.’22 Still further reaching than civil disobedience is political disobedience, which resists the very way in which people are governed, rejecting the political system as a whole. Whil observes that political disobedience is highly vulnerable to suppression and the state’s proclamation of law and order.23

In terms of nonviolent methodology, Sharp classifies civil disobedience quite narrowly assigning it as only one of his 198 methods (method number 141, civil disobedience of “illegitimate” laws).24 The use of civil disobedience in the literature and particularly in the public discourse is though at times wider than Sharp’s narrow definition, including a wider range of methods of nonviolent non-cooperation and even nonviolent intervention. This is likely based on the fact that nonviolent movements historically have used civil disobedience coupled with other nonviolent methods/tactics such as marches, petitions, etc. with this having led some authors to interchangeably group all kinds of nonviolent methods under the term civil disobedience. To clearly delineate civil disobedience from other methods, this paper uses the term based on Sharp’s classification.

Political disobedience, while in principle can employ civil disobedience as one of its methods, often takes recourse to a wider set of nonviolent methods, including methods of noncooperation and nonviolent intervention. Both civil disobedience and political disobedience can be forms of escalation in terms of political contestation as they often (but not necessarily) are preceded by methods of protest and persuasion within the context of normal political contestation.

There has been a long tradition of philosophical and political discourse as to when civil and/or political disobedience are justified. One of the more well-known attempts has been made by John Rawls in his Theory of Justice.25 Rawls sees civil disobedience as a central feature of the democratic process within a constitutionally ordered state. He argues that civil disobedience is one of the stabilizing devices of a constitutional system, although, by definition, an illegal one and that a ‘general disposition to engage in justified civil disobedience introduces stability into a well-ordered society, or one that is nearly just’.26 Given that most current institutional arrangements are not fully just, civil disobedience thus is an important and necessary corrective in terms of guiding institutions towards justice. Rawls develops a number of criteria when civil disobedience is justified. In brief, he sees civil disobedience as a measure for the minority, civil disobedience should be about issues that have high stakes when it concerns justice and other appeals (legal and dissent) have already failed.27 Rawls also provides some thoughts that can be linked to political disobedience, labeling persons who are not willing to accept the legal penalties of civil disobedience as militants.28

Political disobedience to a democratic system at first look seems problematic, because one could question with which political system one would want to replace a democratic system. People who are politically disobedient thus have to argue why the democratic political system in their view would not be able to accommodate their grievances and requests and also propose with which kind of system they would want to replace the current system. Thus, political disobedience is rarely welcome by political authorities (and often illegal), even in democracies, because it at least ideationally if not deliberately seeks the overthrow of the current political system and its replacement with some other system.

Right-wing populism has a distinct tendency towards political disobedience as it often questions the legitimacy of liberal political elites and institutions that in its view do not sufficiently represent the will of “the people”. As Rummens argues, ‘Populism believes that the will of the people is singular, that it can be captured and represented directly by the populist party and that it can be imposed on society as a whole even at the expense of the individual freedom of parts of the citizenry.’29 According to the author, it is deeply at odds with the principles and procedures of liberal democracy and tries to foster the marginalization of specific groups of society. It also tends to undermine minority rights and protections.30 Thus, even if it takes the electoral route to power it aims at reconstructing the state to an instrument of majoritarianism. Recent developments in a number of countries, with Hungary a shining example, attest to that tendency. This has led to a broad debate over how liberal democracies should deal with undemocratic forces. As right-wing populists are, as Crick argues, ‘impatient of procedures’31 there is thus a temptation for right-wing populists to undermine the democratic political system through acts of political disobedience.

There is also a recent strain of discussion of political disobedience on the left focusing on neoliberalism, globalization, and rising inequality. Harcourt, for example, has linked the Occupy Wall Street movement to political disobedience.32 In this left version, political disobedience is linked to counter what is seen as a democratic deficit that has opened in Western democracies due to neoliberal ideology and increasing elite capture of the democratic political process and aims at the creation to more egalitarian and participatory democratic systems. This is in line with recent contributions on left populism, for example, by Chantal Mouffe. Mouffe has located populism in Western Europe as a reaction to the crisis of neoliberal hegemony and to the evolution of post-democracy and post-politics, arguing for a left-populist strategy. The agenda that Mouffe proposes is to recover democracy and to deepen and extend it.33 While deeper comparative discussion of conceptions of political disobedience between the political right and left would certainly merit more detailed inquiry, this would exceed the scope of this paper.

When discussing nonviolent action in democracies we can thus distinguish between political dissent, civil disobedience, and political disobedience. Political dissent is part of normal politics of contention, civil disobedience is an illegal, but justifiable intervention against major injustices, with people engaging in civil disobedience being willing to accept the sanctions for breaking the law, while political disobedience is based on challenging the political arrangements of a democracy because of a claim that those institutions have lost the legitimacy to govern, and new arrangements are needed.

As the discussion of the case studies below will show, there is a tension within the field of nonviolence studies between proponents of nonviolence who argue that active nonviolence can be merely seen as a set of tools that can be used by anyone with the purpose to achieve certain political objectives. This called strategic (or pragmatic) school of nonviolence is often credited to Gene Sharp. Sharp, for example, writing about civilian defense argues that proponents of nonviolence do not necessarily need to be committed to nonviolence as the only means of struggle: ‘While civilian-based defense is nonviolent, it is not pacifism. This policy can be applied effectively by persons who have supported or used violence in the past and might again in the future under other circumstances.’34 This is set in opposition of principled (or ideological) nonviolence, which claims that nonviolence is meaningless without strong underlying ethical principles including a principled rejection of violence as a means of waging conflict, with proponents often following or being inspired by a Gandhian tradition.35

3 Nonviolent action and the political far-right in Austria and Indonesia

Since at least the financial crisis in 2008 we have globally witnessed a tendency towards deconsolidation of democracy and a rise of right-wing populism and extremism.36 This rise of populism has been accompanied by a rise and diversification in the use of nonviolent action by actors that are part or allied to those tendencies, with these actions tolerated if not encouraged or even endorsed by populist leaders. This section briefly introduces two case studies for this trend. First, it will look at the Identitarian movement in Austria, followed by the 2/12 movement in Indonesia.

The two cases were picked:

  1. due to their importance in the development of right-wing nonviolent action in the last decade. The Identitarian movement in Austria can be seen as an avant-garde of explicit use of nonviolent action by a right-wing movement, while the 2/12 movement in Indonesia has been one of the largest right-wing nonviolent movements in recent years.

  2. because both explicitly proclaimed their nonviolent stance;37

  3. to show the global scope of these developments;

  4. to show the prevalence and diversity of the right-wing populist issue in both older and newer democracies.38

3.1 The Austrian Identitarian Movement

The Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance defines the Identitarian movement as an extreme-right youth movement which in theory, style, rhetoric, and aesthetic is inspired by fascism. By using nonviolent action, strong online activism and founding their own publishing company they promote their ideology, based on the slogans of ‘Heimat’ (homeland), freedom and tradition. The symbol of the movement is the Greek letter Lambda, which should link the movement to Spartan mythology. The aim of the movement is the ‘Reconquista’39 of Europe from immigrants and to prevent the so called ‘great exchange’ a plot to replace white Europeans through immigrants. They also oppose liberalism and argue that democracy can only work if the population is ethnically homogenous. While the movement has its roots in France and is present in several European countries, Austria’s section, founded in 2012 and led by Martin Sellner has managed to gain particular prominence in recent years and has been explicit in its endorsement of nonviolent action as a means of political struggle.40 One of the main strategies to gain publicity was the creative use of nonviolent action. One of the first nonviolent actions by the movement in 2013 was the counter-occupation of the Votivkirche (historic church in the center of Vienna) where asylum seekers were holding a hunger strike to protest the risks they would face when denied asylum and repatriated into their home countries. The movement occupied the church for several hours to seek asylum for an imaginary character called Sepp Unterreiner to point out that there are a lot of people who because of immigration feel like strangers in their own country.41 In 2016, activists occupied the roof of the Green party headquarters in Graz (Austria’s second largest city) and unveiled posters stating that “Islamization kills”, poured red paint imitating blood on the roof and lit Bengal fires.42 On 14 April, 2016 they stormed the stage at Vienna University’s main auditorium during a rendition of Austria’s Literature Nobel Prize laureate Elfriede Jelinek’s play “die Schutzbefohlenen” that was performed by 40 refugees. They splashed artificial blood and unveiled posters and flags.43 In June 2016 ten activists disturbed a lecture on asylum and migration at the University of Klagenfurt, distributed fliers that read “integration is a lie” and performed a mock-stoning. In 2017 members of different European Identitarian groups chartered a ship in the Mediterranean to block migrants and refugees from reaching Europe and to stop NGO ships that aimed to assist them reaching Europe. While the mission failed it nonetheless created publicity.44 Several of these activities led to arrests and several times activists were charged, but they were mostly only convicted for minor infractions, while in a trial of 17 members in 2018 charged with hate speech and being a criminal organization, the members were acquitted of the main charges.

The Austrian movement is also closely linked to Austria’s right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ), which was in government from 2018–2019.45 The movement recently suffered a number of setbacks leading to renewed debate about disbanding the organization, as its leader Martin Sellner had links to the Christchurch terrorist and was investigated for being a member in a terrorist organization. While he was acquitted of the terrorism charges in December 2020, several other investigations are still ongoing.46 The movement was also banned by Twitter in 2020. Notwithstanding these setbacks the movement remains active and in December 2020 performed a new action by covering up a memorial of Markus Omofuma, an asylum seeker that died in police custody in 1999 during the process of deportation, while chanting paroles of “White lives matter”.47 The movement was also active in protesting Austria’s governments anti-COVID-19 measures that were organized by a number of rightwing groups in December 2020 and January 2021.48

The Identitarian movement must be seen as part of the wider right-wing anti-immigrant populist wave in Europe, where Austria has been a trailblazer with the unprecedented electoral success of Austria’s Freedom Party (FPÖ) starting from the 1980s. Many of the narratives used by the Identitarian movement were already introduced and tested by these right-wing parties, establishing a firm narrative of a threatened Austrian majority among ongoing immigration. It seems no surprise that the European refugee crisis, in which Austria was one of the most affected countries and where public opinion after a brief wave of pro-refugee compassion, tilted strongly in a more xenophobic direction, preceded the start of the main wave of the Identitarian movements activism.49 What makes the Identitarian movement unique is its very creative use of nonviolent methods, including many methods that Sharp classifies of methods of nonviolent intervention, such as nonviolent obstruction or nonviolent occupation. Sellner and his colleagues have studied nonviolent theory and are adept at using the methods to achieve maximum publicity. Sellner himself acknowledges that he has learned a lot from Sharp’s and Popovic’s writings on nonviolent action.50 And while the movement has faced severe backlash since 2019, the argument can be made that Sebastian Kurz’s (from the conservative People’s Party/ÖVP) 2017 election victory and later coalition with the Freedom Party was in no small part based on his rightward turn on immigration.

3.2 The 2/12 Movement in Indonesia

On 27 September 2016 Jakarta’s popular Christian Chinese governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (also known as Ahok) during an election campaign visit made a statement that was taken up by Islamic organizations as being blasphemous against Islam and they reported Ahok to the police for violating the country’s anti-blasphemy law. On 14 October 2016, after the Friday prayers, thousands of people, led by the Islamic Defenders Front, an Islamist vigilante group, held a demonstration in front of Jakarta’s City Hall. The perceived slowness of the investigation process prompted Islamic mass organizations to gather in larger numbers. Messages were disseminated through social media to invite the public to attend and participate in the demonstration of the Islamic Defense Action II which would later be known as the “4 November Action” or “the 411 Peaceful Action”. Protesters from outside the region began to flock to Jakarta to attend this action. On November 4, between 75,000 to 100,000 people demonstrated for the arrest of Ahok and there were also demonstrations in other cities in Indonesia. The demonstration, which was nonviolent until the afternoon, turned chaotic as it entered the night. The crowd in front of Indonesia’s presidential palace clashed with the police and riots broke out in several corners of the city. On 16 November 2016 Ahok, who already in October had issues a public apology and had since been questioned several times by the police was officially charged with blasphemy.51

The organizers of the Islamic Defense Action II revealed that they would hold another similar demonstration on December 2, 2016. The demonstration (later known as the 2/12 Action, the Defense of Islam III Action, or the December 2 Peaceful Action) was held in the yard of the National Monument, Jakarta. The demonstration’s official purpose was again to condemn Ahok who had by then been officially named a suspect in a blasphemy case and to urge him to step down as mayor of Jakarta. Estimates vary, but between 200,000 and 750,000 conservative Muslims participated, making it one of the largest, if not the largest, Indonesian demonstration since independence.52 The participants performed Friday prayers together listening to a sermon delivered by the Islamic Defenders Front’s (FPI) leader Rizieq Shihab. The prayer was joined by Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo (frequently referred to as Jokowi) as an effort to de-escalate the situation. Before the demonstration, the Indonesian police arrested eight persons for treason, claiming that they had planned to steer the masses to occupy the Indonesian parliament trying to foment a coup d’état.53 Mass protests still went on throughout spring 2017 and the movement fizzled out once Ahok was convicted and lost the mayoral election, but the 2/12 demonstration was certainly the nadir of the movement and thus has also given the movement its name.54

The Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict argues that the Jokowi government was blindsided by the size of the 2/12 rally, particularly the mobilization power of the Muslim organizations, but well understood its political impact once they did – particularly when Ahok lost by a landslide in the April 2017 election: ‘If the government did not manage to undercut the movement that the Islamists and their political backers had set in motion, it could become a destabilizing force, with the capital rendered impassable and the government held hostage to whatever the masses would demand next. It could also weaken Jokowi’s chances for a second term, despite his popularity, if the same kind of campaign could be mounted against him in 2019.’55 The government reacted with both accommodation and repression. In terms of accommodation, it “sacrificed” Ahok who was on 9 May 2017 sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, taking the immediate rationale for further mobilizing off the table. The move of Jokowi to pick the ultra-conservative Muslim cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate for his successful re-election bid is likely linked to his attempt to accommodate Islamic hardliners who showed their strength in the 2/12 movement. In terms of repression, the government chose to move against the leaders and partially succeeded. Some organizers of the 2/12 protests were investigated and charged with treason and other offenses and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, an Islamic organization that had the goal to create an Islamic state in Indonesia, was disbanded.56 The Islamic Defenders Front with reference to some of their illegal tactics was also outlawed in December 2020.57 Part of the Islamist movement also engaged in protests and rioting after Jokowi was reelected in 2019, but it was a much more subdued movement compared to the 2/12 protests.58

In Indonesia, the 2/12 movement must be seen amidst the background of what Van Bruinessen framed as a conservative turn in Indonesian Islam.59 Indonesia, while overwhelmingly Muslim (more than 87 percent of Indonesians are Muslims) has since its independence in 1945 had a pluralistic constitution and political system based on the national philosophy of Pancasila and was long lauded for its tolerant version of Islam. At least since democratization after the fall of the Indonesian dictator Suharto in 1998, we can see that part of Indonesian Muslims have become more assertive and more radical groups have challenged if not supplanted some of the more moderate Islamic mass organizations like Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah.60 While Islamic parties have been both fragmented and relatively unsuccessful at the polls (collectively garnering about 30 percent of the vote) recent years have seen many laws and policies (particularly local and regional sharia-inspired by-laws) that have catered to conservative Muslims demands and there also have been frequent incidents of violence and harassment against minority religions as well as Muslims that do not follow the majority Sunni denomination.61 The Indonesian blasphemy law has also almost exclusively been employed against persons from minority religions or Muslims that supported non-mainstream interpretations of Islam.62 Some of the Islamic organizations at the forefront of the 2/12 movements (particularly the Islamic Defenders Front) had for years engaged in vigilantism and harassment of opponents and members of minority religions.63 What was new about the 2/12 movement was the immense show of strength of those Islamist organizations and as Jaffrey argues the ‘government’s ambivalence towards the brazenly coercive demands for the punishment of Jakarta’s Chinese-Christian governor, Ahok, on blasphemy charges.’64 While the protests explicitly and narrowly focused on Ahok’s blasphemy charges and demanded for him to step down, they have to be seen among the subtext of these groups demands to introduce Sharia Law in Indonesia, if not for some participating groups to transform Indonesia into an Islamic state, which poses a direct challenge to Indonesia’s current constitution. The mobilization against Ahok can be seen as what George terms hate spin,65 where Islamic groups deliberately took offense with Ahok’s statement and amplified the outrage through their communication networks on social media. Being offended was a strategic tool to mobilize a large number of people and to push forward their broader political agenda.66 The use of nonviolent methods by the movement was not too innovative, as it largely followed the Indonesian penchant for large marches and demonstrations, coupling it with prayers.67 As noted, the surprising effect was the large amount of people those groups could mobilize for these protests, which went far above the core-membership of those organizations.68

4 Right-wing Populism and Nonviolent Action

The case studies that were introduced in the previous section stem from two democratic countries from two different continents with very different histories. Nonetheless, we can identify several similarities between the two cases. Some of these similarities can be explained by looking at the phenomenon of right-wing populism, others may be construed as part of a wider global trend regarding the use of nonviolent action by right-wing actors.

Based on the definitions provided in the introduction, each of the movements discussed in this paper can be classified as right-wing populist as they use both vertical and horizontal exclusion as part of their framing and use a number of Brubaker’s core populist repertoire. Each have strong majoritarian components, being directed against ethnic or religious minorities and justify their recourse to nonviolent action by a recourse to a discourse of victimization of the majority group. In the Indonesian context, while the blasphemy case is in the foreground for justifying mass mobilization, a further dimension surrounding Ahok’s case is the claim that Muslims should not be ruled by non-Muslims and there is an even wider set of claims connected to Islamic demands having not been sufficiently accommodated by the post-Suharto democratic political elites. In Austria, the Identitarian movement claims that there is a deliberate project of creating a non-white minority, fueled by conspiracy between elites and immigrants. Nonviolent action is thus justified as a reaction by a besieged majority opposing political elites which side with the minorities. One might thus argue that majority groups are acting like majorities with a minority complex.69 Given that in a democracy one would expect the use of nonviolent action more frequently by those in minority, such mind-set could provide a possible explanation for the rise of the use of nonviolent action by right-wing populists. The shift to a more wide-spread use of nonviolent action as a strategy might also be explainable with what Crick argues is populism’s impatience with procedures and norms.70 Given that populist movements on the right claim that they are representing the majority, one might argue that legitimately they should aim their efforts more on the ballot box as they might be able to gain political power through the ballot rather than by using nonviolent repertoire. In the case of Ahok, it would have been perfectly prudent for the Islamic right to wait until the legal process ran its course, given that laws against blasphemy were in place and police and judicial investigations of Ahok’s case were in process. But the level of mobilization shows that the blasphemy accusations were just a pretext for action, amid a wider set of populist goals. Mietzner and Muhtadi argue that the FPI not being represented in Indonesia’s parliament had established itself as a protest-party-in-waiting.71 ‘Similar to left- and right-wing populist parties in Europe and Australia, FPI has quietly collected the support of anti-status-quo voters. In contrast to its Western counterparts, however, FPI remains outside the existing party system, creating incentives for extra-parliamentary mobilization.’72 The 2/12 action should also not be seen as an isolated event, but needs to be seen as a wider element of a strategy of harassment and intimidation of minorities by the FPI in recent years.

The use of nonviolent action by right-wing movements can also be seen as an attempt to dominate or shift narratives. The Identitarian movement according to its leader Martin Sellner uses nonviolent action mainly as a tool to challenge what they identify as the cultural hegemony of the left based on multiculturalism. Based on Sellner’s analysis, political power follows metapolitical power and thus a transformation of society needs to be based on a transformation of metapolitical power and the establishment of a new cultural hegemony. To foster that transformation, the Identitarians challenge the leading narratives and authorities beholden to them through provocation and subversion in the form of nonviolent action. Having avidly studied nonviolent theory they aim to use the mechanisms of nonviolence against proponents of the dominant cultural hegemony.73 This also explains why there seems to be no major shift in tactics by the movement once a “friendly” government came to power in 2018. The Indonesian case study can also be interpreted as an attempt to challenge the dominant narrative of Indonesia as multi-cultural and inclusive state.

The tactics used in both cases are diverse and there is no clear recognizable pattern of the use of tactics over the case studies. Nevertheless, we can argue that the use of tactics is tied to each country’s repertoire of contention, but both cases also show some innovation.74 In Indonesia, as the Indonesian Database on Nonviolence shows, demonstrations (assemblies of protest and support) are the overwhelmingly used method of nonviolent action.75 The 2/12 movement, given its religious pedigree, coupled the demonstrations with prayers, which is not an unusual method used by Middle Eastern Muslim movements. By linking their demonstrations to Friday Prayers, the 2/12 movement leaders highlight their religious pedigree and make it more difficult for security forces to oppose the demonstrations, given that most members of security forces are also Muslims and any repression against praying persons would likely lead to a backlash in public opinion. When it comes to nonviolent methods, the Identitarian movement in Austria is clearly the more innovative, breaking with traditions of right-wing mobilization in Austria that were largely confined to demonstrations and counterdemonstrations in previous decades. Nevertheless, in some of their actions, we can find a faint echo of Viennese Actionism, a leftist artist-led protest movement from the 1960s.76 For example, their frequent use of fake blood might hint at them being inspired by some of those activities. The Identitarian movement shows the possibility of right-wing movements of using the whole repertoire of nonviolent action, including nonviolent intervention for their causes. This shows a steep learning curve on the side of the political far-right that is not prevalent in the Indonesian case study.

The examples studied also show that right-wing actors use nonviolent action mainly as a strategic tool to achieve limited ends. The effect towards opponents the activists seek is thus largely coercion rather than conversion or persuasion.77

The use of nonviolent action of right-wing actors can also be categorized regarding whom they target/address. A range of methods used is targeted vertically against political authorities, such as the 2/12 movement, who appealed to government authorities, but the movement would have never arisen, if it were not for the perceived acts of blasphemy by Jakarta’s Christian and Chinese mayor and thus has also a strong horizontal element. Almost all activities of the Austrian Identitarian movement also aim horizontally, targeting refugees, immigrants and actors that are seen as sympathetic towards those groups. Here the dual feature of right-wing populism that addresses itself against both “corrupt” elites and persons and groups who are seen as being outside of the populists’ definition of the homogenous people becomes visible. One might though question if the term horizontal is actually accurate here as through aiming their actions against minority and disadvantaged groups in society, right-wing movements seem to actually engage in a form of reverse-vertical nonviolence or what Ostiguy & Casullo call ‘downward punching’.78 Ostiguy and Casullo argue that ‘right-wing populisms, sociologically, are “downward punching”, toward a social Other that is depicted, certainly, as culturally (or ethnically) outsider, but that is also at the same time (or “should be”, in their view), lower sociologically and in entitlements than their “native” social equivalents.’

Returning to the distinction this paper drew between nonviolence as an expression of dissent as contested politics, civil disobedience, and political disobedience, where can we locate the examples of right-wing nonviolent action? Most of the nonviolent action we have described in the case studies seems to be situated between political dissent and political disobedience. In many instances these are borderline. For example, as the arrests for treason of leaders of the 2/12 movement show the Indonesian government feared that the movement could lead to an overthrow of the government. In his 2017 lecture on nonviolence, Sellner, the leader of the Identitarian movement, frequently refers to Chenoweth and Stephan’s research on strategic nonviolence and also often uses the Serbian movement Otpor as an example.79 As these are mainly about overthrowing authoritarian regimes, it seems that Sellner believes that these lessons and methods are also legitimate and relevant when dealing with a democratic state such as Austria, which could also point towards an endorsement of political disobedience. This blurring of boundaries between normal contestation and political disobedience is also accompanied by a blurring of the boundaries between nonviolent action and violence. Very often, acts of right-wing nonviolence are accompanied by outright violence (here recent events in the US, where right-wing protesters stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, can be seen as a potent example). But even if they are not accompanied by outright violence, right-wing activists often revert to threats of violence and harassment. In Indonesia, the Islamic Defenders Front was renowned long before the 2/12 protests for the real-life and online harassment and intimidation of opponents and minority groups. The Identitarian movement also seems to revert to harassment and even assault (one of the lecturers in Klagenfurt was for example assaulted by Identitarian activists). While haunting, taunting, and nonviolent harassment of officials are distinct nonviolent methods according to Sharp, right-wing actors apply such methods to non-officials and often to minority groups – thus they likely can no longer be classified as active nonviolence, which casts a shadow at the overall legitimacy of many activities of those actors when looked at through the lens of nonviolent action.

Interestingly, there are no indications from the case studies that the right-wing movements have reverted to civil disobedience. This could be due to there simply not being many laws that are injust against the majority in both countries, and/or a lack of the willingness to accept the consequences of civil disobedience.

Looking at the two cases, we can see that the right-wing actors use nonviolent action in a strategic (pragmatic) way to more effectively reach their political ends. The Identitarian leader Sellner argues that he is not in principle against violence, but that violence is not the solution to the problem of cultural hegemony and metapolitical power that the Identitarians identify as the main issue and that it simply is the more effective tool for this kind of struggle.80 At least partially it seems that right-wing populist movements also increasingly use nonviolent action with the aim to face lesser scrutiny and repression by the state than if they used violence.81 Police and security forces also seem to be less willing to use repression against right-wing political actors and at times even seem to outright endorse those actors when compared to nonviolent action by left-wing actors.82

The easy uptake of the strategic nonviolence literature and skillful use of tactics by the Identitarian movement thus begs the question if active nonviolence should be a value-free endeavor that can be taken up by any actor for whatever purpose? To a certain degree the answer must be yes. Proponents of the political right and even far-right have the right to use active nonviolence in the space of contested politics that democracies provide. Democratic polities will profit if actors on the political fringes express their claims nonviolently rather than by reverting to violence. But there are also weighty arguments to be made that a value-free view of nonviolent action falls too short, and that nonviolent action needs to be linked to the striving for just ends. In that respect, when right-wing movements use nonviolent action to promote deepening of structural and/or cultural violence, particularly by downward-punching against minorities, one has to question the legitimacy of their methods. There is also a threat that right-wing movements use nonviolent action to amplify the power of the majority to pressure governments for pro-majoritarian action, thus making problematic use of the power of the majority. In these cases, the legitimacy (albeit not the legality) of the use of nonviolent action by right-wing actors should be under question. In terms of questioning the legality, while the boundaries are not clearly delineated, governments have a right and likely duty to reign in actions that qualify as political disobedience, particularly when they are aimed at undermining and overthrowing the democratic system. Governments should also act firmly when the boundaries of nonviolence are crossed, and actions turn into harassment, intimidation or worse.

Finally, how effective have the movements been in achieving their aims through the use of nonviolent action? Here, the answer is a mixed one. On the one hand, both movements were successful in achieving several of their goals – 2/12 by having Ahok removed and intimidating the government to accommodate some of their political demands and the Identitarian movement by garnering a lot of publicity and contributing to shifting the political narrative in Austria to the right. While it is difficult to estimate how large the support for the 2/12 movement was, Chenoweth and Stephan’s work has shown that mass mobilization has historically been a critical component for the success of civil resistance movements.83 The interesting question is if a rather small movement, such as the Identitarians can make up for strength in numbers through the use of a wider and more “radical” repertoire of nonviolent tactics.

On the other hand, both movements have also seen significant backlash from the government side, which this paper would largely link to their inability to stay within the boundaries of political dissent and nonviolent action. The question is if this inability is case specific or due to their right-wing populist mindset? This paper would argue that the evidence points towards the second explanation.

This study shows that far-right actors have learned and studied the nonviolent playbook largely developed by actors on the political left and are becoming more adept at using those tactics to advance majoritarian, illiberal, and even anti-democratic claims. Thus, the study of right-wing nonviolence is an important issue also when it comes to defending democracies against the threat of right-wing populism. More detailed studies and analysis might therefore be highly warranted. A further research agenda might investigate several issues:

First, there is room for a larger quantitative study of the use of right-wing nonviolence to support the claim of this paper that right-wing nonviolence is globally on the rise. Second, additional case studies would also be helpful in verifying claims about trends connecting right-wing nonviolent action and populism as made in this paper. Third, another aspect about the use of rightwing nonviolent action is the gender dimension. Research has shown that right-wing populist movements are very male dominated, thus most activists and leaders are men. Sauer argues that gender and sexuality have been important pillars of radical right-wing ideologies for a long time.84 Here, there are many similarities in regards of how gender is perceived between Indonesian Islamists and right-wing actors in the US and Europe in that they are staunchly patriarchic and hostile to non-heteronormative gender identities. Sauer also argues that right-wing movements celebrate ‘heroic masculinity’.85 It would be highly interesting to unpack how those gendered understandings translate into gender roles and tactical and strategic choices of those movements when it comes to nonviolent actions. Fourth, there is also a large discourse about the media environment and the rise of right-wing populism.86 The movements discussed in this paper are very adept in developing social and online media to spread their ideas and to mobilize supporters. They also use their nonviolent actions as tools of communication and mobilization. Again, an analysis of social media use of those movements in regard to their use of nonviolent action might be a fruitful exercise. Fifth, study of governments’ and security forces’ differentiated responses towards left- and right-wing nonviolent action might help us to enlighten some of the appeal that the use of nonviolent action might have for actors on the far-right.


Lukes, S. “Epilogue: The Grand Dichotomy of the Twentieth Century.” In Ball, T., R. Bellamy (eds.) The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Political Thought. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 617.


O’Sullivan, N. “Conservatism.” In Ball, T., R. Bellamy (eds.) The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Political Thought. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 151–164.


Eatwell, R. “Introduction: The New Extreme Right Challenge.” In R. Eatwell, C. Mudde, (eds.). Western Democracies and the New Extreme Right Challenge. (London: Routledge, 2004), 8.


Ibid. 11.


Mudde, C. “The Populist Zeitgeist.” Government and Opposition. 39 (4) (2004), 543.


Brubaker, R. “Why Populism?” Theory and Society 46 (2017), 363.




Ibid 365–366.


Ibid 366–367.


Hadiz, V. Islamic Populism in Indonesia and the Middle East. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2016). 188.


Sharp, G. The Politics of Nonviolent Action. Part One: Power and Struggle. (Manchester NH: Porter Sargent Publishers, 1973a), 64.


Beer, M. Civil Resistance Tactics in the 21st Century. (ICNC Press, 2021)


See, for example Hadiz, V. Islamic Populism in Indonesia and the Middle East. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2016). See also, Whil, G. “Civil Disobedience in Democratic Regimes.” Israel Law Review 51 (2) (2018), 301–320.


Tilly, C., S. Tarrow Contentious Politics. Second Edition. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).


della Porta, D., H. Reiter “Organizational Ideology and Vision of Democracy in the Global Justice Movement.” WP3 Report, Democracy in Movement and the Mobilization of the Society – DEMOS (European Commission, 2006). Fernandez, L. A. Policing Dissent: Social Control and the Anti-Globalization Movement. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers, 2008).


Rawls, J. A Theory of Justice. Revised Edition. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999).

Gewirth, A. “Civil Disobedience, Law, and Morality: An Examination of Justice Fortras’ Doctrine.” The Monist. 54 (4) (1970), 536–555.

Dworkin, R. “On Not Prosecuting Civil Disobedience.” The New York Review of Books. June 6, 1968.


See, for example, Birch, A. H. The Concepts and Theories of Modern Democracy, 3rd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2007) and della Porta, D. Can Democracy be Saved? Participation, Deliberation and Social Movements. (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013).


See Dahl, R. A. Polyarchy. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1971) for a discussion.


Birch 2007: 145.


Galtung, J. Peace by Peaceful Means: Peace and Conflict, Development and Civilization. (SAGE Publications Ltd., 1996).


Sharp, G. The Politics of Nonviolent Action. Part Two: The Methods of Nonviolent Action. (Manchester NH: Porter Sargent Publishers 1973b).


Harcourt, B. E. “Political Disobedience.” Critical Inquiry 39 (1) (2012), 33f.


Whil, G. “Civil Disobedience in Democratic Regimes.” Israel Law Review 51 (2) (2018), 307. Some authors use a broader definition of political disobedience that also includes civil disobedience. Macfarlane (Macfarlane L. J. Political Disobedience. (London and Basingstoke: The Macmillan Press Ltd., 1971), p. 11, for example, notes that the term ‘political disobedience’ is used by political theorists to refer to the performance of acts forbidden by law and the state which are consciously directed in some way against the authority of the state. We find this definition to broad.


Sharp, 1973b, 314ff. The method is included in his category of ‘citizen’s alternatives to obedience’ which comprises of 9 methods. Sharp distinguishes between purifactory civil disobedience, reformatory civil disobedience, revolutionary civil disobedience, and defensive civil disobedience (1973b: 316). As part of the methods of nonviolent intervention Sharp also identifies ‘civil disobedience of “neutral” laws (Method 196)’ which he (quoting Gandhi) sees as an escalation of ordinary civil disobedience that should only be used in exceptional circumstances such as an extremely unjust regime (1973b:420).


Rawls, J. A Theory of Justice. Revised Edition. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999).


Ibid, 336.


Ibid, 326ff.


‘The militant, for example, is much more deeply opposed to the existing political system. He does not accept it as one which is nearly just or reasonably so; he believes either that it departs widely from its professed principles or that it pursues a mistaken conception of justice altogether. While his action is conscientious in its own terms, he does not appeal to the sense of justice of the majority (or those having effective political power), since he thinks that their sense of justice is erroneous, or else without effect. Instead, he seeks by well-framed militant acts of disruption and resistance, and the like, to attack the prevalent view of justice or to force a movement in the desired direction. Thus, the militant may try to evade the penalty, since he is not prepared to accept the legal consequences of his violation of the law’ (Rawls, (1999), 322/23).


Rummens, S. “Populism as a Threat to Liberal Democracy.” In Kaltwasser, C. R., P. Taggart, P. Ochoa Espejo, P. Ostiguy (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Populism. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 561.


Ibid, 562.


Crick, Sir B. “Populism, Politics and Democracy.” Democratisation 12 (5) (2005), 626.


Harcourt “Political Disobedience.” Critical Inquiry 39 (1) (2012), 34.


Mouffe, C. For a Left Populism. (Verso, 2018). Mouffe does not explicitly propose a strategy of political disobedience to achieve that transformation.


Sharp, G. Making Europe Unconquerable: The Potential of Civilian-based Defense. (Ballinger Publishing Company, 1985), 44.


For a discussion see Wahlrab, A. W. “Nonviolence and Globalization,” in The Sage Handbook of Globalization, ed. Manfred B. Steger, Paul Battersby, and Joseph M. Siracusa (SAGE, 2014).


See, for discussion, Chou, M. Theorising Democide: Why and How Democracies Fail. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). Also see, Moffit, B. The Global Rise of Populism. Performance, Political Style, Representation. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016).


The leader of the Austrian Identitarian movement defined the movement as explicitly nonviolent. The 2/12 movement also explicitly used the term “aksi damai” which translates to “peaceful act” for its demonstrations.


The original study also included a case study from the United States. This case study was not included in this paper due to space constraints.


Reconquista refers to the historic reconquest of the Muslim kingdoms in southern Spain by the Spanish Christian kingdoms in the late Middle Ages.


Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstandes (DÖW). „Identitäre Bewegung Österreich (IBÖ).“ (DÖW, 2020). See also, Eckers, C. „Ausbreitung der Identitären Bewegung in Europa und ihre ideologischen Grundzüge.“ Journal Exit Deutschland. 4 (2016), 107f.


Ibid. (Eckers.). Also Die Presse. „Die Störaktionen der Identitären.“ March 27, 2019.


Der Standard „Wer sind die ‘Identitären’ und was wollen sie?“ March 26, 2019.


Deutsche Welle “Austrian police investigate far-right storming of refugee play.” April 15, 2016.


Die Presse. „Die Störaktionen der Identitären.“ March 27, 2019.


Glösel, K. „Alles, was du über die Identitäre Bewegung wissen solltest.“ March 29, 2019. Also, Schmid, F., C. M. Schmidt „Tiefer Einblick in Struktur der rechtsextremen Identitären.“ Der Standard. April 12, 2019.


Wilson, G. “With links to the Christchurch attacker, what is the Identitarian Movement?” The Guardian. March 28, 2019.


Der Standard. „Terrorermittlungen gegen Identitäre eingestellt“. 15 January 2021. Other investigations concerning donations to the movement by the Christchurch terrorist are ongoing. Heute. „Rechtsradikale Aktivisten verhüllen Flüchtlings-Denkmal.“ December 7, 2020.


Österreichischer Rundfunk Wien „Festnahmen und Anzeigenflut bei CoV-Demo.“ January 16, 2021.


Greussing, E., H. G. Boomgaarden. “Shifting the Refugee Narrative? An Automated Frame Analysis of Europe’s 2015 Refugee Crisis.” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. 43 (11) (2017), 1749–1774.


Sellner has given lectures about how nonviolent resistance fits into the ideology of the Identitarian movement. See, Martin Sellner. “Gewaltloser Widerstand.” 17. Winterakademie Institut für Staatspolitik. 20 February 2017.


BBC News Indonesia “Pidato di Kepulauan Seribu dan hari-hari hingga Ahok menjadi tersangka.” November 17, 2016. Institute for Policy Analysis and Conflict “After Ahok: The Islamist Agenda in Indonesia.” IPAC Report No. 44. (Jakarta: IPAC, April 6, 2018).


Mietzner, M., Muhtadi, B. “Explaining the 2016 Islamist Mobilisation in Indonesia: Religious Intolerance, Militant Groups and the Politics of Accommodation.” Asian Studies Review. 42 (3) (2018), 479–497.


Lamb, K. “Indonesia police arrest eight for treason before Jakarta Muslim protest.” The Jakarta Post, December 2, 2016.


Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict “After Ahok: The Islamist Agenda in Indonesia.” IPAC Report No. 44. (Jakarta: IPAC, April 6, 2018).


Ibid, 17.


Ibid. See also Wijaya, C. A. “8 Arrested on Treason Charges Ahead of Rally.” The Jakarta Post. December 2, 2016.


Paddock, R. C., D. M. Sijabat “Indonesia Disbands Radical Islamic Group Over Charges of Violence.” The New York Times December 30, 2020.


Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict “Indonesian Islamists and Post-Election Protests in Jakarta.” IPAC Report No. 58. (Jakarta: IPAC, July 23, 2019).


Van Bruinessen, M. “Introduction: Contemporary Developments in Indonesian Islam and the ‘Conservative Turn’ of the Early Twenty-first Century.” In Van Bruinessen, M. (ed.) Contemporary Developments in Indonesian Islam: Explaining the ‘Conservative Turn’. (ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute. 2013), 1–20. For a discussion on some of the cultural influences leading to this turn see Hamid, S. “Normalising Intolerance: Elections, Religion and Everyday Life in Indonesia.” Center for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society Policy Paper. (2018).


Varagur, K. “Indonesia’s Moderate Islam is Slowly Crumbling.” Foreign Affairs. February 14, 2017.


After the fall of Suharto, 42 Islamic political parties and several Islamist organizations such as the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (MMI), the Laskar Jihad, Front Pembela Islam (the Islamic Defenders Front), and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia were formed in 1998–1999. The Islamists demanded that Section 29 of the 1945 Constitution be amended so that all Indonesian Muslims respect Islamic law or Sharia law in its entirety. The attempt failed but Islamists later succeeded in the creation of more than 60 local sharia regulations in various districts and cities over a period of ten years Sebastian, N. C, A. Nubowo “The ‘Conservative Turn’ in Indonesian Islam. Implications for the 2019 Presidential Elections.” Asie Visions No. 108. IFRI. March 2019.


Sebastian & Nubowo (2019) find that since Jokowi took office in 2014, there have been more than two dozen blasphemy convictions, with the law being used to prosecute and imprison members of religious minorities and traditional religions. See also Human Rights Watch, 2013.


Between 2005 and 2014, The National Violence Monitoring System (NVMS) database recorded 33,627 victims of vigilante violence in 16 provinces that together represent 50 per cent of Indonesia’s population. This estimate includes the 1,659 people who died. The rest sustained serious injuries (Jaffrey, 2017).


Jaffrey, S. “Justice by Numbers.” New Mandala January 12, 2017.


George, C. Hate Spin. (Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England: The MIT Press, 2016).


George (2016, 5) defines hate spin as a ‘technique of contentious politics that involves the strategic use of offense-giving and offense-taking. Hate spin exploits democratic freedoms by harnessing group identities as a resource for anti-democratic collective action.’


Kusumaningrum, D., N. Kurnia, A. D. Rahmawati, A. Kirkegaard, et al. (2018). Nonviolence: A Key to Democratic Consolidation in Indonesia. (Yogyakarta: Faculty of Political Science, University Gadjah Mada, 2018).


Many NU and Muhammadiyah members proudly participated in the rallies, including former Muhammadiyah chairman Amien Rais (See Hamid, 2017, 8).


Fisher, M., A. Taub. „ʻOverrun,ʼ ʻOutbred,ʼ ʻReplacedʼ: Why Ethnic Majorities Lash Out Over False Fears.” The New York Times. April 30, 2019.


Crick, Sir B. “Populism, Politics and Democracy.” Democratisation 12 (5) (2005), 626.


Mietzner, M., Muhtadi, B. “Explaining the 2016 Islamist Mobilisation in Indonesia: Religious Intolerance, Militant Groups and the Politics of Accommodation.” Asian Studies Review. 42 (3) (2018), 7.


The authors argue that this constituency has not been accommodated by the existing party system, but temporarily entered into pragmatic cooperation pacts with leading politicians (such as former president SBY and Jokowi’s opponent in the 2014 elections Prabowo). After Jokowi’s ascension to power, and his seemingly unchallenged path to a second term, the Islamist constituency – symbolized and led by FPI – saw no other option than to mobilize its opposition to the status quo on the streets. Helped by their increased organizational capacity and assisted by their increased appeal to the educated, affluent, and thus influential segment of Indonesian society, FPI and its allies managed to stage the largest mass protests since independence (Ibid, 15f).


Martin Sellner. “Gewaltloser Widerstand.” 17. Winterakademie Institut für Staatspolitik. 20 February 2017.


Tilly, C., S. Tarrow Contentious Politics. Second Edition. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).


Kusumaningrum, D., A. D. Rahmawati “Creating a Database on Nonviolent Actions in Indonesia.” (Forthcoming, 2021).


See for a discussion, for example, Pantelić, K. “The Breaking of Taboos – Viennese Actionism.” Widewalls. September 21, 2016).


The distinction is usually accredited to George Lakey’s 1962 Master’s Thesis. The Sociological Mechanisms of Nonviolent Action. See also, Sharp (1973). In his lecture on nonviolent resistance (Sellner, 2017) Sellner argues though that their tactics and repression against them should also help with the conversion of some opponents.


Ostiguy, P., Casullo, M. E. “Left versus Right Populism: Antagonism and the Social Other.” Presented at the 67th PSA Annual International Conference, Glasgow, UK. April 10–12, 2017, 8.


Martin Sellner. “Gewaltloser Widerstand.” 17. Winterakademie Institut für Staatspolitik. 20 February 2017.




Sellner also makes this point in his speech. Ibid.


There is sporadic evidence that members of police forces in many countries are sympathetic to right-wing populist causes. In the US, some research shows that police departments have been infiltrated by white supremacists (German, 2020). In Austria, the right-wing Freedom Party receives a large number of votes from members of the police (Widler, 2016). In Indonesia, before the 2/12 protest police held a joint press conference with Islamist organizers, telling people that they would work together to ensure it would run peacefully, which incentivized a large number of people to join (IPAC, 2019: 3).


See Chenoweth, E., Stephan, M. “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict” International Security 33:1 (2008), 7–44. Chenoweth, E. “The Future of Nonviolent Resistance” Journal of Democracy 31:3 (2020), 69–84.


Sauer, P. “Authoritarian Right-Wing Populism as Masculinist Identity Politics. The Role of Affects.” In Dietze, G., J. Roth (eds.). Right-Wing Populism and Gender. European Perspectives and Beyond. (Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2020), 26. Such as a gender binary which is perceived as natural, or a traditional gendered division of labor in the heterosexual model of the male breadwinner and the woman as mother.


Ibid, 25.


See, Lim, M. “Freedom to Hate: Social Media, Algorithmic Enclaves, and the Rise of Tribal Nationalism in Indonesia. Critical Asian Studies 49 (2017), 411–427. See also, Holt, K. Right-wing Alternative Media (Routledge, 2020).

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