Based on empirical research in a number of rural communities in north-western NSW, this article explores the dynamics of rural crisis as it is manifested in and through popular attitudes and campaigns around law and order.There is no denying that crime rates in many rural communities are high, often very high by national standards, or that local crime disproportionately involves Indigenous offenders (and Indigenous victims). However, the views expressed in interviews with established White residents, in local media and in organised campaigns around law and order are suggestive of a much deeper sense of threat and crisis. This, it is argued, can be explained in relation not simply to crime rates but the way in which crime is experienced at the local level and the manner in which it is connected to other unwanted change that is seen to threaten the integrity of these communities. In order to understand these anxieties it is necessary to explore historical patterns of settlement, the economic structure and the culture of rural communities. Indigenous Australians have, at best, occupied an ambiguous and fragile position in relation to membership of these communities, a form of 'passive' belonging, 'conditional' on deference to dominant White norms governing civic and domestic life. Local Indigenous crime can be a source of deep anxiety not only because it causes harm to person and property but because it is interpreted by many Whites as a repudiation of the local social order, a signifier of larger threats to the community and on occasions as a harbinger of social breakdown. The article explores some of the key themes emerging from interview material that characterise this sense of crisis and relates them to the larger pattern of change affecting many communities: economic decline, changing government policies and priorities, the growing relative economic and political power of Indigenous people, debates about native title and so on.