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Shining a spotlight on the extremist threat from within

The threat of terrorism has understandably receded in our minds while COVID-19 challenges our way of life. But as The Age’s investigation with 60 Minutes today shows, the threat of violence emerging from within should not be forgotten.

Extremist groups who identify as neo-Nazis are using the uncertainty and fear generated by the pandemic, among other global issues, to drum up recruits here in Australia, and counter-terrorism agencies are rightly concerned.

The risk from these fringe white supremacist groups has moved to the fore as the danger of Islamist terrorist groups – such as Islamic State – has receded, although the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan suggests the ideology of these groups is far from dead, even though IS itself has been driven out of its territory.

Members of the Australian neo-Nazi group National Socialist Network.

Members of the Australian neo-Nazi group National Socialist Network.Credit:

But lone-wolf attacks or more organised violence driven by the loathsome ideology of the National Socialist Network and its ilk should not be underestimated.

A group of people in rich Western countries seem increasingly drawn to the poisonous narrative that Jews, immigrants, people of colour and their progressive allies are subverting their imagined “white” society, and that they must be stopped with violence and a new order built on racist principles.

It was only two years ago that Australian Brenton Tarrant murdered 51 people in a mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch in New Zealand. In 2011, Anders Breivik, armed with a similar world view, murdered 77 people in Norway. There were white supremacist overtones in the assault on the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 6. These acts of terror are appalling, and they emerge out of a wider ecosystem of ultra-right websites and the social organisations that are nurturing them.

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While political speech should remain free, violent speech and hate speech against groups or individuals, speech that purports to incite people to move from nasty thoughts to violent deeds, must be scrutinised, and where it breaches the law, punished.

The investigation by Nick McKenzie and Joel Tozer today applies just that kind of scrutiny, bringing to light what is going on behind closed doors, and encrypted communications, in Australia’s suburbs. They have found Australia’s home-grown neo-Nazis reading Mein Kampf, the work of Adolf Hitler, one of the most reviled figures in history, celebrating his birthday, and even eating their breakfast cereal under his portrait.

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