Australia must face up to the threat of organised right-wing extremism or risk serious violence, an expert has warned, as the US issued a fresh domestic terrorism alert.
The US Department of Homeland Security has released a national terrorism bulletin, warning of the potential for violence from people motivated by anti-government sentiment following the storming of the US Capitol in Washington by Donald Trump’s supporters.
Although not pointing to any specific plots, the department warns of a heightened threat across the US, which it believes will continue for weeks after President Joe Biden’s inauguration earlier this month.
In Australia, there are calls for a hate crimes and incidents register and for extreme right-wing groups to be classified as terrorist entities after a gathering in the Grampians National Park over the Australia Day weekend.
The group of around 40 men dressed in black burned a cross, chanted slogans such as “white power”, and one of the organisers, an ex-army member, discussed “n****rs” on his Telegram page.
- Related: ‘Peddlers of hate’: Australia’s growing legion of far-right extremists hail US Capitol invaders
Independent researcher on far-right extremism and conspiracies, Kaz Ross, said the man, who TND has chosen not to name, has been trying to raise his profile over the past six months by doing things like appearing on overseas podcasts in an attempt to organise far-right groups under the banner of the European Australian Movement.
Neo-Nazi gatherings are not new in Australia but what has changed is the recent push to organise them into a community.
“Their vision is to say let’s form a network, let’s get everybody connected into this one network,” Dr Ross said.
She said some members of these white supremacist groups have been taken into the bush and trained how to use weapons.
People need to know that these guys are serious, they are not just a bunch of kids doing memes online.”
Last month, the royal commission report into the Christchurch terrorist attack found New Zealand security and intelligence services ignored the potential of far right groups to commit acts of terrorism.
The commissioners said the terrorist behind the attack that killed 51 people had been active in Australian extremist groups before moving to New Zealand.
“Do we need more Christchurch massacres before people take these people seriously – I hope not,” Dr Ross said.
She said the COVID-19 lockdowns had created a fertile recruiting environment for white supremacist groups, as people crave a sense of belonging and camaraderie.
“Joining a group where you are going out camping and you’re hiking and you’re singing songs together and you’re working out at the gym looks very wholesome, but unfortunately there is a very serious racist and anti-Semitic motivation behind it.”
Dr Ross said far-right extremists in Australia look to European identity movements for inspiration, particularly groups in Finland, Sweden and Germany, and are making moves to create a network of white supremacist businesses that help each other.
They also draw inspiration from The New Guard, a fascist group operating in Australia from 1931-35 which, at its height, had around 50,000 members.
“[They say] ‘we will finish the business that they began’,” Dr Ross said.
Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Dvir Abramovich called on the state and federal governments to list extremism groups as terrorist organisations.
We do not need to wait for a Christchurch in Melbourne to act,” Mr Abramovich said.
“Who would have thought in 2021 Australia, in a week in which we commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the modern face of Hitler would reveal itself in our state without consequence?”
Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has ordered a parliamentary inquiry into extremist movements and radicalism, which is due to report this April.
He has said proscribing an organisation is not a political issue but a matter for spy agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).
Some 40 per cent of ASIO resources are currently directed towards right-wing extremist groups.
Deakin University terrorism expert Greg Barton said extreme far-right groups represent a kind of toxic nationalism.
He said a federal hate crimes and incidents register should be set up to help monitor these groups.
“It doesn’t bring about a prosecution, it doesn’t change anything straight away, but it does give us a reading of the climate and indicate where things are changing and things are a problem,” Professor Barton said.
“If it turns out that there has been an escalation of incidents in a certain area and we can track it to certain groups then we can begin to see where we need to focus attention.”