Australia’s domestic spy agency has revealed a dramatic rise in the number of violent right-wing extremists under surveillance, while warning some groups are now employing Islamic State-style radicalisation tactics.
- Up to 40 per cent of ASIO’s counterterrorism case load is linked to right-wing extremism
- Some groups have been compared to Islamic State due to their propaganda outreach online
- ASIO says the COVID-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity for extremists to radicalise more people
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) has told Parliament’s Joint Intelligence and Security Committee that far-right movements are also taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to bolster recruitment.
ASIO deputy director-general Heather Cook said up to 40 per cent of the agency’s counterterrorism efforts are now focussed on thwarting violent plots by right-wing groups or individuals.
“Extreme right-wing violent extremism occupies approximately between 30 and 40 per cent of ASIO’s current case load in our counterterrorism work — and that is an increase from approximately 10 and 15 per cent prior to 2016,” she said.
Ms Cook has also revealed that ASIO is concerned that right-wing extremists are now using the same strategies as Islamic extremists to bolster their ranks.
“I think not dissimilar to the way ISIL [Islamic State] used its propaganda and its ability to manipulate social media to recruit the young and the vulnerable — I think we are seeing a similar phenomenon being used by some in that extreme right-wing milieu to good effect,” she said.
The threat posed by radical right-wing extremists came to public prominence following last year’s deadly Christchurch mosque shootings, and in February, ASIO warned that neo-Nazis were emerging as one of Australia’s most challenging security threats.
Under questioning from Labor MP Anthony Byrne, Ms Cook also warned that COVID-19 was leading to an increase in radicalisation.
“There’s always a combination of factors which contribute to an attraction to a particular type of ideology at a particular point in time,” she said.
“Some of the circumstances of COVID have contributed to an increase in radicalisation, in particular, because of the amount of time that individuals are spending in isolation or working from home or not in school.
“It makes it much easier to be finding like-minded individuals, there is a much wider variety of what I would call chat groups or areas where individuals with these views can coalesce and discuss and I guess promote those views more widely.”
Mr Byrne, the deputy chair of the intelligence committee, described the revelations of a rapid increase in violent right-wing extremists as “astonishing”.
Responding to ASIO’s evidence, Shadow Home Affairs Minister Kristina Keneally tweeted that Australia was still the only country inside the “Five-Eyes” intelligence network — which includes the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand — which had not officially proscribed any right-wing extremist group as a terrorist organisation.