AThe Uustralians watched in horror as a recognized white supremacist trimmed innocent worshipers at the Christchurch mosque in March 2019. The shock was heightened when it was discovered that the terrorist was Australian, pointing to a previously unrecognized potential for violent extremism to the right in the country. that. .
Suddenly, the threats were no longer empty. The toxicity of white supremacist groups and right-wing groups rotting on social platforms has turned violent.
It was a moment that should have taken the authorities out of the delusion that white supremacy posed no threat. By contrast, Christchurch has only amplified the movement, and some observers say Australian government agencies are too slow to take steps that might prevent future violence.
Matthew Quinn is founder and chief executive of the far-right disengagement group Exit Australia.
“I think they are still stuck on the idea that extremism is an Islamic problem,” he said. “I thought they would be a surprise.
“They seem to think whites are just hooligans, they don’t feel like whites out there are planning attacks.”
Quinn’s organization works to guide aspiring right-wing extremists back from violent measures, providing support to individuals who have become immersed in white supremacist groups and are looking for a way out. It is one of the few organizations in Australia to offer any community-based prevention or intervention program of any kind. .
In June, Asio’s threat assessment was sent to security professionals right-wing groups take advantage of the pandemic to support recruitment and spread their faith.
In September, the Labor Party’s shadow interior minister, Kristina Keneally, warned that Australia had not had “serious national conversation” about right-wing violence, and called for some right-wing groups to be banned as terrorist organizations. Australia remains the only member of the Five Eyes intelligence network – which also includes the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand – that has not added the far-right group to its terrorism watchlist.
But for all the talk of escalating threats and the necessary conversations, little has changed for those working in the field, with the few attempts to deradicalise youth that have led to violence.
“I think it’s an unconscious bias, where they don’t think it could come from either of them, and I think the federal government doesn’t see it as a problem,” Quinn said. Exit, helped by Quinn in 2015, claims on its website that it has “prevented more attacks than in years involved across Australia”.
At times, Quinn feels like a lone fighter in the fight against extremism in Australia, telling The Guardian he lacks confidence in the ability of law enforcement to understand and deal with the issue.
“It’s a bit worrying that people in that position are really catching up, that they’ve come that far. Law enforcement saw it [Christchurch] and thought it was just one crazy job. They don’t realize that crazy people have been radicalized by some extreme people. “
Lack of political appetite
Several government programs focused on counter-radicalization were specifically designed for right-wing extremism. Asked what steps were being taken to address the problem, the New South Wales Department of Communities and Justice and Corrective Services pointed to a pre-defined program, but did not specify any programs specifically aimed at far-right groups.
The federal Department of the Interior also points to pre-defined programs, some as far back as 2013, and the money spent on increasing law enforcement budgets.
Labor MP Anne Aly, an expert in counter-terrorism and counter-radicalization, said Coalition the government has no political will to tackle the problem.
“At the political level, there is not much recognition of the threat, there are politicians on the government side who refuse to even call them right wing.”
Last week hawkish Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells repeated his criticism of Asio during the Senate forecast to use the term “right wing” when referring to extremism, claiming it causes “unnecessary anxiety” and has the potential to offend conservatives.
However, on hearing the same, Asio chief Mike Burgess said: “At the same time, far-right extremists are more organized, sophisticated, ideological and active than in previous years.”
Aly pointed to a polarized national discourse as the reason for the lack of urgency from the government.
“100% makes things worse, helps normalize it, helps make it the majority view. When we have a leader who says the same words, it becomes more normalized, even tastier, ”said Aly.
‘There will always be a little lag’
Dr Debra Smith, a researcher at the University of Victoria who focuses on violent political extremism, said that any approach to the problem requires an understanding of the unique challenges posed by the group, and the dynamics of their beliefs.
“The right wing is adapting and growing faster than we are able to respond as a society, so I think there will always be a bit of lag,” said Smith.
Smith said that dynamism also means authorities struggle to differentiate between an individual curious about radical ideology and someone on the brink of violence.
“How do we identify what that looks like and separate that person from a wider group of people who would never be interested in walking down that path?” Smith said.
Quinn approaches her work from an empathetic and conversational perspective, believing that by talking to people, she can help them leave the right wing. He would know – he too had walked that treacherous path.
“I’ve been in that place, that’s what helps, I can listen to them. I listen to them, talk to them for a few hours, and from there find out how comfortable they feel moving forward. “
Not many ex-extremists like Quinn raise their hands to organize and speak up, something she attributes to the stigma that comes with claiming to be an extremist in the past.
“It’s not something you want to say, it’s not something you want to raise your hand and say, that you were the bad guy when you were young.”
There are international examples that Australia can take. Countries such as the US, Germany and Sweden have long pursued deradicalisation programs targeted directly at far-right groups, some even since the late 1990s. In 2011, an international network called Against Violent Extremism was founded by Google Ideas, and in 2013, 26 organizations across Europe formed the European Deradicalization Network.
“We have the tools to deal with this. We have research to deal with this. We can learn from other countries, ”said Aly.
The problem is not lack of tools, but will.
An effective approach will require an all-government approach, says Smith, with a focus on social cohesion, tailored interventions and changing attitudes.
The first change in attitude, as Aly points out, is within the government itself to see these groups for what they are: the threat of violence.
“Until we reach a place where there is full recognition, then we won’t have a comprehensive approach to it. But it must start with recognition at that political level. “
That recognition needs to happen now, Quinn said, if Australia is to prevent the Christchurch terror attack from happening on its territory.
“I feel like something is happening right now. As it is now. This was becoming so extreme, so absurd right now. “
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