Far right extremism a real and present threat
Counter terrorism raids on four properties in Victoria earlier this month have confirmed what many experts have been warning: far right wing extremism is a real and present threat to Australia’s national security.
Philip Galea, 31, from Melbourne was charged with preparing or planning a terrorist act, and collecting or making documents likely to facilitate a terrorist attack.
Galea is a self-declared member of the “patriot movement” and is reported to be a member of the far-right anti-immigration groups True Blue Crew and Reclaim Australia.
“This is the first time in the history of Australia that we have used Commonwealth terrorism laws to charge someone who is alleged to have been a right-wing extremist,” the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Counter Terrorism, Michael Keenan, told media.
True Blue Crew, United Patriots Front, Party for Freedom and Reclaim Australia are among a range of organised movements that have increased their activity in recent times. Some groups have strong links to the Australian Defence League, an ultra-far right wing group modelled on the English Defence League that espouses virulent anti-immigration and anti-Islam rhetoric.
“This is the first time in the history of Australia that we have used Commonwealth terrorism laws to charge someone who is alleged to have been a right-wing extremist,”
– Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Counter Terrorism, Michael Keenan
Andre Oboler, who leads a non-government online extremism monitoring service, the Online Hate Prevention Institute, said far right groups in Australia are getting louder.
“We're definitely seeing the far right becoming more vocal and far more comfortable in public. This is itself a problem as it makes those targeted feel less safe and less comfortable participating in public life in Australia,” he told The Point Magazine.
Oboler said such groups are highly influenced by international trends.
“The rise in the far right in Australia is in a large part a reflection of a global trend. That trend has seen the rise of Donald Trump in the US, there is an element of it in Brexit and it has seen far right parties elected in growing numbers across Europe,” he said.
Dr Duncan McDonnell, senior lecturer in government and international relations at Griffith University, is concerned by similar trends in Australia.
“I think groups like Reclaim and United Patriots Front they get a lot of media attention. They’re click bait. They’re not particularly significant if you look at the numbers. The amount of people protesting against such people is far more. What’s more significant is the rise of political parties who espouse such views. They espouse the view that immigrants are threatening our way of life, values and identity. It’s a politics of fear.”
MacDonnell said far right politics appeals to people’s fears about change.
“These parties are doing better in Europe because of anti-major political party feelings is on the rise, they say to their followers that those in government are the elites and they don’t care about you and have no interest in what the common man desires, it’s a mixture of anti-major party and fear in change.”
MacDonnell argues that far right politicians influence far right extreme groups, as they validate their concerns and fears.
“When you talk about immigrants in a particular way you make it more acceptable in society for others to do the same and act on that. Take the Brexit campaign and the inflammatory language used we’ve seen, there’s been a rise in physical attacks on immigrants of all types in the UK, not just people outside Europe but inside western Europe. Even if these groups don’t gain success they can be influential in changing the discussion and behaviour.”
Oboler said that although it may seem like some of these groups are harmless, in reality they pose a national security threat because they undermine Australia’s social cohesion.
“Behind this rise is concern about public safety after a string of terrorist attacks by Daesh (ISIS) in Europe as well as concern about the wave of refugees fleeing Daesh. The far right seized upon that fear to promote an anti-Muslim agenda, particularly in the UK, and then to take it global largely through social media.
Andy Fleming, blogger at Slackbastard, a left-wing blog aimed at countering messaging of far right groups, told The Point Magazine far right groups and politicians with far right views have a common thread.
“Currently, most expressions of 'far right extremism' in Australia have at their centre a desire to rid the country of Muslims. For many if not most right-wing extremists, Islamophobia has replaced anti-Semitism, while Islam is understood as being an alien and hostile ideology; an understanding shared by a wider and broader public than the 'extreme right'. Australia is no longer in danger of being 'swamped by Asians but rather Muslims.”
Fleming said ISIS messaging of ‘Us vs Them’ assists far right groups in further alienating Muslims living in the West and progressing the far right agenda.
“ISIS is understood by these groups as embodying 'true' Islamic values. As such, it serves as a central reference point for their understanding of Islam. I would argue that the activities of such groups -- which aim at marginalising and ultimately eliminating fully the Muslim presence in Australia -- complement ISIS's strategy in the West, which is predicated upon eliminating what it terms the 'greyzone' (the space Muslims in the West occupy). In other words, the two tendencies are mutually reinforcing.”
In late June, during the holy month of Ramadan, a car was fire bombed outside a Perth mosque and Islamic school. The Thornlie mosque also had graffiti spray painted on its wall with a message of ‘F*ck Islam’.
An active member of Thornlie Mosque, Yahya Adel Ibrahim, wrote on Facebook, "The Perth community was visited this evening by hate…"This, undoubtedly is a criminal act of hate, but it is the act of a person or group not the greater whole.”
Oboler said such attacks are a reminder that far right extremism needs to be taken seriously at a community and government level.
“These groups are likely to continue their efforts to normalise racism, bigotry and hate with in society. They are helped by those campaigning for an end to racial discrimination laws in an ideological push which disregards the competing fundamental rights of all Australians to safety, dignity and a fair go,” he said.
Counter terrorism raids confirm what many experts have been warning: far right-wing extremism is a real and present threat to Australia’s national security.