A parliamentary inquiry into the rise of far-right extremism in Victoria has heard that children as young as 10 are being radicalized.
Most important points:
- Investigative reporter Nick McKenzie told the investigation that deradicalization programs in prisons were seen by law enforcement as “a bit of a joke”
- He said police were overwhelmed by aggressive language online
- Liberty Victoria President Michael Stanton said restoring trust in the government and the media is fundamental in the fight against far-right extremism
The study examines how mainstream and social media have influenced a wave of right-wing nationalism, and how the COVID-19 pandemic has fueled the spread of misinformation and neo-Nazi groups.
Investigative reporter Nick McKenzie, who infiltrated a neo-Nazi group, said one of the biggest concerns was the increasing number of children who are becoming radicalized.
†[This group] is committed to recruiting young impressionable Victorians, and has had some success doing so,” said McKenzie.
McKenzie said deradicalization programs were insufficient to counter the influence of extremism, and called on the committee to conduct an audit.
“Our deradicalization programs in the prison system, others aimed at schools, aren’t really working,” McKenzie said.
“Certainly talking to contacts within law enforcement, they are considered a joke.”
Expert says Australia has seen surge in far-right ‘lone attackers’
The Victorian Greens last year called for an inquiry into far-right extremism, following concerns that Victoria had become a ‘hotbed’ for fringe groups.
In January 2021, police launched an investigation after a group of white supremacists gathered at The Grampians in western Victoria while chanting “Heil Hitler” and white power slogans.
Less than nine months later, what initially started as a demonstration against mandatory vaccines in the construction industry quickly turned into several high-profile, violent protests, drawing the rise of far-right agitators, anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists.
Charles Sturt University, Australian homeland security expert Kristy Campion, told the study that while it was difficult to measure whether far-right extremism had grown in Victoria, extremists became more unpredictable.
“Obviously we’ve been experiencing right-wing extremism for over a century, but what we’re seeing right now with lone attackers motivated by far-right ideology is a level of unpredictability that may not have existed in Australia in the past.” she said. said.
dr. Campion said extremism in the 1990s and leading up to the 2000s was largely organized by close-knit groups.
“What we’ve seen in Australia in recent years is a set of lone or small-cell actors who are not commissioned by an organization and who have an entirely different set of internal constraints,” she said.
“I can’t say it is quantitatively worse, but it is changing.”
Liberty group warns of authoritarian response to rise of far right
Michael Stanton, chairman of the civil liberties group Liberty Victoria, told the inquiry that the pandemic was being used by extremist groups to bolster membership.
But he warned that while the threat of extremism was real, governments should not erode civil liberties when trying to counter the influence of extremists.
“We need to make sure that when we respond to those confrontational scenes in the Grampians, whether it be Nazi salutes, displaying the swastika, or erecting a gallows outside parliament, we don’t have a legislative response that the baby with the bath water,” he said.
Stanton said institutional transparency, restoring trust in government and the media and separation of powers are “absolutely fundamental” in the fight against right-wing extremism.
He also warned against stigmatizing and lumping all anti-lockdown protesters into the same category as far-right extremists.
“There is no conveyor belt from exposure to extremist ideology to violence,” Stanton said.
“If they don’t feel respected, it will only reinforce the message from those extremists that the government cannot be trusted.”
Victoria takes steps to ban Nazi symbol in public
The Victorian government passed legislation in parliament in May to ban the Nazi swastika symbol, as part of an extension of anti-defamation laws.
Anyone who intentionally displays the Nazi symbol in public faces penalties of up to nearly $22,000, 12 months in prison, or both, when the laws go into effect in 2023.
The Jewish Community Council of Victoria told the inquiry that the organization saw a spate of anti-Semitic incidents in 2020 and said Victoria urgently needed a strategy to tackle online hate.
Posted † updated