IN THE MEDIA

The path to extremism needs to be blocked

Apr 12, 2021 | Naomi Levin

(Credit: Adam Calaitzis/ Shutterstock)
(Credit: Adam Calaitzis/ Shutterstock)

Herald Sun – 12 April 2021

 

FOR people actively working to identify and expose threats to Australians, the publication of recordings where Rightwing extremists talk of their plans to build violent networks would have come as no surprise.

The existence of these recordings has been known for some months, as have the links between a former One Nation political hopeful and The Base, an international violent extremist network.

But these recordings show, yet again, that the Australian government needs to update its counter-terrorism strategy, plus consider including a counterextremism strategy.

Australia’s most recent counterterrorism strategy was published in 2015 and ideologically-inspired terrorism barely rates a mention.

The case of Dean Smith, who in 2019 ran for One Nation in the federal seat of O’Connor, and then quickly descended into unfettered racism and radical extremism, is a lesson that illustrates the need for a counter-extremism strategy.

Smith’s far-Right tendencies were already on show when he contested the election. He received 7000 votes from West Australians who were happy to support his anti-immigration stance and to overlook his hero worship of Friedrich Nietzsche, a 19th century German philosopher and darling of today’s far-Right. At this point though, in May, Smith was mixing in the mainstream — albeit on the fringes.

Not long after he failed to win a seat in our federal parliament, Smith became highly active on social media, posting reams of misogynist, white supremacist and anti-Semitic content.

Four months after his election failure, in September, his posts went from deranged — “I think Christianity is mostly Greek and therefore is European religious tradition. What we’ve seen is a Judaisation of the religion so no wonder why people aren’t jiving with it” — to the downright disturbing: “They wouldn’t stop calling me a racist, so I accepted it. They wouldn’t stop calling me a Nazi, so I accepted. Now, apparently, I’m a white supremacist. If that’s what it’s come to, then so be it. According to the definition provided by the ADL (Anti-Defamation League), I am a white supremacist”.

By December, he was taking part in a vetting interview with The Base’s leader Rinaldo Nazzaro, telling him his thoughts on immigrants: “Really, there is no reason, they don’t contribute to the economy, there is no reason to have them around. And then (laughs), gradually I began to hate them.”

In that same interview, Smith, a demolition labourer, alludes to the fact he is prepared to engage in violence for the cause. He tells Nazzaro that while others consider him “an intellectual”, he is prepared to be a “foot soldier”.

Smith’s social media contributions and the publication of these recordings reveal just how quickly people can be radicalised to a point where they are contemplating violence.

While there will continue to be protections for free speech in Australia, we have to carefully consider the activities of legitimate political actors in leading Australians down a path to extremism.

One Nation senators, Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts, as well as other MPs, have spent the past year introducing many of their supporters to some crazy conspiracies.

Senator Roberts is particularly impassioned about The Great Reset — a collection of vague proposals espoused by the private World Economic Forum, calling for a more socialised approach to commerce as the world recovers from the coronavirus pandemic. He has spoken about it in parliament and posted about it on social media.

On social media, one of his Great Reset posts features Jewish billionaire and philanthropist George Soros, who supports many progressive causes, including several that some people have called extreme, and is at the centre of many far-Right conspiracy theories.

Senator Roberts’ views on this are fringe, but they are within the realm of acceptable speech. What is not acceptable is the conversation they generate. This conversation is left unmoderated on One Nation-run social media pages.

Responses to one of Senator Roberts’ Facebook posts include: “Sores (sic) is a f—in old Jew and has never been any good” and even more alarmingly for Jewish people: “Hope for the western world ended in May 1945 in Berlin.”

On a Great Reset tweet by Senator Roberts, there is a clear call to violence in a reply: “Over my dead body. Time to muster the troops Senator Roberts! We have a Country to purge.”

This highlights the position of One Nation in, presumably inadvertently, introducing Australians to the fringe ideas that are the gateways to many extreme movements.

It is imperative to remember though, that there are other registered political parties and candidates who dabble at the fringes, leading their followers into darker recesses.

So why does it matter? One Nation has a social media following of tens of thousands of Australians.

When just one of that crowd decides to take their fringe views further, it poses a grave danger to the safety of Australians.

The emergence of these recordings strengthens the case for the Australian government to develop a counter-extremism strategy.

NAOMI LEVIN IS A SENIOR POLICY ANALYST AT THE AUSTRALIA/ISRAEL & JEWISH AFFAIRS COUNCIL

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