Sections

Services

Information

UK United Kingdom

The potential for far-right terrorism in Australia

As we approach the tenth anniversary of the Bali bombings, public discussions of terrorism are likely to focus on the jihadist threat. Australian governments have been correct to consider jihadism the…

British-born Muslim convert Jack Roche leaves jail after having served over four years in prison for threatening to blow up the Israeli embassy in Canberra in 2004. AAP/Bohdan Warchomij

As we approach the tenth anniversary of the Bali bombings, public discussions of terrorism are likely to focus on the jihadist threat.

Australian governments have been correct to consider jihadism the primary threat over the past decade. The Bali bombings demonstrated that this form of terrorism has posed the greatest likelihood of killing large numbers of Australians. There have also been several failed attempts at launching jihadist attacks within Australia, which would have caused many deaths if successful.

However, focusing exclusively on one threat can risk being taken by surprise by another. Judging both by incidents within Australia and international trends, far-right extremism poses a potential terrorist threat that is under-acknowledged.

Far-right extremist violence in Australia

Since 2001, there have been several incidents of far-right extremist violence in Australia. While none resulted in prosecutions under terrorism legislation, some could be considered terrorism as they constitute acts of politically-motivated violence.

For example, the only fatal terrorist attack in Australia this century was by a Christian anti-abortion extremist named Peter James Knight. On July 16 2001, he entered the Fertility Control Clinic in East Melbourne and murdered a security guard in an attempted massacre. His plan had been to shoot as many people as possible, set the clinic on fire and seal the doors shut. Fortunately he was wrestled to the ground, foiling the plot.

Another incident was an attempted campaign of organised violence by white supremacists in Perth. In 2004, Peter Joseph Van Tongeren conspired with John Van Blitterswyck, Matthew Peter Billing and others to firebomb four Chinese restaurants. Tongeren had led the Australian Nationalists Movement (ANM) in the 1980s, and the attacks were intended to coincide with the launch of his book, The ANM Story.

However, the planned firebombings were preceded by a racist graffiti and postering campaign, for which five people were arrested. Some of those arrested told the police about plot, leading to the arrest of Tongeren and the other conspirators. There were also reports of threats by the ANM to kill the then West Australian Attorney-General Jim McGinty, ASIO head Dennis Richardson and Prime Minister John Howard. The conspirators were later convicted over the planned firebombings and also for attempting to organise the bashing of a prosecution witness.

In February 2010, another white supremacist incident occurred. Two people who styled themselves as the Australian branch of Combat 18 (a UK neo-Nazi group) fired bullets at the Canning Mosque in Perth. It was later revealed that a West Australian police officer had tried to tip them off that they were under surveillance. The shooters and the police officer were all charged and convicted.

There are also other assorted incidents. In February 2004 three Asian restaurants in Perth were set on fire and spray painted with swastikas. In 2006 Victoria Police investigated claims that the White Pride Coalition of Australia had circulated an article that reportedly contained bomb-making instructions titled “How to Make a David Copeland Special” (in reference to a UK white supremacist who carried out bombings in London in 1999). Most recently, an 81-year old man was convicted for having spent three years posting bullets and bomb parts to Julia Gillard, Anna Bligh and other political figures, threatening to kill them and demanding that they expel foreigners and refuse entry to refugees.

Gauging the threat

Islamic extremist Wissam Mahmoud Fattal before being sentenced over a planned attack on Sydney’s Holsworthy Army Base in 2009. AAP/Julian Smith

While the threat has been under-acknowledged, it is important not to respond by overstating it. Australia experienced greater far-right extremist violence in the late 1980s, when the ANM launched a terror campaign that involved multiple firebombs, bashings and burglaries. Another group, National Action, was also involved in violence. In the late 1980s and early 1990s there were three cases of far-right extremists murdering fellow activists that they suspected of being traitors.

These groups became a prime security concern but were fortunately impeded by successful police action. ASIO’s annual report in 1990 stated that:

The only discernible domestic threat of politically motivated violence comes from the racist right. This has suffered serious setbacks in the past year with the arrest of a large number of leading members of the two most dangerous groups.

Domestic far-right violence has not since returned to these levels.

Also important to note is that far-right extremism in Australia has never been as violent as in comparable countries. Fortunately, the 2001 attack killed no more than one person, and the subsequent plots were not attempted acts of mass casualty terrorism. By contrast, other Western countries have seen many deaths caused by far-right terrorism, particularly from the attacks by Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph, David Copeland, Anders Breivik and Wade Michael Page.

However, these overseas incidents serve as a warning of the potential threat in Australia, particularly as they have escalated in recent years. The 2012 EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report stated that “the threat of violent right-wing extremism has reached new levels in Europe and should not be underestimated” and there has been a similar surge in the United States.

While jihadism has posed the greatest threat of mass casualty terrorism to Australians this century, focusing on one threat can risk missing others. Australia has seen significant cases of far-right extremist violence, and international examples demonstrate a growing threat, showing public discussion of terrorism needs to broaden beyond jihadism.

Join the conversation

37 Comments sorted by

  1. R. Ambrose Raven

    none

    Let's not overlook structured Right-wing terrorism.

    Imperial America's direct wars (Vietnam being the most obvious, with six million dead) and proxy wars (such as that in The Lebanon which killed 150,000) were certainly in the same league as Hitler or Stalin. It was no wonder that the U.S. befriended Pol Pot and his regime, especially at the end when he needed mates after the Vietnamese invasion that ended the Killing Fields - they had so much in common.

    Criticism of Imperial America's obsession…

    Read more
    1. Stiofán Mac Suibhne

      Contrarian / Epistemologist

      In reply to R. Ambrose Raven

      I am not sure of the relevance of your comments regarding the Vietnam war. Comparing apples with eggs?

      But I don't understand why the author would assume that the security agencies are not interested in crime / terrorism of all flavours & denominations.

      report
    2. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to R. Ambrose Raven

      Are you conveniently forgetting the wonders of Joe Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Che Guivarra,Gaddafi and Sadam Hussein to name but a few? I kniow it's fashionable to bash the yanks and accuse them of state sponsored terrorism but you've got to balance that up with evidence and other, equivalent examples. Perhaps you could have spoken to the Taliban's record on human rights and terrrorism while you were at it.

      report
    3. Yuri Pannikin

      Director

      In reply to R. Ambrose Raven

      Oh dear, the Club of Loony Left no doubt. Any other anti-US mantras to spew out?

      The Americans didn't always get it right in the fight against Fascism of the left, but the primary purpose was support for liberal democracy, and not an imperialist end in itself.

      I thank them for it, and to this day in a similar fight against the new Fascism of the right.

      On the other hand, it seems that you have supported the worst excesses of leftist fascism. Not something to be proud of.

      report
  2. Linus Bowden

    management consultant

    Er, Andrew, I guess you didn't get the memo. Islamism IS far-right terrorism.

    report
    1. Michael Low

      Student

      In reply to Linus Bowden

      If the left-wing weren’t such extraordinary apologists for Islamic theo-facism it probably would be considered right-wing. Steve Hindle makes a good point though, we spend far too much effort trying to associate in any way we can our political left/right wing opposition with extremist elements of some perverse ideology that we usually miss the point all together.

      report
    2. Linus Bowden

      management consultant

      In reply to Michael Low

      Michael, I agree with all that. I was being facetious, HOPING that others would point out how dopey this "left/right" twittering has become in Australia. Thankfully, they did.

      report
    3. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Michael Low

      I'm actually not to confident that there are not significant differences between "left-wing" and "right-wing" terror actually.

      One can generally spot it - by the design and intent of the carnage - to see into the dark thinking of the plotters. That the intent influences the choice of target and symbolism.

      And that - as a general rule - those who seek to enforce terror on an unrestricted target ...mass collateral damage, lots of innocent random by-standers. Or they can seek to send a message…

      Read more
    4. Linus Bowden

      management consultant

      In reply to Michael Low

      The increasing alliances between old style socialist leftism and Islamic fascism is very telling. Nobody is surprised that Lee Rhiannon is a rabid anti-Jew type (they try and dress it up as 'anti-Zionism of course), consorts with Islamist causes, and groups, such as the shameful Greens BDS alliance. And who was surprised to hear recently she was also a 'Truther' believing 911 was a US government conspiracy. Rhiannon and her family have now been on the atrociously wrong side of politics for SIXTY years. Scary.

      report
  3. Comment removed by moderator.

  4. Steve Hindle

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    I question the basis of these far-left, far-right descriptions.
    The convention in Australia would be to class people such as Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones as being very right wing. Similarly people such as John Pilger, or senator Lee Rhiannon are generally considered to be very left wing.
    I don't think it is useful to describe religious extremists as being left wing or right wing. Is Andrew Bolt really in a grouping that is towards the violent Islamists end of the spectrum? Have the Greens anything in common with the violent Maoists of central Asia?
    Religious or racial extremists are in a class of their own.

    report
    1. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Steve Hindle

      There are different sorts of terrorism Steve. Or to be more precise - we call a lot of things terrorism. I suspect there has never been any type of insurrection against authority that has not been labelled terrorists by those in power.

      The "propaganda of the deed" was initially an anarchist tactic in response to the brutal sectret police state of the Tsar. We'd probably regard the initial notion as assassination... a bomb thrown into a target nobleman's carriage... a suicide mission. Like…

      Read more
    2. Yuri Pannikin

      Director

      In reply to Steve Hindle

      Yes, definitions are less informative in this era. However, fascism is fascism in practice, whether it emanates form the traditional left or right.

      While there will probably always be disgruntled terrorist psychopaths, acting more or less alone or in small groups, who identify with one side or the other of politics, in my view, the main threat comes from the 'grand' millenarian ideologies, religious or other.

      In this sense I see Nazism, Marxism-Leninism, and Salafism al Qaeda et al, as having many common and extremely destructive and fascist principles in common. Perhaps the one principle that unites them is the belief in the "perfect society" and the belief that means justify the ends, and in totalitarian rule in order to achieve and maintain the ultimate 'end' that is the perfect society.

      Unfortunately, the millenarians do not respond to reason, negotiation and compromise because it does not fit their world view. It's all or nothing, fight to the death.

      report
  5. Jay Wulf

    Digerati at nomeonastiq.com

    Both Islamist and rightwing radicals are equally dangerous as they live in fantasy world disconnected from reality.

    As the norwegian asshole (I think thats an appropriate moniker to record his deeds in history, rather than his name) has shown, ring wing radicals can be extremely ruthless and methodical.

    I certainly hope Australian alphabet soup of agencies is not blinded by the USian focus on Jihadists.

    report
  6. Baz M

    Law graduate & politics/markets analyst

    Good article. However what is truly classified as terrorism? What about the actions of the US in Iraq and the hundreds of thousands of deaths? Before you all view this post as some looney lefty, I am anything but. The fact is Iraq had nothing to do with September 11, had no WMD's, and was not a state sponsor of terrorism. If anything Al Qaeda etc dispised Saddam Hussein as Iraq was a secular state. Furthermore it was an illegal act under international and law and did not go through the UN. Hence…

    Read more
    1. Yuri Pannikin

      Director

      In reply to Baz M

      Saddam was paying the families of Palestinian suicide bombers $25,000. If that was not state-sponsored terrorism, I'd like to know what is.

      Most of the civilian deaths from the Iraq war (66,000, WikiLeaks)) were Iraqi against Iraqi and not caused by US military action. The total numbers of deaths are more like 110,000 and not 1 million.

      This is certainly not trivial, but let's start from some factual basis. Saddam and his henchmen killed around 500-800,000 of his own people in the years leading…

      Read more
    2. Baz M

      Law graduate & politics/markets analyst

      In reply to Yuri Pannikin

      Trainers and advisors? Righttttt. Why don't we call that another Middle Eastern puppet nation of the US telling White House umm ye sure k they can come as you wish.

      Now more to your points. Saddam was paying Palestinean suicide bombers? Ok I've never heard of this but say it is true and if so disgustingly horrible and your right. How is that relevant to invading a nation? Especially considering via your claims Saddam financially assisted Palestinean suicide bombers hence killing Israelis. So why…

      Read more
    3. Yuri Pannikin

      Director

      In reply to Baz M

      I thought you said you weren't from the loony left?

      I don't know anyone other than those dills who still think Iraq was invaded for the oil. I mean, why would they? Why not cosy up to Saddam and do it that way? In any case, show me the evidence now that the US has withdrawn.

      Regarding Saddam's regime and Islamists, the evidence of lack of collaboration with Ansar al Islam in the north is by no means clear and is certainly probable, even if confirmed meetings with al Qaeda apparently did not…

      Read more
    4. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Yuri Pannikin

      Geez Yuri ... this zeal of the newly converted.

      This notion of the knuckle scraping right in demanding probity and niceness from our dictators is a very recent development Yuri.

      And even now we turn a discrete blind eye - witnmess the "massive western outcry" over the Saudi crackdown on the embryomic Arab Spring in Bahrain. Or our surprise to find Pakistan's ISI feeding the Taliban and worse. And we certainly don't want to be getting too upset about Tibetans and folks like Falong Gong…

      Read more
    5. Yuri Pannikin

      Director

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter, nice to hear from you -- I think . . . :-)

      I'm certainly not "newly converted" -- still left-of-centre utilitarian, atheist, environmentalist. But being the pragmatist, I see that the US has done more good than harm in fighting fascism of the left and right. (Note that I don't reserve fascism (small 'f') for the 'right' of the spectrum.) Yes, I'll agree there was a less than honourable period post WW2, Chile for example, Vietnam if you like, but I don't blame them for tackling a very brutal…

      Read more
    6. Baz M

      Law graduate & politics/markets analyst

      In reply to Yuri Pannikin

      Wait wait wait..................let me get this straight. You who call yourself centre left, call US attacks on Iraq as the bravery of Bush, think Vietnam war was justified and worth fighting for and say its is was all done in the name of liberal democracy? And you don't think you have psychological issues but anyone who believes god after 30 does? Surely you realise that besides calling yourself centre left all your views are in line with fascism. The faciasm neocons promote and guide under "freedom…

      Read more
    7. Yuri Pannikin

      Director

      In reply to Baz M

      Well Mr GFC, take a look at these numbers of deaths attributed to the fascist regimes of the left and right, of which the US has been a primary opponent, and see how the numbers stack up.

      65 million in the People's Republic of China
      20 million in the Soviet Union
      2 million in Cambodia
      2 million in North Korea
      1.7 million in Africa
      1.5 million in Afghanistan
      1 million in the Communist states of Eastern Europe
      1 million in Vietnam
      150,000 in Latin America

      25 million in Nazi Germany
      800,000 in Iraq

      You can even remove the 'forced famine' numbers in China and the Soviet Union, and perhaps North Korea and Cambodia if you like, to get more realistic numbers of summary killings.

      Any way you look at it, the US has very little case to answer in this respect.

      report
    8. Baz M

      Law graduate & politics/markets analyst

      In reply to Yuri Pannikin

      I am not disputing any off this. There have been massive massacres on both sides of the ideology spectrum. I'll even go as far as to say Stalins atrocities were on par if not worse than that of Hitlers. However this is not about ideology. This is about the actions of the US, and its attack on "selective regimes". You mention Latin America up top. Who allowed for and even promoted these atrocities in Latin America where among many kids as young as 15 were thrown into the ocean from planes with stones…

      Read more
    9. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Yuri Pannikin

      Depends what you're looking at and when Yuir, as to the US having no case to answer.

      Last time I looked the US Civil War casualties totted up to just under 700,000.

      Now if a Civil War is a breakdown of the political process - a man-made famine if you like - then have a look at these numbers:

      Approximate ratio of American deaths in the Civil War to American deaths in all other wars combined: 1:1

      Total population of the eleven Confederate States in 1860: 9,101,090.
      Total number of slaves…

      Read more
    10. Yuri Pannikin

      Director

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter, the US Civil War was a monstrous thing no doubt. However, it's one thing to fight a war over a just cause and suffer terrible losses, but quite another to deliberately kill your own citizens from a position of power and in accord with some authoritarian political ideology.

      Even so, it's worth remembering that the US had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into WW2 -- and that conservative republicans were at the forefront of the 'isolationist' movement.

      report
    11. Yuri Pannikin

      Director

      In reply to Baz M

      My premise is not that the US is saintly, nor that it has not behaved badly, and made strategic mistakes in the past in its fight against communism and other fascist outfits. But I do object to the careless condemnation of the US as the source of the world's ills, which is the obsequious position taken by the loony left and its sympathisers.

      I think I've shown you that there have been far greater insults to civil society than any action the Americans have taken, and one has to wonder if things…

      Read more
    12. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Yuri Pannikin

      Yuri - the "justice" of one's cause tends to be determined by the victor. What is a civil war if not a deliberate decision by an elected government or several to see its own citizens from a position of power and in accord with some authoritarian political ideology. Well we are talking about slavery here Yuri. That not authoritarian enough? Not ideological?

      The US Civil War - following on from the heels of the War of Independence - has left the USA with a profound fear of blood on its own soil…

      Read more
    13. Yuri Pannikin

      Director

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter, except for a bit of argy bargy about states' rights I can't see that the Union campaign and eventual war against the South about slavery was the action of a repressive, authoritarian government. Bit of a stretch that, mate.

      report
    14. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Yuri Pannikin

      Depends who you ask eckchurly, Yuri. All these liberal city jewboy yankees coming darn heeyah and fooling round wiff our niggers. Still doing it an't they tho.

      In short Yuri, the battle scars of the Civil War are not yet fully healed - if they ever will be. There is a deep ideological, economic, social and political divide between the victors and the losers in that affair - most have been losers with a few notable exceptions. Like Texas.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_in_the_American_Civil_War

      Read more
    15. Peter Ormonde
      Peter Ormonde is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer

      In reply to Yuri Pannikin

      Nah it's actually this bit I'm having trouble with Yuri: "...in its fight against communism and other fascist outfits."

      See not all fascists were considered the enemy. Some goosesteppers were friends and allies. We trained them. We planned it out with them. We equipped the military and the "interrogators". These were in many cases openly fascist little juntas Yuri.

      Little Suhartos and Marcosses, Pinochets, Noriegas.... long list. Diem,Thieu, The KMT, the mujahadeen, Al Qaeda... beneficiaries of moments of strategic importance and value at a time. For a time.

      One fact that must always remain lodged in our mind is that the old USSR lost some 28 million men, women, children and soldiers during World War Two. It was a Russian war in every painful way. The yanks lost nothing -nothing like this at all. For the USSR WW2 was a genocidal slaughter. A very different view of the world.

      report
    16. Yuri Pannikin

      Director

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Sure, but one target at a time, eh? As nasty as the 'fascist little juntas' were, the big damage was being done by the cult of Marxism-Leninism -- a silly idea that duped millions and gave psychopathic despots and megalomaniacs ultimate power over powerless citizens. You've seen the numbers, and anyone who supported that nonsense should hang their heads in shame.

      report
  7. Michael Gioiello

    High school music teacher/ freelance Opera singer

    As far as I am concerned, the ex president of America, George W. Bush and his cronies have much to answer for concering the spread of hatred of the West. He is responsible for an unnecessery war that we had in Iraq. Do you blame these people for hating the West? We need to put ourselves in their position. George Bush shold be tried at the ICC in the Hague for war crimes, terrorism and crimes against humanity, all in the name of political gain. Our ex prime minister, John Howard is not much better either

    report
  8. Douglas Chalmers

    logged in via Facebook

    This is a mischievously shallow article which dangerously fails to address the main agendas for terrorism today or the ideologies responsible for terror risks in Australia. Given the white supremacist settler society background here, there is no doubt that there will eventually be an Australian Anders Breivik + based on the same bigoted pseudo-Zionist fake Crusaderism ...although with some dubious local flavor, but for the same fundamental reasons - racism.

    Beyond that, there IS a breeding ground…

    Read more
    1. Baz M

      Law graduate & politics/markets analyst

      In reply to Douglas Chalmers

      Spot on 100%. Could not agree more. In regards to both the minority nut cases in the Islamic community which have slowly become cult like with disenfranchised youth under their wing just about ready to do any potentially horrifying act that their ordered to do. These delusional individuals are under the impression via manipulation that the world is against them. This includes other muslims as well whom do not adhere to their ideology.
      As for the local white supremacist/radical Christian…

      Read more