Australian not-for-profit All Together Now has called on governments across the country to support community initiatives that prevent disenfranchised young people from being recruited by extremist groups.
The anti-racism charity has identified anti-government narratives and a range of other “alarming online behaviours” in recent months, including circulation of conspiracy theories, and messages “expressing hope that COVID-19 will spread within different countries or communities to reduce particular minority groups”.
It has presented a policy paper to federal MPs and senators, and is seeking funding from all jurisdictions so their research can be shared more broadly.
The paper recommends three immediate policy steps to prevent the growth of right-wing extremism during COVID-19 and into the future, including:
- Provide immediate support for a national anti-racism campaign — according to the report, the campaign would remind people of their rights and responsibilities under racial discrimination and hate speech laws, preventing racist rhetoric from spreading and encouraging people to speak up against racism.
- Provide immediate support for community-focused programs to counter violent extremism — All Together Now has called on the federal government to unite with state governments in supporting such initiatives, especially those that focus on groups that feel disenfranchised and may be at risk of recruitment by extremists.
- Debunk hateful conspiracy theories — the paper urges all media and social media publishers to help limit the spread of hateful conspiracy theories, noting that Australia lacks an independent fact-checking organisation. All Together Now cites the UK’s Full Fact, and the US’ Factcheck as best-practice examples of such a service.
The report comes several months after Australian Security Intelligence Organisation director general Mike Burgess warned against the growing threat of extremism in Australia.
“Right-wing extremism has been in ASIO’s sights for some time, but obviously this threat came into sharp, terrible focus last year in New Zealand,” he said in an address.
“In Australia, the extreme right wing threat is real and it is growing. In suburbs around Australia, small cells regularly meet to salute Nazi flags, inspect weapons, train in combat and share their hateful ideology.”
He noted young people were particularly at risk of radicalisation.
“As a father, I find it truly disturbing to see cases where extremists are actively trying to recruit children who have only just started high school and are as young as 13 or 14,” he said.