Queensland shootings a ‘wake-up call’ for the nation

Australia is well overdue for a national conversation on combatting violent right-wing extremism and preventing radicalisation, experts say, as the country reels from the shootout in Queensland on Monday which left six people dead.

Online posts under the name of one of the killers, Gareth Train, have been unearthed from conspiracy theory forums since the shootings, and include references to anti-vaccine sentiments and claims that other high-profile shootings were hoaxes or false-flag operations.

One post refers to “black op police” and urges people to prepare themselves.

An appeal for public help to locate Nathaniel Train was launched by NSW Police. Photo: AAP

While investigations into the attack which killed Constable Matthew Arnold, 26, Constable Rachel McCrow, 29, and Alan Dare, 58, continue, The New Daily spoke with experts who said that the tragedy is a “wake-up call” for the nation.

What is right-wing extremism?

Keiran Hardy, senior lecturer at Griffith University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, says right-wing extremism is a diverse set of ideologies.

“It’s difficult to get your head around compared to the types of extremism that we’re more familiar with from recent history,” Professor Hardy said.

“Al Qaeda or Islamic State, that’s what we’ve been dealing with in the last 20 years, and that’s what everyone’s more familiar with.

“Right-wing extremism is more diverse … Honestly, I think this conversation [about the problem with right-wing extremism in Australia] is pretty overdue.”

Some common characteristics of right-wing extremism include nationalism, COVID denial and peddling conspiracies.

It starts with social media

Experts said that once a person accesses mainstream social media platforms they can be funnelled to alternative platforms where conspiracies and extremist views are rife, and there is far less content moderation.

Communities form around radicalising content and peoples’ beliefs of ‘persecution’ and ‘tyranny’.

People will often become desensitised or motivated by extreme content and conspiracies that are not at all connected to reality.

Radicalisation begins online and spills out into public violence. Photo: AAP

Once radicalised, people will often take pleasure in the harassment, pain, and suffering of their perceived political enemies or their fantasies of violence against them.

Anti-fascist researchers The White Rose Society told TND that a lack of community and political leadership to counter disinformation, extremism and the undermining of public health policies left space for extremism to grow.

“We’ve seen an increase in violent rhetoric from these circles throughout the pandemic, including calls to murder public servants, police, healthcare workers, journalists, politicians,a spokesperson for the group said.

Tom Tanuki, a commentator on fringe and radical politics, told TND that while not everyone who deals in conspiracy theories goes on to commit acts of violence, a small number of people take illogical “urgent doomsday rhetoric” very seriously.

“These people have been immersed in an online space where the rhetoric is turned up to 11,” he said.

Public figures

Earlier this year, then sitting Victorian MP Catherine Cumming was cleared of alleged inciteful behaviour during a speech attacking Premier Daniel Andrews.

catherine cumming

Victorian MP Catherine Cumming, pictured at an anti-lockdown rally in 2021. Photo: AAP

Former politician Craig Kelly and Senator Alex Antic have used parliament to promote conspiracy theories about health and the pandemic.

There’s also a global trend towards distrust in government and symbols of the state, Professor Hardy said.

“Think about the storming of the Capitol Building in the United States or the attacks on law enforcement in Germany – there is a trend towards attacks against state symbols in a way we haven’t seen.

“It’s different to Islamist terrorism’s focus more on civilians and I think prevention and law strategies may well need to adapt to account for that.”

Breaking the cycle

Matthew Valasik, an associate professor at the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Alabama, told TND the only way someone abandons conspiracy movements is by becoming disillusioned.

“You can’t force someone to do it. Even if you have family members trying to guide, debate or reason with them, it’s just not going to work. The person, unfortunately, has to get to that nexus on their own,” Dr Valasik said.

Professor Hardy said that while much had been done by ASIO and governments to combat radicalisation, more action is required.

He says community-based approaches are a good first step and warns against “trying to stamp it out with police powers”.

Mr Tanuki said Australians need to acknowledge the danger posed by conspiracy theories.

“Conspiracy theories can result in peoples’ death. I hope that we can all be a bit more partial to being better educated about this stuff, rather than just seeing it as some quirky fringe political thing. It obviously can be a lot more dangerous than just that.”

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