Terror threat greatest from lone individuals with online support
25 June 2021
The Christchurch mosque attacks of 15 March, 2019 were a “watershed moment” for New Zealand, which is now at higher risk of similar attacks than it was before.
This was the sobering assessment of terrorism expert Dr Chris Wilson from the University of Auckland, who spoke at a national counter-terrorism hui held in Christchurch in June.
He said that after 15 March there had been a “massive spike” in hate crime incidents against the Muslim community, ranging from verbal abuse to physical assaults.
Dr Wilson, who is the programme director of the Master of Conflict and Terrorism Studies in the University’s Faculty of Arts, said his recent research, which analysed white nationalist terrorist attacks around the world since 15 March, suggests there is also no direct link between extremist thought and extremist action.
In fact he said the vast majority of extremists who express interest in taking violent action, or have sympathy for those who do, never go on to take action themselves, making it very hard for security agencies to pick who will be the exception to the rule.
He believes the greatest risk of future attacks comes not from established groups, but from individuals operating alone, with support from like-minded others online.
I’m very concerned about this new transnational, globalised community of young people who are forming this type of online identity, to which they feel far more loyal than to any kind of New Zealand identity.
Complicating the picture is the fact that many extremists who do commit acts of violence are also experiencing some sort of personal crisis, and this, combined with their attraction to violence and notoriety, creates a toxic mix.
Dr Wilson believes the greatest current risk to New Zealand society, and societies overseas, is that a lot of people with various strands of extremist thought, be it Islamophobia, anti-Māori or anti-gay, are now interacting in the same online spaces, inciting each other to violence and creating a dangerous cross-fertilisation of ideas.
“We need to keep an eye on our young people operating in these spaces. I’m very concerned about this new transnational, globalised community of young people who are forming this type of online identity, to which they feel far more loyal than to any kind of New Zealand identity,” he said.
Read Chris Wilson's op ed in the NZ Herald.
Dr Chris Wilson speaking on the first day of 'He Whenua Taurikura - New Zealand's Hui on Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism' at the Christchurch Town Hall, 15-17 June.
Julianne Evans | Media adviser
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