How right-wing extremists are exploiting virus crisis
Violent right-wing extremists are inciting followers to "weaponise" COVID-19 and spread it to police officers, religious minorities, non-whites and other "enemies".
International law enforcement agencies including the FBI are reporting extremists groups have been discovered encouraging infected followers to leave their saliva on doors and elevator buttons and in targeted neighbourhoods.
The call to use the virus for bioterrorism in Australia, closely follows bushfire conspiracy theories spread by similar extremist groups who have been fuelling hatred against Muslims by blaming them for arson attacks amid a bushfire jihad.
Melbourne-based counter-terrorism analyst Lydia Khalil said there has been a rise in conspiracy theories as well as COVID-19 related attacks in the US, such as the white supremacist killed last week in a shootout with the FBI while attempting to attack a hospital treating coronavirus patients.
Ms Khalil, a former intelligence Adviser and analyst to the Boston and New York Police departments said extremists "are taking advantage of Australia's crisis to sow division, contest government legitimacy and encourage mobilisation to violence".
But Ms Khalil and fellow researcher Joshua M. Roose in a Lowy Institute research paper Countering extremism in the midst of coronavirus for the Lowy warned that governments have not yet fully accounted for the acceleration of violent extremist narratives in disaster management plans.
"Governments are missing a key element of crisis response … Governments must not only stamp out misinformation but they must also account for the ways that disinformation and conspiracy theories fuel the acceleration of violent extremist narratives and the potential for violence by ideologically motivated extremist individuals and groups seeking to exploit the situation," they wrote.
The paper said they have already identified that far-right extremists have used the bushfires and COVID 19 to contest government legitimacy, identify groups to blame and encourage mobilisation - tacitly inciting violence against outsider groups as a response.
"The COVID-19 pandemic and legitimate government responses such as quarantining, self-isolating and closing borders also lay into the hands of right-wing extremist narratives that promote ethnic segregation and extreme immigration restrictions," they wrote.
"They have also used the response to stoke distrust in government by claiming the government is using the crisis to control average Australians," the paper said.
An Australian Federal Police spokeswoman said they take all extremist groups seriously, targeting criminality regardless of the background of the perpetrator.
She also said the AFP is aware that the sources of politically motivated violence in Australia are diverse - encompassing anyone who believes that violence is a justified means to further their political interests, which can include extreme right-wing ideologies.
One right wing Australian blog quoted said, the empathy of white man against foreigners will wane in the wake of the virus. "The one thing that has protected the people of foreign lands … is that we Europeans follow the rules … but what happens when our protection is gone and the surveillance is lifted? The white man remembers his inner brute …"
The Lowy paper said "It is important for disaster management and resiliency measures to recognise that when societies suffer from collective stress and anxiety during emergencies and disasters they may be more receptive to extremist narratives and accelerationist thinking."
It recommended governments extend disaster management to include understanding, responding to and promoting resilience to extremist narratives.
The Australian Federal Police have been contacted for comment.