Threat of COVID-related extremism in post-restriction decline in Australia

The threat level of violent extremism linked to the coronavirus lockdown has dropped significantly over the past year, according to Australia’s domestic spy chief.

“It’s true; there are fewer people in the country willing to commit active violence in the name of a cause,” said Mike Burgess, head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO). says.

“The volatility has gone down, especially around COVID. So we’re less anxious these days because we’re not mandated,” he said at a Senate hearing.

He also noted that while the number of cases the department is investigating has dropped significantly, there has still been slight volatility from disgruntled individuals regarding the handling of the pandemic.

According to ASIO, right-wing extremists accounted for 50% of the agency’s caseload, down to 30% after lockdowns and mandates were eased.

Domestic spy bosses have dashed theories that anti-mandate protesters are linked to extremism.

“I have never seen nationalists, racists, violent extremists, or neo-Nazis instigate or cause it. ,” Burgess said.

His comments came after thousands of Australians took to the streets in Canberra on 12 February 2022 during the pandemic to oppose vaccine mandates. While some districts had elements of extremism, many participants were frontline workers who lost their jobs in the jab. .

Epoch Times photo
Protesters against mandated vaccines gather on the lawn of the Houses of Parliament in Canberra, Australia, on February 12, 2022. (Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images)

The actual number of protesters who attended the rally is disputed, with some claiming as many as 300,000 on social media, but police said the number was closer to 10,000.

Protests were also held in major cities such as Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Perth and Melbourne.

Protesters march through the streets during a rally against the government’s COVID-19 restrictions in Melbourne on September 18, 2021. (William West/AFP via Getty Images)

The biggest threat facing ASIO today

He said the biggest threat today is radicalized individuals who commit violence with little or no warning.

“They are acting on their own because something angers them, such as the possibility that the group they belong to does not meet the need to do what they believe they should do. he said.

The ASIO chief said “religiously motivated extremists” now make up most of the agency’s workload, with Sunni Islam being a “major concern in the field of terrorism”.

Epoch Times photo
Mike Burgess, Executive Director of Australian security intelligence organization ASIO, prepares for his annual speech at ASIO headquarters in Canberra, Wednesday, March 17, 2021. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Burgess also asked the Chief Senator why right-wing nationalist groups such as the Proud Boys, Combat 18 and Blood and Honor were not identified as terrorist organizations despite being banned in countries such as New Zealand, Canada and France. was asked.

He said ASIO does not deal with terrorist lists and said Australia sets very high standards for list organizations.

“That group must be doing a lot of things like advocating and carrying out acts of terrorism,” he said.

“Therefore, if there are groups with any ideology, including nationalist and racist foreign extremists, and they do not support acts of terrorism as defined by law, list them. I can’t,” he added.