Extreme danger stalks our suburbs

Among the material anti-terror cops found in the suburban jeweller's workshop was a 3-D printer, plans for a .30 calibre Gattling machinegun and an Introduction to Modern Gunsmithing manual.

This was in the quiet Newcastle suburb of Adamstown.

Documents obtained by The Daily Telegraph this week show scores of extreme right-wing individuals are hiding in plain sight and using so-called free speech corners of the internet to share their hateful views.

 

Confidential intelligence reports have warned of a rise in extremist views in the past 10 months.

One of those being monitored by the NSW Police High Risk Terrorist Offenders Unit was Christopher Hardy.

Police swooped after his fingerprints were found on sticky tape used to seal two envelopes of white powder that were sent to Charlestown MP Jodie Harrison.

In Hardy's workshop police found documents including A Word About Policy Enforcement Officers and Kidnapping, Little Black Book of Operations Tradecraft, US Army Field Manual - Boobytraps, Critical Analysis of Nitramine Decomposition Data and a 45-page extract on CIA assassination techniques.

There was also the printer, gun manuals, martial art nunchucks, a slingshot with metal balls, an air pistol and knives.

Hardy was jailed for 16 months for making the death threat. But he is just one of the scores of extremists being monitored by counter-terrorism police in a 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week operation.

They are not meeting in clubhouses and may seem to be loners, but on the internet they are highly social in their own poisonous worlds.

 

Counter-terrorism boss, Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing. Picture: Jonathan Ng
Counter-terrorism boss, Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing. Picture: Jonathan Ng

 

In the past year the Bias Crimes Unit - still referred to within the police as the Hate Crimes Unit - had 45 incidents reported to it that involved far-right groups, and 34 where an Islamic religious site or community was targeted by right-wing extremists.

Police specialising in targeting extremists have also seized 8kg of gunpowder and high-powered weapons from a suburban Sydney home, and more than 100kg of ammunition in 107 separate investigations.

Those weapons are similar to those used by Australian Brenton Tarrant in New Zealand last week, where his hate-fuelled agenda exploded into horrific bloodshed. He live-streamed the killing of 50 innocent men, women and children in two Christchurch mosques.

NSW Police are on alert, with fears of copycat attacks here.

Some of the best officers in NSW have been seconded to the Counter Terrorism Unit and have been secretly monitoring scores of individuals and more than a dozen far-right groups
across NSW.

 

Blair Cottrell at a protest against African gang violence. Picture: Wayne Taylor
Blair Cottrell at a protest against African gang violence. Picture: Wayne Taylor

Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing, head of the NSW Counter Terrorism Unit, said: "When there is an incident such as what has occurred in New Zealand we adjust our focus accordingly, but at the same time remain committed to monitoring other groups.

"Everything we have seen indicates that all of these groups and individuals are engaged online. We have no evidence that there are physical meetings or clubs as such.

"We monitor right-wing extremists and have done for a long time. We are also in constant communication with our interstate and federal partners, sharing information and intelligence."

That co-operation has extended to information being shared between New Zealand's Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) about extremists in our midst and related security threats.

The New Zealand Minister responsible for intelligence services, Andrew Little, said white supremacist movements had been growing globally.

Killer Tarrant's links to far-right figures overseas via social media chat rooms and forums is now being analysed by the SIS and ASIO in conjunction with US and British counterpart domestic spy groups.

 

Right-wing activist Neil Erikson faces off against left-wing activists during a Fraser Anning political meeting in Melbournelast week. Picture: AAP Image/David Crosling
Right-wing activist Neil Erikson faces off against left-wing activists during a Fraser Anning political meeting in Melbournelast week. Picture: AAP Image/David Crosling

Among the NSW groups being looked at by NSW Police are Antipodean Resistance, a neo-Nazi group similar to the Hitler Youth; Right Wing Resistance, which was founded in New Zealand and has members dressed as skinheads, and white supremacists Hammerskin Nation.

The Lads Society and The United Patriots Front, both founded and led by convicted criminal Blair Cottrell, are also being watched.

Those groups concentrate on physical fitness, abstinence from alcohol and, unusually, physically meet up. At meetings they hold fight clubs as part of their preparation for what they think is a forthcoming race war.

Cottrell, a self-employed Melbourne builder and Hitler sympathiser, made headlines last year after an interview on Sky News was heavily criticised, including by host Laura Jayes. He responded by joking about raping her on air.

 

Anti-Semitic terrorist Robert Bowers.
Anti-Semitic terrorist Robert Bowers.

"Blair Cottrell is a far right-wing fascist who's a self-confessed Hitler fan," wrote Jayes. "He's boasted about using 'violence and terror' to manipulate women.

"His rap sheet includes arson, burglary, racial vilification. He's not an activist. He's just an arsehole.

"He's not just a fascist," she added. "He's downright dangerous."

Cottrell, like fellow extremist Neil Erikson, has been banned from Twitter and Facebook, and both have instead taken to alternative platform Gab to air their views.

Gab claims it is a "free speech first" network and takes no responsibility for the vile views it publishes, instead bleating "it is the place of law, not of private tech companies to determine the extent of acceptable speech".

It was the network used by anti-Semitic terrorist Robert Bowers, who killed 11 people in a Pennsylvania synagogue last year. Bowers had been spewing hate on the site in post after post before turning his gun on worshippers.

Following the Christchurch attack Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition leader Bill Shorten condemned social media giants for failing to stop violent hate speech on their platforms.

Mr Shorten said: "I say to those big social media giants, you cannot be distant, an ­island away from the conduct of your platforms.

"If a newspaper wrote some of the stuff that you allow on your media platforms, they'd be in court. If individuals at a cafe or a pub spoke in the way that you let people speak online, there'd be a call to the police.''

 

Deakin University terrorism expert Professor Greg Barton. Picture: Hamish Blair
Deakin University terrorism expert Professor Greg Barton. Picture: Hamish Blair

 

Stephen Scheeler, former CEO of Facebook in Australia and New Zealand, wrote in The Daily Telegraph yesterday that the mosque killings had been "felt like an atomic blast" among the social media companies.

"Those killed, wounded and traumatised are the victims of not just firearms, but of the very platforms we in Silicon Valley created," he said. "We cannot leave the tech giants to regulate themselves."

Proving his point, far right supporters of killer Tarrant have used an anonymous bulletin board to call for his nomination as Australian of the Year.

Professor Greg Barton, terrorism expert at Deakin University, said the access to online hate was allowing people to become radicalised behind closed doors.

Prof Barton said that Tarrant, like Norwegian shooter Anders Breivik who killed 77 people, had become fixated on his murderous task.

"He clearly appeared to act alone but he was very concerned about his social media profile and that his network on social media was watching his live stream of the attack."

Like Breivik, he may have acted alone and not had a physical network, but among the haters online he was very socially active. That allowed him to become fixated … and dangerous.

"However, identifying the next gunman from the armchair haters is like "searching for a needle in a haystack", Prof Barton said.

"There are a lot of people posting outrageous things but many of those are just shooting their mouths off," he said. Finding the one who had become fixated was the trick.

 

Anders Behring Breivik raises his right hand in court. Picture: Lise Aaserud/NTB Scanpix
Anders Behring Breivik raises his right hand in court. Picture: Lise Aaserud/NTB Scanpix

Police have had some success. They have charged more than 35 people in the past 12 months. One man in his 40s was charged with soliciting murder for inciting people to rise up on Facebook. Police found he had instructions and materials to make napalm.

Another man had eight weapons on his property, with the scope of a high-powered rifle focused on his driveway, which he had turned into a "fatal funnel" to draw police into his line of fire.

Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said this week: "The fixated persons unit was one of the first things I did when I became commissioner.

"We are working on individuals, identifying threats and putting people before the court … The people of NSW can be assured we are doing everything we possibly can to keep them safe," he said.



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