The rise of the ‘alt-right’

I don’t think ‘alt-right’ is a good descriptive term, but it is what is being used to describe a growing problem around the world, with strands of it evident in New Zealand – most starkly with the Christchurch mosque terror attacks last Friday.

It is more of a form of political and social extremism, with large dollops of intolerance of cultural and religious differences, and it doesn’t just come from the far right of the political spectrum.

There are also issues of political and social extremism from the left, with large dollops of intolerance of different leanings or opinions. That’s largely a different story, but the two are connected.

David Fishers ‘Big Read’:  ‘Lone wolf’ killers the hardest terrorist to find – and our spies had yet to finish their plan to tackle far-right extremism

We were at the tail end of a Five Eyes shift towards the threat of far-right extremism.

In the US last year, 73 per cent of extremist-related killings were by domestic far-right extremists.

Hate crimes in Canada increased 47 per cent in 2017 – in May that year a young man with a handgun walked into a mosque and shot dead six worshippers, wounding 19 others.

In Australia, there has been a recorded surge in membership of far-right extremist groups.

The UK’s MI5 – the domestic intelligence agency – took over as the lead agency combating the rise in far-right extremism in October amid an increasing number of alleged plots.

A particular difficulty is not just identifying extremist groups, small bobbles in size and number in a vast ocean, but also evaluating actual risk as opposed to relatively harmless ranting.

…there is work to identify the people inside who actually want to do something.

Clive Williams, former Director of Security Intelligence for Australia’s Defence Intelligence Organisation, says the groups themselves don’t necessarily pose a threat.

Far-right extremists may present as “a small number of hate-filled people who weren’t going to do anything more than march”.

But as we have seen it only takes one to inflict a major amount of human damage.

Peeling back the onion, there will be those who go beyond marching and offer financial support to an organisation. Another layer in, you find those who talk of direct action and, further still, those few who will actually take action.

At the time Ball worked for the NZSIS, the criteria for focus was set by “intent over capability”.

He offers a scenario to explain. If someone posted a comment online saying: “I don’t like you and I’m going to get you,” it would signal intent.

Someone presenting in this way wouldn’t necessarily rise in an agency’s radar.

If the comment was accompanied by a photograph of the poster holding a weapon, it would show intent and capability then escalate in importance.

“There are going to be times when the intelligence information is just not available … (when) you’ve got an individual who’s not connected to anyone.

Intelligence agencies in other Western countries hit by “lone wolf” attacks have found, after months of investigation into incidents, terrorists have brushed up against or been in contact with others who held similar beliefs, or been identified as someone of concern to law enforcement.

It is those areas where intelligence operations hope their tripwires – if set in the right place – will sound an alarm.

In the case of the Christchurch attacker, he was apparently active in online forums. He bought at least four firearms and a lot of ammunition over the internet from Gun City and another from a Dunedin sporting goods shop.

There has to be some sort of warning system based on firearms and ammunition buying patterns.

A former NZ Army soldier, now a hunter, spoke of his frustration of reporting concerns about behaviour at the Bruce Rifle Club outside Dunedin, where the Christchurch attacker practised shooting.

Williams, now an associate professor at the Australian National University and the Australian Defence Force Academy, said similar concerns in other countries had prompted alerts.

“The problem with any loner attack is they have minimal contact with people. Then they flip and decide to do something.

“You must have had people he communicated with, if not physically then online.”

Ball: “The challenge is trying to put the dots together. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.”

It is a huge challenge identifying the right dots and putting them together. There will be times when this just won’t be successful – we have to accept that.

It was with the benefit of hindsight academics Sophia Moskalenko and Clark McCauley wrote a paper called “The psychology of a lone wolf”, having studied two dissimilar cases of attackers who planned then carried out solo attacks.

They found the factors which inspired “lone wolf” attacks were incredibly difficult for intelligence agencies to identify.

Their research found those attackers beliefs were grounded in not only identifying with a group of which they felt part, but also identifying an alternative party which they believed threatened their identity fellowship.

This described many people. It describes alt-right groups of white nationalists who rant about immigration.

The mystery, the researcher said, was what separated those who would take action from others who did nothing.

They found there was a common theme in the cases they studied. They found a specific incident or situation which turned what had been a political position into something which was very personal.

“In short, we suspect that lone-wolf terrorism requires the combination of strong capacity for sympathy with an experience that moves sympathy to personal moral obligation to act.”

The researchers don’t explain this as if it makes the action valid, simply describing the thought process in the killers’ heads.

The Christchurch shooter’s so-called “manifesto” identified a period of time where his political beliefs became personal. If that is genuine, he wrote of travelling in France during April 2017 and May 2017 as the time when he decided to carry out an attack.

The researchers Moskalenko and McCauley found the combination of “personality and personal experience” be extremely difficult for those trying to profile such attackers.

It was possible to discover those with extreme political leanings, they wrote. Understanding what was in their heads was a far more complicated task.

Especially in advance of them carrying out a dirty deed.

But once he made that decision, there were possible warning signs. Some of these can possibly be detected through better systems, like monitoring firearms buying patterns. More notice could also be taken of unusual behaviour online or in places like gun clubs.

But this poses big challenges, with a likelihood that efforts to prevent terrorist acts can never be completely successful. However it is important that as much as is possible and practical to do is done to keep us safe.

And I think that labels like ‘alt-right’ are not helpful, as they ostracise many who just have particular political views but are no threat, and if the focus is too tight it gives plenty of room for missing real threats.

29 Comments

  1. Warning signs in hindsight – Mosque attacks: Christchurch gunsmith warned police about white supremacists last year

    A gunsmith living and working in Canterbury says he told police less than six months ago they needed to look at the rise of white supremacists with guns in Christchurch.

    But police said an officer who spoke at public forums last year could not recall a person specifically raising these concerns.

    Hamish Bruce helps put together gun show events, battle re-enactments and provides armoury for films.

    Mr Bruce said at a meeting in October last year to discuss the Arms Act, he told superintendent Mike McIlraith he was seeing more people with extremist views attending gun events and legally gaining firearms licences.

    He said they had started to attend re-enactments he was involved with.

    “I did warn him specifically that there were real neo-Nazis out there and they had gained access to all manner of firearms… I’m talking about machine guns, pistols, submachine guns, the whole gamut of what’s available to restricted collectors.”

    Mr Bruce said police needed to know.

    https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/385131/mosque-attacks-christchurch-gunsmith-warned-police-about-white-supremacists-last-year

  2. Ray

     /  March 20, 2019

    “But this poses big challenges, with a likelihood that efforts to prevent terrorist acts can never be completely successful. However it is important that as much as is possible and practical to do is done to keep us safe.”

    I notice a surge that suggests that if we don’t talk or discuss these things they won’t happen.
    Thr PM has said she won’t say the killers name as that gives him power.
    That is a reasonable stance but that is also what children do so as to avoid the truth.
    Then some of our journalists are calling for a similar stance on reporting the killers trial, so as to not give him a bully pulpit and a suggestion that using the web to check out his manifesto been made illegal with strong fines for those who do.

    The unspoken message being people need to be shielded from this evil stuff.

    Maybe but you can definitely see the start of a slippery slope, if you bother to open your eyes, that is.

    • “The unspoken message being people need to be shielded from this evil stuff.”

      The spoken message is clearly that the media don’t want to give the terrorist the publicity that he wants.

      Thee people are already well enough aware of how much evil has happened.

    • High Flying Duck

       /  March 20, 2019

      There is an issue in that open justice is a pillar of our system, and justice needs to be seen to be done. Hiding it away is problematic from a democracy perspective.
      That said, the killer has obviously set goals to spread a message and use the trial as a soapbox to spread his message. This should not be enabled. He should also not be allowed to gain any more notoriety than he has as it encourages copycats.
      There is a delicate balance to tread, which allows the public to see fair justice applied with the minimum publicity as possible afforded to this despicable human.

      • PDB

         /  March 20, 2019

        He has a right to defend himself but we don’t have to listen to his crap. Have a total media ban/ shutout of the trial.

        The MSM will do anything for ratings so I wouldn’t believe anything they say in regards to them not wanting to give the nutter publicity.

    • Ray

       /  March 20, 2019

      Here is another look at the position of not naming and suppressing the right of the public to view justice using the holocaust as an example, where we did get to see the pictures and hear the awful defense.
      https://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Dont-mention-it-New-Zealands-Orwellian-approach-to-terror-583925

  3. Patzcuaro

     /  March 20, 2019

    Because it is always going to be difficult to identify dedicated lone wolves prior to them acting it is crucial to minimize their chances of getting access to semi automatic weapons.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  March 20, 2019

      I agree. It’s like the poisons that used to be available and were used by the vast majority for lawful things like killing wasps and rats. The small minority who used them to poison people made it necessary to stop everyone else having them. These weapons may be convenient for hunters, but the misuse by a few means that they must be banned.

  4. sorethumb

     /  March 20, 2019

    • sorethumb

       /  March 20, 2019

      The above video is considered offensive because it is naked.

      • sorethumb

         /  March 20, 2019

        Read the caption

        • sorethumb

           /  March 20, 2019

          NZ Academic Says the destruction of “Right Wing” Christchurch by earthquake allowed a “better multi cultural” city to be built on the ruins of white civilization. doesn’t know why partisan activity took place.

    • artcroft

       /  March 20, 2019

      This is via Massey so it going to be trapped in a narrow, predictable worldview that is not open to conflicting evidence or argument. Wouldn’t bother with it.

  5. sorethumb

     /  March 20, 2019

    The Rise of the Alt-right is a red herring here’s why –

    Essentially those who are big on white identity are in the main not interested in the KKK or Alt-right.
    Stop calling ’em “alt-right” and just call them “anti-liberal agenda extremists”
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/08/16/white-identity-politics-isnt-just-about-white-supremacy-its-much-bigger/?utm_term=.161e195f2ef5

  6. Strong For Life

     /  March 20, 2019

    I am confused by labels such as alt-Right, alt-Left… is there an alt-Centre? And where on the spectrum would Islamic terrorists fit? Are these outlaws also alt-Right or instead alt-Left because generally they are not white?

    • Griff.

       /  March 20, 2019

      Where on the spectrum would Islamic terrorists fit?
      Most of them are religious, conservative,nationalist nutbars
      Far right.

      A spectrum is one way at looking at politics.
      More apt is the compass and similar attempts to portray different positions .
      Even than the model is only an approximation and liable to be biased by a persons own position.
      https://www.politicalcompass.org/nz2017

      • High Flying Duck

         /  March 20, 2019

        ACT are a liberal party are they not? Far more liberal than National and UF – how did they end up so high on that compass?

        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  March 20, 2019

          That compass is just a figment of someone’s politics.

      • Griff.

         /  March 20, 2019

        I did not endorse the compass I gave a qualifier.

        Even than the model is only an approximation and liable to be biased by a persons own position.

        Yip its shite
        Because the questions they ask on that site do not translate well into NZ’s political landscape.
        Do the quiz and you will see what I mean. I think you could come up with a NZ centric version but it would still confuse the fuck out of some one like Alan or redtard whose compass is broken.
        It is like the USA and freedom .
        Freedom compared to what ?
        By almost all measures “socialist” NZ is far more free.

    • alloytoo

       /  March 20, 2019

      @Strong for Life

      I tried to unpack the Alt-Left / Alt-Right etc in my head especially in respect of the inherent conservatism of Islam I got a headache.

      I certainly believe that the ultra-conservative middle-eastern variety of Islam is like, socialism and communism, very incompatible with the tradition of liberal western democracy.

      All three are doctrines which prize the collective over the individual and exhibit a form of tribalism when they attempt to marginalize those they deem unworthy of being part of the collective.

      White supremists are often labeled Right-Wing, but I believe that’s a misnomer. Their agendas, policies and objects are much the same as those other groups, except that the group they’ve chosen to self identify with is based on race, as apposed to religion, sex, or sexual orientation.

      Would we be so eager to label the perpetrator “Alt-Right” if they were Latino, or black or Asian and perpetuated the same in the name of their group?

      What if rabid feminists barged into a men’s only establishment and shot up the place in the name of the sisterhood?

      Where one would find such a men’s exclusive place I don’t know.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  March 20, 2019

        These extremists are the ultimate practitioners of identity politics. As such they are products of the Left’s obsession with victimhood.

  7. Alan Wilkinson

     /  March 20, 2019

    Seems to me a major risk is that responses will be driven by political agendas rather than rational analyses of the facts. That usually results in a failure to solve the problem while creating new ones.

  8. High Flying Duck

     /  March 20, 2019

    Interesting counter to the “starve him of publicity” view in the JPost:

    DON’T MENTION IT – NEW ZEALAND’S ORWELLIAN APPROACH TO TERROR
    Calling the killer “terrorist, criminal, extremist,” New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asserted, “He will be, when I speak, nameless.”

    “He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand we will give him nothing,” Ardern stated, attempting to differentiate New Zealand’s approach from those of other countries. And the country has been widely praised for how quickly it promised toughened gun regulations and solemnly commemorated the victims.

    But there’s a problem. Fifty people were murdered. New Zealand authorities demanded from the first moments after the attack that social media companies remove videos of the massacre in Christchurch. The country has also blocked access to sites that host video of the attack, according to the news and media site The Verge. The goal appears to be that there will be no footage of the attack, and that the name of the perpetrator will disappear from public discourse.

    Imagine if this was the approach to other terrible crimes. Imagine if we just banned all images of the Holocaust and mention of Hitler. Would that make Nazism go away, or would it be tantamount to denying the Holocaust? Closer to home, in Israel, what if we just banned all mention of Baruch Goldstein and never showed any photos of the Hebron massacre of 1994?

    Why stop there? Let’s ban all images of terrorism and mentions of terrorist leaders like Osama bin Laden or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. There’s something strange about this strategy that is reminiscent of Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter, “He who must not be named.” Did not naming that character make him disappear, even in fiction?

    There is no evidence that by simply not naming terrorist perpetrators, such as Timothy McVeigh, or by not showing any footage from their attacks, we will reduce terrorism or help memorialize their victims. When I was a teenager, the Oklahoma City Bombing which killed 168 people, was a very important event. We learned a lot about McVeigh. American writer Gore Vidal even called him “eloquent” and accused the media of depicting him as “sadistic, crazed monster.”

    And yet, no one in the US since then has taken after McVeigh, and no one has carried out another such terrible attack. We saw the footage, we know the name, and we were horrified by it.

    NEW ZEALAND’S approach may be more about preserving the county’s image than it is about actually confronting the racism and hate that led to the terrorist attack at two mosques. The fact is, two of the world’s worst far-right acts of terrorism in recent memory took place in New Zealand and Norway, two countries that pride themselves on being more progressive, and not prone to the kind of gun violence and racism that afflict other societies.

    But then, why did these attacks take place there? In Norway recently, the public prosecutor’s office refused to press hate-crimes charges against a rapper who cursed “f***ing Jews.” Norway claimed it was an anti-Israel comment. That’s a convenient way to whitewash antisemitism. It might be part of a larger attempt to simply re-classify hatred as something else, so as to pretend the country does not have a problem.

    https://www.jpost.com//Middle-East/Dont-mention-it-New-Zealands-Orwellian-approach-to-terror-583925

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  March 20, 2019

      Pretty good points. It’s not as though his name won’t go down in infamy and be glorified by some demented nutters anyway.

      Cutting him off from media also seems a very small retribution for what he has done. More designed to take the heat off politicians than anything else too.

  9. Strypey

     /  March 20, 2019

    When the Police want to prevent alleged “terrorist” planning by Maori and greens, they are quite happy to spend 2 years and millions of dollars on surveillance of a multitude of groups and individuals, and launch massive countrywide raids to prevent terror attacks that turned out to be totally imaginary. Since Operation 8, Police powers to get assistance from secret police agencies like the SIS and GCSB have been increased. The excuses being made for their supposed inability to monitor armed white supremacist groups do not wash. The cold, hard truth is that a decision made, that the potential victims of white supremacist violence are a lower priority than the property that might be damaged in direct actions by nonviolent groups.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  March 20, 2019

      Your evidence in.support of your libellous accusation?

  10. sorethumb

     /  March 20, 2019

    • This doesn’t cover recent years.

      “It’s strange to ref the NZ attack in the headline and then include charts that end in 2015 and 2016.”

      It looks like another attempt to divert, and to minimise or excuse the Christchurch atrocity.

      Can you say that the Christchurch mosque attacks were terrible cowardly attacks against New Zealand? You seem to be deliberately diverting, and avoiding condemning what has just happened in New Zealand.

      All terrorist acts are terrible aren’t they? Can you condemn what happened here last week without any whataboutism?

  1. The rise of the ‘alt-right’ — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition