Far-right extremists are seizing on the pandemic to expand their networks, according to a new study

Far-right extremists are increasingly networking across national borders with other like-minded militants around the world.

Far-right extremists are seizing on the coronavirus pandemic as a way to 'expand' their network.

Far-right extremists are seizing on the coronavirus pandemic as a way to 'expand' their network. Source: AAP

Far-right militants in Europe and the US are increasingly forming global links and using the coronavirus pandemic to attract anti-vaccine activists and conspiracy theorists to their cause, a study commissioned by the German foreign ministry said on Friday.

The study carried out in Germany, France, Britain, the US, Sweden and Finland by the Counter Extremism Project documents the emergence of a new far-right movement since 2014 that is "leaderless, transnational, apocalyptic and oriented towards violence".

The extremists believe in the nationalist theory of "great replacement" being orchestrated to supplant Europe's white population with outsiders.

And they are increasingly networking across national borders with other like-minded militants, including with Russian and East European extremists.

Music festivals and mixed martial arts fights are rallying points, where extremists also seek to draw new members, the study noted.

Over the last year, the pandemic has also become an opportunity seized on by the extremists to "expand their mobilisation efforts around anti-government conspiracy myths criticising the current restrictions," it said.

"Right-wing extremism is the biggest threat to our security - across Europe," said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Twitter.

Voicing alarm that the scene is "increasingly acting and networking internationally", Mr Maas added that Germany is seeking to counter the menace through coordinated action with other EU members.

A rally of nearly 10,000 opponents of government-imposed social restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Berlin this week saw extremists mingling among a motley crew of protesters.

About a dozen demonstrators were shouting "Sieg Heil" while performing the stiff-armed Hitler salute, in the presence of police, an AFP reporter saw.

Anti-Semitic slogans have been a fixture of some of the demonstrations against coronavirus policies in Germany this year.

Far-right extremism on the rise in Australia

Throughout 2020, experts have warned of an increase in far-right extremism in Australia.

In September, Australia’s domestic intelligence agency revealed far-right extremists are increasingly occupying its caseload.

ASIO deputy director-general Heather Cook confirmed right-wing violence now occupies between 30 and 40 per cent of the intelligence organisation's counter-terrorism cases, more than a third of the agency's workload, up from 10 to 15 per cent prior to 2016.

Ms Cook compared the recruiting practices of far-right extremists to that of the Islamic State (IS), amid fears the coronavirus pandemic could exacerbate the threat of terrorism.

Far-right fringe parties in New Zealand cause concern for Muslim community

Home Affairs Secretary Mike Pezzullo warned of the rise in far-right extremism at an ANU lecture in October.

Mr Pezzullo said “Islamist terrorist groups” are still considered the most dangerous terror threat due to their global reach but warned the rise of “fascist extremist” groups which threaten “politically motivated violence, including armed groups which might be motivated by conspiratorially framed ideologies” had become an “increasing concern”.

Earlier this year, the country's top intelligence chief, ASIO director-general Mike Burgess, warned that Neo-Nazis were becoming one of the most significant threats to Australia's security, but did not disclose the percentage of resources being dedicated to the issue.

He did, however, state that children as young as 13 years old were being targeted by extremist recruiters, and said the number of terrorism leads under investigation had doubled over the past year.

- Additional reporting from Maani Truu and Naveen Razik.

Published 21 November 2020 at 12:06pm
Source: AFP - SBS