17.1 Right-wing extremism
Before 15 March 2019, were Public sector agencies sufficiently aware of the threat posed by white supremacist and other right-wing extremist non-state actors and movements? If so, what did they do in response to the threat?
Public sector agencies had some awareness of the terrorist threat posed by the extreme right-wing (see Part 8, chapter 4). This awareness was limited:
- The primary focus of intelligence assessments was international terrorism (particularly the threat to New Zealanders overseas). Those assessments on international terrorism primarily focused on Islamist extremist terrorism.
- In the five years or so leading up to 2018, there were few strategic assessments about terrorism threats in New Zealand, and practically none on threats other than Islamist extremism.
- The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service started its baselining project in May 2018. Following a meeting in December 2018 New Zealand Police took preliminary steps to undertake their own exercise on the extreme right-wing. As at 15 March 2019, the awareness of the threat posed by the extreme right-wing was developing but was still limited.
In response to the threat, the counter-terrorism agencies:
- investigated leads relating to the extreme right-wing as and when received;
- in 2018 began work to better understand the threat, most relevantly the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service baselining project on domestic right-wing extremism; and
- conducted a tabletop counter-terrorism Response exercise in October 2018 based on a scenario of an assumed motor vehicle attack on worshippers outside Masjid an-Nur.
What intelligence did agencies receive from Five Eyes partners regarding white supremacy and right-wing extremism before 15 March 2019?
Very little international partner reporting related to right-wing extremism (see Part 8, chapter 4). For example, in the second quarter of the 2018-2019 financial year, the Government Communications Security Bureau received 7,526 intelligence reports from international partners about terrorism and violent extremism, none of which related to right-wing extremism.
Reporting that was received included:
- Intelligence from an international partner that assessed the potential – in terms of the availability of firearms – of a “Norwegian-style attack” occurring in that country.
- Intelligence received from an international partner in 2013 about the extreme right-wing in their country.
- Intelligence received from an international partner about an extreme right-wing group member possibly planning a violent act. This was cited in a March 2017 Combined Threat Assessment Group assessment, which observed that “an increase in anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hatred is a concern for [the international partner’s] authorities”.
- Intelligence cited in a May 2017 Combined Threat Assessment Group assessment addressed implications for New Zealand of the Manchester Arena terrorist attack.
Public sector agencies involved in the counter-terrorism effort participated in some meetings and training opportunities with international partners that addressed, among other things, the extreme right-wing.
Given the upward trend in white supremacist and other right-wing extremist acts of violence (actual and prevented) in the decade prior, why was there no concern of this happening in New Zealand until mid-2018?
There was some concern about the threat from the extreme right-wing (see Part 8, chapter 4). The reasons why counter-terrorism resources were largely concentrated on the threat of Islamist extremist terrorism are discussed in the same chapter. They largely come down to Islamist extremism being seen as the presenting threat and resource limitations.
Was any assessment done regarding danger to Muslim communities? If so, what was the result?
Strategic and tactical intelligence assessments primarily focus on the threat posed, and who poses the threat, rather than the risk to particular communities. Intelligence assessments can relate specifically to the risk to events or locations (for example, threat associated with the hosting of the Rugby World Cup 2011).
We have seen one New Zealand Police intelligence assessment produced before 15 March 2019 that specifically refers to the risk to Muslim communities. A May 2018 report, National Security Situation Update: Ramadan 2018, which was provided to New Zealand Police Assistant Commissioners and District Commanders, noted that Dā’ish had issued calls for terrorist attacks during Ramadan for the previous three years and could again. It advised that Ramadan was also a time of increased risk to the Muslim community and noted:
The Muslim community in New Zealand has experienced sporadic incidents of vandalism and abuse. While not frequent, incidents do create widespread concern among the community when they do occur, as well as attention from the media.
Other assessments that referred more generally to the threat of right-wing extremism are discussed in chapter 4.