Homegrown extremists Inside a neo-Nazi hate group
Australia will for the first time move to outlaw a far-right extremist group, A Current Affair can exclusively reveal, potentially paving the way for other neo-Nazi outfits to be subject to the same bans.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton confirmed he had received a recommendation from spy agency ASIO to formally proscribe the Sonnenkrieg Division a “terrorist organisation”.
The notorious outfit has been outlawed in the UK, after some of its members were jailed on terror offences.
A Current Affair understands the group is not believed to have any direct links to Australia, but security agencies fear its promotion of terrorism could inspire home-grown extremists.
“They have a presence that we’re particularly worried about in the UK but their reach goes into the minds of young people and Australians here,” Mr Dutton said.
“People are on the internet, they have the ability to join these chat groups to hear this disinformation, these lies and this sick ideology.
“Kids and adults can be turned very quickly and become martyrs for these causes.”
Once listed, supporters of Sonnenkrieg Division could face up to 25 years jail, and Mr Dutton has kept the door open to outlawing other outfits too.
“If there are other organisations that need to be listed, ASIO will consider those matters,” he said.
It follows a highly-publicised camping trip by a home-grown group, the National Socialist Network, which left locals in a small Victorian town fearing for their safety.
Images obtained by A Current Affair show about 40 white men linked to the group hiking through the Grampians on the Australia Day weekend, burning a cross and raising their arms in Nazi salutes.
In one video, the neo-Nazi’s chant “Ku Klux Klan” from inside a cave.
German national Saskia Elling, who lives in Halls Gap after moving to Victoria, said she was terrified to hear the group chanting “heil Hitler” while they camped illegally at the foot of the national park.
The men then marched through nearby Halls Gap, while yelling “white power”.
“They were doing the Hitler salute to people in town – to just randoms,” Ms Elling said.
In encrypted online chat rooms seen by A Current Affair, the group vows to impose a “white revolution”.
Members, who refuse to show their faces, pose outside major landmarks including universities, while leaving behind a trail of racist propaganda in suburbs across Australia.
Dr Dvir Abramovich, one of the country’s leading anti-hate campaigners, said home-grown extremists were “ticking time bombs”.
“They dream of an Australian Hitler,” Dr Abramovich said.
An 18-year-old accused neo-Nazi was recently charged in Albury, allegedly expressing a desire to carry out an act of terror.
While the teenager was not part of the National Socialist Network, Mr Sewell recently posted of his support for the 18-year-old, writing “free my boy”.
While Mr Sewell claims his group denounces violence, experts believe it’s only a matter of time before far-right outfits inspire someone to commit an act of terror.
“The danger here is that a lone individual, soaking up all this propaganda and poisonous incitement, may become convinced that the white race is dying and this is a cause fighting for, and worth dying for,” Dr Abramovich said.
Counter-terror expert and federal Labor MP Anne Aly said the nature of modern-day terrorism had changed.
“They want you to believe that it’s just banter – it’s perfectly within the guidelines of free speech or it’s just a bit of political talk,” she said.
“That’s how they attract people to their cause who get led down this rabbit-hole of radicalisation.”
In 2019, New South Wales terrorist Brenton Tarrant slaughtered 51 worshippers in Christchurch, and it has since emerged he had been interacting with Australian extremist groups online. A Current Affair does not suggest that the National Socialist Network was one of those groups.
“It’s not unimaginable that we will have a Christchurch in our own backyard,” Dr Abramovich, chair of the Anti-Defamation Commission, said.
He has long been calling for the public display of Nazi symbols, like the Swastika, to be outlawed and far-right extremist groups be declared terrorist organisations.
“It would allow law enforcement to seize and suspend any bank accounts or properties they have – and also prevent them from gathering, recruiting and holding rallies.”
Ms Aly urged the government to act.
“We should be doing exactly what they have done (overseas governments) and proscribing the same groups,” she said.
A federal parliamentary inquiry into extremism was due to hand down its findings to the government late April.
An ASIO spokesperson told A Current Affair extreme right-wing radicals represented a “serious, increasing and evolving threat to security”, occupying around a third of its current counter-terror workload.
“Extreme right-wing groups are more organised, sophisticated and security conscious than before.”
Online platforms were allowing Australians to connect with extremists overseas, with acts of violence “encouraged, glorified and promoted” in digital chatter, ASIO said.
“Unfortunately, increasing numbers of young Australians – some barely in their teens – are being radicalised.”