White supremacist beliefs cause for concern in New Zealand: Report

New Zealanders mourn victims of the Christchurch mosque attacks in 2019 (Photo: INL)

Venu Menon
Wellington, August 24,2023

An assessment report on national security threats faced by New Zealand has flagged the white supremacist ideology as an area of concern.

“White Identity-Motivated Violent Extremism (W-IMVE) continues to be the dominant IMVE ideology in New Zealand,” Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told Parliament on Tuesday.

The prime minister cited the “New Zealand’s Security Threat Environment Report 2023,” released by the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) earlier this month.

He said young people were becoming more involved in W-IMVE and this was “a growing trend.”

Typically, W-IMVE adherents in New Zealand expressed anti-Semitic, anti-Rainbow Communities, anti-Maori and anti-Islam views.

The report, the first annual comprehensive assessment of the threats of violent extremism, foreign interference and espionage facing contemporary New Zealand prepared by NZSIS, fulfilled the recommendation made by the Royal Commission of Inquiry in its report on the Christchurch mosque attacks of  15 March 2019.

“In recent years, there has been a clear demand for more information about the factors likely to impact our collective safety and security,” said NZSIS Director-General of Security Andrew Hampton.

“We hear this from across government, academia and civil society, but also at a community level. Our report attempts to provide more clarity,” Hampton added.

The report identified four key factors that shaped New Zealand’s domestic threat environment. It found “strategic competition, declining social trust, technological innovation and global economic instability” were posing a threat to national security in New Zealand.

“Competition between states is becoming more acute,” Hampton observed, which prompted “some states to seek advantage through subversive and dishonest means such as espionage and foreign interference against New Zealand and New Zealand interests.”

But the NZSIS chief drew attention to an important distinction and said the report did not single out any community as being a threat to New Zealand.

“NZSIS is very clear that those responsible for the foreign interference threat are the states themselves and the people who act on their behalf. The vast majority of people who whakapapa to those countries are not the threat,” Hampton stressed.

Violent extremism in New Zealand

The NZSIS report said a diverse range of ideologies and influences motivated violent extremists in New Zealand and noted the last year had seen “the emergence, both here and around the world, of individuals who explore a range of extremist beliefs without aligning with any one in particular.”

These lone wolf operators with their “unique characteristics” were classified by the NZSIS as “mixed, unstable and unclear ideologies,” and seen as fringe elements that had “emerged around the edges.”

Violent extremists detected by the NZSIS in New Zealand were mostly those who fit the traditional mould and were  motivated by identity, faith and political persuasion.

The National Terrorism Threat Level was revised to LOW in November 2022, meaning a terrorist attack in New Zealand was considered “a realistic possibility.”

The NZSIS report noted those who made threats online seldom acted on them “in the real world.”

Foreign interference

The NZSIS report highlighted interference within New Zealand by three countries whose “ability to cause harm is significant.” They were China, Iran and Russia.

Migrant communities were the main targets of foreign interference. “These communities can receive unwanted and unjustified attention from foreign states who conduct malicious activities designed to threaten and disrupt their peaceful life in New Zealand,” the report observed.

Espionage

The government was the primary target of foreign intelligence agencies who “persistently and opportunistically conduct espionage operations against New Zealand both at home and abroad,” the NZSIS report noted.

While their focus of interest was the country’s military capabilities, foreign agents were also targeting corporates, research institutions and government contractors.

The report observed that growing social and economic inequalities, both domestic and global, were among the factors that contributed to the “radicalisation of violent extremists” in New Zealand.

It expected next year’s threat assessment “will look different to this one and have added layers of complexity.”

The report urged continued efforts to make New Zealand a harder target for acts of violent extremism, foreign interference and espionage, “in order to stay ahead of those who wish to cause us harm.”

  Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington

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