Even before extremist group activity was exposed in Australia’s 2021 anti-lockdown demonstrations, there was growing concern about right-wing extremism in Australia.
The annual threat estimates from ASIO and the US note that right-wing extremism in Australia is on an upward trend. Ideological extremism now makes up 40% of the ASIO caseload.
Our research at the University of Canberra’s National Security Hub is examining online influence operations targeting Australia, including its veteran community. This is a global problem and was one of several issues noted at this year’s International Terrorism and Social Media Conference in the UK.
For researchers like us who focus on the welfare of veterans – particularly during the aftermath of a military withdrawal from Afghanistan – such extremist groups present a complex and dangerous threat to the community.
transition to civilian life
The transition to civilian life can be a vulnerable time for many veterans. Suicide, homelessness and incarceration rates are alarmingly high for Australian veterans.
Some veterans find that their ideological beliefs are tested during the transition to civilian life, when they feel most disconnected from the military community, which has so far played such a fundamental role in their sense of self.
It is during this period, and not during service, when ex-servicemen are particularly vulnerable to radicalisation.
In some cases, veterans have voiced being actively ostracized by their former allies for leaving the military. This has left him disillusioned with the entire institution.
This, unfortunately, may make these veterans more vulnerable to the appeal and influence by extremist groups, who are now offering companionship and camaraderie to the missing in their lives.
Such groups often promote a mission-based approach, which can attract people who lack the sense of purpose valued by them in military service.
There is a risk that this could lead well-meaning veterans to participate in groups whose ideals they generally considered questionable.
a widespread risk to the public
This is not a specific Australian issue.
Nearly one in five defendants served in the military in response to the January 6 US Capitol attack.
Violence from participating in online forums to physically violent acts can happen rapidly and sometimes without obvious warning signs. The goal of these extremist groups is to gain a group of already trained members who can not only be activated immediately, but are also able to train others.
People with military experience and training in warfare, weapons or explosives are a clear threat if radicalized by extremist groups. One study suggests that some veterans associate with such groups as trainers, rather than committing extremist acts themselves.
The newly established UK-based Veterans 4 Freedom (V4F) group also lists service in the military as a membership requirement.
The group claims to be about 200-strong and focuses on “anti-vaccine” crimes, such as organizing marches. However, in discussions on the group’s private Telegram account, it plans to step up its activities.
Media reports suggest that discussions on the forum also included an awareness that there are currently serving military members who may become “enemy fighters” as a result of V4F’s actions. Not only are these “freedom defenders” anticipating a confrontation, they are prepared to fight their former brothers and sisters to achieve their goals.
Veterans in Anglo democracy are being targeted by open and covert online influence campaigns, using fake military profiles to connect and defraud defense contractors and current and former military members.
Veterans are also ideal targets for international online influence operations that encourage the promotion of particular political candidates, parties or ideologies. Many of these operations start in Russia or China.
duty of care
So, what duty does the Australian Defense Force have towards its members – and the community at large – to better prepare them for the threats they face as they transition to civilian life?
Organizations such as the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (a collaboration between the technology industry, government, civil society and academia) are actively engaged in monitoring and preventing violent extremist content and activity on online platforms.
But military members and their families will benefit from awareness and prevention programs designed specifically for the community – especially if offered. before this They transition into civilian life.
Assistance should also be offered to assist and protect ex-servicemen wishing to leave such groups.
Well-designed containment programs can help prevent recruitment by extremist groups in the hopes of leveraging military skills and knowledge, and can be offered as part of military evacuation processing.
If this article has raised problems for you, or if you are concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Open Arms on 1800 011 046 or the Open Arms website Go..