The Report of the Royal Commission into the Christchurch Massacre has shown that hate speech and hate crime are linked and that hate crime is a close relative of terrorism.

The Report distinguished between hate crime, an offence, and hate speech, the expression of hostility or contempt for a group.

The  danger of online hate speech

Hate speech is not beyond the law. Under section 5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the right to freedom of expression may be:”… subject to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

A recent study by Matthew L Williams and others indicated “a consistent positive association between Twitter hate speech targeting race and religion and offline racially and religiously aggravated offences in London.” [Hate in the Machine: Anti-Black and Anti-Muslim Social Media Posts as Predictors of Offline Racially and Religiously Aggravated Crime” (2020) 60(1) British Journal of Criminology.]

As “online hate victimisation is part of a wider process of harm that can begin on social media and then migrate to the physical world,” it concluded “There is value therefore in seeking to reduce hate speech online and offline, not only to prevent the direct harm it causes but also to limit escalation of hate speech to hate crime.”

The Report also found “… it appears that hate crime and terrorism may be more akin to close cousins than distant relatives.”

There is a warning here for rightwing extremists who believe that “freedom of expression” allows them to freely vilify and express contempt for target groups.

“There has been a tendency to see hate crime and hate speech as different phenomena … As we have explained, we see them as related, sitting on a spectrum of harmful behaviours and as warranting systematic review and reform.”

The Report may be found at <https://christchurchattack.royalcommission.nz/the-report/>

An Australian Problem: reluctance to confront rightwing extremism

The head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation in March 2020 warned of the growing threat of the extreme rightwing in Australia, training for combat and engaging in the spreading of hate.

This was attacked by Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells who found the term “rightwing,” offended conservatives. [2 March 2020 Guardian]

The result of this was indicated in the heading “Asio to review terror terms including ‘rightwing extremsists’ which Liberal MP says causes anxiety.”

The head of Asio reaffirmed the extreme right danger but apparently “the spy agency is reviewing the language it uses to refer to terrorism after some conservative government senators argued its warnings about the increasing threat posed by the “extreme right wing” caused “unnecessary anxiety”. [15 October 2020 Guardian]

Reference to “Islamic terrorism” has not met such consideration.

Is a change coming?

Various Labor MPs have been demanding action on the  rightwing terrorist threat for months.

Ann Aly, a Labor MP welcomed Asio’s terror assessment but Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton countered with reference to the dangers of “leftwing terrorism” including Islamist extremism.  [25 February 2020 Guardian]

Senator Keneally noted that some Australian parliamentarians have joined and promoted rightwing social media platforms. [10 September 2020 Guardian]

Parliament finally agreed to an inquiry in early December 2020 to be led by Andrew Hastie, the Liberal MP and former SAS  soldier with Anthony Byrne, the Labor MP as deputy chair.

Mr Dutton asked the inquiry to look into the objectives and “capacity for violence” among extremist groups, but he said this should include Islamist as well as right-wing extremists. [9 December 2020 SMH]

Just how committed he is to supporting this inquiry is open to question, given his past comments.

In November 2016 he remarked that the Fraser government had erred in bringing some people as immigrants in the 1970s. When pressed on this matter a few days later he singled out people of Lebanese-Muslim background [21 November 2016 ABC News]

Time will tell.