Extremist exploitation of the context created by COVID-19 and the implications for Australian security

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Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, extremists around the world have to all appearances sought to exploit the disruption to serve their own strategic or ideological means and ends. In order to understand the threat posed by such extremists in the Australian national security context, this study investigates how extremists incorporated contemporary events in Australia and beyond its borders into their COVID-19-related narratives. This article traverses three ideological milieus and examines violent Salafi-Jihadism, the extreme right, and the extreme left. By studying how ideological milieus interact with the current pandemic context, it is possible to observe the fluctuation of ideological constructs through the identified narratives. These narratives were not solely propagated online as may have been expected: instead, there was observable offline dissemination as well. While little was found on the extreme left, this study found that violent Salafi-Jihadist and extreme-right milieus interpreted COVID-19 in ideologically self-serving ways. In some cases, COVID-19 was used to buttress existing narratives, while there was also evidence of narrative diversification, with seemingly ideologically contradictory positions adopted. These impact national security in Australia in three ways: first, buttressing may reinforce extremist distrust of authorities and cement positions; second, diversification complicates the threatscape by challenging efficient identification; third, the co-optation of idiosyncratic conspiracies has exposed the vulnerability of democratic societies to misinformation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-40
Number of pages18
JournalPerspectives on Terrorism
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 21 Dec 2021


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