Though there is yet no final decision on what shape it will take, the Government Inquiry into the Christchurch massacre may end up turning over some very unsettling rocks.
It is inevitable that it will uncover some strong streaks of racism in pockets of New Zealand society and find evidence of networks of white supremacists.
And last night the two security agencies both reacted to the Prime Minister’s announcement that there will be an inquiry offering hints of how they might defend themselves against charges that they missed the shooter’s buildup to the massacre because they were not focussed on white supremacists.
The GCSB Director-General, Andrew Hampton said that normally the GCSB did not confirm nor deny any operational details.
“But given the nature of the situation I can confirm GCSB had not collected or received from partners any relevant intelligence ahead of the terrorist attacks,” he said.
“New Zealand’s intelligence and security agencies do not currently have the legal authority, technical means or resources to actively monitor all online activity that occurs in New Zealand. “
This looks like becoming an issue for any inquiry; whether the strict limits to the interception powers of the GCSB imposed with a new Intelligence and Security Act in 2017 need loosening.
The SIS were more defensive in their response.
“Over the last nine months, NZSIS has increased its effort to obtain a better picture of the threat posed to New Zealand by far-right extremist groups,” its director, Rebecca Kitteridge said.
“The NZSIS has over recent years received a number of tips from the public concerning right-wing extremism and has taken each one seriously.”
What is not clear is why the increase in effort took place nine months ago, beyond July being the beginning of the Government’s budget year.
Thus, the increase could reflect new National Intelligence Priorities which were revised last March.
That was the first revision under the Labour-led Government and the first under Andrew Little as Minister in charge of the security agencies.
He implied on TVOne’s “Q+A” last night that he had signed off warrants to watch white extremists.
“Every (interception) warrant that is actively being pursued at the moment is one that I’ve signed off,” he said.
“What I can say without divulging too much and compromising their ability to do their job is that a proportion of those jobs relate to extremism .. they relate to all forms of extremism.”
Meanwhile, the police investigation into the massacre continues with the investigating team now bolstered by officers from the Australian Federal Police and the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Apart from the specific interest that the Australians have in the accused and the particular expertise the FBI will have over terrorism, POLITIK understands that the presence of the overseas officers will free up some New Zealand police to continue working on preventive policing to ensure there is no copycat followup.
“The police are taking a precautionary approach with their presence and their activities,” Ardern told a press conference yesterday.
“ It’s also one of the reasons that we remain with a threat level of high.
“You’ll see the police are taking a precautionary approach with their presence and their activities that tend to follow such suggestions of copycat activity.
“So we have just to ensure that our agencies are alive to some of those patterns that we see internationally
British police are currently dealing with five hate crimes that have occurred since the Christchurch massacre; one of which, a stabbing on Saturday night “had all the hallmarks of a terror event inspired by the far-Right” according to Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, the UK’s head of counter-terror policing.
But deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters seemed reluctant yesterday to accept much New Zealand responsibility for what happened in Christchurch.
He had met with Turkey’s Vice President and Foreign Minister who surprised New Zealand officials by turning up on Sunday.
Their arrival coincided with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan running ads in the country’s local election campaign for his party showing excerpts from the Christchurch killer’s video.
Erdogan’s political base is the country’s conservative Muslim population.
Peters said he told them that New Zealand did not start nor bring about the disaster.
But the Prime Minister went further.
“The deputy Prime Minister is absolutely right, in this case, the primary suspect, the person who has been arrested for this terrorist attack was not a citizen of New Zealand,” she said.
“However, that is not to say that there are not those who live in New Zealand who hold values and ideas and use language that is completely counter to what the vast majority of New Zealanders believe.
“I don’t think we can ignore that.
“We cannot ignore that.
“If we are to continue to ensure the safety of our Muslim communities and others, the 200 ethnicities that live in New Zealand, we have to be live to the fact that there are those who do not share our values of openness, diversity and compassion and that is something we are going to have to confront as a nation.”
It is something that Professor Richard Jackson, the Director of the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago confronts on a regular basis.
Jackson not only studies extremism and the potential for terrorism in New Zealand but also regularly lectures members of the Wellington security and intelligence sector on these topics.
He believes that since the Twin Towers (9/11) while the world was pre-occupied with jihadist terrorism, there was a concurrent growth of white supremacism and right-wing extremism internationally.
That has spread to New Zealand.
“Unfortunately the whole focus of the war on terrorists put so much effort on to trying to uncover all the potential threats from within the Muslim community that it neglected the rise of the right wing and the white supremacist groups,” he told POLITIK.
Some politicians have allowed some of this extremism to develop because they themselves attack Muslims and migrants.
(The former NZ First MP, Richard Prosser said the rights of New Zealanders’ were being “denigrated by a sorry pack of misogynist troglodytes from Wogistan” , threatening our way of life “in the name of their stone age religion” and he wrote that “Abdul” should not be allowed to fly, and should instead “go ride a camel”)
Jackson argues that the problem with this kind of talk is that it authorises extremists to talk the same way – but go further.
“They’ve sort of been permitted by political leaders to express those sort of views, and in the extreme corners of that border kind of racist anti-immigrant anti-Muslim movement, there are obviously people with very violent ideas who occasionally decide to act out on those. “
He says that though there is a big gap between casual racism and extreme racist ideas, they are part of the same environment.
“They’re part of the same set of ideas the same sort of ideology as it were.
“And these have an effect.
“Now there’s quite a big step between holding racist ideas that are extreme ideas and then acting on them.
“And there’s a huge body of research out there on what’s called radicalisation which tries to precisely measure and better understand how people go from espousing extreme and violent ideas to actually acting out on them.
“And thankfully out of hundreds of thousands of people who hold really violent ideas only a tiny number of them you know a handful will actually go ahead and act out on them.
“But there is no doubt that they’re part of the same broader sort of structures and processes in society which can incubate the conditions that lead to someone acting out in this way.”
It is because of this that Jackson believes that any response to extremism needs to more holistic than simply stepping up security.
He points to the Norwegian response to the 2012 killing of 77 people by Anders Breivik.
“We don’t want to go down the track of an overly security-based approach which focuses on profiling and target hardening all around the country and thinking that maybe if we ban guns or bring in harsher laws; if we undermine people’s civil liberties and if we engage in overseas military interventions, and so on that that’s that’s going to make us safer.
“One of the key aims of a terrorist attack like this is to undermine democracy it is to undermine people’s way of life and sense of security and to try and polarise people and create more conflict.
“ So in a way we respond to the terrorist attack by reaffirming our values by recommitting ourselves to democratic participation to the rule of law to human rights to tolerance and so on.
“But I think this attack also provides us with a tremendous opportunity given that this was a white nationalist to really reflect and think about the way in which broader structures of racism in our society and broader attitudes and discourses and language that we use and attitudes that are widely shared sort of feed into that kind of process.
“ So I’m hoping it will be a turning point where New Zealand can really start to tackle some underlying racism.“