Parliament protest: Intelligence reports reveal assessments of possible violent extremism in aftermath

New documents reveal New Zealand intelligence agencies' assessments of possible violent extremism related to the parliamentary protest and the Government's COVID-19 response. 

The most recent of the documents, dated March 4, said it was "likely" a small minority of individuals in New Zealand "have or will develop the intent to carry out an act of extremist violence" in either reprisal to the protest clearance or to "compensate for a perceived lack of 'success'".  

That "threat insight" was obtained by Newshub through the Official Information Act and looked at how "politically-motivated violent extremists" (PMVEs) could react in the two weeks following the "clearance of protesters in Wellington".

It was developed by the Combined Threat Assessment Group (CTAG) in consultation with police, the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and the National Assessments Bureau (NAB).

While the agencies were not aware of "any specific, credible threats of violent extremism connected to the clearance", the document warned PMVEs "are highly like to continue to seek to exploit legitimate, peaceful protest to propagate violent extremist rhetoric and promote acts of ideological violence".

"We assess it is highly likely these efforts will continue to resonate with a small minority of individuals within the anti-authority community."

Looking at the 14 days following the end of the protest, when a riot broke out on the forecourt of Parliament between occupiers and police and about 100 were arrested, the agencies said it was "likely" a small group of people in New Zealand will develop or already have "the intent to carry out an act of extremist violence".

"We assess this would likely be either in direct reprisal for the clearance, or out of a need to compensate for a perceived lack of 'success' from the protests."

Many of those who occupied Parliament's grounds, setting up campsites and blocking surrounding streets, opposed the Government's COVID-19 response and vaccine mandates. 

The Government would go on to remove many of the mandates, which it said was due to high vaccination rates, not because of pressure from the protesters. Other COVID-19 regulations, such as the traffic light system, that protesters rallied against remain in effect. No member of the Government met with the protesters as they wanted.

While the protest ended with a massive confrontation between police and occupiers, there has been no significant violent attack since related to the protest.

Hundreds turned up for the protest.
Hundreds turned up for the protest. Photo credit: Newshub.

The agencies said at the time that the most likely scenario of an act of violence would be from a lone actor or small group "inspired by threatening rhetoric" and using a weapon readily available to the public, like a blade or vehicle. 

"We cannot dismiss the possibility that any attack could manifest with little or no intelligence forewarning".

Newshub was also given a summary of a CTAG threat assessment from February 25. The full document was withheld as releasing it "would prejudice national security".

It assessed threats to the Government's general COVID-19 mitigation programmes, those delivering and enforcing the likes of vaccination mandates and lockdowns.

The document said "the sheer volume of online rhetoric and 'normalisation' of violent and threatening language" in relation to COVID-19 programmes "increases the possibility that genuine threats could be overlooked".

"CTAG judges these factors will continue to challenge the ability of intelligence and law enforcement agencies to identify legitimate attack plots and distinguish them from hoax or non-credible threats".

It said there is a "realistic possibility individuals could mobilise to violence without coming to the attention of intelligence and law enforcement agencies". 

Although most of those opposed to the COVID-19 programmes "are not inherently violent extremist in nature" and are "highly unlikely to conduct" an act of violent extremism, if a terrorist attack was to occur it would likely target those perceived to represent the programmes, like police, politicians, and mainstream media.

The March 4 document, written just two days after the end of the protest, said the PMVEs and their adherents were "already referencing the clearance in their rhetoric". The protest clearance "almost certainly reinforced" their narratives around government oppression, the agencies said.

It also addressed claims made online that ANTIFA, extreme anti-fascists, was responsible for the violence on March 2. 

"CTAG has seen no indication of the presence of violent extremist actors in New Zealand claiming affiliation with the ANTIFA movement". 

The agencies said they had "medium confidence" in their judgements due to the "developing situation and our emerging insight into the reactions of New Zealand-based violent extremist actions".

Fire ripped through Parliament's front lawn on the last day of the protest.
Fire ripped through Parliament's front lawn on the last day of the protest. Photo credit: Newshub.

Another document, written by CTAG on February 17 as the protest was unfolding, explored how it would impact politically-motivated violent extremism in New Zealand. 

It said that while the "vast majority" of protesters didn't support a violent extremist ideology and were highly unlikely to commit an act of violent extremism, a small number were expressing that type of rhetoric.

"A small number of violent extremists are likely to have the intent to conduct an act of violence during or after the protests, as part of pseudo-legal trials, in reprisal for Government action or due to a belief that non-violent action has been ineffective."

At the time, some fringe websites were suggesting online that public figures be tried for crimes against humanity and those found guilty would face their "day of reckoning". 

The agencies believed it "highly unlikely" that prominent PMVEs would "personally conduct an act of violence".

They also assessed there was a "realistic possibility" that the PMVE rhetoric at the protest could "radicalise individuals not already on the violent extremist spectrum", the document said.

It noted that protesters at Parliament had "a wide variety of agenda", including some that had "no obvious links to COVID-19". That includes those supporting the Sovereign Citizen movement, anti-communism, pro-Palestine and anti-Three Waters.

While Nazi symbols were pictured at the site, CTAG wrote that this "is highly likely intended to portray the current Government's actions as comparable to those of Nazi Germany, and are not indicative of widespread support for Nazi or other fascist ideologies".