The Inconsistent Usage of the Terms “Extremism” and “Terrorism” Around the Christchurch Mosque Attacks

Authors: Vandenberg, H. & Hoverd, W.
Published in National Security Journal, 12 June 2020

statement obliquely signaling an additional focus on extremism, Kitteridge spoke about self-radicalisation and mobilisation of ‘extremist ideologies’ as being of concern in relation to terrorism.32 The February 2019 speech by Kitteridge also made mention of specific “right wing extremism”, advising that while it was a concerning issue, it was a slow moving one.33 On 18 March 2019, Kitteridge defined the 15 March attack as both ‘terrorism and violent extremism.’34

Subsequently, Kitteridge again consistently used both terms in the same way in a statement on 18 September 2019, also taking that opportunity to advise the public that violent extremism, and specifically right-wing violent extremism, had been a facet of their counter-terrorism operations for the previous nine months.35

The GCSB does not provide many statements about their operations and as such, they made no mention of ‘extremism’ prior to the 15 March attack, and very little in reference to ‘terrorism.’ However, post the 15 March attack, GCSB Director Andrew Hampton did release a statement to acknowledge the “terrorist attacks” which contained no mention of ‘extremism.’36

Following on from this statement, the GCSB released a fact sheet relating to their role in counter-terrorism, which included the statement: “…warrants that allow GCSB to gather intelligence about terrorism that do not differentiate between different forms of violent extremism.”37 Again we see, that when mention is made about ‘extremism’ after the attack, it is in the very broadest manner. We also see hints that there was a possible distinction being made between ‘extremism’ and ‘violent extremism.’

Importantly, in February 2020 DPMC released the ‘Countering terrorism and violent extremism national strategy,’ which is the subject of discussion elsewhere in this volume by Battersby, Ball and Nelson.38 This strategy document sets out a work programme and the various responsibilities for counter-terrorism operations and policy across the national security sector. For our purposes, this document is important because in a small buried footnote it provides a working definition of ‘extremism,’ ‘violent extremism’ and ‘terrorism.’39

It states:

Extremism Religious, social or political belief systems that exist substantially outside of more broadly accepted belief systems in large parts of society, and are often seen as objectionable to large parts of society. Extreme ideologies may seek radical changes in the nature of government, religion or society or to create a community based on their ideology.
Violent extremism The justification of violence with the aim of radically changing the nature of government, religion or society. This violence is often targeted against groups seen as threatening violent extremists’ success or survival, or undermining their world view.
Terrorism Under New Zealand law, a terrorist act is defined as an ideologically, politically, or religiously motivated act – including those causing death or serious bodily injury – intended to induce terror in the population, or to compel the government to do or not do certain things.”40