There was a "noticeable increase" in online activity in right-wing extremist groups during lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the NSW Crime Commission has told a federal parliamentary inquiry.
Discussion in extremist forums " frequently cited COVID-19; from conspiracy theories about COVID-19, to comments relating to using it as a weapon against traditional [extreme right wing] targets (such as spreading it at mosques and synagogues)," the law enforcement agency said.
The pandemic "generally reinforced" narratives believed by right-wing extremists, and even led to some discussions with "accelerationist" proponents: "those who undertake activities to provoke, or 'accelerate', societal collapse and incite civil war".
While face-to-face meetings of the extremists had slowed down with lockdowns, meetings of adherents had started as restrictions lifted, the Commission said, before reports emerged of right-wing extremists gathering in country Victoria on the Australia Day long weekend.
The NSW Crime Commission said right-wing extremism in Australian online activity "tends to mirror that seen internationally, particularly the United States".
Experts in extremism say it is this mirroring in activity and interconnected nature of such groups that makes it even more concerning that Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not issue a stronger condemnation of the January 6 attack on the Capitol in the United States.
"What we need from our leaders is to stand by principles of democracy regardless of events that happen internationally," said right-wing extremist expert Dr Kristy Campion.
Greg Barton from Deakin University said failure to take a more hardline against such events "has the effect of giving people [in Australia] on that extreme side a sense they have permission to go further".
"The failure to call out the insurrections, for those inclined to follow those ideas and think insurrection is a good thing, it seems like a nod and wink from the Prime Minister that they are on the right track."
Dr Campion, who has received funding to track the effect of the pandemic on right-wing extremism, said it wasn't unusual to see Australian extremists display similar ideas to those in Europe or the United States because in the online world the communities are so integrated.
While some meetings may have slowed during lockdowns, Dr Campion said Sovereign Citizens and some elements of QAnon continued to meet in person, including in gyms and outside exercise locations.
"When it comes to radicalisation and offline and online dynamics, it's 2021, we can't divorce the online and offline domains."
Last year the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation revealed far-right extremism now makes up 40 per cent of its counter-terrorism case load, up from 10-15 per cent before 2016.
Professor Barton said the increase has been steady throughout the four years of Donald Trump's presidency in the United States.
"What's generated out of the American experience goes into online forums and those forums are not confined to national boundaries," he said.
People spending more time online during the pandemic, without normal social interactions also impacted how much they were exposed and vulnerable to extremism and conspiracy theories he said.
While there was a "lag factor" between activities in the United States and Europe among extremists being replicated in Australia, it wasn't inevitable such activities would be replicated.