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New clues emerge of accused New Zealand gunman Tarrant's ties to far right groups

4 April 2019 - 63   - 0

SYDNEY (Reuters) - From its clubhouses in Melbourne and Sydney, the Lads Society promotes drug-free living and exercise, as well as “white resistance” and Islamophobia, according to online statements and interviews with two of its leaders.

One of Australia’s most high profile extremist groups, its members last year infiltrated the youth arm of the National Party, part of the ruling coalition government, before being exposed and ejected due to their far right views.

Now, the group has come to prominence again – and to the attention of security agencies – after a gunman shot 50 people dead at two New Zealand mosques.

In the hours after the shootings, the Lads Society’s private Facebook page lit up as its members discussed the attack and the man arrested and charged with murder, 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant, according to five screenshots of the Facebook messages which were provided by a person with access to the group and reviewed by Reuters.

“He had been on the scene for a while,” said Tom Sewell, founder of the Lads Society, according to the previously undisclosed messages on the Lads Society’s Facebook page.

“He made heaps on Bitcoin and paid for his own holidays, I spoke to him back in 2017 when he was donating money to everyone,” added Sewell.

In a later public statement, Sewell said he and Lads Society leaders were interviewed about the Christchurch attacks by the Australia Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), the country’s domestic spy agency.

ASIO said it does not comment on specific individuals, intelligence or operational matters but was alert to the threat from people with “extreme right-wing ideologies”. The Australian Federal Police also declined to comment when asked about any ties Tarrant had to the Lads Society.

Sewell declined to comment on Tarrant or whether he knew him, and his messages provided no further details.

Tarrant, who is now in custody and has said he plans to represent himself, was not available for comment.

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