Australia's Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neill is calling for caution around speculation related to the motives of three individuals who ambushed and killed two young police officers amid ongoing conjecture that the trio were engaged in online radicalisation.
On Dec. 12, six individuals were killed in an incident that Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll has called "the largest loss of police life" in years.
The trio's motives have been subject to intense media scrutiny over the last few days, with the online writings and beliefs of one gunman, Gareth Train, being unearthed.
"The Queensland police will, of course, lead an investigation into what has occurred and do the very important and diligent work of ascertaining what the motivations for violence were in this case," O'Neill told federal Parliament on Dec. 15.
She said security agencies were considering the implications around online radicalisation, misinformation, and violent extremism but noted there was a "lot of media reporting and speculation about what motivated these three people to perform the despicable acts of violence that they did."
"A lot of what comes out in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy is incorrect, and we need to pause a little bit here before we get into the discussion about what's happened. It's really important that we let law enforcement and national security agencies do their job," she said.
She did say that it was "likely" that radicalisation was an issue.
"Radicalisation is not new, but it is absolutely clear from events here and around the world that conspiracy theories, disinformation, and misinformation—problems as old as time—are being turbocharged by technology into terrible acts of violence. They are presenting a new kind of threat to our national security."
Fellow Labor Party MP Graham Perrett was more direct in saying there was a rise in the number of "conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, sovereign citizens, and the purveyors of hate and misinformation."
"People in the police service and people who work as magistrates tell me that there is a rise in this sort of misinformation. In particular, while I'm here in Canberra, in this building, call out the politicians who harvest mistrust as part of their business model, who go on Sky After Dark [a program on Sky News Australia] and dog whistle or dog trumpet these conspiracy theories," he said.
Perrett encouraged the so-called cookers, anti-vaxxers, or conspiracy theorists to go to a library under the supervision of a librarian to find "accurate information" instead of relying on algorithms that depend on clickbait.
In response, Liberal-National MP Keith Pitt believed there was a need to deal with the impact of social media.
"Quite simply, disinformation, fake news, and, most particularly, anonymous accounts—we cannot let these continue. The idea that you can go online and be anonymous and say whatever you want—that's not free speech," he said.
"If you have something to say, you're welcome to say whatever you like, but you should have your name next to it. And it impacts our entire society, from young children who get harassed, all the way through to adults, to businesses, to individuals that use it to influence people in a particular direction."
How Events UnfoldedAt around 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 12, four police officers were called to investigate a routine missing person report for a Nathaniel Train at a property on Wains Rd in Wieambilla, near the remote inland Queensland town of Chincilla.
Two young constables, Matthew Arnold, 26, and Rachel McCrow, 29, were hit with a “hail of gunshots” as they jumped a fence to access the house, according to Queensland Police Union President Ian Leavers.
The pair fell, forcing their colleagues to take cover, with one (Keely Brough) fleeing into the bushes around the property and the other (Randall Kirk) towards the squad car.
“The ruthless, murderous trio have then gone and executed the two police, our fallen officers, who were on the ground. They have executed them in cold blood,” Leavers told ABC Radio National on Dec. 13. It is alleged the killer, dressed in camouflage fatigues, then made off with the officers’ Glock service pistols.
A neighbour, 58-year-old Alan Dare, was also gunned down and shot in the back after going out to investigate.
The shooters then tried to flush out the female officer who had taken cover in the long grass by setting it on fire.
“She actually believed that she was either going to be shot or she was going to be burnt alive,” Leavers added, later saying the attackers were attempting to coax her into standing up so they could fire on her.
From her position, Officer Brough called for backup and sent goodbye text messages to her family. She had just graduated from the police academy eight weeks earlier.
A local sergeant was able to respond to the distress call and arrived at the scene with 15 more police officers who worked to retrieve the bodies of the slain officers while engaging in a firefight.
Members of the tactical police force and PolAir, the aerial support arm of the police force, were also dispatched.
A siege situation eventually ensued, and an emergency declaration was made encompassing the area of Chinchilla Tara Rd, Wieambilla Rd, Bennetts School Rd, and Mary Street.
The three attackers were identified as brothers Nathaniel Train (the subject of the missing person report), Gareth Train, and Stacey Train, partner of Gareth. Stacy had previously been married to Nathaniel.
The three are alleged to have fired on the PolAir helicopter dispatched to the scene.
Stacey is alleged to have been wounded by the tactical police force but continued firing while down, forcing officers to finally dispatch her.
By 10:30 p.m. the three attackers had been killed in the firefight.
Nathaniel was formerly a principal at Yorkeys Knob State School in Cairns and at Walgett Primary School in northern New South Wales. He was previously commended for improving the results of Indigenous students. Stacey was also a teacher and principal.
While Gareth has been described by many as domineering and erratic, with one neighbour saying she once saw him dragging his partner by the hair into the house.
Gareth also wrote regularly online, including claims the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre—which triggered Australia’s gun buy-back scheme—was a hoax aimed at disarming citizens.