Newcastle Man Arrested Over Terrorist Threats

by Zeb Holmes & Ugur Nedim

New South Wales counter-terrorism police have arrested an alleged right-wing extremist from Newcastle for threatening to cause a “mass casualty event” at a mosque.

43-year old Cormac Rothsey was arrested following an investigation by the NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team, working with the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

“Investigators located a number of concerning posts with rightwing extremist views on social media earlier this week and commenced inquiries,” an AFP spokesperson told the media.

The alleged conduct

Mr Rothsey first came to the attention of police on 27 August 2019 when the National Security Hotline received reports about two Facebook profiles espousing anti-Islamic rhetoric.

His Facebook are alleged to have escalated over time from posting generalised anti-Muslim hate speech to threatening kill or injure Muslims.

His posts are said to include, “My aim is to go to Friday prayer in a packed mosque… No turning back when called to prayer.”

“I will do big damage… I don’t give a fuck about my life.”

The posts went on to suggest the attack was imminent, stating:

“Australia Cormac Rothsey mosque raid soon. Make ya movie. No turning back.”

“Fuckin’ hell. Let’s do it.”

Police arrested him shortly after the last-mentioned post.

The charges

Mr Rothsey was charged with using a carriage service to menace, harass or offend, which is contained in section 474.17 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) (the Act) that carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison.

To establish the offence, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant:

  1. Used a carriage service, and
  2. Did so in a way that a reasonable person would regard as menacing, harassing or offensive

A ‘carriage service’ is defined as, ‘a service for carrying communications by means of guided and/or unguided electromagnetic energy’, which includes telephone calls, text messages and internet transmissions such as emails and social media posts.

The use is ‘menacing’ if it includes an express or implied threat of detrimental or unpleasant conduct which is likely to cause the other person to act unwillingly.

The use is ‘offensive’ if a reasonable person would regard it as being so. The matters to be considered when deciding whether the use is offensive include:

  1. the standards of morality, decency and propriety generally accepted

by reasonable adults

  1. Any literary, artistic or educational merit of the material, and
  2. The general character of the material, including whether it is of

A medical, legal or scientific character

The legislation does not define ‘harass’. However, it has been defined as, ‘to disturb, bother or pester repeatedly’

Defences to the charge include:

  1. Duress
  2. Necessity, and
  3. Self-defence

Mr Rothsey’s was refused bail in Newcastle Local Court and will appear before the same court in late October.

Why not terrorism charges?

The alleged nature of the threats has raised questions about why police have not charged Mr Rothsey with terrorism-related offences.

In that regard, section 101.6 of the Act prescribes a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for planning or preparing for a terrorist act.

A terrorist act is defined to include a threat made to advance a political, religious or ideological cause and intended to coerce, or influence by intimidation, a government, the public or a section of the public.

Political Affiliation

A Facebook account in the name of Cormac Rothsey contains several post which can be categorised as right wing extremism.

The profile picture has a photo of a blonde woman holding an automatic weapon and the words, “I support Senator Fraser Anning.”

A post in mid-August states, “Never accept Islam never have a muslim near you” alongside a picture of a brunette woman in a sports bra holding an automatic weapon.

The page also contains a badge professing to be, “sometimes antisocial always anti-antifa” referring to left-wing anti-fascist activists.

Police allege Mr Rothsey expressed admiration for the alleged Christchurch shooter, Brenton Tarrant.

When one social media user described Tarrant as a hero, Rothsey allegedly replied that he “should get a free house a medal for bravest aussie since Gallipoli”.

Of PM Jacinda Ardern he allegedly wrote: “I want the slut dead… I will use my rifle”.

Rise of right-wing extremism

Recent years have seen an upsurge of right-wing extremism in Australia.

In the aftermath of the Christchurch attack, NSW Police Commissioner Michael Fuller told the media, “We have arrested right-wing extremists in this state,” adding “We have criminal orders against right-wing extremists… We take it seriously.”

Back in August 2016, Phillip Galea was charged with terrorism offences after conducting “surveillance” upon “left-wing premises” and allegedly planning to carry out bombings.

Explosive ingredients were found at Galea’s home. The professed member of right-wing organisation had been arrested a year earlier for carrying a prohibited weapon and possessing bomb-making guides and materials.

Another radicalised white supremacist, Michael Holt, was convicted in 2017 after threatening to carry out a mass shooting at Westfield Shopping Centre in Tuggerah. He had manufactured home-made guns, knuckle dusters and slingshots.

The AFP has urged anyone with information about extremist activity or threats to contact its hotline on 1800 123 400.

Authors

Zeb Holmes

Zeb Holmes is a lawyer with a passion for social justice who advocates criminal law reform, and a member of the content team at Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with over 20 years of experience in criminal defence. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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