Violent Extremism Terminology

ASIO protects Australia and Australians from threats to their security. As national security threats evolve, ASIO’s ability to respond must also evolve. This includes ensuring our terminology remains fit for purpose in a complex and changing threat environment.

At ASIO we’re conscious that the names and labels we use are important. Words matter. They can be very powerful in how they frame an issue and how people think about it.

For this reason, ASIO will adopt language that reinforces the fact that our counter-terrorism investigations focus on individuals or groups based on their use or advocacy of violence. ASIO does not investigate people solely because of their political views, so labels like ‘left’ and right’ often distract from the real nature of the threat.

We will now refer to two categories: ideologically motivated violent extremism and religiously motivated violent extremism.

ASIO has decided to make this change because the current labels are no longer fit for purpose; they no longer adequately describe the phenomena we’re seeing. The new terminology focusses on an individual or group’s support for violence, which is what triggers ASIO’s interest.

However it is important to note that these are umbrella terms to describe the threat categories. There may be times where ASIO needs to describe a specific threat that sits beneath them.

We are seeing a growing number of individuals and groups that don’t fit on the left–right spectrum at all; instead, they’re motivated by fear of societal collapse or a specific social or economic grievance or conspiracy.

This new language will allow ASIO to accurately and objectively describe those violent extremists who would seek to do us harm, regardless of their particularly ideology or religious views.

We want to be clear about who poses a terrorist or violent extremist threat and why ASIO is interested in them. Australians should not think that their security service is looking into them because of their political or religious views.

As well as being more accurate, ASIO’s new terminology will offer more flexibility in referring to emerging threats. It allows us to make sure our advice is readily understood, and better reflects our role within the laws under which we operate.