Sources with knowledge of the matter say the Christchurch mosque attack last week has heightened awareness among authorities of the potential danger of right-wing extremism, though it’s not suggested Mr Sykes was in any way involved in that incident.
Mr McMahon was allegedly threatened by Mr Sykes in early 2018 and he had earlier exposed the alleged extremist in stories in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald as being responsible for several racist and intimidating trolling campaigns targeting high-profile Australians. They including ex-Racial Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane, activist and Muslim woman Mariam Veiszadeh and Guardian journalist and left-wing commentator Van Badham.
In one of the threatening recordings from March 2018, obtained by The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Sykes allegedly threatens to “stamp your [journalist Luke McMahon’s] f***ing teeth into the sidewalk” and send associates to Mr McMahon’s house.
“I’m going to torture you to an absolute delight little Lukey Luke. Absolute delight. And I have people looking at you right now staring at you from across the f***ing street from where you live, enjoy this mother-f***er,” Mr Sykes is allegedly recorded saying.
“You’re dead, and baby, I’m catching up with you.”
Another threat said: “Pity you weren’t home, but at least we know where you live so, we’ll be saying ‘G’day’.”
A far-right group, United Nationalists Australia, also posted a message on its website on March 23 last year claiming that Mr Saleam had visited Mr McMahon’s Melbourne home.
Mr Sykes’ arrest came after senior former and serving security officials warned in the wake of the terror attack in Christchurch of an inconsistent approach across law enforcement agencies in dealing with right-wing extremist groups.
On Monday, former NSW Police Force deputy commissioner Nick Kaldas warned that policing agencies were failing to effectively monitor the growth of right-wing extremists.
A senior federal security agency source said ASIO was doing enough to counter right-wing extremists, but there was a lack of co-ordination between state police forces who sometimes treated extremist activity as non-urgent “suburban crime matters”.
However, Mr Fergus and senior NSW police sources said the NSW police force’s “fixated persons” and counter-terrorist teams, and their counterparts in other states, were effectively targeting multiple far-right threats.
Both Saleam and Sykes are members of the far-right political party Australia First.
Nick McKenzie is an investigative reporter for The Age. He’s won seven Walkley awards and covers politics, business, foreign affairs and defence, human rights issues, the criminal justice system and social affairs.
Richard Baker is a multi-award winning investigative reporter for The Age.