What the Christchurch Killer’s Manifesto Tells Us About the Radicalization of White Men
The Australian terrorist who just murdered 50 people in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand would like for you to know that he considers himself “ordinary.”
“Who are you?” Brenton Tarrant asks himself in the mock interview portion of his 74-page manifesto. “Just a ordinary White man, 28 years old.” He then goes on to describe his upbringing: “I am just a regular White man, from a regular family.” His parents, we are told, “are of Scottish, Irish and English stock.”
But “ordinary” white men don’t enter houses of worship and open fire on unarmed people, while using a helmet camera to live-stream the act on social media like they’re in some kind of first-person shooter. Or do they?
In the United States, mass shootings are basically an everyday phenomenon. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there has only been one calendar week since 2013 without a mass shooting. Hate crimes, too, are on the rise.
There is always a risk of amplifying hateful ideologies by drawing attention to them, and yet leaving them unanalyzed and unchallenged poses a different kind of risk. We are powerless to counter what we do not understand, and Tarrant’s manifesto is loaded with clues about the dynamics of 21st century internet radicalization. It is with this knowledge, as well as a heavy heart for those who are experiencing grief and fear for their safety now, that I offer the following insights gleaned while reading it. (All punctuation errors in quotation marks are Tarrant’s.)
1. Brenton Tarrant Is Existentially Terrified of White Culture Being ‘Replaced’ Through a Process He Calls ‘White Genocide.’
The title of Tarrant’s manifesto is The Great Replacement. He is not the first person to use these words. This 2017 video with the same name by right-wing activist Lauren Southern attributes the origin of the concept to the French author Renaud Camus, describing a scenario in which the culture of Europe and the Americas becomes “replaced” by cultures originating from Africa and the Middle East as the birth rate drops and immigration increases. A similar scenario is put forth by this grossly propagandistic video cited in Tarrant’s manifesto. These ideas have obvious parallels with talking points that have been espoused by prominent racists throughout history, from Adolf Hitler to Donald Trump.
Because they present lots of numbers, these videos are enticing to people who see themselves as “rational” and “analytical” but don’t actually check sources or think very critically about information they consume. As a Youtuber who publishes under the name Shaun Jen has pointed out in this excellent rebuttal, Southern’s “Great Replacement” video is based on flawed logic, a misrepresentation of data, and in some cases, outright lies.
Sadly, Tarrant found the misinformation persuasive. He selected his targets because he sees Muslims as “invaders” and he wants to make them afraid. (The irony here is rich, given the history of colonialism and genocide in Australia, New Zealand, and other majority-white countries that began as European colonies.) But he also chose to attack Muslims because existing levels of Islamophobia insure that “attacking them receives the greatest level of support.”
(On that note, it bears mentioning that the Al Noor Mosque had a history of hosting interfaith dialogues aimed at promoting mutual awareness and bringing communities together. Let’s make sure that history is not lost in this narrative.)
2. Tarrant Was Radicalized on the Internet.
“From where did you receive/research/develop your beliefs?” Tarrant asks himself. “The internet, of course,” he replies. “You will not find the truth anywhere else.” The sarcastic tone is typical of the manifesto, but all evidence seems to indicate that he means it. While the overall notion of the “Great Replacement” is not new, the internet provides ample vectors to stoke hysterical resentment into violent calls to action.
At this point, Tarrant’s internet radicalization is a familiar story. Last fall, research institute Data and Society published a study identifying a YouTube ecosystem it termed the Alternate Influence Network — a group of content creators ranging from Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson to self-avowed white nationalist Richard Spencer, united by their disdain for feminists and other social justice advocates. While not all of these individuals identify as far-right, the regularity with which they collaborate across the network has the effect of nudging even the most extreme viewpoints into the realm of acceptable discourse. As Rebecca Lewis, a PhD student affiliated with Data and Society puts it, “Social networking between influencers makes it easy for audience members to be incrementally exposed to, and come to trust, ever more extremist political positions.”
Does that mean that everyone in the “Alternative Influence Network” is a white nationalist? Not exactly. But what it does mean is that these videos offer content that young people—especially white men and boys—tend to find appealing because it doesn’t challenge them on the kinds of things that “SJWs” like to hold people accountable for. Once the algorithm has their attention, it’s relatively simple for anyone who wants to broadcast white nationalist ideology to connect with a large audience of Extremely Online young people.
3. A Lot of the Manifesto Is Shitposting Designed to Intentionally Derail Productive Conversation.
One of the hallmarks of alt-right / 8chan / gamer culture is the practice of shitposting, defined by journalist Robert Evans as “the act of throwing out huge amounts of content, most of it ironic, low-quality trolling, for the purpose of provoking an emotional reaction in less Internet-savvy viewers.” One example of shitposting in the manifesto cited by Evans is Tarrant’s mention of conservative commentator Candace Owens. Evans writes,
It is possible, even likely that the author was a fan of Owens’s videos: she certainly espouses anti-immigrant rhetoric. But in context seems likely that his references to Owens were calculated to spark division, and perhaps even violence, between the left and the right.
In other words, a terrorist who just live-streamed the murder of 49 people peppered his manifesto with jokes designed to simultaneously entertain his online buddies while sowing discord and misdirected outrage. Isn’t that fun?
UPDATE 3/19: There has been some discussion over whether or not Tarrant saying “Subscribe to PewDiePie”—in reference to a Swedish content creator with the world’s most popular YouTube channel—is an example of shitposting. As fellow YouTuber Peter Coffin points out in this new video, PewDiePie’s massive following, combined with his many connections within (and habit of retweeting other members of) the Alternative Influence Network, make his online identity a prominent vector of white nationalist ideas even if he doesn’t explicitly endorse them. But let’s not forget that PewDiePie himself also has a lengthy history of making racist comments—often in a context couched in irony. As of yesterday, had unfollowed all but one of the accounts he followed on Twitter, which included dozens of accounts in the Alternative Influence Network. The reason he gave had nothing to do with the terrorist attack, but given the timing, many are suspicious.
4. Mass Shootings Are an Accelerationist Strategy.
Another tactic that seems deliberately aimed at generating arguments and discord is Tarrant’s use of firearms.
There are “two ideologies within the United States” regarding the ownership of firearms, says Tarrant, and one of his goals is to spark “conflict over the 2nd amendment and the attempted removal of firearms rights” which “will ultimately result in a civil war that will eventually balkanize the US along political, cultural and, most importantly, racial lines.”
(This bit about trying to provoke the government to try to take people’s guns away in order to spark a civil war is something I’ve heard from people with far-right and white nationalist sympathies before.)
Why America? Well, for starters, because “the gun owners of New Zealand are a beaten, miserable bunch of baby boomers, who have long since given up the fight.” But also because he sees a relationship between America‘s’ “melting pot” mythos and the “cult of the individual,” which he sees as instrumental in enforcing the “Wests’ egalitarian, individualist, globalist dominant culture.”
5. He’s Anti-Capitalist and Anti-Corporate, but also Anti-Marxist, Anti-Globalist, and Eco-Fascist.
This one’s a bit convoluted. In the manifesto, Tarrant professes his admiration for The People’s Republic of China (probably a shitpost designed to make credulous readers think he’s some sort of communist), and early 20th century British fascist Oswald Mosley (probably sincere, given the rest of his ideas). The word “capitalist” appears five times in the document, often accompanied by the words “globalist,” “marxist,” and “corporate.” In a nutshell, he appears to believe in a globalist conspiracy theory in which “marxists” exact corporate control over the markets, media, academia, and NGOs, which he especially despises. All of this more-or-less amounts to garden variety anti-semitic dogwhistles, combined with an ideology that Tarrant calls eco-fascism: the advocation of a hierarchical economic and political system in which an ethnically cleansed Europe will be free from the influences of cheap labor, foreign trade, and environmental destruction.
“I am an Ethno-nationalist Eco-fascist,” he writes. “Ethnic autonomy for all peoples with a focus on the preservation of nature, and the natural order.”
The idea of “ethnic autonomy” is, of course, a facile fantasy. The national boundaries of Europe are neither God-given nor “natural,” but are rather the result of political histories which do not correspond seamlessly to language or tidy “ethnic” groups. The presence of Muslims in Europe predates the drawing of the contemporary international borders by many centuries, to say nothing of the obvious hypocrisy of the presence of people of European descent in colonized areas where we ourselves were the invaders. Like all fascisms, Tarrant’s philosophy seems to hinge on nostalgia for a past that never actually existed.
6. Tarrant’s Eco-Fascism Stems From the Belief that Everyone Except Europeans and their Descendants Are Responsible for Climate Change.
Immigration and climate change are the same issue, says Tarrant, because “the environment is being destroyed by over population” and “we Europeans are one of the groups that are not over populating the world. […] Kill the invaders, kill the overpopulation, and by doing so, save the environment.”
This is one of the most preposterous claims in the manifesto, but it illustrates how blind entitlement and a childish view of world politics can combine with deadly consequences. Tarrant doesn’t see our current environmental crisis as tied to colonialism. On the contrary, in his worldview, “Europeans” are able to completely evade responsibility for extractive, exploitive capitalism that has ravaged the world and destroyed the environment, destabilizing political systems and exacerbating climate change, by blaming everything on “globalists”—i.e. someone else, not “us,” and possibly Jewish.
7. Just About Everything in this Manifesto Can be Read as a Form of Projection.
This brings me to my final and most important point. Basically everything that Tarrant thinks other people are doing are conspicuously things that white people of European descent have literally done to other people for several hundred years. It was white Europeans who settled in North America and Australia by the millions, not only outbreeding the Indigenous populations but decimating them with disease, establishing laws that suppressed the free practice of their cultures and religions, even sanctioning genocide. It was white Europeans who colonized Africa and India, stripping the land of natural resources and converting the wealth into the engine of Industrialism. And it was white Americans of European descent who designed entire cities around the automobile, creating an unquenchable market for deadly fossil fuels.
In his manifesto, Tarrant admits to having “little interest in education” and “barely achieving a passing grade.” That’s all well and good if one aspires to a humble life, but in committing this act of mass murder and leaving this manifesto, he has ensured that his far-from-expert understanding of climate change, global markets, and immigration is now a thing that serious journalists are spending their valuable time debunking.
The Great Replacement is garbled garbage of the worst kind, and yet it will undoubtedly win converts among people who are looking for someone to blame for the shitty state of world affairs and would rather start a global race war than acknowledge the ways that white supremacy and European colonialism are deeply, intractably implicated in that shitty state of affairs.
Tarrant’s manifesto is a call to action; our response must counter that call with unwavering solidarity with the targets of white supremacist violence everywhere.
UPDATE 3/18/19: The death toll is now at 51.
Ever since Brenton Tarrant threw the OK sign in court, I’ve been getting lots of hits on my post Does the OK Sign Signify White Power or What?, which is also relevant to the theme of white supremacist trolling.