Who Facilitated the Christchurch Terrorist's Journey Through Hate?
This article originally appeared on the Institute of Race Relations website. Liz Fekete is author of Europe’s Fault Lines: racism and the rise of the Right.
The massacre of fifty Muslim worshipers, and wounding of fifty more people, at the Al Noor mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand, streamed live on Facebook via the gunman’s body camera, has left Muslims scared and angry. Angry because they could see it coming, yet their fears were talked down. Scared because in today’s climate it seems virtually impossible to trust those in power to stop creating the conditions for even more Islamophobia.
Islamophobia is the breeding ground for racism and fascism in Europe today, and anti-Muslim racism has more than one face. It is institutional (enshrined, since September 11 and the war on terror, in a punitive criminal justice system that singles Muslims out for greater punishment and enhanced surveillance); it is electoral (witness the Conservative Party campaign against Sadiq Khan in the 2016 London mayoral election or more recently, in Italy, with the League electioneering on the slogan ‘Stop Invasion’ and the promise to close down mosques). Islamophobia is legally sanctioned by the state (many European countries have deprivation of citizenship laws targeting Muslims, also restricting the wearing of the burqa and the hijab); it is popular (note the British media’s obsessional referencing of ‘on-street grooming’ as a specific Muslim crime and the fashionable Muslim-bashing in mainstream debates). And all this inevitably leads to attacks on Muslim places of worship and racist violence on the streets.
Muslims, then, are feeling vulnerable because though the massacre may have happened nearly 12,000 miles away, it felt very close. Exactly how close was made manifest in the UK in the immediate aftermath, in the number of attacks on Muslims, including the abuse of a taxi driver in Rochdale, attacks on Muslim worshippers in Whitechapel and Finsbury Park, and what police are describing as a Christchurch-inspired ‘terrorism-related’ incident in Stanwell, Surrey, where a teenager was stabbed by a man dressed all in green (ie, camouflage gear) and wearing a balaclava, shouting, according to one witness, ‘kill all Muslims’ and ‘white supremacy rules’. (Read a full list of attacks here).
A soldier in a war against Muslims
The first thing to say of the perpetrator of the Christchurch massacre is that he considered himself a partisan in a war – a war against Muslims. He refers to himself, in the 74-page document he sent by email to thirty New Zealand politicians including prime minister Jacinda Ardern minutes before the massacre, as a ‘freedom fighter’, an ‘ethno soldier’ taking a stand against ‘ethnic and cultural genocide’. Dressed in military fatigues, the gunman listened on his car radio to a song idolising the genocidal war criminal Radovan Karadzic, as he pumped himself up, like a paramilitary mercenary, to carry out the murders. Inscribed on his ammunition were the names of other perpetrators of racist crimes, including Luca Traini (responsible for the drive-by shootings of African migrants in Macerta, Italy, in 2018), far-right prisoners (Spanish neo-Nazi and ex-soldier Josué Estébanez who killed a 16-year-old anti-fascist in 2007), individuals and places synonymous with white supremacist narratives about dangerous Muslims (Rotherham) and the names of historical Crusade figures of the Middle Ages who fought Muslim armies.
His obsession with war should have – but hasn’t – been cause for reflection about the recent cultural impact on Europe of eighteen years of wars in the Middle East. Since 2012, the IRR has been warning that the far Right is preparing for ‘race war’. In the 2012 publication Pedlars of Hate: the violent impact of the European far Rightwe warned that the far Right was utilising ‘enemy images’ of Muslims made respectable by the war on terror, imbibing the warmongering of counter-jihadi websites (such as Pamela Geller’s Atlas Watch and Robert Spencer’s Jihad Watch), and drawing on the ‘not dissimilar’ views of mainstream neoconservatives and culturally conservative writers. We specifically warned of the dangers posed by Europe’s growing counter-jihadi movement and network of defence leagues that were depicting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as conflicts between a superior civilisation and a barbaric Muslim enemy, as well as the growth of far-right militia and vigilantism, particularly in Europe’s border areas. According to a detailed analysis by the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right, there ‘is no doubt that [the manifesto put out online before the killings] is essentially “counter-jihadist”. It is saturated with “counter-jihadist” and Islamophobic enemy images.’
Australian by nation – European by identity
The second thing to say about the alleged perpetrator is that he might be Australian by nationality, but by identity he is European – Scottish, Irish and English’ by ‘stock’, is his own self-description. Certainly his white supremacist fantasies come in European shades. Such was his attachment to the European ‘motherland’ that he travelled in 2016 and 2017 through France, Portugal and Spain, Bulgaria and Hungary, describing in his ‘manifesto’ the ‘fuming rage and suffocating despair’ he felt against the invaders, claiming that French people were ‘often in a minority themselves’.
But to use his term, manifesto, to describe his 74-page document is to flatter him. It would give respectability to the incoherent scribblings of an unadulterated white supremacist and arrested adolescent obsessed with ‘sub-replacement fertility’, civilisational decline, decay and death. Everything in the manifesto is redolent of the deluded narrative of white victimhood and white martyrdom that is everyday exchange in far-right chat rooms and online subculture. It conveys no thought-out ideas, only the self-pity of a 28-year-old man who compares himself to Nelson Mandela and expects, in his own delusional words, to one day win the Nobel Peace Prize. The Norwegian mass murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, who also described himself in military terms (his manifesto was signed AB Justiciar Knight Commander, cell 8 Knights Templar, Europe), said much the same in his manifesto, further claiming, at a pre-trial court appearance, that he should be honoured with a military medal for his actions.
French intellectual incendiaries
But in all the debate since Christchurch, one category of people has not been called to account as it should be. In the gunman’s journey through racism and hate he greedily gobbled up any pseudo-intellectual titbit thrown his way by a coterie of New Right writers and journalists who have stretched the limits of public debate and made racism respectable under cover of cultural critique.
First, the title of his manifesto, The Great Replacement: Towards A New Society, is taken from the FN- and PEGIDA-sympathising French writer Renaud Camus, who in 2012, echoing the Eurabia theme of Bat Ye-or (‘Europe is being colonised by the Arab world and forced into an attitude of dhimmitude’), coined the term le grand remplacement to describe the colonisation of France by Muslim immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East. This process, through changing demographics, replaces an existing culture with a new one, and threatens to ‘mutate’ the country and its culture permanently. In the UK, there was outrage when the BBC invited a leading member of Generation Identity (a movement that originated in France) onto the ‘Newsnight ’ TV programme to discuss the causes of the Christchurch massacre. Generation Identity is a movement that has its roots in France, where New Right authors like Renaud Camus, Eric Zemmour, Jean Raspail and philospher Alain Finkielkraut have dominated the broadcast and print media for at least a decade. When challenged, the high-minded and apparently well-mannered Camus took to Twitter to deny accusations that he provided the intellectual inspiration for the killer, opining that this ‘criminal, idiotic, and awful’ attack was carried out by a perpetrator who is guilty of an ‘abusive use of a phrase that is not his and that he plainly does not understand’. Camus’ words, so elitist and insensitive, make it all the easier to understand Guardian columnist Nesrine Malik’s declaration that she’s ‘done with debating racism after Christchurch’. Malik’s point is that the fork-tongued ‘genre of response protocol’ that follows attacks on Muslims, which ‘blows dog whistles even as carnage is unfolding’, makes it ‘futile’.
A struggle against the culture that provides ammunition and space
In his 1,500-page manifesto, Breivik, now serving a 21-year prison sentence that can be extended indefinitely, made a number of references to New Zealand, in particular suggesting that it might be a place for Europeans to move to in order to avoid immigration. It’s worth recalling that after Breivik was arrested, the mainstream media sought to present him as a disturbed loner, denying that the mass murder of seventy-seven people, mostly children, could be racially or politically motivated. (Let’s not forget that the children he killed were attending a Norwegian Labour party youth summer camp.) Initial psychiatric assessors, who had no knowledge of the universe of ideas that Breivik was part of or the hyper-reality he had joined on the internet, assessed him as suffering from paranoia and delusional fantasies, failing to recognise the ideological roots of his violence and the intellectual currents that nurtured him. Thankfully that view was challenged and overturned.
Today we must stop the mainstream media similarly erasing the roots of the terrorist’s Islamophobia, recognising also that at a time when the extreme Right is represented in nearly every European parliament, the rhetoric of war has become normalised. The idea that European civilisation is threatened by Muslims and by immigration is part of mainstream European political thought. In the UK our struggle is not just against the far Right but the wider culture and politics that provide it with intellectual ammunition and space.
The terrible events in Christchurch, New Zealand, which left fifty people dead and fifty people injured, reverberated across the UK.
Below we provide a round-up of the most important developments, drawing particular attention to criticism of the media, online posts in support of the perpetrator and attacks on Muslims across the UK. We also draw attention to the European dimension.
15 March: In the 74-page manifesto, published shortly before the massacre, the perpetrator describes himself as of ‘Scottish, Irish and English stock’, calls for the ‘removal’ of Sadiq Khan, declares support for Finsbury Park mosque killer Darren Osborne, and alludes to the Rotherham ‘grooming scandal’. A number of references are made to the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, and other European ‘partisans/freedom fighters/ethno soldiers’ who have taken a stand against ‘ethnic and cultural genocide’. (ITV News, 15 March 2019; Express, 15 March 2019; New York Times, 19 March 2019)
15 March: British police respond to calls from Muslim leaders to increase ‘reassurance patrols’ at mosques in London, Manchester, Birmingham and other cities. On the same day, worshippers at a mosque in Whitechapel are racially abused and physically attacked by two men carrying a hammer and another object. (Independent, 15 March 2019; Guardian, 15 March 2019; Independent, 15 March 2019)
15 March: MailOnline, the Mirror and the Sun admit that decisions to host edited versions of the footage of the Christchurch massacre was a mistake and remove the videos. MailOnline delete the suspect’s manifesto after being accused of spreading terrorist materials. (Guardian, 15 March 2019)
15 March: The BBC faces criticism for airing a conversation between one of its reporters and the leader of the British branch of far-right Alternative Right group Generation Identity in a discussion about the Christchurch massacre. (i News 15 March 2019)
15 March: Officials in Turkey, Bulgaria and Greece begin investigating the Christchurch killer’s travels through their countries in 2016 and 2017. (Guardian, 18 March 2019)
15 March: The mother of Ebba Akerlund, an 11-year-old girl killed in Stockholm in Sweden, April 2017, in an Islamist-inspired terrorist incident, condemns the New Zealand attacks and says that she finds ‘it extremely tragic that Ebba’s name is being misused in political propaganda’. (France 24, 15 March 2019)
15 March: Swedish Youtube star, PewDiePie, who has the most highly-subscribed channel in the world and has been accused of racism and support for the far Right, issues a statement saying he is ‘absolutely sickened’ that his name was used by a suspect who was heard on a video shooting saying ‘Remember, lads! Subscribe to PewDiePie’. (Independent, 15 March 2019)
16 March: MI5 begins investigating the links between the Christchurch suspect and the far Right in Britain. (The Times, 16 March 2019)
16 March: Sammy Woodhouse, a victim of sexual abuse in Rotherham condemns the ‘evil act’ at Christchurch and says the terrorist attack was ‘not done in our name’, a reference to the ‘For Rotherham’ message inscribed on the gunman’s ammunition. (Daily Mirror, 16 March 2019)
16 March: A 24-year-old man from Oldham is arrested for making a post on social media in support of the Christchurch attack. (Bolton News, 16 March 2019)
16 March: Swastika graffiti is found on a wall in Cheney School in Headington, Oxford, alongside a message to ‘SUB 2 PewDiePie’. The alleged killer had said ‘subscribe to PewDiePie’ moments before he began shooting the previous day. (Oxford Mail, 16 March 2019)
16 March: Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini tells a press conference that ‘Islamic extremism’ is the only threat facing Italy and that ‘far-right and left-wing fringes’ are under control. He then condemned the Christchurch attacks and asked for ‘compassion’ for anyone who might blame him for the killings. (The New Arab, 16 March 2019)
16 March: Renaud Camus, the French author responsible for the theory of ‘The Great Replacement’ in his 2011 publication and was found guilty of inciting hatred against Muslims in 2015, denounces the Christchurch massacre as ‘appalling’ and dismisses the idea that he influenced the alleged killer. (Channel News Asia, 16 March 2019)
17 March: Front National leader Marine La Pen, whose defeat in 2017 caused the Christchurch killer to ‘despair’, tells France 3 Television that she never used the phrase ‘The Great Replacement’ and that she did not even know what it meant. (Washington Post, 19 March 2019)
17 March: Britain’s counter-terrorism chief warns that sharing the killer’s livestream of the massacre may result in jail time for disseminating ‘terrorist propaganda’ that could inspire further attacks. Home Secretary Sajid Javid and shadow digital secretary Tom Watson accuse social media platforms like Youtube and Facebook of doing too little to halt the spread of the footage. (The Times, 17 March 2019; ITV News, 15 March 2019)
17 March: A 33-year-old man and 34-year-old woman are arrested in Queensway, Rochdale, on suspicion of racially aggravated public order offences after reports that they abused and threatened a cab driver with reference to the Christchurch massacre. (Manchester Evening News, 17 March 2019)
17 March: Police announce that they are investigating a stabbing in Stanwell, Surrey on Saturday as a possible Christchurch-inspired ‘terrorism incident’, following reports that the attacker shouted ‘kill all Muslims’ and ‘white supremacy rules’. A 50-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder while the 19-year-old victim remains in hospital. (Guardian, 17 March 2019; Telegraph, 18 March 2019)
18 March: As security minister Ben Wallace says that a far-right massacre of Muslims ‘absolutely could happen here’, UK Muslim leaders call on the government to provide funding for mosque security in the same way that it did for Jewish institutions, which received £14m to support 400 synagogues and 150 schools, after a rise in antisemitic attacks. (Guardian, 18 March 2019; Guardian, 18 March 2019)
18 March: On his way home from a meeting at Regent’s Park mosque, Finsbury Park imam Mohammed Mahmoud, known and praised for preventing community retaliation against the Finsbury Park mosque killer Darren Osborne in June 2017, is called ‘despicable’ and a ‘s***hole’ while on the bus and later spat at by a cyclist. (Evening Standard, 19 March 2019)
19 March: In response to calls the previous day for increased security funding for UK mosques, the Home Office doubles the annual Places of Worship Protective Security Fund for religious institutions to £1.6 million and opens a £5 million fund for security training, though Muslim leaders still say this is not enough. (Independent, 19 March 2019)
19 March: A 31-year-old man from Newport is arrested by Gwent police for allegedly posting material on social media relating to the Christchurch massacre that is ‘threatening, abusive or insulting and likely to stir up racial hatred.’ The man has been released pending further investigation. (Wales Online, 19 March 2019)
19 March: The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC), a Whitehall unit responsible for producing Islamist and Ireland-related terrorism warnings, will begin issuing official threat-level warnings for far-right terrorism this year. (Guardian, 19 March 2019)
20 March: Counter-terrorism chief Neil Basu says that far-right terrorists are being radicalised by mainstream newspaper coverage, singling out the Mail Online, the Sun and the Mirror for uploading footage of the massacre and/or uploading the manifesto. (Guardian, 20 March 2019)
21 March: West Midlands police confirm that four Birmingham mosques were attacked with sledgehammers overnight. They ascribe no motive but express heightened security concerns relating to the Christchurch massacre. (Birmingham Mail, 21 March 2019)
21 March: Facebook which, alongside YouTube, initially defended its response to the Christchurch terrorist attack, now says that it did not deal with the attacker’s live stream quickly enough because it was not reported as a video of a suicide. (Guardian, 21 March 2019)
List compiled by Joseph Maggs and Liz Fekete