Shortly before a far-right terrorist entered two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and murdered 51 Muslims in March, a self-aggrandising racist screed totalling 87-pages appeared on the infamous 8Chan imageboard, a link to the suspect’s Facebook live stream as he went on his killing spree, was also posted, and others were encouraged to view and share.
As the tragedy unfolded, variations of this video would infect the largest social media platforms, as sections of the tabloid press in the UK were criticised and accused of turning terrorism into the shallowest form of clickbait.
In the days which followed, as Muslim communities mourned in New Zealand and abroad, as world leaders condemned the anti-Muslim and Islamophobic violence, some, on the darkest corners of the internet, were busying themselves by translating this racist screed into the major languages of Western and Eastern Europe. Tell MAMA found that individuals had translated copies into French, Dutch, Spanish, Bulgarian, Russian, and Ukrainian.
Reports to Tell MAMA increased by 593 per cent, with 95 reports between March 15, and midnight on March 21.
The manifesto and actions of the Christchurch suspect inspired further acts of racist violence and domestic terrorism in California, El Paso, Texas, in Baerum, Norway, and a village in Surrey, England.
The commission of an investigation of the Christchurch terror attacks, announced on March 25 by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, promised to give Muslim communities much need reassurances and answers. Now, however, many feel marginalised by the secrecy of the commission which appears to favour governmental sources over Muslim voices. Aliya Danzeisen, of the Islamic Women’s Council, said they were being “ignored”. Anjum Rahman described how, for years, Muslims had warned about the rise of anti-Muslim and Islamophobic sentiments and the risks it posed, only to find it overlooked. In July, New Zealand’s Human Rights Commissioner called for the increased inclusion of Muslims in the inquiry. Pete Breidahl warned authorities about the gun club Brenton Tarrant was a member of in 2017 – and it was ignored.
Archives of the Facebook profile of the suspect, Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian national living in New Zealand, revealed a small number of viewers, which grew as 8Chan posters praised the racist terror as it unfolded.
Analytics, provided by Facebook, reveal that the initial live stream had fewer than two-hundred viewers. The peak number of viewers hit around four-thousand before it was removed an hour later from the platform.
Within a day, however, there were 1.5 million attempts to reupload to the video to Facebook, of which, 1.2 million were blocked, meaning that 300,000 uploads slipped through. The company was not without criticism and admitted that due to ‘rarity’ of such events, its artificial intelligence software did not ‘automatically catch’ the video.
Tarrant’s alleged Twitter activity, most active 3 days before the terror attack, was soon removed from the platform.
YouTube, however, refused to disclose any details of how many times the terror video, was uploaded, but it emerged that “as soon as the group took down one, another would appear, as quickly as one per second in the hours after the shooting”. YouTube even disabled, for a brief time, several search functions to limit its reach, but some users had edited the original clips to avoid their automated detection systems.
The virality of the terror attack and the manifesto were boosted by several British tabloids, as BuzzFeed News reported that MailOnline had allowed readers to download the 74-page racist screed.
The Sun and The Mirror ran excerpts of the video. Lloyd Emberly, who edits the latter news title, tweeted on March 15: “For a brief period this morning the Mirror website ran some edited footage filmed by the gunman in Christchurch. We should not have carried this. It is not in line with our policy relating to terrorist propaganda videos”.
Possession of the Christchurch live streams carries a potential prison sentence of up to 14 years in New Zealand, and dozens (if not more), have since been charged.
Sky New Zealand was fined NZ$4,000 (£2,100) for airing “extensive” footage of the Christchurch terror attack live streams. The network had briefly broken association with Sky Australia following its airing of the live stream, in a deleted tweet. Sky Australia later clarified that the decision between the two stations was mutual.
One of the men who watched the live stream of the Christchurch terror attack, outside of New Zealand, was Vincent Fuller, 50, who lived in that Surrey village mentioned above. Mr Fuller spoke of his “agreement” with this terroristic act on Facebook. The following evening, a neighbour recalled Fuller shouting: “All Muslims should die, white supremacists’ rule. I’m going to murder a Muslim”.
Fuller, in possession of a baseball bat, racially abused a South Asian neighbour, before going on a racist rampage, damaging vehicles and threatening drivers, including a Muslim man who works for Uber.
He then returned home and left in possession of a nine-inch blade which he later used to attack a 19-year-old man, Dimitar Mihaylov, on March 16. His victim suffered injuries to their hand and neck, which the police declared to be a terrorist attack a day later.
Fuller admitted guilt at Kingston Crown Court, including to charges of attempted murder, possession of a bladed article, affray and racially aggravated harassment (among other charges). A judge will decide on September 5 if the attack was terroristic, an argument pursued by the prosecution.
The main suspect in an antisemitic mass shooting, which left one person dead and three others injured, at a California synagogue, drew direct inspiration from Christchurch. A manifesto, attributed to John T Earnest, followed a similar pattern: appearing on 8Chan before the attack occurred. It was in this racist screed that Mr Earnest claimed that he attempted to burn down a local mosque days after the deadly terror attack in New Zealand. Local police later confirmed that John T Earnest is a suspect Escondido, California, on March 25. The second source of inspiration for this racist violence was Robert Bowers, the white supremacist, accused of murdering 11 Jewish people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in October last year. Prosecutors will seek the death penalty.
A white supremacist, intent on killing as many Latinx people as possible, entered a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, singling out those they perceived as Latinx (and avoiding other ethnic groups), in a domestic terror attack which left 22 people dead and 26 others injured, on August 3. A manifesto attributed to the suspect, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, adapted the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, to fit Latinx communities, was uploaded to 8Chan. Crusius was described as “cold” and “lacking remorse” in interviews with police.
To repeat a similar pattern: a white supremacist motivated by racial hatred enacted mass murder to further an ideologically driven conspiracy theory of the “grand” or “great” replacement. In our latest annual report, covering the reporting year of 2018, Tell MAMA outlined the ideological thrusts that connect dehumanising language to group-based violence and genocide in the Balkans and Rwanda to the transnational, pan-European movements that take inspiration from the French and Italian New Right, namely through the works of Renaud Camus. But as our report shows, “This racialised paranoia about Muslims in France is nothing new, however. Charles de Gaulle, who oversaw the end of oppressive and violent French colonial rule in Algeria, confided in 1959, that withdrawal from Algeria was better than offering full citizenship, as it would turn France into an “Islamic country”. The consipracy of Eurabia has dominated thinking in some mainstream circles.
A week later, a white supremacist, inspired by the terroristic shootings in El Paso and Christchurch stormed a mosque in a town near Norway’s capital, Oslo, dressed in a helmet, body armour and armed with various weapons, including “two shotgun-like weapons and a pistol”. The attack resulted in one injury, as 65-year-old Muhammad Shafiq, one of three congregants present at the mosque, disarmed the man.
The suspect, identified as 21-year-old Philip Manshaus, awaits trial on charges of murder and murder. Following the attack, police found the body of Johanne Zhangjia Ihle-Hansen, the stepsister of the suspect.
There was, however, no evidence of a racist screed, nor use of either 4Chan or 8Chan, as misreported by sections of the media. A post attributed to Manshaus appeared on EndChan, which linked to the Facebook profile of Manshaus, and a photo album of him from youth to adulthood on the photo-sharing platform Imgur.
A variant of the enduring “Chad vs Virgin” meme, which began life on 4Chan’s /r9k/ forum, which was said to have been created by Manshaus in praise Brenton Tarrant, put himself and others, like Crusius, were his “disciples”, suggesting how one disciple begets the violent actions of the other. The meme also repeated reference to the “great replacement” conspiracy and antisemitic talking points that reference the terroristic violence of Anders Breivik. A point reiterated by Cathrine Moe Thorleifsson, who researches extremism at Oslo’s Center for Research on Extremism (C-Rex).
An Instagram account, attributed to Manshaus, featured just three photos, two of the suspect, and the other was of Anders Breivik performing a Nazi salute. Norweigan police confirmed that Manshaus supported Vidkun Quisling who headed the puppet regime under Nazi Germany’s control. Following the end of the Second World War, Quisling was arrested and put on trial for treason, and, following his conviction, was executed.
Neo-Nazis in Ukraine who translated the alleged screed of Tarrant, following requests to publish it in paperback on Telegram (in a group we will not disclose), sought to radicalise those far-removed from dark internet cultures. An admin for this group even translated the alleged manifesto of Patrick Crusius. Tarrant’s solicitor had later informed the group’s admin (identified by their pro-Hitler username) that he was unable to deliver letters to him in prison, suggesting instead, that he write to the prison address provided. The admin shared a screenshot of the email with the group which boasts 1,100 members.
Brenton Tarrant, however, is unable to send or receive letters after New Zealand’s Department of Corrections admitted that two letters from Tarrant to supporters escaped censure or vetting. One such letter sent to a supporter based in Russia spoke of his love for the country, his racist ideology, and worryingly, a call to arms for further violence. This supporter uploaded the contents of the letter to 4Chan.
Law enforcement officials thwarted at least seven mass shootings or white supremacist attacks across the United States two weeks after the terror attack in El Paso.
Following the terror in Christchurch, there has been a growing debate about the threat of far-right violence and terror. Some academics have argued that public perceptions about terrorism are obscuring the reality, that in most western democracies (including the United States), deadly far-right terror outweighs other forms of terroristic violence. The issue of framing has been addressed in academic circles, as one study found that a preoccupation with al-Qaeda and ISIS-inspired attacks among terrorism researchers, overlooked state terrorism, far-right terrorism, and militia-based terrorism (in countries like Iraq or Northern Ireland). Other studies point to how terror attacks carried out by those of Muslim backgrounds had, on average, gained 4 ½ times the coverage, despite being responsible for 12.4% of domestic terror attacks in the United States between 2011 and 2015.
The UK government announced in July that the terror threat system will now account for the threat of domestic far-right extremism.
The spectre of ideologically-motivated individuals self-radicalising online has emerged, echoing similar talking points about the far-right terrorist Darren Osborne. A man with a history of violence was consuming propaganda from Britain First (and others) within weeks of watching a BBC dramatisation of the horrors of child sexual exploitation. In Osborne’s own words, committed by hand on a napkin in a pub, he wrote “islams ideology doesn’t belong here & neither does Sharia law”. Of course, the pathway to radicalisation is not linear nor is Osborne an outlier.
More broadly, however, the use and promotion of “leaderless resistance” amongst neo-Nazi groups are most pronounced during the 1970s and 1980s in the United States. A group called The Order, which inspired Combat 18 in the UK, was a notable example of a semi-autonomous terror group which helped finance other white supremacist activities. Infiltration by the FBI stopped The Order but not before the group had firebombed a synagogue (which resulted in no injuries), murdered a Jewish radio host, and armed robberies. Robert Jay Mathew’s who led the group was killed in a shootout with the FBI in 1984. The anniversary of his death has become a yearly rallying point for neo-Nazis, has resulted in racist violence, including in December last year.
An all-white jury cleared 13 white supremacists of seditious treason in 1987 after the Justice Department became convinced that The Order was coordinating with other groups.
The FBI’s infiltration of The Order drew attention to the influence of William Pierce, who authored The Turner Diaries, a white supremacist survivalist novel, which has inspired domestic terrorism in the United States, the UK, and other countries.
Terrorism scholar J.M. Berger outlined how Louis Beam, a high-ranking member of his local Ku Klux Klan chapter and in the Aryan Nations, further popularised the idea of “leaderless resistance” in a racist magazine called The Seditionist. Berger argues that the far-right do not have a monopoly on this concept, but as the terror attacks in 2019 demonstrate, “distributed leadership”, which, for Berger, are “difficult to combat than more ordinary influence patterns, where one or two relatively prominent figures have a disproportionately large influence over a large number of people”. A means to counter this evolving threat, Berger argues, is through deplatforming and countervailing messaging.
The owner of 8Chan, Jim Watkins, has now stated that he has no intention of making the website accessible again. Other studies have looked at the sharp rise in antisemitism on platforms like Gab and 4Chan’s /pol/ forum (which saw exponential growth in usage following the election of Donald Trump).
Tarrant visited Greece, Austria, Bulgaria, Turkey, Israel, Romania and Hungary as recently as 2018, with some trips occurring a year or so prior. In 2016, he visited Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia, according to Bulgarian Prosecutor-General Sotir Tsatsarov. His interest focused on obscure locations during the Ottoman wars in the nineteenth century. He visited 11 semi-rural locations in Bulgaria, including the town of Plevin, made famous for being the site of a siege during the Russian-Turkish war of 1877 and 1878. Prosecutors in Bulgaria launched an investigation into Tarrant’s presence in the country. Tarrant visited Pakistan, parts of South-East Asia, and North Korea. The Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadžić was glorified in the terroristic live streams.
Tarrant also donated €1500 to Martin Sellner’s Identitäre Bewegung Österreichs (IBÖ) organisation last year. Pleasantries between Sellner went beyond mere exchanges of gratitude, as a chain of emails revealed a closer friendship between the two men, including offers to drink beer or coffee together if either man found themselves in Austria, New Zealand, or Australia. Austrian police then launched a terror investigation into Sellner’s connections to Tarrant, including the allegation that Sellner was working with Tarrant in a terrorist and “structurally fascist” organisation.
Investigations of Tarrant’s social media footprint revealed support for the Australian “eco-fascist” Marcus Christensen, who supports the white nationalist Lads Society movement, but denies holding such views, in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, who also revealed that Tarrant had left several positive reviews for his machinist business. Tom Sewell, president of the Lads Society, confirmed to the newspaper that Tarrant rejected the chance to join the group, as he was moving to New Zealand in 2017.
More broadly, Tell MAMA has continued to urge social media platforms and search engine providers to limit those on the far-right who breach hateful conduct policies and who promote hyperpartisan content under the auspices of “news”. As our 2019 report states: “The growth of hyperpartisan alternative news platforms, saturated in pro-Tommy Robinson content, gained notable attention in 2018 and 2019, creating a bivouac of ideological content”.
Tell MAMA made similar recommendations in its 2016 annual report, published in 2017, warning how far-right websites had gamed Google’s algorithm through legal Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) methods.
Brenton Tarrant, who pleaded not guilty to all charges, still faces 51 charges of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one of engaging in a terrorist act. The trial will begin on May 4, 2020.
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