Brenton Tarrant: How the far right changed the face of terror

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Suspected gunman Brenton Tarrant streamed the assault on a Christchurch mosque live on social media; public grief following the attacks, below. (Reuters)
Updated 15 April 2019
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Brenton Tarrant: How the far right changed the face of terror

  • New Zealand mosque attacks highlight the growing threat of white supremacists
  • Like other shooters, he was inspired by anti-immigrant rhetoric and fueled by social media

DUBAI: Before the deadly mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, Brenton Tarrant posted a link to a hate-filled manifesto on numerous online platforms that provides an insight into the far-right ideology that influenced him.

The rambling document — filled with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric — is written in the form of a self-styled Q&A, in which he claims to represent “millions of European and other ethno-nationalist peoples that wish to live in peace among their own people.”

Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian, is thought to have become consumed by anger after a string of terror attacks in Europe in 2016 and 2017, and his manifesto refers to the death of 11-year-old Ebba Akerlund, one of five victims killed in a 2017 terror attack in Stockholm.

Experts have warned the deadly mass shooting bears all the hallmarks of a growing number of attacks led by white supremacists drawn to the ideas of Europe’s anti-immigrant, ultra-right-wing extremists. 

Aurelien Mondon, a lecturer at the University of Bath in the UK and an expert on far-right extremism, said the Christchurch attack is a stark example of a growing movement emerging from a global network of white supremacy groups sharing their extreme views on the murky — and often uncensored —  web.

“I would describe him (Tarrant) as a white supremacist terrorist. The term ‘lone wolf’ is problematic as it suggests that the attack was a freak accident. It individualizes it, while, in fact, the ideology underpinning it has deep international roots.”

The attack was the “logical deadly conclusion of years of the normalization of Islamophobia and racism, and mainstreaming and hyping of the far right,” Mondon told Arab News “However, it is also part of a movement that has been allowed to spread thanks to the Internet and developed loose international connections more easily this way.”

A spokesperson for the Anti-Defamation League told Arab News that this “latest white supremacist violence underscores the fact that white supremacy is a global threat whose ideology manifests around the world and results in acts of violence.”

It also highlighted extremists’ use of social media. “For modern violent extremists and terrorists, preparing social media seems to be as critical as preparing their guns. Tarrant’s attacks seem to be designed to leverage social media, to attract maximum attention to the massacre and his beliefs.”

 

The New Zealand attack on March 15 that claimed 50 lives appears to be the latest global terror incident in the past decade linked to white supremacists: In Norway, where Anders Breivik’s July 2011 attacks left 77 dead; in Canada, where Alexandre Bissonnette shot six people during prayers at a mosque in Quebec City in 2017; and in the UK, where Darren Osborne killed one and injured 12 others when he drove a van into worshippers outside a mosque in the London’s Finsbury Park in 2017.

In each instance, the shooter acted in isolation but was heavily influenced by social media and had communicated with other white supremacists or shared their ideology online. The massacre in New Zealand bore the same chilling pattern. 

 

 


 

In his 16,500-word manifesto, Tarrant praises Breivik, Osborne and Dylann Storm Roof, convicted for the deadly 2015 mass shooting in a Charleston church in the US. 

“The manifesto did not contain anything truly original, and instead the terrorist drew his ideas from a wide constellation of far-right thinkers, from the crudest racists to the more cultural racists,” said Mondon. “Some of his ideas remain marginal and widely denounced in most societies, but others, based on more subtle forms of racism, have gained ground in mainstream discourse over the past 20 years and are now fairly common in the mainstream media and politics.”

A notable detail of Tarrant’s manifesto is the title itself: “The Great Replacement,” a reference to the title of a 2012 book by right-wing French polemicist Renaud Camus, “Le Grand Remplacement,” in which the author shares his theory that Europe’s white majority is being systematically replaced with North African and sub-Saharan African migrants, many of whom are Muslim, through mass migration and demographic growth. 

It associates the presence of Muslims in France with potential danger and the destruction of French culture and civilization. In an epigraph to “Le Grand Remplacement,” Camus cites two modern-day figures as “prophets”: Enoch Powell, the anti-immigrant English politician, who in 1968 famously envisioned rivers of blood in Britain brought on by immigration; and the French author Jean Raspail, whose 1973 novel “The Camp of the Saints” became a beacon for far-right figures.

In Tarrant’s manifesto, the ideas of Camus figure prominently. Tarrant cites watching “invaders” at a shopping mall during a visit to an eastern French town as the moment when he realized he would resort to violence.

As Mondon points out: “This demonstrates that the Christchurch terrorist attack was not an isolated act, but rather the logical conclusion of the far-right ideology gaining ground across the West.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremism in the US, said last year that the number of hate groups is growing and now stands at 1,020, a 30 percent jump from 2014. Most espouse some form of white supremacist ideology, it said.

“They are a clear threat and have been for a long time, although this has been ignored by much of the mainstream press,” said Mondon. “However, it is important to look at the roots of the issue, rather than only at its most extreme expression. We need to stop giving credence to the free speech myth, which has become a very powerful weapon of the far right. 

“They are not defenders of free speech and, in fact, are very much against other views being expressed. Furthermore, they have had far more platforms to spew their hatred than their opponents. We need to stop platforming them and instead show them for what they are, the defenders of a racist, unequal and authoritarian ideology.

Katharine Gelber, professor of politics and public policy at the University of Queensland, said she would describe the New Zealand shooter as a “right-wing extremist.”

“I think it is important to note ‘right-wing’ because he makes it clear he targeted a marginalized and vulnerable group, which is subjected to disparagement in public discourse.”

Gelber said we live in an era of in global politics where right-wing ideas are in the ascendancy. “We are not yet at a stage where they are mainstream, but there has been a combination of governments and political leaders using refugees and asylum seekers, and Muslims, as scapegoats, and subjecting them to the kinds of discourse that marginalizes and excludes them, for well over a decade now. 

A man cries in front of the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 17, 2019 during a public vigil two days after a terrorist attack on two mosques, killing 50 and wounding dozens more. (Photo by Peter Adones/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

“Combined with this is the rise of political leaders who actively use this kind of discourse and this has emboldened the right wing to step up their campaign against the social gains of previous decades.”

Farhad Khosrokhavar, head of research at the Paris-based School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, told Arab News that supremacists feed off the narrative of their enemies. “Jihadist attacks in Europe are grist to the mill of white supremacism, part of public opinion becoming convinced that governments are not able to fight efficiently jihadism in Europe.”

Supremacists and jihadists have much in common, said Khosrokhavar. “The supremacist hates the Muslim among others, while the jihadist hates the non-Muslim among others. The supremacist believes that violence is the main and almost exclusive way to deal with the ‘enemy,’ such as Muslims, whereas the jihadist believes that it is only through jihad (violent, holy war) that he can confront the ‘enemies.’”

For Gelber, there are numerous ways to prevent extremists such as Tarrant. First, online platforms have a responsibility to react quickly to material that represents a clear threat, she said. Governments also should prosecute extremists who break the law. 

But in the end an effective response relies largely on changed behavior. “People need to start taking responsibility for their words online, just as they do for their words offline,” she said. “But it is difficult to do that in a society that is promoting and enabling bullying and hate speech.”

 


In unflattering detail, Mueller report reveals Trump actions to impede inquiry

Updated 30 min 21 sec ago
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In unflattering detail, Mueller report reveals Trump actions to impede inquiry

WASHINGTON: Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his inquiry into Russia’s role in the 2016 US election described in extensive and sometimes unflattering detail how President Donald Trump tried to impede the probe, raising questions about whether he committed the crime of obstruction of justice.
The release of the 448-page report on Thursday after a 22-month investigation marked a milestone in Trump’s tumultuous presidency and inflamed partisan passions ahead of his 2020 re-election bid.
Democrats said the report contained disturbing evidence of wrongdoing by Trump that could fuel congressional investigations, but there was no immediate indication they would try to remove him from office through impeachment.
Mueller built an extensive case indicating the Republican president had committed obstruction of justice but stopped short of concluding he had committed a crime, though he did not exonerate the president. Mueller noted that Congress has the power to address whether Trump violated the law.
“The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law,” the report stated.
Mueller also unearthed “numerous links” between the Russian government and Trump’s campaign and said the president’s team “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts,” referring to hacked Democratic emails.
But Mueller, a former FBI director, concluded there was not enough evidence to establish that Trump’s campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Moscow.
Trump appeared to be in a celebratory mood, saying at a White House event with wounded US troops he was “having a good day” following the report’s release, adding, “It’s called no collusion, no obstruction.” Trump, whose legal team called the report “a total victory,” has long described Mueller’s inquiry as a “witch hunt.”
Trump headed to his resort in Florida for the weekend, and on landing on Thursday night told a crowd of well wishers at the airport: “Game over folks, now it’s back to work.”
The report, with some portions blacked out to protect sensitive information, provided fresh details of how Trump tried to force Mueller’s ouster, directed members of his administration to publicly vouch for his innocence and dangled a pardon to a former aide to try to prevent him from cooperating with the special counsel.
“The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,” the report stated.
The report said that when former Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Trump in May 2017 that the Justice Department was appointing a special counsel to look into allegations that his campaign colluded with Russia, Trump slumped back in his chair and said, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f***ed.”
Attorney General William Barr told a news conference Mueller had detailed “10 episodes involving the president and discusses potential legal theories for connecting these actions to elements of an obstruction offense.” Barr concluded last month after receiving a confidential copy of Mueller’s report that Trump had not actually committed a crime.
Trump was wary of FBI scrutiny of his campaign and him personally, the report said. “The evidence does indicate that a thorough FBI investigation would uncover facts about the campaign and the president personally that the president could have understood to be crimes or that would give rise to personal and political concerns,” the report stated.
Any impeachment effort would start in the Democratic-led House of Representatives, but Trump’s removal would require the support of the Republican-led Senate — an unlikely outcome. Many Democrats steered clear of impeachment talk on Thursday, although a prominent liberal congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, embraced the idea.
“Many know I take no pleasure in discussions of impeachment. I didn’t campaign on it, & rarely discuss it unprompted,” she said on Twitter. “But the report squarely puts this on our doorstep.”
The House, when it voted to impeach President Bill Clinton in 1998, included obstruction of justice as one of the charges. The Senate ultimately decided not to remove Clinton from office.
The Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler, said he would issue subpoenas to obtain the unredacted Mueller report and asked Mueller to testify before the panel by May 23.
Nadler told reporters in New York Mueller probably wrote the report with the intent of providing Congress a road map for future action, but the congressman said it was too early to talk about impeachment.
“Mueller’s report paints a damning portrait of lies that appear to have materially impaired the investigation, a body of evidence of improper contacts with a foreign adversary, and serious allegations about how President Trump sought to obstruct a legitimate, and deeply important, counterintelligence investigation,” the Democratic chairs of six House committees said in a statement.

Election meddling
The inquiry laid bare what the special counsel and US intelligence agencies have described as a Russian campaign of hacking and propaganda to sow discord in the United States, denigrate 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and boost Trump, the Kremlin’s preferred candidate. Russia has denied election interference.
In analyzing whether Trump obstructed justice, Mueller looked at a series of actions by Trump, including his attempts to remove Mueller and limit the scope of his probe and efforts to prevent the public from knowing about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York between senior campaign officials and Russians.
In June 2017, Trump directed White House counsel Don McGahn to tell the Justice Department’s No. 2 official, Rod Rosenstein, that Mueller had conflicts of interest and must be removed, the report said. McGahn did not carry out the order. McGahn was home on a Saturday that month when Trump called him at least twice.
“You gotta do this. You gotta call Rod,” McGahn recalled the president as saying, according to the report.
House Judiciary Democrat Jamie Raskin pointed to Trump’s effort to get McGahn to fire Mueller and then lie about being told to do so as an area of interest for lawmakers, and said McGahn and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions could be valuable witnesses as the committee moves forward.
“There are these dramatic episodes of presidential attempts to interfere with the Mueller investigation, and I think people would like to hear from a number of officials involved. White House counsel McGahn jumps out as an important witness,” he told Reuters.
It also said there was “substantial evidence” Trump fired James Comey as FBI director in May 2017 due to his “unwillingness to publicly state that the president was not personally under investigation.” The FBI headed the inquiry at the time.
Mueller cited “some evidence” suggesting Trump knew about former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s controversial calls with the Russian ambassador to the United States before Trump took office, but evidence was “inconclusive” and could not be used to establish intent to obstruct.
The report said Trump directed former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to ask Sessions to say the Russia investigation was “very unfair.”
Barr, a Trump appointee, seemed to offer cover for Trump’s actions by saying the report acknowledges “there is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks.”
“President Trump faced an unprecedented situation. As he entered into office and sought to perform his responsibilities as president, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinizing his conduct before and after taking office and the conduct of some of his associates,” Barr said.
Mueller’s team did not issue a subpoena to force Trump to give an interview to the special counsel because it would have created a “substantial delay” at a late stage in the investigation, the report said. Trump refused an interview and eventually provided only written answers.
The report said Mueller accepted the longstanding Justice Department view that a sitting president cannot be indicted on criminal charges, while still recognizing that a president can be criminally investigated.
The report listed 14 criminal referrals for investigation by US prosecutors but 12 of those were fully blacked out because they are open investigations.
Mueller said evidence he collected indicates Trump intended to encourage his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, not to cooperate and that the evidence supports the idea that Trump wanted Manafort to believe he could receive a presidential pardon.
The report said the special counsel’s team determined there was a “reasonable argument” that the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., violated campaign finance laws, but did not believe they could obtain a conviction.
The report cited Trump’s repeated efforts to convince Sessions to resume oversight of the probe after he had recused himself because of his own prior contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.