Ranting ‘manifesto’ exposes the mixed-up mind of a terrorist
It usually takes some time to tease out the precise ideological motivation of attacks such as the mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, as details emerge from police investigations. In this case, the gunman left a 74-page manifesto explaining his philosophy.
It is, perhaps, too much to expect coherence in such a document. It is a mess of views on different topics, from environmentalism to the police. It sometimes contradicts itself. It draws on tropes familiar to the “alt right” and its extreme fringes on 8chan, the message board for people too extreme for 4chan. But overall, it represents a profoundly disturbing vision of what Western society — and indeed the world — should look like: A succession of closed off, ethnically “pure” states, supporting their own culture, but not having much if anything to do with those around them.
The attack was undoubtedly driven by hatred of Muslims. The targets make that clear. But Islam does not dominate the manifesto. Rather, its obsession is immigration and white supremacy. The author keeps returning to fertility rates, claiming that high fertility rates among immigrant populations than white populations is “white genocide,” but claiming that there would be violence “as long as the white man lives.”
The killer was a nationalist, but not in a sense linked to nations as the world recognizes them. In a statement that would surprise the European peoples of the past 1,500 years, he speaks of a European identity that means that he (an Australian of English, Irish and Scottish descent, living in New Zealand and travelling extensively throughout the West) cannot be considered an immigrant — while a child born in New Zealand but of a different skin colour or religion does not belong there.
One of his ammunition magazines bore the name “Rotherham,” a town in the north of England famous for the sexual grooming of young girls by gangs of South Asian descent. It is a case that has become something of cause celebre with the far-right, and the killer’s use of far-right iconography is striking.
He claims to have contacted the “reborn Knights Templar” for a blessing, explicitly linking this with “Knight Justiciar Breivik” later in the document. At Breivik’s trial for the massacre of 77 people in Norway in 2011, he claimed to have refounded the order of the Knights Templar, a crusader order of knights whose symbolism frequently appears in far-right logos.
The success of a terror attack depends on a great number of things, including variables outside anyone’s control. Both Islamist and far right groups contain individuals willing and able to assaults of devastating violence. The policy response must deal with both.
Further tying himself to the crusades, the author of the New Zealand manifesto quotes approvingly from Pope Urban II’s call in 1095 for war against “the impious race of the Saracens [Muslims]”, and calls for a fight until “Constantinople will be rightfully christian [sic] owned once more.”
Despite these explicit links to crusaders, the Christian iconography of the far right, including both Breivik and the New Zealand killer, is confused. Breivik claims to be an “Odinist” (Norwegian neo-paganism), while the Christchurch killer writes at the end of his document “see you in Valhalla” (the Scandinavian pagan paradise for warriors).
The killer’s views on Islam are equally confused, claiming in the same document both that he does not hate Muslims, only “invaders,” and that he is fighting for “revenge against islam [sic] for 1,300 years of war and devastation that it has brought upon the people of the West and other peoples of the world.” He rails against NATO both for allowing Turkish membership, and for its operations in Kosovo, where its “forces fought beside muslims [sic] and slaughtered Christian Europeans attempting to remove these Islamic occupiers from Europe.”
The symbiosis between far-right and Islamist extremism is explicitly referenced. The killer writes that he hopes to “agitate the political enemies of my people into action,” and to “incite … retaliation and further divide between the European people and the invaders.”
His enemy is anyone who facilitates the “invaders,” further emphasising the similarities with Islamist extremism which equally despises the “grey zone.” Nuance to both the far-right and to Islamists is the enemy of their ideology, which requires such clarity of purpose that anything that contradicts the understanding of the true believers is ignored.
The response to the massacre in the West has followed the desperate template of horror that terrorism forces us to trace. Of sorrow and prayer for the victims. Anger for the opponents. Raging on social media. But a culture war divides Western reactions. Some claim such attacks demonstrate that the focus on Islamist extremism is leading the West to ignore the real threat. Or that they are the inevitable consequence of Western demonization of Muslims. On the other side of the debate are those who seem to deny the responsibility of the killer or even give succor to such horrific acts, such as the Australian senator who asked: “Does anyone still dispute the link between Muslim immigration and violence?” There is an inability in the public and political imagination to deal with more than one threat at once, but that is what the West faces. In the UK, in 2016-17, a quarter of the most serious cases dealt with by the government’s program to counter extremist ideology were for the far right.
Nor should the approach to either Islamist or far-right terrorism be a numbers game. The success of a terror attack depends on a great number of things, including variables outside anyone’s control. Both Islamist and far right groups contain individuals willing and able to carry out assaults of devastating violence. The policy response must deal with both.
• Peter Welby is a consultant on religion and global affairs, specializing in the Arab world. Previously he was the managing editor of a think tank on religious extremism, the Centre on Religion & Geopolitics, and worked in public affairs in the Arabian Gulf. He is based in London, and has lived in Egypt and Yemen. Twitter: @pdcwelby.