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

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.”

 


Migrant parents separated from kids since 2018 return to US

Updated 23 January 2020

Migrant parents separated from kids since 2018 return to US

LOS ANGELES: Nine parents who were deported as the Trump administration separated thousands of migrant families landed back into the US late Wednesday to reunite with children they had not seen in a year and a half.
The group arrived at Los Angeles International Airport from Guatemala City in a trip arranged under the order of a federal judge who found the US government had unlawfully prevented them from seeking asylum. An asylum advocate confirmed the nine parents were all aboard the flight.
Some of the children were at the airport to greet them, including David Xol’s 9-year-old son Byron.
David fell to one knee and tearfully embraced Byron for about three minutes, patting the back of his son’s head.
“He was small,” David said after rising to his feet. He looked at his attorney — who accompanied him on the flight — raised his hand about chest-high and said, “He grew a lot.”
David, Byron and his attorney, Ricardo de Anda, then embraced in a three-way hug and exchanged words in their huddle. Byron was all smiles. Father, son, attorney and family sponsor eagerly left the airport for their hotel.
The reunion was a powerful reminder of the lasting effects of Trump’s separation policy, even as attention and outrage has faded amid impeachment proceedings and tensions with Iran. But it also underscored that hundreds, potentially thousands, of other parents and children are still apart nearly two years after the zero-tolerance policy on unauthorized border crossings took effect.
“They all kind of hit the lottery,” said Linda Grimm, an attorney who represents one of the parents returning to the US “There are so many people out there who have been traumatized by the family separation policy whose pain is not going to be redressed.”
More than 4,000 children are known to have been separated from their parents before and during the official start of zero tolerance in spring 2018. Under the policy, border agents charged parents en masse with illegally crossing the US-Mexico border, then placed their children in government facilities, including some “tender-age shelters” set up for infants.
The US has acknowledged that agents separated families long before they enforced zero tolerance across the entire southern border, its agencies did not properly record separations, and some detention centers were overcrowded and undersupplied, with families denied food, water or medical care.
In June 2018, US District Judge Dana Sabraw ordered the government to stop separating families and reunite parents and children.
At least 470 parents were deported without their children. Some of the kids were held in US government facilities and ultimately placed with sponsors. Others were deported to their home countries.
Accounts emerged of many parents being told to sign paperwork they couldn’t read or understand or being denied a chance to request asylum in ways that violated federal law.
The US Department of Homeland Security referred a request for comment to the Justice Department, which did not respond.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the original family separation lawsuit before Sabraw, asked the judge to order the return of a small group of parents whose children remained in the US In September, Sabraw required the US to allow 11 parents to come back and denied relief to seven others.
ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said Sabraw made clear he would only order the return of people “who were misled or coerced into giving up their asylum rights.” That will leave other parents who fled violence, poverty and persecution to decide whether to have their children return to their home countries or remain in the US without them.
“Many are going to make the decision that generations of immigrant parents have made — to leave their child in the US and endure the hardship of separation, but to do it for their child’s own safety,” Gelernt said.
Xol said that after he and his then-7-year-old son, Byron, crossed the border, they were taken to a US Border Patrol processing center in South Texas. Xol was charged with illegal entry on May 19, 2018.
Two days later, Xol said an officer told him to sign a document that would allow him and Byron to be deported together. If he didn’t sign, Byron would be given up for adoption and Xol would be detained for at least two years.
Xol signed the document, only to have Byron taken away and then get deported to Guatemala. Byron was placed in government facilities for 11 months.
The family’s attorney, Ricardo de Anda, persuaded a federal court to force the US to let a Texas family take in Byron. Since May 2019, Byron has lived with Holly and Matthew Sewell and their two children, with regular video calls to his family.
Holly Sewell brought Byron, now 9, to meet his father at the airport. They planned to go back to Texas to pack and prepare for Byron to move in with his father once Xol is settled in California. Before the reunion, Byron kept asking Sewell, his caretaker, when his father would clear immigration authorities.
“They’re almost here, you’re doing great,” she said. “Count to 1,000.”
“999,” Byron responded.
She said she was thrilled Byron could see his dad again but sharply criticized the US government’s treatment of asylum-seekers.
Esvin Fernando Arredondo was expected to be on the plane. The father from Guatemala was separated from one of his daughters, Andrea Arredondo — then 12 years old and now 13, after they turned themselves in on May 16, 2018, at a Texas crossing and sought asylum legally, according to Grimm, his lawyer. He failed an initial screening and agreed to go back to Guatemala.
According to Sabraw’s ruling, the government deported Arredondo even after the judge had ordered families reunited and subsequently prohibited US officials from removing any parent separated from their child. He’s now being given a second chance at asylum under the court order.
Andrea was separated from all family for about a month, living in a shelter as the government struggled to connect children with their parents because they lacked adequate tracking systems. She was finally reunited with her mother, who had turned herself in at the Texas crossing with the other two daughters four days earlier than her husband, on May 12, 2018.
She and her two daughters passed the initial screening interview for asylum, unlike her husband, even though they were fleeing for the same reason. Their son Marco, 17, was shot and killed by suspected gang members in Guatemala City.
Arredondo’s wife, Cleivi Jerez, 41, arrived at LAX less than an hour before the flight landed with their three daughters in tow, ages 17, 13 and 7.
“Lots of nerves, last night I couldn’t sleep,” she said in Spanish in an interview after the flight landed.
Jerez said she planned to stay up late catching up with her husband. She planned to rest at their Los Angeles home tomorrow as well, catching up on their 17 months apart before he has to report to an ICE office Friday in San Diego. Alison Arredondo, 7, said she missed going to the park with her father and she wanted to go to one with him in LA.
While the US has stopped the large-scale separations, it has implemented policies to prevent many asylum-seekers from entering the country. Under its “Remain in Mexico” policy, more than 50,000 people have been told to wait there for weeks or months for US court dates. The Trump administration also is ramping up deportations of Central Americans to other countries in the region to seek asylum there.
“People want to make this a heartwarming story, but it’s not. It’s devastating,” Sewell said. “There is just no good reason why we had to do this to this child and this family. And he symbolizes thousands of others who have been put in this exact same position.”