Before embarking on his attack, the 28-year-old gunman who killed at least 49 people at a pair of New Zealand mosques Friday posted a detailed manifesto explaining his motivations. The document is packed with rhetoric and themes popular with the online white nationalist communities that gather on message boards such as 8chan, where he announced his spree minutes before it began. The document is largely focused on the notion of “white genocide”—the idea that around the world, people of European descent are having too few children and as a result are being replaced in their own countries by foreign “invaders,” particularly Muslims. He claims to have taken his deepest inspiration from Anders Breivik, the anti-Islam fanatic who murdered 77 people during a 2011 terror strike in Norway.
The manifesto has also caused some confusion as snippets have circulated around Twitter—in part because of some peculiarities in the ideology he describes, and in part because of passages that read like ironic shitposting. Neither should confuse from the central lesson from the attack and the manifesto: that we are confronting a global movement of white hate, one that has inserted far too many of its tendrils into the firmament of respectable politics.
Some of this puzzlement stems from the shooter’s description of himself as an “eco-fascist” and open fretting about global warming, which is not a concern mainstream readers typically associate with racist reactionaries. But eco-fascists are in fact an established, if somewhat obscure, brand of neo-Nazi. As Sarah Manavis wrote last year at the New Statesman, “they believe that living in the original regions a race is meant to have originated in and shunning multiculturalism is the only way to save the planet they prioritise above all else.”*
The manifesto is also challenging because it is clearly written for the shooter’s fellow channers; Like any conversation you’ll find in the nastiest bogs of Reddit or 8chan, it includes some trollish misdirections and memes, which makes it a tiny bit hard at some points to tell exactly where the irony ends and the sincere racist ideology begins. In one small example, he tosses in a popular passage known as the Navy SEAL copypasta, which basically makes fun of people who claim to be ex-snipers or special forces on the internet. In a Q&A section, he suggests he was radicalized by Candace Owens, the 29-year-old communications director for Turning Point USA, the campus conservative group run by Charlie Kirk:
Is there a particular person that radicalized you the most?
Yes, the person that has influenced me above all was Candace Owens. Each time she spoke I was stunned by her insights and her own views helped push me further and further into the belief of violence over meekness. Though I will have to disavow some of her beliefs, the extreme actions she calls for are too much, even for my tastes.
Read in the context of the manifesto, this is pretty obviously not serious. Owens—who became prominent for being a young, pro-Trump black woman—has recently started dipping her toes into European ethnonationalism; in one clumsy appearance, she launched a bizarre half-defense of Hitler (the only problem with him was apparently that “he had dreams outside Germany”) and she has taken to tweeting about how France’s declining white birth rates could soon make it a Muslim-majority country. The shooter, too, spends much of his manifesto obsessing about demographic change in France (he claims he was radicalized as he traveled the country’s shrinking and increasingly diverse towns). But he also writes that he started planning his attack at least two years ago, before Owens was prominent. And to put it bluntly, it is pretty clear that a would-be mass murderer would not consider her calls to action “extreme.” This reads like a joke about Owens trying to jump on the nationalist bandwagon.
Picking out the parts of a killer’s screed that are meant to be funny may feel uncomfortable. But it’s also necessary, in order to single out the core material that tells us about the global, white racist ideology that is gradually metastasizing online and producing a new breed of terrorist. The Christchurch killer says he took his “true inspiration” from Breivik, who produced his own 1,500 page manifesto of hate. (He even suggests that he had “brief contact” with Breivik, who is currently in prison, though it’s unclear how or if that’s true.) The shooter also claims to have read the writing of Dylann Roof, who perpetrated a massacre in a black Charleston, South Carolina, church with hopes that it would spark a race war. The Christchurch shooter claims to have similarly grandiose ambitions (in a new twist, he suggests he used guns, as opposed to other weapons, in order to further the political conflict over firearms and the Second Amendment in the U.S.). He is drawing from and adding to a growing online ecosystem and literature of white radicalization.
In the U.S., that ecosystem gave us the Tree of Life massacre and the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, both of which were motivated—at least in part—by the fear that whites are in the process of being demographically outnumbered and replaced. Hence the chants in Charlottesville, of “Jews will not replace us! Blacks will not replace us! Immigrants will not replace us!” And yes, U.S. politicians and pundits feed that ecosystem, too. When Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham talk on Fox about Democrats trying to “replace” white voters with immigrants, they’re mainstreaming its rhetoric. When Rep. Steve King says “we can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies,” he’s mainstreaming its rhetoric. Candace Owens almost certainly isn’t inspiring anybody to kill, but she is guiding them toward the sorts of online discussions that lead to dark, dangerous places. And there’s our president himself. As the Christchurch shooter wrote in his Q&A:
Were/are you a supporter of Donald Trump?
As a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose? Sure. As a policy maker and leader? Dear god no.
Not a leader, but a useful symbol. Maybe that was just more shitposting, too. But my guess is not.
Correction, March 15, 2019: An earlier version of this post misspelled the New Statesman. It also misstated the location of a deadly white supremacist rally. It was in Charlottesville, Virginia, not Charleston, South Carolina.