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Death in New Zealand: The Christchurch Shootings

Five weapons were said to have been used, all inscribed with symbols, numbers and insignia. The individual charged with the shootings at two Christchurch mosques that left 49 dead was an Australian with, it is alleged, a simple purpose: inflict death, and on specific communities in worship. Even as the carnage became clear, Christchurch was already the epicentre of twenty-four hour news television, supplying a ghoulish spectacle. Saturation coverage followed, and continues to do so, a point that will warm the attacker’s blood (his entire effort was streamed on live video on Facebook).

The alleged perpetrator, one Brenton Harrison Tarrant, left an unstirring piece – to call it a manifesto would be far-fetched – for those interested before the attack. It is a document of banality and off target assumptions. “Who are you?” he asks himself, suggesting an inner voice in need of reassurance and clarity. “Just an ordinary White man, 28 years old. Born in Australia to a working class, low income family.” Stock: “Scottish, Irish and English”; a “regular childhood without any great issues”.

He did not like education, “barely achieving a passing grade.” Universities did not offer anything of interest. He invested money in Bitconnect, then travelled. A sense of cognitive dissonance follows; Tarrant had recently worked part time “as a kebab removalist”.

No criminal record, no watch list, no registry. Nothing to suggest a tendency towards mass murder, disrespect or mania. What Tarrant did have was a desire to avenge individuals he felt a kinship for, suggesting that the dull witted are just as capable of killing as the charismatically ideological. The “radical”, rooted nature of violence lies dormant in many; all that is required is a match.

The simple language of the note resembled that of various European populist platforms, albeit trimmed of deep historical flourishes: fear the Islamic invader; take to the barricades to repel the forces of Allah. Interestingly enough, Tarrant leaves the detail of the invaders unclear, given that European lands have received all manner of invasions over its existence, of which the Ottoman and Islamic is but one stream. The broad statement strikes a note of nonsense: “To take revenge on the invaders for the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by foreign invaders in European lands throughout history.”

Other statements of motivation follow: the “enslavement of millions of Europeans from their lands by the Islamic slavers”; “the thousands of European lives lost to terror attacks throughout European lands”. Rather conveniently, and in manipulative fashion, the spirit of young Ebba Åkerlund, who died in 2017 in a terror attack in Sweden, is also channelled. It was not sufficient to merely mention her; the eleven-year old inspired the shooter to name rifles after her. “How the hell,” expressed stunned father Stefan Åkerlund, “can we ever get to mourn in peace?”

The problem with any such event is the risk of immoderate response. Sensible comments have been noted: the risks posed by non-Islamic terrorists have tended to be neglected in budgets and rhetoric, though US President Donald Trump is, unsurprisingly, insisting that militant white nationalism is fringe worthy rather than common. Under the John Key government, the overwhelming focus of funding intelligence and security efforts was directed at the phantom menace of Islam, burrowing deep into the suburbs. Watch lists of suspects were constantly noted; the fear of returned “radicalised” fighters was constantly iterated. To add a greater sense of purpose to the mission, New Zealand troops were deployed to Iraq to fight the troops of Islamic State. “Get some guts!” exclaimed Key to his opposition counterpart, Andrew Little, who seemed somewhat half-hearted in committing to the effort.

Other policy recommendations, still embryonic and possibly never to fly, are making their errands. There are suggestions of deploying around the clock security personnel to mosques in various countries, something that risks militarising places of worship.

Vengeful rebuke can also find room in legislative and executive action. In New Zealand, reforms to gun laws are being promised. (These are already strict, and it is by no means clear if safety would be improved by such changes). In Australia, Tony Burke of the Labor Party suggests punishing hate speech and denying visas to certain right-wing advocates of the white supremacist persuasion. Australia’s immigration system is sufficiently intolerant and erratic enough to deny visas to those who might interfere with the false tranquillity of its society but a suspicious paternalism remains the enemy of free speech. Debate, in short, cannot be trusted.

The move to further push tech companies to reign in violent content will also receive a mighty boost. The response from such companies as Facebook thus far is one of optimism: last year, some 99 per cent of content linked with terrorism content promoted by Islamic State and al-Qaeda was successfully purged by artificial intelligence. Calls to do the same for other sources of inspiration are bound to follow.

There is also a stark, uncomfortable reality: no one is safe. The entire field of terrorist and anti-terrorist studies is replete with charlatan impulses and the promise of placebo styled security. There are fictional projections and assessments about whether an attack is “imminent” or “probable”. There are calls to be vigilant and report the suspicious. Political leaders give firm reassurances that all will be safe, a point that, quite frankly, can never be guaranteed.

The actions of Friday demonstrate the ease with which an act of mass killing can take place, the damage than can arise from attacking freely open spaces where people commune. Extremism is said to lack a face or an ideology, but on Friday, it manifested in an all too human form.

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10 comments

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  1. Lambert Simnel

    Sort of. Elsewhere they blamed social media, too, but it doesnt wash with me.

    Try the hard right politicians and meeja megaphones, also oligarxchic government encroachment on the civil spaces or commons for discourse misappropriated through government intervention by way of DR, Arbitrary detention, surveillance and monitoring ( example: yesterday, a post from Alcibiades re Tarrants “manifesto”, scotched by the spooks ), draconian punishments for whistleblowers and journalists who refuse injunctions and D notices and massive financing and boostering of crank ideology by people like Murdoch.

    The newspapers and media are largely silenced, as I discovered with last night’s Drum even, as to coverage of issues exemplary of the true state of reality.

    In the end, it is fallacous to attack FB and other platforms, as for instance the envious Guardian and ABC have, since FB and a couple of other places remain such valuable sources for collating information about the latest the 1 percent, the REAL terrorists, are up to.

  2. DrakeNi

    Political, religious and commercial interests all connive to destabilise and ‘divide and conquer’: the political in order to create easily defined targets for distraction from their own nefarious deeds; the religious to create suspicion of ‘others’ in order reinforce a sense of security and belonging in their ‘flocks’; and the commercial to create confusion as to the relative merits – or otherwise – of their products. Etc.
    They then feign surprise and sympathy when events come back to bite them.
    This unholy trinity of politics, religion, and avarice is the essence of evil – the “false prophets” – and profits – written of in the Gospels. (Whoever wrote them got that much right, at least.)

  3. king1394

    Brenton Harrison Tarrant: coward; murderer. He and his accomplices are the only ones to blame. Hope he rots in gaol, which is the appropriate place for him

  4. andy56

    King1394, I think he needs to be disposed of. Gaol is only a wast of time and resources for a crime like this.
    Yep, he is a viscious MURDERER.

  5. whatever

    These AltRight nutters believe the United Nations has evolved into a ‘OneWorldGovernment’ and controls all aspects of everyday life.

  6. Michael Taylor

    Speaking of those right-wing nut jobs… I read somewhere that Chelsea Clinton is the latest person to be blamed for the Christchurch terrorist attack.

    Who’s next on the list? Obama?

  7. Alcibiades

    You are indeed consistently sound.

    Yet, there is an elephant in the room that was not touched upon. That seems to be avoided … the wider context.

    One of his overlooked declared core objectives in his ‘note’, was to by his terrorist act so enrage the victim communities so someone would be incited to react ‘in kind’ in revenge. He clearly stated that this would then allow/justify the State to ‘react’ and ‘finish the job’.

    Hm …

    For 18 years we have endured the US manufactured global “War on Terra”(sic).

    A War on Terror, a war on Terra itself, a war on anyone arbitrarily deemed the ‘others’, especially when the ‘others’ sit on valuable natural resources, for example.

    And who, as opposed to the victims, have been the beneficiaries of this ‘War on Terra’ ?

    The nation States & national parties that comply with the Empires Diktats, ie John Howard & the 2003 invasion of Iraq …

    You have nothing to fear, except the fear we as your government deliberately facilitate & create”

    :- Apologies to FDR

    Anyone still clutching Howards Terrorist Hotline fridge magnet, still alert, yet not alarmed ? Still fearful ?

    Our supposed Liberal-democracies have transformed in the last two decades into pseudo-authoritarian states that capture all your metadata, can inject malware onto your devices, track you everywhere with your personal State monitored tracking device – your mobile phone.

    Judge issued warrants ? We don’t need no stinking warrants !

    The arbitrary unilateral executive powers of Ministers of the State have been so corrupted they have essentially no judicial oversight. The AAT has been thru all this time calculatedly corrupted by stacking it with cronies with the ‘Right’ views.

    You can be arbitrarily ejected from this country even if you were born here, raised a family, lived here your entire life. You can be made stateless, your citizenship revoked, even when you have no other nor the rights to, on the mere whim of a government minister.

    You can be arbitrarily disappeared & detained on mere suspicion, without charge, held in solitary confinement, interrogated continuously, day after day … you or anyone who speaks on your behalf of the breach of Habeas Corpus, can also be disappeared.

    If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear !

    PS The State knows what you did last summer … and everything you spend your money on.

    Star Chambers exist, where all is in camera, and the public is permitted to know nothing. Your legal counsel, pre security vetted & approved by the State, good luck, is gagged too. Whistleblowers acting for the public benefit, divulging the crimes & corruption of the State, are treated worse than ‘plain vanilla’ murderers & serious child sex offenders.

    We are pleased to announce today additional funding for the AFP, ASIO, ASIS, ASD, the Dept of Defence (Army, Navy, AirForce), BorderFarce, etc to protect you from the Fear we create. Additional unlimited billions upon billions will be allocated as & when our donors and paid lobbyists for the local ‘consultants’ & foreign owned corporations direct.

    If the cumulative consequent effects of these deliberate corrosive policies through incremental shifts on our society over the last two decades have passed you by, was it actually all by accident ?

    Fear is Good … for profits in the Game of Mates.

    It has been the policy of our extreme right wing parties through public statements and speeches, to knowingly incite hatred, intolerance & violence. To maintain – the ever present Fear.

    Its good for ‘business’. It is good for disrupting social cohesion. It makes it easier to manage the ‘public’. It makes it easier to manufacture key distractions at crucial moments in politics. It makes the ‘unaware’ look up to a ‘Strong Leader’ as a father figure who will protect them through strong ‘National Security’ policies. And forgive the ‘Strong Leaders’ government failings elsewhere.

    “We are all about Tough Love”.

    And what does all this deliberate calculated & carefully calibrated political, government & corporate media ‘narrative’ & conduct result in ? Christchurch.

    Its good for business. Its good for government. Now STFU or I’ll sick the AFP on you !”

  8. wam

    the pm belched about right wing extremists with a selfrighteous show of support for Ardern and the victims. Yet the effing hypocrite and dutton ignored the department’s advice and gave milo yiannopoulis a visa.to take a talking tour of australia

    The loonies will capitalise on that backflip if the dibransimkims are still not shy and are aware fortunately no loonie reads my facebook page to see the right wing pommie and republican white supremist material shared by friends of anning, phon and how much they’re missing little johnnie

    ps there are thousands of Aussies christians would would pull the trigger on muslims using ‘john;s those that live by the sword

  9. Alcibiades

    Peter Dutton Verified Account
    @PeterDutton_MP

    1/2 Earlier today I called Senator Anning and asked him not to make any public comment today. Inciting a volatile situation is not in anyone’s interest. His statement yesterday has been rightly condemned.
    12:03 AM – 16 Mar 2019

    Peter Dutton
    @PeterDutton_MP

    Replying to @PeterDutton_MP
    2/2 It is in everyone’s best interest for Senator Anning to make no further statements on this matter.

    https://mobile.twitter.com/PeterDutton_MP/status/1106813139813830656

    When questioned by a journalist from the ‘Beetroota Advocate'(?) as to what IPA Freedom Speech Boy, Timmy ‘moderate'(?!) Wilson had to say about it all … & a followup re who would stand in for Fraser Anning after his suppression/removal as an irrelevant powerless scapegoat, former OberGruppenFuehrer of BorderFarce, now ReichsMarshall of the Home Affairs super-Ministry stated :

    It is my task as an Uber-Minister of the Crown, along with the PM and other Ministers, all true members of our parties, along with Limited News Corpse media, to nurture & incite violent & volatile situations.

    Substitute, replacement Senator Anning is encroaching upon all of our rights & prerogatives, not only as the dominant right wing extremist parties, the Coalition, & media, but as the regime of the day. As ReichsMarshall I have issued this suppression order by decree, without judicial or legislative authority, because I can.

    Our record as a regime/parties/media, and that of John Howards regime before us, our policies, legislation, practices, speeches and statements, very deeds, of decades now, is demonstrably proven & on the public record.

    We will always be the better managers of incitement to violence, racism, division & broad widespread intolerance.

    Labor failed to … um, er, (Leaning forward, squinting & scowling. Now addressing the journalist directly. personally) you’ve got an odd sounding name, you look like a non-citizen Kiwi to me, ever been arrested for jaywalking, any unpaid fines, advocating for recognised refugees ?

  10. Patagonian

    He asked Anning not to comment today? Oh that’s rich, coming from the Meister Hunde-pfeifer himself.

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