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Reading Manifestos: Restricting Brenton Tarrant’s The Great Replacement

A censorious and censoring attitude has engulfed responses to the mental airings of the Christchurch shooter. Material in connection with Brenton Tarrant, the alleged gunman behind the killing of 50 individuals at two mosques in New Zealand, is drying up; his manifesto, for one, is being dis-aggregated and spread through multiple forms, removed from their various parts with blunt razors. Doing so does a disservice to any arguments that might be mounted against him, but having a debate is not what this is generally about.

Arguments on banning the incendiary and dangerous are easily mounted against a range of publications. The smutty supposedly corrupt public morals; the revolutionary supposedly give citizens strange and cocksure ideas about overthrowing the order of things. Then there are just the downright bizarre and adventurous, incapable of classification, but deemed dangerous for not falling into any clear category. Certitude is fundamentally important for the rule-directed censor and paper shuffling bureaucrat.

One example stands out, a testament to the failure of such efforts and the misunderstandings and distortions that follow. Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, as a stellar case, was banned in Germany after the Second World War. In January 2016, it was republished on the expiry of copyright held by the Bavarian government. As Steven Luckert remarked in The Atlantic at the time, “the history of the book, and of Hitler’s words more generally, demonstrates that there’s no clear-cut relationship between banning speech and halting the spread of ideas.” The Nazi party did not disappear in the aftermath of the ban; nor could it be said that his ideas had captivated whole states and their governments, despite being accessible.

The book, deemed to be an insight into the darkened corridors of Hitler’s racial and biologically charged mind, was not initially seen as off limits in the war of ideas; even as the United States was doing battle against Nazi Germany, advocates for understanding the mental baggage of Hitler was sought rather than dismissed. Houghton Mifflin made it a patriotic duty for Americans to familiarise themselves with the tenets of the text.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was also keen that those battling Germany have a sense of what they were up against. As he noted in his history of the Second World War, “There was no book which deserved more careful study from the rulers, political and military, of the Allied Powers.” All the elements were there, from “the programme of German insurrection” to establishing “the rightful position of Germany at the summit of the world.”

With Tarrant, the push to restrict discussion and siphon off any serious mention is well underway. The Great Replacement is become scarcer on the internet, having been removed from numerous sites and scoured off digital domains. White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway insists that the document be studied and read “in its entirety.” Her reasons, explained in a Monday morning interview with Fox & Friends, are valid enough; she wants to argue that Tarrant is not merely a white nationalist warrior, but as much a radical in other contexts. Yes, he mentions President Donald Trump “and there it is, one time. But he also said he aligns closely with the ideology of China. He said he’s not a conservative, he’s not a Nazi, I think her referred to himself as an eco-naturalist or an eco-fascist.” Such are the muddying details of completeness.

The suggestion prompted scorn and outrage from the media cognoscenti. Aaron Rupar called it “highly irresponsible.” Joan Donovan of Harvard’s Technology and Social Change Research Project, demonstrating the enlightened disposition one has come to expect from boxed squirrel scholars, demanded a curb to its reach. “It is loaded with keywords that lead down far-right rabbit holes. Do not repost.” Tech writer for The New York Times Kevin Roose was decidedly paternalistic, issuing a hazard warning to any would-be reader: “be careful with the NZ shooter’s apparent manifesto. It’s thick with irony and meta-text and very easy to misinterpret if you’re not steeped in this stuff all the time (and even if you are).” Like the Catholic Church of old, it has been left to a priestly cast of read, steeped-in-the-stuff interpreters to give the highlights, carefully chosen, for public consumption. No rabbit holes, meta-text, or irony for the unfortunate plebeian readership.

The mechanism by which this censorship is being engineered is questionable from ethical, evidentiary and epistemological contexts. The copy-cat syndrome has roared to the fore as real and influencing, and to that end, justifying. Be wary of social contagion in the aftermath of a mass killing, we are told.

In 2015, a multi-authored study in PloS ONE claimed to find “significant evidence that mass killings involving firearms are incented by similar events in the immediate past.” There was “significant evidence of contagion in school shootings.” The authors suggested that an increased risk of mass killings and school shootings in a 13-day period following previous incidents. Such perspectives on contagion have been echoed in a range of publications which insist on not publishing names or photographs of mass shooters.

Adam Lankford and Sara Tomek revisited the theme in studying mass killings in the United States between 2006 and 2013 in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behaviour. They noted the absence of relevant empirical studies on the subject, and previous contradictory findings. The authors suggested that contagion requires transmission. “The social contagion thesis requires that the imitative mass killer be at least indirectly exposed to the model killer’s behaviour.”

On examining their gathered data, Lankford and Tomek confidently asserted that their study raised “significant questions about previous findings implying a short-term social contagion effect from mass killings.” No “statistically significant evidence of contagion” was detectable within the 14-day time period. Ever careful to cover their tracks with heavy padding, they also issue a cautionary note; “that longer term contagion or copycat effects may pose a significant threat to society.”

The banning complex is hard to resist. After catastrophe, material can find itself onto forbidden lists. Authorities, fearing mayhem, are the first to identify such dangers in slipshod fashion. Uncertain and unverifiable contagion measures are considered. But keeping such material off the radar will not advance the discussion of nationalism of a certain pedigree and the source of its inspiration. If white nationalism be the problem, then call it out. Examine it. Consider remedies. Tarrant’s The Great Replacement, like Hitler’s Mein Kampf before it, should be studied for its implications and understandings rather than avoided as a viral inducement for further violence. The censor, in attitude, practice and assumption, remains as great a danger to society as any dangerous text ever could be.

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11 comments

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  1. liblover

    For the lay person isn’t there simpler way of expressing what you’re trying to convey ?

  2. ChristopherJ

    Thank you, Binoy. I agree that censoring is not the answer. For me, some things I just don’t want to look at, like the man’s live stream. You’re in the business, so my sympathies.

    Your post, as good as it is, gives the man more oxygen, imo. Perhaps better to give weak men like our alleged gunman no air, starve the stupid, violent, selfish thinking that underpins his actions now; follow the tendrils of hate and do something.

    Lot of real people were killed horribly and more injured because people are allowed to purchase weapons which are specifically designed to kill people. Politicians license corporations to sell these weapons as if they are just used to kill vermin. Yeah. Follow the money

  3. Alcibiades

    @liblover

    Er, the terrorists manifesto should not be censored so academics, researchers & SMEs can study it ?

    Further:

    It is all an absolutely mute point, IMV. The Manifesto & the terrorists live-stream footage at ~18mins were read/viewed by no less than 200 of his Nazi online mates in real time, archived & duplicated in real time for distribution. Not one complaint was made to Facebook until~12mins after the stream finished. Within minutes the stream had been viewed by ~4000 viewers. At least 200 copies were posted/uploaded/torrented by then, increasingly so at an exponential rate.

    ~70 copies of the manifesto were emailed to various politicians minutes before the first terrorist attack occurred.

    Copies of both the manifesto & footage instantly spread around the globe, and into some very obscure, dark corners. As well as Sky News Australia, Chinese State Media, Al-Jazeera, et al, broadcasting footage &/or publishing extracts or making available the entire manifesto.

    Neither can be practically banned nor censored for those who choose to seek them out, an absolutely trivial task. They will now exist for as long as the internet does in its current form, likely longer. And right wing extremists of the supremacist variant will direct initiates to them, and where needed re-uploaded from offline archives, just as for Norways Anders Breivak who directly inspired our terrorist. Breivaks Manifesto runs to ~1,500 pages.

    Especially the footage was watched by various means by Muslims around the world, 10s if not 100’s of millions of all or no faiths globally. Edited footage will almost certainly be incorporated as incitement in future Islamic fundamentalist terrorist as well as nazi supremicists propaganda. Guaranteed.

    This is the reality of the global internet for many a long year. The whole discussion re censorship or not, seems rather pointless really.

  4. Phil

    The question then Binoy is this: Why read this coward’s rantings at all? Why do his rantings deserve any greater consideration than the rantings of tens of thousands of his ilk – ie the ones who have not yet committed a sufficient atrocity to elevate their rantings to be worthy of international consideration?
    Why does this coward’s sick scribbling even rate as worthy of reading – his warped views have long been all over the internet from a thousand and more equally warped minds – we can read the bloody lot if we want to – but for what purpose?

    It won’t stop the next massacre. Weapons, weapons and ever more weapons – therein lies the truth – Mao Zedong long ago pronounced the truth on the relationship between power and the barrel of a gun.

    Australia is a ballistic weapons trader and so ballistic weapons will keep killing Australians until Australians unequivocally reject the political cult of ballistic weapons, their manufacture and trade.

  5. Keitha Granville

    Censorship only makes the forbidden fruit more interesting. I totally agree with pulling down the video footage, out of respect for the families of the victims.
    But let anyone read his rants, who the hell cares what a cowardly murderer thinks. I like that PM Ardern refuses to use his name. There is a movement to do the same with the killer of John Lennon, and I believe the same should be done for the creature that committed the atrocity at Port Arthur. Maybe in another 50 years people will say “who?” when they hear about these awful crimes. Stop talking about them, don’t give them the fame they clearly sought.

  6. paul walter

    Glad for that.

    Last Friday the writer grizzled at the Drum online for refusing to mention Tarrant or the fact that he had a “manifesto” of some sort as an explanation for his deranged behaviors.

    Others must have felt the same about the ABC fudging of this news when people needed to know who had been responsible for the massacre before it was propagandised. Was it because they wanted to save the government some embarrassment, some of us wondered?

    More than a few folk must have felt disquieted by the ABC’s timidity because a couple of days later ABC news director Craig McMurtrie offered up his idea of an “explanation” as to why the “manifesto” wasn’t released.

    But what I and others had wanted to know was not so much the released of the manifesto but the refusal of its existence and the name and nature of the crank in Christchurch. McMurtrie and others could not have been so thick.

    As for censor and ban happiness, it has become a feature of nanny-state society over recent times. The non-release of the “manifesto” could have been of help in understanding the mindset of Tarrant and his ilk, but obviously, others wanted the issue spun in other directions, presumably of less harm to the political right.

    Public broadcasting has become suffocated in nonsenses designed to hinder the flow of information, narratives must be controlled and timidity and euphemism reign supreme. Palestine, for example, is hardly even reported on anymore in case the Lobby is offended and the organ damned as “anti-semitic”.

    I am glad, relieved that an Academic has at last bucked the pc trend to call out suppression or tailoring of information in the service of a particular weltanschauung, here related to neoliberalism.

    The history of the nineteen thirties is a warning now forgotten…Death of Historical Memory in the service of todays oligarchic orthodoxies and mythologies is tyhe game and it is a game of dark lies.

  7. RosemaryJ36

    Surely by giving air to the man and his ideas you are playing into the narcissistic need for publicity of him and his ilk.

  8. ChristopherJ

    Well said, Phil. And where is Binoy?

  9. New England Cocky

    In 1968, the late Don Chip when a Liarbral Minister removed “The Karma Sutra” from the Australian banned list. Today, many women believe that this book should be essential reading for most Australian males. Certainly, banning this book in Australia did nothing to prevent unwanted pregnancies, domestic violence or kiddie fiddling by pederast priests.

  10. Jaquix

    Dont use his name.

  11. paul walter

    Rosemary J36, it is actually about people thinking for themselves; let them read his nutty stuff and he is discredited by his own words.

    It is true, as I said above, that I was less concerned about the manifesto itself- it has less than no merit – than media outlets refusing to expose the murderer early and his nature and giving media an opportunity to spin away from the truth. It was a deliberate failure to identify the murderer as white rightist islamophobe as the perpetrator then the silence leading the public to think of the criminal as jihadi, on a Friday afternoon, for a little while, to buy Morrison, Dutton and co time to think up an excuse for their dog whistling.

    I am tired of nanny state stuff.

    It is just an excuse to obscure uncomfortable news on the excuse that someone might be “offended”.

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