During Friday Prayer on March 15, 2019, a gunman opened fire on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 43. He then drove to a second mosque, where he killed 7 before driving off, ultimately apprehended by local police. Adding to the horror of that day, the gunman wore a GoPro camera, live-streaming the attack. He also left a disjointed 74-page manifesto, purported explaining who he was, and why he did what he did.
Even after details emerged about the gunman, and his initial day in court, we are left with more questions than answers. Brenton Tarrant, a 28 year old from New South Wales, Australia, had been living in the Andersons Bay area of Dunedin, New Zealand, since at least October 2017. He worked at a Dunedin gym, and otherwise mostly kept to himself. It is not yet know if he had any accomplices, co-conspirators, or contacts in New Zealand.
Tarrant’s manifesto was riddled with internet memes, inside jokes, and general white supremacist talking points. There are so many that it can be be hard to separate the trolling from the genuine beliefs. There is little doubt he is a white supremacist. He spoke highly of Norwegian right wing terrorist Anders Breivik, even claiming to have gotten his blessing. He spoke of Europeans being replaced by “invaders,” and low birth rates of Europeans. Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron were mentioned specifically to be held accountable for, and calling for their deaths. Throughout Tarrant’s manifesto, written on the guns he used in the attack, and in the music playing in his car, are many anti-Muslim references. He had a particular affinity for Serbian anti-Muslim history that included military figuresbattles against the Ottomans, and music praising war criminal Radovan Karadzic.
As of now, there is nothing inherently “New Zealand” about this attack. New Zealand hasn’t been named as a specific oppressor or aggressor. In his manifesto, Tarrant claimed to have chosen New Zealand to show that nowhere in the world was safe. He also mentioned that Christchurch was not his first choice – that was Dunedin – but changed his mind after seeing a video on Facebook.
There are more questions to be answered. Why was Tarrant in New Zealand to start? Did he really move to Dunedin in 2017 specifically to carry out a terror attack on the city’s mosque? If he really wanted to attack a major Muslim population, why didn’t he choose Auckland, where the majority of new Zealand’s Muslims live? Did Tarrant have any contact with any members of New Zealand’s white supremacist groups?
There is no indication so far that Tarrant had any contact with anyone from these groups. But not from lack of availability. He was a member of the Bruce Rifle Club outside Dunedin. One former member described some members walking around in camouflage fatigues, possessing Confederate flag stickers, and talking about Muslims as terrorists. He also heard them talking fondly of Australia’s Port Arthur massacre, in which 35 people were killed, discussing ways in which they could have increased casualties.
New Zealand does have its share of white supremacist/nationalist groups. The most well known is New Zealand National Front (NZNF). It was formed in 1968, and modeled after the British National Front. Right Wing Resistance (RWR) was founded in Christchurch in 2009 by former NZNF leader Kyle Chapman. Both groups have affiliations with groups in Australia. Chapman reportedly offered survival training courses for a time. In 2009, Chapman proposed a plan to have a European-only community in North Canterbury, to protect the dying European culture. RWR once distributed flyers around Christchurch warning of an immigrant invasion, words echoed in Tarrant’s manifesto. Dominion Movement is another New Zealand nationalist group promoting the “revitalization” of white New Zealanders. Though not as documented as white supremacist groups in Australia, America, and Europe, active groups do exist in New Zealand.
One New Zealand academic, who has been researching white supremacist groups in New Zealand since the 1980s, says he had found at least 70 such groups in New Zealand. Paul Spoonley, of Massey University, also estimates there are between 200-250 hardcore white supremacists in New Zealand, and approximately 300-400 on the fringes. The problem, according to Spoonley and others, is that the New Zealand government hasn’t made a priority of monitoring these groups. One news article from March 3, 2019, twelve days before the attack in Christchurch, begins by asking “Are we missing the rise of the far right?” Another reporter found that right-wing extremist groups didn’t even garner a mention in any public documents from either the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service or the Government Communications Security Bureau, the agency that monitors electronic communications.
New Zealand – and the rest of the world – need to take these groups seriously, before another Christchurch happens again. Or Pittsburgh. Or Charlottesville. Or Finsbury Park. Or Quebec. Or Charleston. Or Oslo/Utøya. Or…