Hopefully the security agencies won’t simply default to the jihadist archetype in their response to the atrocity in Christchurch, as the media has. Distinguishing between motives of the perpetrators of such unpardonable acts and understanding the internal logic by which they justify their actions is important. Marques like far right, white supremacist, white nationalist, neo-Nazi, or Islamophobe occlude the detail in Tarrant’s case and are unhelpful in finding an implementable understanding of these violent phenomena.
If Tarrant’s manifesto is taken at face value his radicalisation (another slippery term of art) was not the result of exposure to websites and chatrooms where the more hateful racist discourse is encountered. His epiphany resulted from personal experiences during his travels in Europe in 2017.
His Road to Damascus moment came in this time period, ‘as series of events broke down my reserves, my reservations, my cynicism and revealed the truth of the Wests current situation’. Post his revelatory experience its seems then he turned to researching on the internet. If he is being truthful, his transformation was a circumstance no security agency could predict, detect, or prevent.
What did he experience? Tarrant claims his conversion began following the extremist attack in Stockholm in 2017 and death of eleven-year-old Ebba Ackerlund. His subsequent sense of Islamic immigration as an invasion of Europe was heightened by the election victory of the ‘internationalist, globalist, anti-white, ex-banker’ Macron and the number of ‘invaders’ he witnessed in his travels through France.
Two particular observations made by Tarrant stand out. In the French cities and towns he visited it seemed to him not just that the French were in the minority, but that they were ‘often alone, childless, or of advanced age’. In contrast, ‘the immigrants were young, energized and with large families and many children’. He built his narrative on these questionable observations.
In his manifesto, Tarrant acknowledges a particular indebtedness to three individuals; Sir Oswald Mosley (‘the person from history closest to my beliefs’), ‘Knight Justicar’ Anders Breivik, and Candace Owens (‘the person that has influenced me above all’).
From the political works of Mosley, leader of the pre-war British Union of Fascists, Tarrant seems to have borrowed the proposition that, on the Jews, ‘our principle is complete religious toleration, and we certainly do not wish to persecute them on account of their race’. Mosley, undoubtedly dissembling, opposed their presence because ‘they have constituted themselves a state within the nation, and have set the interests of their co-racialists…above the interest of the British State’. A view Tarrant seems to have adopted and expanded to all aliens in Europe.
Candace Owens is a far right Afro-American blogger and an advocate of a form of ultra-nationalism. A Trump supporter and virulent critic of leftist or liberal positions on race relations, gender, and gun control. Tarrant’s direct debt to her is less clear. Nevertheless, Owens colour doesn’t rate a mention among those quick to identify Tarrant as simply a racist or supremacist.
Breivik’s impact on Tarrant is apparent. In his manifesto 2083 – A European Declaration of Independence Breivik delves far more deeply into the European fringe traditions of history, race and ideology. Echoes of Breivik’s intellectual refrain certainly wend through Tarrant’s manifesto. Tarrant references revenge for the historic wrongs and cruelties perpetrated by Muslims against the European West that dominates Breivik’s thinking. However, importantly, Tarrant’s manifesto is missing the vituperative attack on Islam as an ideology and the extreme Islamophobia, and it lacks the pronounced obsession with ‘a global war of conquest that Islam has been waging since the days of the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th Century AD’.
Asking himself the rhetorical question ‘Do you personally hate Muslims?’, Tarrant answers ‘A Muslim man or woman living in their homelands? No.’ He goes on to deny he is an Islamophobe, adding, ‘No I am not afraid of Islam, only that, due to its higher fertility rates replacing others’. His concern with the demographic threat from immigration is generic; he is ‘only wary of those cultures with higher fertility rates’.
He describes himself as an ‘ethno-nationalist’, not a category in his mind limited to Europeans but applicable to all those ‘who wish to live in peace among their own peoples, living in their own lands, practising their own traditions and deciding the future of their own kind’. His planned attack he saw as ‘anti-immigration, anti-ethnic replacement and anti-cultural replacement’.
If, and it may be a big ‘if’’, Tarrant’s manifesto is a genuine reflection of his beliefs then he recognises the existence of different races but goes out of his way the emphasise he is not a white supremacist. The three major phenomena that trigger his actions are the low birth rates among white Europeans, the high fertility rates among non-European migrant populations and a sense of white European majorities being displaced, and the failure of Europeans to address the challenge of this ‘peaceful invasion’ because of ‘the current nihilistic, hedonistic, individualistic insanity that has taken control of Western thought’.
The psychological aberration that allows Tarrant to step from these views to mass murder is opaque. His inability to assimilate views and evidence contrary to his flawed and simplistic narrative cannot be put down to lack of education. The Western canon is replete with alarmist, imperialist, supremacist, racist, ultranationalist and eugenicist tracts from respectable and authoritative figures.
His obvious search online for sympathetic or compatible views is all too normal. Yet, the deadly mental course he followed to the killings in Christchurch didn’t commence on the web and will be difficult to reconstruct. In the end he saw himself as a sacrificial knight errant on an existential crusade against an invasion.
Vigilance and caution in surveillance must be watchwords in policing and security. However, prediction, if it’s ever possible, of this horrific violence that seemingly emerges from the very political and social culture in which its proponents move will require moving past simple labels and a focus on the internet.
Mike Scrafton is a former senior Defence executive, former CEO of a state statutory body, and former chief of staff and ministerial adviser to the minister for defence.