(New Zealand Police photo)

PERSPECTIVE: Far-Right Terrorism and New Zealand’s ‘Loss of Innocence’

It is four months now since the Christchurch Mosque Massacres. It has been a life-changing event for all the survivors and their families and for all those who have come in contact with these events. For me, I was seated in my car on a sunny afternoon at Coyle Park overlooking a children’s playground looking at my iPhone and posting on LinkedIn. I suddenly received a message just after 3 p.m. from a UK counterterrorism friend, saying, “It looks bad.” I had no idea what he meant but when I checked my phone again, I went into numb shock. It was surreally impossible, I knew, but I also knew better than to think it was a hoax. I spent the next few hours posting updates to my international network of analysts who in turn sent me information. I was still writing at midnight and for the next two weeks. New Zealand went into mourning with its Muslim population and we all struggled to come to grips with what was it about our national identity that had led us to this point. Initially, I thought it might be simply a copycat attack until I considered further the evidence that was coming to light about New Zealand’s own murky history of white supremacy, anti-immigrant politicking and the white nationalist fears of some of the middle-class. This piece is adapted from a piece published in Stuff.co.nz on March 26, 2019, and on the Twitter feed of NATO StratCom CoE kindly facilitated by their Communications Officer Linda Curika.

It was early autumn this March in New Zealand when a nonentity called Brendan Tarrant, a legend on his own 8Chan site seeking further notoriety, introduced himself cheerfully to his cronies watching on Facebook Live. He then began his horrific attacks with a semi-automatic on two mosques before he was brought down by two off-duty NZ Police heroes.

This was New Zealand’s 9/11. For New Zealanders, their effect may perhaps be even more devastating long-term, if possible, due to its small size and relative peacefulness, than the multiple Islamophobic domestic terrorist attacks in the U.S., from the Oklahoma City bombing to 9/11 itself, Houston, Gainsville, Dearborn, New York City, Charlottesville and Pittsburgh (and multiple others), horrendous and ugly as they are. The shock has been replaced by emotions that have required working through (and a life-altering decision for me), but a first attack, that breaches all known norms, is disorientating and particularly traumatic. Europe, the UK and the United States have had multiple such traumatic and cruel attacks. I hope this is our first and last, but New Zealand’s history of white supremacy lurking in dark corners (and thought to be fading away by most), and the current international modes of communication of the violent and spectator Far-Right, make me realize that it may not be.

The End of the Golden Weather*

We had had a strange discombobulating summer marked by climate change – volatile weather daily, a heatwave, cyclones, and scorched pastures but with the classic features of a halcyon NZ summer still – bright sunshine, happy crowds, barbecues for family and friends, a torrent of colorful flowers and native plants, tumbling gentle waves, bigger surf and mugginess, but, oddly, no flies or mozzies.

New Zealanders are an outdoorsy lot. Why wouldn’t we be? We live in this small island nation in the deep South Pacific surrounded by tropical native bush and scenery, vast near-empty beaches, hiking trails, mountains, and glorious views. The envy of the world. But the pohutukawa trees, synonymous with Christmas, were no longer in bloom. Those blood-red blossoms had been gone since Christmas. And we are not envied anymore; we have joined “the Club,” as one counterterrorism friend of mine from overseas put it.

Instead, blood flowed in a stream from a Christchurch mosque, observed by a Muslim survivor. On Friday, 15 March 2019 at 13:40 NZ local time horrific hate, fueled by international far-right extremist, struck not once but twice. The choice of a multicultural country, nowadays respected and appreciated for its diversity and inclusiveness, was no accident. It was planned as a form of far-right terrorist schadenfreude, a harbinger of things to come and to showcase far-away ‘innocent’ New Zealand as not immune after all to the virtual power of white supremacy in the dark web, whose long-term aim is race wars and ethnic cleansing. Except, New Zealand for many years has not been free from white supremacy along a continuum from the extreme right neo-Nazis to the silent middle-class who fear being inundated and engulfed by immigrants whose numbers started to climb about 20 years ago. There is still, in some quieter unreconstructed quarters, racism and nationalist nostalgia for white dominance.

* Mason, Bruce, ‘The End of the Golden Weather: A voyage into a New Zealand childhood”, New Zealand University Press and Price Milburn, Wellington, 1962; Victoria University Press, August 2018; ISBN: 9780864732729; https://vup.victoria.ac.nz/the-end-of-the-golden-weather-vup-classic/

*This is an iconic NZ text on the end of childhood and summer: https://www.bookcouncil.org.nz/writer/mason-bruce/

Highly cultured and literate, he nevertheless longed to make contact with the ‘average New Zealander’, and did so in the inexhaustible performances of The End of the Golden Weather. As he puts it, recalling his Takapuna childhood in his monologue Not Christmas, but Guy Fawkes, ‘I in my flaxbush and the people on the lawn, form a context: if I could not communicate with them, it was because they refused communication with me, or the likes of me. And the reasons for this refusal have become the mainspring of my work.’ Mason was therefore fascinated by ‘mid-racial’ people who fit in neither culture…”

A small segue into relatively recent NZ history…

There is a large, often semi-rural or rural group of middle-class New Zealanders who remember the 1950s and 1960s fondly as a time of suburban complacency and post-WWII affluence. The U.S. dubbed this demographic the “silent majority.” In 1972 New Zealand was dubbed the “half-gallon, quarter-acre pavlova paradise” by an academic and TV political commentator in New Zealand, the Yorkshireman ex-Labour MP and now Brexiteer Austin Mitchell, in his book of the same name. Forty years later he revisited NZ (and pavlova) in a 2002 documentary to see how NZ had changed (watch out for the “American hot-dog”). Although a charming travelogue, he mainly interviews whites and the issue of Maori/Pakeha relations is only briefly touched upon by historian Michael King, who found things to be greatly improved. The role of the small group of white supremacists (neo-Nazis) was not touched on at all.

NZ author and mainstream commentator Gordon McLauchlan, in his iconic 1976 book The Passionless People – New Zealanders in the 1970’s, wrote about New Zealand’s foibles. In a 2012 review of his update “Passionless People Revisited”: “McLauchlan wonders if anything has changed in our society since the first edition of Passionless People. He notes that the gap between the rich and the poor is widening and that polls reflect that New Zealanders are somewhat smug and without a deeply felt concern for their poorer compatriots” [Read: non-white].

Three years ago a high-profile NZ political commentator wrote about Auckland’s housing crisis as follows: The politicians squabble over who’s to blame for the state we now find ourselves in. The answer is market forces, and the fact that we’ve now got migrants flooding into the country at the highest rate in a hundred years, which puts pressure on everything from health to housing… While they’re at it they could look at restricting the sale of existing houses to foreigners.”

New Zealand’s Far Right

Professor Paul Spoonley of Massey University, New Zealand, is the country’s foremost expert on New Zealand’s Far Right. In the immediate wake of the Christchurch attacks he estimated to The Guardian that “there could be between 200 and 250 active members of far-right groups in the country including the New Zealand National Front, the Dominion Movement and Right Wing Resistance. In 2017 members of the National Front – a white nationalist group – clashed with protesters outside parliament in Wellington, while a University of Auckland student group called the European Students Association was accused of promoting material “typical of white supremacist nationalist groups”. More recently the Dominion Movement, a “youth-oriented brotherhood of nationalists” which shares ideological similarities with the European identitarian movement, has been active in the country.”

Despite his following such groups for many years, he wrote, “We’ve all been caught out by this.”

At the end of March, two weeks after the attacks, he wrote, “The Far Right is Here”: “The number of far-right groups or individuals is not important. It is their potential to harass and intimidate, and to be violent… The other issue is that many of us are not the target. The actions and beliefs of these groups are invisible or irrelevant to us in our daily lives. But for those who are targeted, their lives and security are often under constant threat. We should listen to their experiences.”

Radio New Zealand conducted an investigation into the Far-Right in New Zealand after the attacks in Christchurch. It found: “The old has been replaced by the new, however. The SS-style uniforms and neo-Nazi regalia are out, dress shirts, jeans and sweaters are in. New breeds and brands of the far-right have emerged in the past decade with a pick and mix of political causes and ideologies: anti-Islam, white supremacy, anti-immigration, and the current populist tag ‘identitarianism’: the belief that social, ethnic and cultural identity matters above all.”

One local group which espouses this new shade of conservatism is Right Minds, which has been prominent in the campaign against the UN Migration agreement and in support of free speech – particularly for the Canadian far-right activists Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux.

Dieuwe de Boer Photo: Facebook

Its public face is Dieuwe de Boer, who rejects the ‘alt-right’ label and declined to be interviewed too, saying he would only speaking on alternative-media platforms.

On the Australian-based Unshackled website, he spoke of the dangers of mass migration around the world. 

‘It’s not about being against immigration in general but about having people who will want to fit in, who will want to integrate and will want to participate in our society without turning it into the society that they left for a reason. 

‘So it is a continuing worry or something to keep an eye on.’” 

The Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand

Anjum Rahman repeatedly drew the attention of NZ Government Ministers to the problems of violence, hate speech and discrimination suffered by Muslims in New Zealand to no avail – before the attacks. 

Vocal after the attacks, the Council now welcomes the appointment of a new Race Relations Commissioner.

The White Power Movement and “The Great Replacement”

The garbled, rambling ‘manifesto’ of the Australian Christchurch shooter referenced secret signs, memes and winks to a vile online community of viewers who rapidly ensured the video of the killings with a semi-automatic went viral. Where do these cultural memes come from? How international is the Far-Right Movement? What kinds of groups make it up? Is it a spectrum from disingenuous dog-whistles to outright hate speech of the vilest kind? And how do ‘free speech’ advocates inadvertently enable the types who go on rampages and watch sickening massacres online?

Prof. Kathleen Belew of the University of Chicago in her book, Bringing it Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, traces the evolution of what she calls the “white power movement” in the United States from disaffected veterans of the Vietnam War to the yearning backwards towards the Old Confederacy of the South and Nazi Germany. It uses the ironic memes of Nordic “Odinist” myths and faux-historical tales of battles against past Muslim empires to create a “brotherhood” of “crusaders” or “warriors” that fight against the so-called “replacement” of the white race. It is a deeply paranoid and dangerous creed because it hypes up anxieties, a vein of racism in societies, already present to various degrees (and yes, in New Zealand too), and reaction, building since 9/11, against the horrendous religious and political hatreds and vicious acts of ISIS and al-Qaeda.

Alt-Right/Identitarians/White Nationalists/Supremacists

‘Identitarian’ groups of white nationalists (really white supremacists with Neo-Nazi links, when you scratch the surface), for example Austria’s Martin Sellner and the xenophobic political party ‘Swedish Democrats’ in Sweden, fear “replacement” and use paranoid metaphors of engulfment and deluge. The bible of white nationalists, The Great Replacement, was referenced by the Christchurch shooter in his “manifesto.” The disingenuous reaction of the writer of the book, Renaud Camus, convicted of inciting hatred and violence against Muslims in 2015, is a good example of how Identitarians deny and try to rationalize their views when challenged.

Les Identitaires or Generation Identity originated in France with a National Front background and became more active after 2002 attempting to put on a more acceptable face so it could succeed in the polls. It has been described as Islamophobic and anti-immigrant. La Croix describes it thus: The founding idea of ​​the current ‘identity’ is the assumption that skin color is a component of identity. Therefore, it is no longer just a question of opposing the prospect of a multicultural society, demanding the French assimilation of foreigners, but also denouncing a ‘multiracial’ society. This idea will lead to advocating ‘remigration,’ that is to say the return to their home continent of ‘extra-European’ immigrants.”

This ideology has deep U.S. connections back to Madison Grant, the author of a 1916 book called The Passing of the Great Race. The Alt-Right’s Steve Bannon, who purports to be the U.S. “lite” version of Far-Right, was recently prevented from setting up a college for the Far Right in an Italian monastery. He traveled throughout Europe making connections and talking to as many as would host him. He remains a threat to democracies everywhere given his cynical and toxic views (with a provenance that comes from and his connections with Russia and rabid Brexiteers).

The Norwegian Breivig Massacres

The shooter has been likened to Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian far-right terrorist, in his lack of remorse and perverse pleasure in the process and the publicity. What drives these far-right terrorists to commit violence?

Asne Seierstad, the Norwegian writer and journalist who has studied Breivik’s case and personality in depth, has said in the context of the Breivik massacre of young people, a political terror attack against young Labour members, that “this Fascist idea whether its Islamist fascism or right-wing fascism, there’s this idea of purification, that if only we get rid of this and this and that, we will find a perfect solution.”

The Counter Extremism Project has identified European Ethno-nationalist and white supremacy groups. Its report found that: More than 70 years after the defeat of Nazi Germany, ethno-nationalist and white supremacist movements in Europe continue to thrive. They include far-right political parties, neo-Nazi movements, and apolitical protest groups. Some groups openly espouse violent white supremacy, while others have propagated their radical stances under the guise of populism. Such populist groups claim that they are striving to protect average hardworking Europeans by preserving their livelihoods and heritages from economic and cultural threats posed by immigrants and ethnic minorities. Though not all of these groups directly link their ideologies to Nazism, their propaganda portrays immigrants and ethnic minorities in a similar manner to how Nazi propaganda portrayed Jews, blaming them for national economic troubles and depicting them as a serious threat to the broader national identity.” (Executive Summary)

Free Speech

There is an ongoing philosophical clash between what I call  free speech ‘absolutists’ (including hate speech that does not incite to violence), and those who wish to balance completely free speech against the human need of minorities to feel safe from having the foundations of their lives attacked – their identities and way of life. I tend toward the former. Coming from New Zealand there are laws that have very high thresholds before they are crossed, and criminal prosecution can result. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says differently. I am not going to comment on whether the determination of allowable free speech in the United States should change. That is outside my brief, and probably competence, despite my studying with fascination case law under the U.S. Constitution at Auckland University in 1996 and, even earlier, when I first attended law school with my American Constitutional Law lecturer in 1972 (OK, I know that doesn’t really cut it!).

I will say this, however: If free speech is not to be tampered with, there needs to be much greater awareness of how self-styled “free speech advocates” in the Alt-Right (like Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux) manipulate this freedom as a cover for racist and white supremacist views. They go under the radar as they do not specifically incite violence. However, they do make the space safe for ugly white nationalist and supremacist views and give implied permission for the ones predisposed to violence to take out their hatred and fears on the most vulnerable. And most analysts now know that the Alt-Right and its white nationalism is on a tangled spectrum with identity politics, nationalism, populism and neo-Nazi and other fascist propaganda. The world is interconnected so closely now that nostalgic visions of the past are fueling racism, far-right violent extremism, nationalist movements like Brexit within the UK and other countries in Europe and Eastern Europe. Russia’s fingers are at the base of such movements of hate against the West. Russia is the Far-Right’s ‘Motherland of Evil.” Its nationalist obsession and harking back to past grandeur of centuries ago (let alone to the time when the Soviet Union was a world power before the end of the Cold War) is fueling such movements all over the world. The precious right and freedom of uncensored speech is being exploited to impart disinformation, misinformation and fake news without accountability. The malaise is so rampant that it is getting nigh impossible to deal with the volume of lies and distortions. Leaving it to the gullible or indeed the innocent and trusting to sort out the truth is insufficient. Good journalism may not reach all. Limiting a right is not the end of the world as long as there are safeguards and the rule of law in place. Someone once said, “dying with your rights on.” An unpopular sentiment? Probably. Something to reflect on, at least.

Reporting on the Massacres

On March 15, 2019, The New York Times reported:“Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the country’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, said that Muslims around the world were in mourning and that the attacks were part of a rising intolerance in the United States and abroad.”

Read also: The Huffington Post piece on how Muslim community leaders responded. Most importantly, read, ‘This is New Zealand’s Muslim way of doing things’ – Kiwi Muslims respond to massacre with kindness, not anger”, NZ Herald, March 19, 2019.

These attacks were a fundamental shock to our whole way of life. Others more inured to such attacks may have considered us complacent in our luck not to be targeted earlier. We are so tiny that the scale of the reverberations unfolding is enormous and will be with us for a very long time to come. “Grief is the price we pay for love (to adopt our own Queen Elizabeth II’s words to the U.S. after 9/11).

Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern and the “Christchurch Call”

These attacks were intended to be a monumental hit against Muslims, Islam and the values New Zealand and other multicultural countries stand for. It has caused massive pain, but its narrative backfired in no small part due to the swift actions and statements of Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, young in age but old in wisdom. She “out-memed” them with hashtags like #theyareus that went viral. She led the news everywhere. The attempt to influence a broader society beyond the already-converted online terrorist supporters fizzled, despite the millions of viewers on Facebook and YouTube, simply because those haters were already hating. Ms. Ardern has taken on Facebook with the voluntary Christchurch Call Pledge in Paris, along with President Macron, that many nations have taken. The United States had concerns about free speech so it did not take the pledge, despite the fact that in 2017, on average, nine U.S. mosques per month were targeted, according to CNN. Nevertheless, Ms. Ardern diplomatically said, “They (the US) issued a statement that gave broad support for the principles of what we were trying to achieve with the Call.”

Narratives of Hope

The main narratives in New Zealand and in societies all over the world remain those of courage, love and compassion, moving stories of the heroism of survivors and first responders, doctors and pathologists and, most of all, the Muslim community in Christchurch, who have maintained their love of New Zealand. That itself is a miracle. Admiration for our prime minister (who donned a hijab and personally met and supported the surviving victims and their families), and the unified response of the New Zealand Government and New Zealanders themselves, has been exponential. The phenomenal embrace of New Zealand in all its multicultural glory to its Muslim people was expressed in vigils all over the country and in the lone Haka performed outside one of the mosques. The National Remembrance Service in Christchurch attended by world leaders was extraordinary in its power. New Zealand had already seen one after the Christchurch earthquakes. It was as powerful and moving, but this was not a natural disaster; it was a long-planned act of unspeakable evil which must (and will) be overcome.

The golden weather has gone for now and the funerals have ended. Compensation to victims was controversial for a while until the agency tasked with the distribution of the extraordinary worldwide generosity learned to better manage a lengthy and frustrating due-diligence process about which they could have had better communication with the victims. A Jewish group from Pittsburgh raised money for the victims in gratitude for previous help given and recently presented their check in Christchurch in a show of solidarity, the Royal Commission of Inquiry has begun taking submissions, and the trial of the shooter has commenced. He has been found fit to plead and has pleaded not guilty.

Something has broken in New Zealand that cannot be fixed. It is not only the sense of safety and security of New Zealanders, including our Muslim brothers and sisters, but our illusions of immunity and of ourselves. The vision of a paradise has gone. Perhaps it’s not “innocence” that has been lost, but a cruel and rude awakening has shown nostalgia for what it can be – a harking for a society that has been unequal for so long and that has marginalized The Other. I mourn a simpler time innocent of such carnage, but I seek reasons and we must all seek solutions that address injustice for the marginalized and take care of our own thoughts and speech. Perhaps it is time to let innocence go and replace it with awareness, compassion and understanding. The forgiveness of the bereaved is humbling and inspiring and is a more profound narrative. The welcome I received at the Auckland Remembrance Service by the Muslim women who tenderly helped me to tie my hijab worn in solidarity and sat with me, my sister and daughter, in their quarters before Prayers was deeply moving.

We, too, have been a warm, welcoming and open society. That is one loss which I do not believe New Zealand will face. What is immutable is the alchemy of the transmission of goodness and love across our communities maintaining the sacred trust from our forefathers to our children and to those of our new residents.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email HSTodayMag@gtscoalition.com. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

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Pamela Williamson LL.B MCTS (University of Auckland); Auckland, 21 March 2019; updated 7/18/2019. Pamela is a retired lawyer, a former psychotherapist, executive business coach and a recent graduate of the Master of Conflict and Terrorism Studies program at the University of Auckland. She is a subject matter expert on far-right extremism and strategic communication and is part of an international analyst network.

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