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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Two Years Later, Christchurch Attack Propaganda Flourishes Online

Two years after the horrific terror attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, gunman Brenton Tarrant figures prominently into white supremacist propaganda and recruitment with memes, his manifesto and tribute videos to the killer circulating online.

Tarrant pleaded guilty last year to 51 murders and 40 attempted murders at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center and was sentenced to life in prison. The Australian livestreamed on Facebook the first 17 minutes of the attacks, beginning as he drove to Al Noor and ending before he reached Linwood.

Though social media companies said they acted swiftly to remove copies of the video, the attack footage continues to be freshly posted in online forums and screenshots from that day’s carnage are used in messaging intended to recruit sympathizers and incite more attacks.

One of these memes features Tarrant’s face on his way to his first mass shooting, with the Nike swoosh and “Just do it” added to the image along with an accelerationist line from his lengthy manifesto, in which he stated his attack was intended “to create an atmosphere of fear and change in which drastic, powerful and revolutionary action can occur.” Another Nike-styled Tarrant meme features the killer’s face and the brand’s Colin Kaepernick campaign slogan: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

The “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, which comes from a 2011 French book of the same name, dovetails with the “white genocide” conspiracy theory that claims there is an organized plot against whites driven by immigration, interracial marriage, Jews, etc. Tarrant called his 74-page manifesto “The Great Replacement” and promoted both theories while railing against immigrants and describing himself as an “ethno-nationalist.”

A manifesto believed to have been posted by Patrick Crusius, accused of killing 23 in the August 2019 El Paso Walmart shooting, notes Tarrant’s attack as well as the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory. “Even if other non-immigrant targets would have a greater impact, I can’t bring myself to kill my fellow Americans,” said the manifesto, in which the author claimed to have driven 650 miles to wage the attack on the border city in response to the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

“I scorched a mosque in Escondido with gasoline a week after Brenton Tarrant’s sacrifice and they never found shit on me,” stated an online manifesto attributed to alleged Poway synagogue shooter John Earnest, who is accused of killing one in the California attack on April 27, 2019; he also cited Pittsburgh synagogue shooter Robert Bowers as an inspiration.

A search of Tarrant’s name on one popular file-sharing website today revealed copies of the attack video, the killer’s manifesto, and a depiction of Tarrant’s attack using video game clips, Tarrant’s face superimposed on a movie clip showing the shooting of ethnic minorities, and musical mix tape of the original attack video posted by a user who name translates to “Jew hunter.” Another person calling himself an “alpha male” posted a montage of racist cartoons while declaring in an American accent “this one’s for you, Brenton” and a racial slur before singing lyrics — “taking steps to preserve the white race all the while… he put on the best show that the world will ever see” — set to the tune of the Green Day song “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).”

A recent video posted online shows an altar with pictures of Tarrant, candles and a copy of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” while a man sings in the form of a battle hymn about the killer’s attack and uses a racial slur to describe the victims. Another video sets scenes from the Al Noor Mosque shooting to the theme song from the TV show “Friends.”

According to Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism Senior Research Fellow Mark Pitcavage, accelerationists — white supremacists who believe “a complete societal collapse… will allow them to build a white supremacist civilization from the ashes” — have adopted Tarrant among their “saints,” a title they have also bestowed upon Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof and Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik.

“Accelerationists often refer to white supremacists who have committed significant acts of lone wolf violence as ‘saints,'” Pitcavage wrote, adding Tarrant “is currently the most popular ‘saint.’ Tarrant himself was influenced by earlier killers, including Dylann Roof and Anders Breivik, whom accelerationists also consider ‘saints.’”

The online extremist community played a significant role in Tarrant’s planning and execution — in addition to livestreaming his attack with a GoPro camera, the killer announced on 8chan that it was “time to make a real life effort” and “carry out and attack against the invaders.” He also encouraged that his “blokes” share and make memes using his manifesto and livestream. “The Facebook link is below, by the time you read this I should be going live,” Tarrant wrote.

Earnest used 8chan to link to his statement before the Poway shooting; Crusius also announced his attack and posted his manifesto on 8chan before the Walmart shooting, telling others to “keep up the good fight.” 8chan went offline after the attack yet resurfaced three months later rebranded as 8kun.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement late Sunday that “the United States stands with New Zealand in condemning all forms of terrorism, regardless of ideology” and “we reject any attempts by individuals or groups to stoke the flames of intolerance and hate.”

“President Biden has made countering Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremism (REMVE), including violent white supremacist ideology, a top priority, and we are committed to work with international partners to prevent all forms of terrorism,” Price said. “The United States engages in multilateral venues including the Global Counterterrorism Forum, the United Nations, and the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism to address drivers and manifestations of REMVE, and supports the intent of the Christchurch Call to Action to Eliminate Terrorism and Violent Extremist Content Online. The United States encourages technology companies to enforce their terms of service and community standards to prevent terrorists from using their platforms to incite violence.”

READ MORE: Shared Themes, Tactics in White Supremacist and Islamist Extremist Propaganda

Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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