There is a lot we don’t yet know about what motivated the 28-year-old man charged with murder in a shooting that killed 50 people and injured at least 50 others in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
But his writings suggest that the white nationalist ideas behind violence and attempted violence in the United States and elsewhere influenced him deeply.
The shooter reportedly left behind a 74-page manifesto. It’s the kind of document instigators of mass violence often write to inspire copycat attackers (which is why I chose not to link to it).
Still, the document is worth understanding in context. There are throughlines in the manifesto that are similar to the ideas described by other shooters or those who have attempted shootings in recent cases in the United States and around the world.
In February, a “white nationalist” Coast Guard lieutenant in Maryland was accused of planning attacks on members of the media and left-leaning politicians. (The attacks may have been stymied because of his web searches related to drugs and violent extremist acts.) The Christchurch shooter and the Coast Guard lieutenant used similar language, made similar references, and most disturbingly, revered the same people for their use of horrific violence in the furtherance of white nationalism.
A word on terrorist manifestos
The reason it’s important to both understand the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto and refuse to spread its contents without context is that a manifesto is a published and public declaration of intent or belief — and the critical term to remember is “public.” The Christchurch shooter wrote his manifesto with the clear intention of it being shared widely after he committed an act of mass murder.
That means that historically, terrorist manifestos have never been accurate documentation of either their belief system or the planning that went into their attacks. The main intention of terrorist manifestos is not to help everyday people understand how they became terrorists — it is to create new terrorists.
In this particular manifesto, the author is not attempting to provide a fully factual history of himself or his reasoning behind his actions. Much of the first 10 pages of the manifesto are the shooter responding to questions he’s posing to himself about who he is (“just an ordinary White man” and why he decided to kill (“to show the invaders that our lands will never be their lands, our homelands are our own and that, as long as a white man still lives, they will NEVER conquer our lands”). The manifesto intersperses details about why the shooter targeted New Zealand with self-aggrandizing rhetoric about the shooter’s own personal bravery.
And it’s also worth mentioning that a lot of the document is akin to what’s known as “shitposting” — intentionally throwing out red-meat content to readers to distract them or draw them deeper into the same online pits where he himself was radicalized.
For example, the Christchurch shooter mentions a popular YouTube personality and a popular American right-wing figure before joking that he was radicalized in reality by the game Fortnite, which taught him to “floss on the corpses of my enemies” (flossing being a dance move that the game helped popularize.) He also describes himself as an expert in “gorilla warfare.” Many people reading the manifesto jumped on those mentions immediately, which is, as Robert Evans, a journalist and expert on far-right terror communication argued, exactly the point.
While “shitposting” is a common thread in far-right online culture — meme-ing racism and anti-Semitism is how white supremacists hope to spread their ideology — jokey characteristics of the manifesto are in line with similar language used in older far-right groups as well.
In short, everything in the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto is what the Christchurch shooter wants us to know about him. Like Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber who killed three people and injured 23 others in a nationwide bombing campaign from the 1970s to the 1990s, or even Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, published in 1925, the point of these manifestos is not to be factual or realistic about the inner worlds of their authors. In Mein Kampf, Hitler portrays himself as a talented artist and lover of architecture. In Kaczynski’s manifesto, he portrays himself as a man profoundly concerned about the material problems of industrial society. Manifestos aren’t honest. Manifestos are for mass consumption.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t useful for people who study terrorist movements, particularly white nationalism. Rather, connections between manifestos and the terrorists who write them — what they say, how they say it, and who they mention — tell us about the international flow of white nationalist ideology.
The common language of white nationalism and white supremacy
Modern white nationalism has a common history and a common language that transcends borders. The Christchurch shooter’s manifesto uses it, as do others who have either committed or attempted to commit mass violence in the name of white nationalism.
While it has its own American history, white nationalism is an inherently global movement. As researcher J.M. Berger detailed in a paper on the impact of the white nationalist screed The Turner Diaries on the movement:
Most extremist movements believe their waking reality has already become dystopian and they are participants in what Mark Juergensmeyer calls a “cosmic war”. For jihadist groups like al Qaeda and ISIS, this belief is articulated as a global “war on Islam”. For anarchists and socialists, a fascist oligarchy controls free market societies. In the case of white nationalism, the “white race” is threatened with extinction due to widespread miscegenation and the erosion of white supremacist social norms.
And the Christchurch shooter notes this in his manifesto, describing himself as European by blood because Australia is “simply an off-shoot of the European people” right alongside his discussions of eco-fascism. The Coast Guard lieutenant who planned to kill politicians and media personalities felt very much the same. In a deleted email recovered from his computer, he wrote:
Liberalist/globalist ideology is destroying traditional peoples esp white. No way to counteract without violence. It should push for more crack down bringing more people to our side. Much blood will have to be spilled to get whitey off the couch. For some no amount of blood will be enough. They will die as will the traitors who actively work toward our demise. Looking to Russia with hopeful eyes or any land that despises the west’s liberalism. Excluding of course the muslim scum. Who rightfully despise the west’s liberal degeneracy.
It is clear that the author is not thinking of himself as an American citizen but as a white person, united with all other white people against everyone else.
On Friday morning, I spoke with Kathleen Belew, a University of Chicago historian and author of Bring the War Home, which traces the white supremacist movement’s relationship with the Vietnam War. She told me about how white nationalist groups like Aryan Nations sent their materials around the world, and how groups like Wotansvolk and the World Church of the Creator set up chapters in dozens of countries — mainly those with large white populations, including Canada, France, and yes, New Zealand.
“As you can see,” Belew said, “these places map on to an idea of whiteness that transcends national boundaries, which is part of why I argue for calling this “white power” rather than white nationalism. The nation in white nationalism is the Aryan nation, not the US or New Zealand.”
She added, “Scholars have documented how these flows took materials, propaganda, training, language, and weapons to other countries, often those, like New Zealand, considered by the movement to be part of a white world that could be salvaged from racial others.”
The common language of white nationalism is rife throughout the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto. For example, alongside Nazi imagery, the Christchurch shooter made frequent reference to the concept of “white genocide,” writing of immigration as an “assault on the European people” and adding, “This is ethnic replacement. This is cultural replacement. This is racial replacement. This is WHITE GENOCIDE.”
The concept of “white genocide” — the idea that nonwhite immigration or mixed-race relationships that result in multiracial children poses an existential, genocidal threat to white people around the world — was coined by an American white supremacist named David Lane. As I wrote last year:
David Lane, a white supremacist responsible for the murder of a Jewish radio host in 1984, wrote the “White Genocide Manifesto” while in prison, arguing that “‘racial integration’ is only a euphemism for genocide.” He later shortened his three-page manifesto to 14 words: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” Three decades later, the term “white genocide” is the single most popular hashtag used by white nationalists on Twitter.
The 14 words? Also of apparent importance to the Christchurch shooter, who recites them in his manifesto and reportedly posted images of a gun with the number 14 drawn on it on Twitter.
David Lane was himself inspired by William Pierce, an American white supremacist and author of The Turner Diaries, a book that has become a white nationalist staple since its publication in 1978. (Timothy McVeigh, who murdered 168 people in April 1994 in Oklahoma City by bombing a federal building, was a huge fan.)
And The Turner Diaries was also allegedly part of the inspiration for Anders Breivik, who murdered more than 75 people, mostly teenagers, in a series of terror attacks in Oslo, Norway in 2011. Breivik also wrote a manifesto to “explain” his actions, a document that stretches more than 1,500 pages. Parts of it are extremely similar to passages from the Diaries (while also citing Kaczynski’s manifesto as well). And now, Breivik has become an inspirational figure himself, with his name reportedly cited by both the Christchurch shooter and the Maryland Coast Guard lieutenant.
The Maryland Coast Guard lieutenant reportedly used Breivik’s manifesto as a guide to help plan his attack on political figures and media members, even using Breivik’s classification system to determine his “priority targets,” in Breivik’s terms. And in the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto, he describes Breivik (or as he writes, “Knight Justiciar Breivik,” most likely an elaborate joke aimed at his friends on 8Chan and Reddit) as a figure taking a stand against “ethnic and cultural genocide.” Another person listed as an inspiration in the manifesto: Dylann Roof, an American white supremacist who murdered eight black people in a Charleston, South Carolina, church in 2015 and has now become a sainted figure in some right-wing circles.
The role of America, and America’s racial past
America has a central role in the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto. He claims he used guns to stir up America’s debate over gun rights versus safety in hopes of dividing the country over racial and cultural lines, writing, “This balkanization of the US will not only result in the racial separation of the people within the United States ensuring the future of the White race on the North American continent, but also ensuring the death of the ‘melting pot’ pipe dream.” (He also expresses some anger about the United States’ involvement in the 1990s war in Yugoslavia.)
In general white nationalist rhetoric, Europe is “lost” in racial terms because of nonwhite immigration and low birthrates among white Europeans across the continent. But America — alongside New Zealand and Australia, to some within the movement — is viewed as perhaps the last hope for white nationalists to create an idealized “white homeland.”
Over the last 50 years, those ideas have been further developed with a surprising degree of specificity. David Lane, whom I mentioned earlier, was in favor of the so-called Northwest Imperative, the white nationalist idea of creating an “Aryan homeland” in the Pacific Northwest. The man who stabbed two people to death on a train in Oregon in May 2017 was reportedly an adherent of this idea, posting on Facebook before the attack that America should be “balkanize(d)” — the same word used by the Christchurch shooter.
And the Coast Guard lieutenant who allegedly planned attacks made similar points in an email to white supremacist Harold Covington, writing, “How long can we hold out there and prevent niggerization of the Northwest until whites wake up on their own...”
All of these ideas have been shared and combined, with concepts created by white nationalists in the United States spreading to white nationalists living in Britain, Italy, and South Africa, and vice versa.
“One thing to consider is that transnational flows of ideas and materials work in multiple directions,” Belew told me. “The white power movement in the US was heavily influenced by inflows like British Israelism (from Canada) and skinheads (from Great Britain). But in part because of the power and force of its activism in the period I study, [the white power movement in the US] also became a huge exporter of white power activity in the 1990s.”
In other words, white nationalism has been internationalized, with adherents finding inspiration in figures ranging from American neo-Nazis to Norwegian mass murderers, and finding common cause on forums like 8Chan that attract an international audience of shitposting racists who view racism and white nationalism as both a worthy cause and a hilarious chance for memes.
The Christchurch shooter was seemingly influenced by dozens of other white nationalists before him, whose names and ideology created the common framing he and other committers of racist violence have continually used. And through his manifesto, the Christchurch shooter, like the Coast Guard lieutenant, hoped to do the same for someone else.