The massacre of 49 people in New Zealand on Friday highlights the contagious ways in which extreme right ideology and violence have spread in the 21st century — even to a country that had not experienced a mass shooting for more than two decades, and which is rarely associated with the extreme right.
New Zealand may be thousands of miles from Europe or the United States, but videos of the killer show he was deeply entrenched in the global far right, a man familiar with the iconography, in-jokes and shibboleths of different extremist groups from across Europe, Australia and North America, as well as a native of the extreme-right ecosystem online.
A manifesto linked to the accused killer, released through his social-media account on the morning of the massacre, suggests its author considered himself a disciple and comrade of white supremacist killers. He also hailed President Donald Trump, mocking his leadership skills but calling him “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”
He was particularly influenced by the ideas and methods of Anders Breivik, the far-right Norwegian terrorist who murdered 77 people in 2011, and whose own rambling 1,518-page manifesto inspired several copycat extremists — including, according to authorities, Christopher Hasson, the U.S. Coast Guard lieutenant facing federal charges for planning a domestic terrorist attack patterned after Breivik.
Indeed, the manifesto was a Who’s Who of white supremacist killers. The author took inspiration from Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who killed nine African Americans in a church in South Carolina in 2015, as well as with Luca Traini, Anton Lundin Pettersson and Darren Osborne, all of whom carried out racist attacks in Europe in recent years.
His clothes and weapons were also carefully curated. He wore a patch with an emblem used by numerous neo-Nazi groups across the world, including in Australia. Scrawled on his rifle was a white nationalist credo popularized by American domestic terrorist and neo-Nazi David Lane. On his flak jacket was a symbol commonly used by the Azov Battalion, a Ukrainian neo-Nazi paramilitary organization.
And as he livestreamed a video from his car, he played a song devoted to Radovan Karadzic, a Bosnian Serb responsible for the deaths of thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats during an ethnic war in the Balkans in the 1990s.
The ubiquity of social media, as well as the accessibility of websites such as 4chan and 8chan where the extreme-right congregate online, allowed him to immerse himself easily in extremist conversation, said Matthew Feldman, director of the Center for Analysis of the Radical Right, a Britain-based research group.
“People who read this stuff are just as likely to be in New Zealand, Norway or Canada as they are in America,” Feldman said. “The internet is borderless. Not only is it borderless, but places like 4chan were built for right-wing extremists. You have anonymity if you wish it, and these posts of incitement aren’t going to be taken down immediately.”
But if the manifesto highlights the spread of extremism throughout the deep recesses of the internet, it also shows how extremist discourse and tropes have seeped into mainstream politics and media.
Trump, who condemned the attacks, has frequently made racist remarks, enacted policies against immigrants and Muslims, and courted white nationalists, whom he has said include “some very fine people.”
There is no evidence of any link between the gunman and any of Trump’s particular speeches or policies, though the massacre set off criticism about the language he has used to denounce illegal immigration.
The primary goal of the manifesto’s author was to prevent Muslims and nonwhites from taking over Western society, calling on white-majority countries to “crush immigration,” deport nonwhites and have more children to stop the decline of white populations.
“Remove the invaders,” the manifesto read. “Retake Europe.”
These goals find echoes in the angry rhetoric of several mainstream politicians in Europe, including Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and Viktor Orban, prime minister of Hungary.
Orban has condemned the concept of a multiethnic society, repeatedly presented himself as a defender of Christian Europe against perceived Islamic invaders, and implemented policies that encourage Hungarian mothers to have more children.
On Friday, just hours after the Christchurch shooting, Orban returned to these themes in a major speech in which he made no mention of the massacre in New Zealand.
“Without Christian culture, there will be no freedom in Europe,” he said. “If we don’t protect our Christian culture, we lose Europe.”
Though its membership is under debate, Orban’s party is part of a Europe-wide alliance of nominally center-right political parties, whose members include Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Jean-Claude Juncker of the European Commission.
“The ideas expressed in this manifesto are pretty widely shared beyond the really fanatic fringe — in not just the far-right but also the mainstream,” said Tore Bjørgo, director of the Center for Research on Extremism at the University of Oslo. “But there are very few” — outside the extreme fringes of the extreme-right — “who would take it one step further and try to start a race war.”
The killer’s ability to livestream the attack via his own social-media channels — which led to the dissemination of the video and manifesto across YouTube, Facebook and several mainstream media outlets — also highlights how the far-right has harnessed the reach of major media and technology companies, even as it continues to spread its message through the dark corners of obscure internet sites.
By broadcasting his atrocity himself, the killer was able to both circumvent the traditional gatekeepers of news coverage, while also encouraging those same gatekeepers to subsequently regurgitate some of his footage and even unwittingly amplify his ideas to millions more potential imitators than he might otherwise have reached.
“It’s clearly made for media coverage,” Bjørgo said.
And by writing most of the manifesto in a question-and-answer format, its author had clearly — and correctly — expected it to be picked up and distributed by mainstream media networks, amplifying his ideas further than ever.
“One of the sickest and most upsetting parts of this for me is that the killings, the actual terrorist attacks, are forms of propaganda for the statements,” said Feldman of the Center for Analysis of the Radical Right. “They draw attentions to their statements through their actions.”
That leaves media organizations in an ethical bind, Feldman said.
“I don’t see how The New York Times could not cover this,” he said. “But the coverage will be wall-to-wall today — and tomorrow it will set someone else off.”