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Shitposting, Inspirational Terrorism, and the Christchurch Mosque Massacre

March 15, 2019

By Robert Evans

Translations: Русский

On Friday, March 15th, one or more gunmen opened fire in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. As I write this, three men and one woman have been taken into custody by local law enforcement. It is unclear to what extent they were all involved. The only thing we know is that one of the shooters went by the name Brenton Tarrant on Twitter. He posted pictures of the murder weapons there two days before the rampage. Said weapons are clearly visible in the video of the spree he livestreamed to Facebook.

Shortly after the spree ended, New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush confirmed that several improvised explosive devices had been disarmed by authorities. If those devices were meant as some kind of booby trap, they were not the only trap “Brenton” left behind. Immediately before carrying out his spree, he posted links to a manifesto on Twitter:

In “The Great Replacement” repeats a variety of “white genocide” talking points, and claims his murder of several dozen Muslims is because they are “invaders” outbreeding the white race. All the evidence we have suggests these are, more or less, the shooter’s beliefs.  

But this manifesto is a trap itself, laid for journalists searching for the meaning behind this horrific crime. There is truth in there, and valuable clues to the shooter’s radicalization, but it is buried beneath a great deal of, for lack of a better word, “shitposting”.

What is Shitposting?

Shitposting is the act of throwing out huge amounts of content, most of it ironic, low-quality trolling, for the purpose of provoking an emotional reaction in less Internet-savvy viewers. The ultimate goal is to derail productive discussion and distract readers. “The Great Replacement” is a clear and brutally obvious example of this technique.

In his manifesto, Brenton credits far-right personality Candace Owens with beginning his radicalization. He states that, “Each time she spoke I was stunned by her insights and her own views helped push me further and further into the belief of violence over meekness. Though I will have to disavow some of her beliefs, the extreme actions she calls for are too much, even for my tastes.”

This detail was picked up instantly by many people online. Owens herself issued a response that seemed almost calculated to generate rage from those on the left:


But in the context of the shooter’s online presence, and the rest of his manifesto, this was almost certainly misdirection. Here is what the author wrote immediately below the section crediting Owens for his radicalization. In it, he jokes that “Spyro the Dragon 3”, a video game, taught him “ethno-nationalism”.

It is possible, even likely that the author was a fan of Owens’s videos: she certainly espouses anti-immigrant rhetoric. But in context seems likely that his references to Owens were calculated to spark division, and perhaps even violence, between the left and the right. At multiple points in the manifesto the author expresses the hope that his massacre will spark further attempts at gun control in the United States, which he believes will lead to gun confiscation and a civil war. He believes this civil war would be the best opportunity destroy the American “melting pot”. This idea is repeated often enough that it seems to be something the author legitimately believes in.

Given the tone surrounding the Candace Owens passage, it seems clear that it was “bait”, thrown out to attract attention on social media and sow further political division. The entire manifesto is dotted, liberally, with references to memes and Internet in-jokes that only the extremely online would get. For example, take this passage from his Q&A:

He goes on to repeat, at length, the Navy SEAL Copypasta, a humorous meme that originated on 4chan circa 2010. The whole manifesto is dotted with little bits like that. They are meant to distract attention from his more honest points, and to draw the attention of his real intended audience.

This Was An Act of Inspirational Terrorism

Before beginning his bloody spree, the Christchurch shooter- presumably the same person who wrote the manifesto- announced his intentions to 8chan’s /pol/ board. He opened by saying that it is “time to stop shitposting and time to make a real life effort”.

Now there are some things the author truly believes, and those things are not hidden- although they are less obvious than his statements about Candace Owens. For one thing, the shooter repeatedly references Oswald Mosley. Mosley was the founder of the British Union of Fascists, a political party in the 1930s that sought to return England to a state of “autarchy”, or complete financial and cultural independence from the rest of the world. The author’s violent anti-immigrant rhetoric jibes completely with this. Mosley is not an entirely obscure figure, but he is also not a particularly prominent thinker in the 21st century right wing.

The words painted on the shooter’s rifle offer further clues as to his ideology:

The 14s, which are repainted in several locations on his weapons, are a reference to the “fourteen words” written by jailed neo-Nazi bank robber David Lane: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” Lane was a member of a neo-Nazi terrorist group named The Order, which was inspired by a group of the same name in a White Nationalist fiction book titled The Turner Diaries. In The Turner Diaries, The Order succeeds in sparking a vicious sectarian civil war in the United States through a series of deadly terrorist attacks. This gels with the author’s repeated references to sparking internecine conflict in the United States.

The author does not claim membership to any specific far-right group, and also denies being a Neo-Nazi. Instead, he expresses a sort of allegiance- and ideological sympathy, to several other mass shooters, including Dylann Roof and Anders Breivik. He claims to have been in contact with Breivik, and that the Norwegian mass-shooter’s manifesto was his “true inspiration”.

Breivik’s manifesto has provided inspiration to a number of far-right killers and would-be killers, most recently Coast Guard Lieutenant Christopher Hasson. The author repeatedly states his hope that his spree, and his manifesto, inspires other people to kill.

And that brings us back to 8chan. In addition to sewing discord and creating confusion, the Christchurch shooter’s repeated references to memes and in-jokes were him playing to this very specific crowd. The streamed video of his massacre begins with him telling viewers to “Subscribe to PewDiePie”. This is a reference to yet another fringe Internet meme. Yet another dumb, trollish move calculated to please the other shitposters on 8chan.

And how did they respond to this massacre?

Over and over again, through page after page of posts, anons celebrated this mass murder by one of their own.


Most of the (very few) negative remarks found in the thread are from people, like one of the above posters, who fear this spree will mark “the end of 8pol”. The shooter’s frequent use of in-jokes and memes played extremely well with this crowd.


They even remark on his choice of music during his drive to commit the massacre: “Remove Kebab”. The song is from a propaganda music video made by Serb Army soldiers as a tribute to war criminal Radovan Karadžić. (Remove Kebab was also written on one of the shooter’s firearms.)

The shooter seems to have achieved his goal of providing the anons of 8chan with lulz, and with inspiration. One user hailed him as “the next Breivik”. And before much more than an hour had passed, there were already calls for other anons to follow in his bloody footsteps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Evans

Robert Evans has worked as a conflict journalist in Iraq and Ukraine and reported extensively on far-right extremist groups in the United States. He's particularly interested in the ways terrorist groups recruit, radicalize and communicate through the Internet. He has a podcast on the HowStuffWorks network (https://www.behindthebastards.com) and you can contact him via revanswriter@gmail.com or Twitter: https://twitter.com/IwriteOK

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277 Comments

  1. Mary Bailey

    The truth of the matter is that violence and anger and HATE of any sort causes extremism. If we stopped the hateful rhetoric and tried to be kind to each other maybe we could stop these attacks. Those that cheered this monster on are partially responsible for this attack on innocent people. It may sound trite but the old saying of do unto others as you would have them do unto you should be the first thing taught to any child so they don’t grow up to be a monster! And follow that up with if you don’t have anything nice to say then say nothing! My kids had problems but they still learned to be kind to others. Maybe that’s simplifying things too much but if all these people thought about what they were saying and how hateful their rhetoric is maybe we could end all this terrible pain!

    Reply
  2. Jenny

    One of the things I just do not understand with ‘white supremacists’ is… why are they always such failed pathetic human beings? Do they not see the irony of claiming to be a part of some superior race, but failing so badly as an example of this theoretical race? And not just failing subtly – failing at *everything* – life, love, intelligence, mental health, physical health… Their hatred, inferiority complex & profound ugliness eats them alive.

    Reply
    • J

      A good question. Well, they blame the other for their failure. Same thing with Islamic extremists. They feel invaded, aggrieved. They see their actions as retaliation against the people holding them down. They don’t recognise that the problem is internal not external.

      Reply
  3. Ralph

    Easy to say the problem is internal. We’re all interconnected now, all aspects of the human condition are percolating through each one of us. I think people need to be more conscious of what they’re exposing themselves to. I personally try to actively avoid content that disturbs me – but then again, I watched the recording of the Christchurch livestream, engaging in some kind of technologically advanced form of rubbernecking.
    It’s unfortunate, but the kinder we are, the less chance we stand of surviving when confronted with a monster. Surely we weren’t made to be this fragile? Surely we still have the capacity to engage in violence when necessary? Because sometimes, violence is the ONLY answer (put yourself in the shoes of the Christchurch victims – go ahead, try and reason with the guy, see what happens). If people could take care of themselves better without the help of a state, they could put these sorts of people down before the police needed to get involved.

    Reply
  4. Mr.Bushkin

    “If people could take care of themselves better without the help of a state, they could put these sorts of people down before the police needed to get involved.”

    The drawback would consist in more people shot by police drilled to deal with armed suspects and thus reflexively shooting people to avoid getting shot first.

    Reply
  5. pogogill

    A lot of people complain to themselves that one mostly sees immigrants on TV news and other items these days and they wonder where all the white people have gone. But then they complain to themselves about ‘fat cats’, enormous executive salaries and bonuses, the planning process, the political elite, et cetera. Some people may feel angry that they are less socially popular than others. But for most people, these gripes remain in their heads or might find some outlet in their local pubs or when they meet their mates and people are entitled to their views. You can’t dictate what people think apart from voluntarily by gradual social change. Even today, when so much is hurled at people over the internet, what most people don’t do is accumulate dangerous weapons and go out and use them, alone or with others. Even if they read radical stuff on the internet, it won’t prompt them to take any action. It must take a mentally sick individual to start to feel that they have some entitlement to massacre others. I don’t know how the authorities can isolate those people from the rest, thevast majority, and take some preventative action.

    Reply
  6. datboi

    We are wrong to consider these killers sick, twisted, or evil. They are numb. They are nihilistic. A kill is as much a joke as a meme, or a troll. The Internet desensitised them. They spend their lives dreaming up the worst possible taste jokes and insults, to laugh at the anger of others without consequence from miles away, but also to laugh with each other as they go through well rehearsed childish theatrics and inappropriate banter. They kill with their thumbs all day, wank to more and more taboo porn all night, watch and listen to every wannabe charismatic cult leader, hate the world because it is funny to. We did not protect them: morality is lost in the noise. The Internet is donkey island.

    Reply
    • Mr.Bushkin

      It’s not about internet, but rather about individual psychological characteristics, since it takes a certain type of personality like for instance Hitler or that guy to derive ethnocultural darwinism from social darwinism and to implement the related genocides and/or massacres.

      Reply

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