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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. Janko

    He was inspired by Radovan Karadzic who masterminded genocide in Bosnia.
    He is being replica of Serb’s Chetnicks. Basically, orthodox terrorist group that executed mass killings and genocide in second world war in ex Yugoslavia and in Bosnian war. Dozens of their commanders and soldiers were prosecuted in Haag tribunal.
    Ironically, Serbs Chetniks, had huge gathering last week in Visegrad, town in Bosnia in Republic of Serbska entity. They sang this song ‘unplugged’ version many times. There are much bloodier and offensive songs too. This is pure terrorist organization that prepares new genocide on Bosnian Muslims, Bosniaks.
    The difference is, and very dangerous fact is that chetics are sponsored by Serbia and enititly Republica Serbska. They receive tax payers money.
    President Dodik, which now president of Bosnia publicly praised Radovan Karadzic and named student dormatory after Radovan Karadzic.
    He is sponsoring this terrorist organization.

    Reply
  2. Warren Harper

    I’d like to add that these “ominous digits” mentioned in the posts are likely referring to the post number ending with 777. I don’t think those people are actually praising the terrorist attack.

    Reply
    • NoOneInParticular

      This is correct. Because the chans are anonymous, the fucking tards who use them can only identify/reference each other in a thread by the randomly generated number they get. And because theyre bored/dumb, they treat the numbers like you’d expect preteens and astrologists to do – giggle at numbers that end in 69 or 420 or 666 or in this case 777

      Reply
  3. Pete

    Thank you for the write-up. I’d read from other sources that the manifesto was misleading and you explained it well. Be careful and monitor further comments well; these are truly deplorable people.

    Reply
  4. muka

    he didn’t do it for the lulz,,, this loser actually wanted validation from his treehauz club (redpill dank internet hardcore hugbox of sorts).
    it’s like a highschool graduation prank overtly done, meant to cement some lameass history to inspire sophomores. yikes.

    methinks he’s pickled for too long in a basement, he’d brainwashed himself from societal common sense. he’s numb to normies so he’s chasing highs by doing something impulsive, n is eager for the internetz stardom aftermath.
    mate, you’re giving us internet dwellers a bad rep

    ,’:-\

    Reply
      • Citizen1

        His hatred was (by his own description in the manifesto) fermenting for some time. Whether this specific event was planned, but he intended to do something at some point and it had been fermenting for some time longer than the last few weeks.

        Although, who knows? Maybe that’s another shitpost.

        Reply
      • muka

        ye i know he wasted years concepting his delusional theatrics,,, the word i was looking for is ‘drastic’, my bad. contextually something excessive, extreme, explosive, severe, radical, etc

        uwu

        Reply
  5. Heather V

    Halfway thru the 3rd episode of the latest Behind the Bastards, now reading this. Taking everything I have not to cry…

    RIP

    Reply
  6. Pauline Thomas

    Thanks for this interesting analysis. Being a 60 year old Englishwoman, I don’t spend much time on right wing sites and would have had no idea what most of this meant without your explanation.

    Reply
  7. Enough

    To claim Owens not far right is not only disingenuous but deeply dishonest. She is virulently anti-immigrant and a crutch of White Nationalist terror.

    Reply
    • Sickened in Canada

      You do realize the “white nationalist” Candace Owens is BLACK?

      There’s a difference between political debate vs violence and incitement to violence. And she doesn’t incite violence.

      And to start going after Owens or whoever is just giving this sick bastard what he wants – to sow distrust and discord, in the hopes of advancing his obscene agenda.

      The lives lost are worth more than that. They are worth standing up against terror, and defending our societies by rejecting violence against our fellows. They are worth standing up for the freedoms that draw those seeking a new and better life to places like New Zealand, Canada, and the US.

      And they’re worth more than using their deaths to try to score political points or diminish those same freedoms in their names.

      Reply
    • Nornd

      Folks need to learn the difference between people who are anti-immigrant and those that are anti- ILLEGAL immigration (which is a huge problem in the US).
      Owens is anti ILLEGAL immigration. She, as well as the vast majority, have no problem with the legal immigration of people looking to become citizens and input in to the American system – but tired of watching it be drained to the tune of BILLIONS of dollars annually by those present illegally and not IN or providing TO the system.
      Calling her far right is like calling Beto an intersectional queer leftie.

      Reply
  8. Alexis

    This is exactly why I washed my hands of my association with *chan boards years ago, and why I still regret the years I spent there. They’re festering pits of racism and xenophobia, and I’m still coming to terms with the extent of the damage I did to myself by spending so much time there.

    I find no fault with your reasoning or your conclusions. Thank you for writing this article.

    Reply
  9. Not telling

    What’s bothering me is the internet can be such a dark place. Having lurked message boards frequently as a teen, I felt my mental health deteriorate and I struggled with depression which led me to question my beliefs. A lot of the banter and memes are deliberately meant to offend a huge part of society and essentially sow a seed in vulnerable, depresso types who start straying from societal norms. It gives those types of people a sense of purpose to spread hate, and for a radical right wing basement dweller just depresso enough to end it all, they’d leave a ‘legacy’ online by doing such an atrocious act of violence just because life has literally given them nothing to live for. Anyway, having the ablility to think for yourself extends past what you read on the internet and just because many people agree with your opinion, does not mean what you write is truth.

    Reply

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