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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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296 Comments

  1. J Williams

    I don’t use social media by and large, but I’m aware of Candace and some if her output. As she is a black woman, I find it hard to believe that she condones white supremacist terror. For the rest of it, I would not have caught the references, but then again, I was not goung to read this loon’s manifesto anyway. The whole world seems to be increasingly indulging in magical thinking. This is an extreme example of that.

    Reply
    • Nope

      @J Williams – it’s not unusual for extremists to find “the good ones” – i.e. useful idiots. The extremist jews paraded by Ahmedinejad to show how he was not an antisemite spring to mind; or people like Walid Shoebat who claims to be a former islamist terrorist, now sermonising on the dangers of Islam. Candace Owens fits snugly in this tradition.

      Reply
  2. Carla Melis

    Very interesting analysis. Would you consider Brevik’s manifesto a shitposting itself?

    Reply
  3. ReichWingHateMob

    Honestly a fairly balanced and well-researched article. It’s definitely something I’ll be sharing around to less internet-savvy friends so that they can get a better grasp on what was going on and what happened.
    All in all, really well done Robert, you’re pretty good.

    Reply
  4. johnathan blaze

    Candace is not far right by any means. She is a normal conservative.

    The left will use this attack to silence conservatives. It won’t work

    We will keep speaking out against illegal immigration.
    We will keep criticizing Islam.
    We will keep fighting socialism & communism.

    These attacks will not silence us.

    Reply
    • austin powers

      God you’re entirely missing the plot aren’t you? People are dead and you’re still attached to your ideology? Grow up.

      Reply
      • Baloney

        How many Democrats and children of Democrats have shot up schools and army bases? … and you are still attached to your ideology.

        Reply
      • Nornd

        You are absolutely right, this kind of hatred and violence is ideology gone too far, and is NOT condoned by any but the most pathetic and irrational.
        EVERYONE needs to ‘live and let live” and be accepting of others.

        And yet the author of the piece is the one making it a point to label her as something she is not (Far Right) to fit THEIR narrative.
        Above poster is right, we will not sit idly and let this “slide” – we are tired of the overbearing narrative of the left that anyone who leans conservative is “far right”, racist, and/or playing the “useful idiot” if they themselves are of color.
        Maybe you should take a step back and start watching the labeling, race baiting, and division that is being perpetrated in the name of “unity” by the left.

        Reply
        • Citizen1

          Look at what you are doing.

          You are literally turning an article about the heinous acts of a hideous individual into a defensive culture war because someone that you identify with has been called out as “far right”.

          You are playing the “no true Scotsman” fallacy to boot.

          But your top poster has already, within a paragraph, listed Islam as one of their things that they will criticise… Y’know, on a day 49 of that religion were killed.

          That’s a mite insensitive.

          Reply
        • Chaos

          See, this is why your ideology sucks.
          It’s nothing more than fear mongering drivel. Two of you come to an article by “the other side” and immediately look for something to take offense to, and then start chest pounding and talking shit.
          This twat was one of you, own it and fix it. That’s the rational solution, but nah, instead you’ll play victim and call out everyone demanding accountability.
          Also, Candace Owens is trash. How “conservative” and “post racial “ was it when she filed and won a discrimination suit prior to becoming the “black friend” to all you right wingers? Just like all the other talking heads you guys love, she full of shit, but loves your dollars and having her name out there….

          Reply
        • Mustafa Salama

          You people really are missing the point.
          Whether Owens is far right or not is rather irrelevant to this informative article. No one is targeting the right, or the left here.
          It’s petty that that’s what matters to you; over the deaths caused by this garbage human, and how those deaths came about, unchallenged, in such a blatantly offensive and preventable way.
          Shameful.

          Reply
        • colin mcgillveray

          Whoa there Nellie!
          Watch you don’t cut your self on that edge!
          “we will not sit idly and let this “slide”” Oh aye?
          Where and who are you going to shoot, Dylann Goof?

          Reply
  5. Dice Buyer

    I can’t believe this happened. Hopefully the people of New Zealand will be able to recover. I only have this to say about chans in general: The very concept is the problem. Expect chaos when you mix anonymity, lax rules, happy-go-lucky admins, and an atmosphere of mockery. Consider that its Japanese ancestor 2chan was also notorious for harassing individuals and xenophobia. Ironically, 2chan is now owned by 8chan’s owner.

    Reply
  6. Phil Wilson

    If this Brenton did what it looks like he’s done, he’s a monster and I hope he is dealt with to the fullest extent of the law, no matter what his motivations were.

    Now, as to “far right wing.” Sounds from all I’ve heard so far (and this article reinforces that) that the gunman is a fascist, some flavor of neo-Nazi or intellectual fellow traveler. These goose-steppers are NOT the opposite of leftists. Both are rival forms of collectivist authoritarianism, both far toward the authoritarian end of the collectivist-individualist continuum and opposite of true liberals. Leftists and Nazis are both products of Western civilization, to be sure, but both are destructive of Western freedom and individualism. A plague on both their houses.

    Point 2: I’m not that familiar with Candace Owens, but I’ve never heard any “anti-immigrant” rhetoric from her. I have heard her speak against illegal immigration and in support of enforcing existing immigration law, which is not at all the same thing. Granted, she may at some point have called for bans on legal immigration, but if so I’ve never hear her say that.

    Reply
    • Brian

      Liberals are the real nazis? Got it. Pretty sure I’ve heard it before.

      This is right wing terrorism, whether you want to own it or not. The shooter is getting exactly what he wanted out of you. You’re going to disown the shooter and rage against the lefties. It’s unfortunate that you aren’t smart enough to see past this ruse.

      Reply
      • Phil Wilson

        Nazis are not liberal. Far from it. Neither are leftists. And of course this was terrorism by any reasonable definition I’ve ever heard. If you want to call it “right wing,” fine. But those who believe in individualism, limited government, an individual freedom have nothing in common with Nazis. Nazi are diametrically opposed to all those principles.

        Nazis and leftists have different boogie men they use to gain power, and differ in tactics. In the end, though, both demand strong central government at the expense of individual freedoms. Both have a primary orientation of treating people as members of races rather than as individuals. Both believe in using censorship and raw force to suppress ideological opposition. Sure, they differ in a number of salient ways, but from the perspective of the face getting stomped on, one jack boot looks very like another.

        And I have no need to disown the shooter. In judging people according to their place of origin or their religion instead of judging them as individuals with their own unique history, personality, and abilities, the shooter has dumped on my most important core beliefs. Just like leftists do.

        Reply
        • Brian

          The mere fact that you are comparing “Nazis” and “leftists” should give you pause. It apparently does not. If you wanted to compare Nazis to a specific totalitarian regime then maybe we could talk. You’re more interested in the school of “everything that happens in the world that is bad is because of the left”.

          If you feel that you are politically to the right, then you can and must disown the shooter. There has been a dramatic rise in right wing violence over the last few years. Right wing candidates are winning elections around the world based on anti-Islam and anti-immigrant rhetoric, and that’s helping to fuel the problem. You can’t have authoritarian leaders like Donald Trump (and others) elected talking about immigrants and Muslims and then cover your ears when a deranged follower goes out and tries to do something about it. You can’t just say “oh, anyone who goes out and commits mass murder is a leftist”.

          Reply
      • BobbyB

        She’s also flat out lying in that tweet.

        There are many countries with Muslim majorities and no sharia law.

        For example, Albania and Guinea.

        Reply
    • Tyler Puls

      “Nazis and liberals are the same”

      Because we want to allow immigration and give everyone healthcare?

      “She may at some point have called for bans on legal immigration…but she is not anti immigrant”

      Okay got it. Get some fucking help dude. Good thing you said you hope he’s dealt with to the fullest extent of the law because I don’t think anyone wouldve believed you. You’re just a Jordan Peterson wannabe in a comment section.

      Reply
  7. Zabo

    I’m sure when Ramadan comes around there will be paybacks in probably another 1500 year old Coptic Christian church in Egypt. Yeah, the ones that have been blasted over and over again by those sweet innocent Sunni Muslims..

    Reply
  8. Johnny

    4chan is filled with misled autistic people/incels/social rejects. It’s a place where the downtrodden (self-perceived or no) congregate and echo their twisted beliefs. I mainly speak of /pol and /r9k, filled with a bunch of loser nobodies who spend their hours writing and reading greentext. Sad existence they all live.

    Reply
    • ianthe

      dear god please don’t lump all autistic people in with incels. we (autistic people) did nothing to deserve this

      i will say you’re spot on in sentiment, though. /pol/ is a dumpster fire as is /r9k/ and the general culture of the chans is a fucked up cesspool breeding a specific kind of virulent hatred that’s all ~for the lulz~

      Reply
    • Nik

      They can congregate and have a collective crywank all they like, but the free availability of a platform for the incitement to and celebration of terrorism needs to be stopped.

      Reply
  9. Raz al Dervish

    A pox on both their houses?

    Western Leftists arent committing mass murders in the west EVERY YEAR.

    This “both sides” nonsense is just as bad or worse than Nazi ideologies itself.

    Reply
  10. pyramidofcontrol

    This is reminiscent of the Elliot Rodger massacre. A community of societal degenerates/adolescents nurturing ignorant unrest into a bloody actuality. What an unreal freak show—meme culture and mass murder intertwined in reality as if life were some kind of video game..

    Reply

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