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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. Doug McCrae

    The section about Candace Owens is obviously ironic, given that, from his perspective, he is far to the right of her.

    The guy isn’t some Moriarty-like criminal genius. He never entered higher education and he worked as a personal trainer. His ‘manifesto’ is sprinkled with memes and sarcasm because that’s how they talk on the chans and it’s the only written culture he’s familiar with.

    Reply
  2. Steve

    New Zealand recently sent a couple of international alt-right mouthpieces on their way after a failed attempt at a public appearance. And no one will be chanting *free speech* if they try to pitch up downunder in the future. The close identification of this attack with that rhetoric and the symbology of white supremacy will have the opposite effect intended. The middle ground will turn against them and state agencies, slow to realize the danger will now activate their resources. Christchurch will mark a turning point, in my opinion.

    Reply
  3. B J

    I’m from New Zealand and we are all in shock here today . We’re a very small country of only 4 million people. 100 kiwis were gunned down yesterday. I feel sick, terribly sad and grief stricken. This happened to real people, our neighbors, our colleagues and our friends. I can’t understand hatred like this but I do know we need to do something constructive about it. I really do believe this is about other, narratives in the media, policy and especially politics that separate us instead of fostering a sense of togetherness born of diversity. Perhaps the populist movements might like to take stock at what they’ve insighted. That’s my only wish.

    Reply
    • J B

      Or you wake up and stop muslim immigration before your country becomes a shit hole like today’s France.

      Reply
    • tarry_on

      I’m so sorry, B J.

      I can’t help but notice that it’s the populist movements that seem to be fostering ‘other’ and ‘separateness’. I don’t see them taking stock in the way you may be hoping they will.

      Reply
    • S B

      BJ….I totally agree with you. Politicians have been using fear and hate to win elections in America AND Australia for far too long now. Our society and our economy is under stress. There NEEDS to be BIG changes all round!!

      Reply
    • Matt Emmett

      Tbh this whole fraternity of anonymous brothers who ‘shitpost’, invite hate and troll are basically just wasted lives. Don’t get me wrong boys, my life shouldn’t be celebrated either but at least my misery didn’t cause anyone else pain. Stop trying to be Kardashians with their internet fame and do something to help humanity, (not murder btw, there’s plenty of people who could not only be helped by not being murdered, but would welcome something more charitable or intellectual).

      Reply
    • Rob

      B J, my thoughts are with you guys in New Zealand while you are mourning.

      I’m from Holland, and this brings back memories of the pain I felt when MH17 was shot down, and Russia lied about it.

      Try to find peace within and search to find out what you best can do against hate speech.

      Reply
  4. Justin

    Candace Owens does NOT have “anti-immigration” views. She has LEGAL immigration views. Is that simple enough for you to understand?

    Reply
    • An actual Justin

      Being for ‘legal immigration’ while being for narrowing the scope of what that is is being anti immigration.

      Reply
  5. Peter

    I think you have missed something else. Candice Owens was originally a left winger. She proposed an anti-harassment website which sought to tackle serious bullying on the internet and there was a systematic and highly energetic effort to destroy the budding attempt from the “#chan” crowd. She became right wing afterwards in the tradition of “a conservative is a liberal who got mugged”.

    She has been a target of these people before; was that a deliberate parting shot?

    Reply
    • Chris

      It seems likely. Owens is black; this sounds like an attempt to bait people into going after her for supposedly inspiring the murders, which the right can then hold up as proof that lefties are the *real* racists: just look at them attacking this poor black woman for something she had nothing to do with!

      Reply
    • Matt Emmett

      Tbh this whole fraternity of anonymous brothers who ‘shitpost’, invite hate and troll are basically just wasted lives. Don’t get me wrong boys, my life shouldn’t be celebrated either but at least my misery didn’t cause anyone else pain. Stop trying to be Kardashians with their internet fame and do something to help humanity, (not murder btw, there’s plenty of people who could not only be helped by not being murdered, but would welcome something more charitable or intellectual).

      Reply
  6. UncleSamsTrenchGun

    So mix a diarrhea of steaming gibberish with a few fucked up ideas and inside jokes and think you’re clever. I blame video games for these MAGA Incels thinking they’re really the Master Race. The Internet just lets the losers band together into a big whinyboy circle-jerk. How pathetic is that. We will crush them in the end, as we always have.

    Reply
    • UhNo

      A few things –

      1. It’s a constant thing for people like yourself to refer to MAGA incels, implying that you’re better than them. It’s people like yourself who usually try to espouse some great virtue that puts you above others, you know like how you’ll wipe out others who disagree with you. Much like someone else did who thought he was creating a master race.

      2. You’re right, the internet does let losers band together into big whinyboy circle-jerks of all political, ideological and anything else groups. Much like you probably hang out with your whinyboy friends to circle-jerk. It’s what the internet is now – endless echo chambers where people only engage with people who think the same as them.

      3. Factually you won’t. The Nazis were defeated at the end of WW2 but that didn’t end the ideas of eugenics, white supremacy, antisemitism or anything else they stood for. Ideas and tribalism will never end. You see tribalism amongst races, amongst religions, amongst all walks of life; there is elitism everywhere and that notion of supremacy will always raise it’s ugly head. The people on the far left are making that so much easier now by labelling everything racist and shutting everything down that it’s like the boy who cries wolf. When a real threat comes along no one will believe you.

      Reply
      • Chris

        Sounds like both sides are pretty bad and equally to blame for acts of white supremacist terrorism! Good thing we have galaxy brains like you who have transcended ideology to set us straight.

        Reply
      • Glowworm

        LOL always so delusional. “People like yourself” haha. You’re making unfounded statements that leftists will “wipe out those that don’t agree with them” on an article reporting a fact that a far-right white supremacist killed over 40 people. You know how delusional you sound? Comparing leftists hypothetically circle jerking with their “whinyboy”s to the factual occurrence of alt-right bros celebrating murder on the internet. That’s quite a reach there, buddy.

        Reply
        • Nickoooo

          So the left doesn’t kill people?

          100 million victims of communism.

          40 million African children who died of malaria due to the banning of DDT by Western environmentalists

          Reply
      • Verner

        Indeed; white nationalists regrouped after the war and published new formulas for blood and soil. Elitism shone over presidential politics in 2016 under Hillary Clinton. I think the left’s tropes equate Donald Trump and the MAGA crowd with the Nazi blokes because Richard Spencer endorsed Trump, who did not return the favor. The MAGA generally lean toward populism or nationalism and there’s plenty wrong with Mr. Trump, whom I deemed unprepared to take the Oval Office with no previous experience in government. But neither has anything in common with the white nationalists. They’d rejected the latter’s message long before 2016 rolled around.

        Reply
        • Servus

          Re: Verner

          …so mr Trump never said that there were some « fine people « marching in uniforms with nazi insignia in Charlottenvile and nobody got killed there …. maybe this message was too sofisticated for you and you missed it, but the primitive scum got it and more hate crime followed

          Reply
        • Nickoooo

          So Trump is unfit for office?

          Unemployment is at historical lows.

          Factories returning to the US

          Dow Jones soaring

          Etc etc

          Reply
      • Verner

        Then again, Bellingcat never mentioned Trump, just the stuff on the Internet connected to New Zealand’s attack.

        Reply
      • sukma

        sorry dude, but not being a “maga incel” is such a low fucking hurdle to overcome, that pretty much everyone else is actually better than you. go fuck yourself, or i guess un-fuck yourself.

        the comments section of an article about a shooter inspired by white genocide conspiracy theory bullshit is the absolute dumbest occasion to claim that “the left” (which is basically like every other fucking human on the planet to maga-incels ) are over exaggerating about racism being alive and well.

        Reply
      • Spoons

        The difference is that MAGA Incel circle-jerk actually produces and encourages real murder and paedophiles. And that is a big and significant difference.

        Reply
    • Abram Ruiz

      Video games are not the cause of this and other violent acts of this nature. This person seems to be very disturbed and delusional. Blaming video games is not going to get you anywhere. I have played and still play violent video games quite a bit. I know plenty of people, including family members that do the same. But we are not going out and committing massacres. We don’t believe in any fascism or nationalism. Stop blaming video games for the ills of modern society. Maybe blame the internet in general where people can express and read all types of rhetoric. 8chan is the cesspool of the internet, and all those people egged him on into doing this. Maybe blame them.

      Reply
  7. Andy

    I’m a Brit who lived in CHC from 2008-2011.
    When I moved there from AKL one of the first things I was told CHC was renowned for was it’s Skinheads-the visible manifestation of a far-right/neo-Nazi subculture. Not seen this mentioned in coverage. At least not in UK media.

    Reply
    • Tom

      Lmao, dude you haven’t seen it mentioned because it doesn’t exist, British guy who listened to some dumbass when he lived in Auckland a few years back.

      Reply
    • JG

      1. “I was told CHC was renowned for was it’s(sic) Skinheads” You were told? Did you see it for yourself? 2. “Skinheads-the visible manifestation of a far-right/neo-Nazi subculture” Says who?

      Reply
    • BP

      Yup, Kiwi here – Chch is a renowned skinhead white supremacist shithole.
      It was bad all over NZ in the nineties, but seems to have died down further north. Because the South Island is so very white there are bubbles of fuckery and racism that fester. Then they they send these refugees and immigrants there – who have no idea of what they are getting into.

      Reply
    • Steve

      I’m a Kiwi. There have been pockets of skinheads around the country but so small small in numbers they could barely fill a mini van. The 1990’s was their heyday. There were a few notorious members that formed an outlaw motorcycle gang – which itself eventually crashed and burned. The three towns that seem to be most associated with them are Christchurch, Nelson and Timaru. How many in total? Probably barely enough to form two rugby teams. In Auckland you’ve got more chance of seeing a unicorn.

      Reply
  8. Bingo

    “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.”
    You lie, the Navy SEAL Copypasta is the only meme of the manifesto.

    Reply
  9. Tony

    This ranting reveals a seriously disturbed individual with a low intelligence who is throwing nearly everything into the melting pot what he has done is reprehensible and purely from hatred and not for any other reason

    Reply
    • S B

      BJ….I totally agree with you. Politicians have been using fear and hate to win elections in America AND Australia for far too long now. Our society and our economy is under stress. There NEEDS to be BIG changes all round!!

      Reply
  10. JC

    Candace is a con artist and grifter who was once anti Trump. She now kisses his ass and hardcore shit posters know this. He purposely name dropped to put heat on her.

    Reply

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