An international terrorism specialist has found an ‘eerie similarity’ between the manifesto released by right-wing terrorist Brenton Tarrant, who murdered 50 people and injured dozens more in New Zealand last year, and jihadist propaganda issued before and after Islamist terror attacks.
Professor Boaz Ganor is the author of a new ASPI special report, ‘Terrorism is terrorism’: The Christchurch terror attack from an Israeli CT perspective, released today. He examines the events leading up to the 40 minutes of terror on 15 March 2019 when Tarrant, 28, attacked two mosques in Christchurch. Most of the victims were Muslim immigrants and refugees who came to New Zealand from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Kuwait, Indonesia, Turkey, Somalia or India.
Ganor notes that, ‘Unlike many of the terror attacks perpetrated globally in the past few decades, the attacker was not an Islamist jihadist terrorist but rather a Christian Australian who was motivated by an extreme right-wing racist ideology.’
Reviewing the manifesto in which Tarrant attempted to justify his actions, Ganor outlines eight major points of similarity which highlight common justifications for violence and comparable mindsets of right-wing and Islamist extremists:
- Altruism: Like many other lone wolves, Tarrant sees himself as an altruist acting to secure the future of his people by protecting them from ‘invading immigrants’. He sets out to create an image similar to that built by Islamic terrorists, including many suicide bombers, who see themselves as protecting the Islamic ‘nation’ or the Islamic faith.
- Defensive action: Despite the cruel and brutal nature of Tarrant’s attack, he describes it as a defensive action meant to convey a clear message to the ‘invaders’ that the lands and countries of white people will never be theirs and that they will never replace the white race. A similar message is conveyed by Islamist terrorists who present their actions as defensive and as a response to colonialism and the conquest of the lands, resources and holy sites of Islam by ‘crusaders’ and Jews.
- The target: Tarrant positions himself and his Anglo-American reference group in contrast to the immigrant ‘invaders’. He declares war on the invaders much as Islamic jihadist terrorists declare war on ‘infidels’, which include any Muslim who doesn’t subscribe to their fundamentalist views on Islam as well as members of other faiths.
- Modus operandi: Tarrant’s attack was intended to scare his perceived enemies and deter them from continuing with their course of action. Similar motives are held by Islamic terrorists, who strive to create a rift between the citizens of Arab Muslim countries and their ‘corrupt’ governments.
- Revenge: Tarrant stresses that his attack is meant to avenge the killing of Western citizens, including children, who perished at the hands of Islamic terrorists. Jihadi terrorists often present their attacks as revenge for attacks on Muslims or for counterterrorism activity. This rationale carries a special danger, because an attack carried out as revenge by a right-wing extremist against Muslim targets may trigger a counterattack by Islamist jihadists, and vice versa.
- Restoring old glory: Tarrant claims that he acts to correct a historic injustice. He wants to restore the status quo ante, under which immigrants live in their countries of origin and Anglo-Americans live in the West. He stresses that he doesn’t have anything against Muslims or Jews living in their own countries. Similarly, Islamist jihadists excuse their actions by relying on an obscure ‘historic justice’, saying they’re acting to restore Islam’s golden age, when vast areas in Europe and other parts of the world were controlled by Muslim empires.
- Call for action: Tarrant stresses that one of his goals is to call the ‘dormant, individualist, nihilist’ Anglo-American masses to action against the ‘invaders’. Islamist terrorists entreat their target Muslim audience to shake off complacency and join them, either as foreign fighters in jihadi theatres of action or as home-grown lone-wolf terrorists in their countries of residence.
- Sense of urgency: Tarrant anxiously observes the wave of Muslim immigration into Europe and concludes that European culture is nearing an imminent demise or, as he calls it, ‘white genocide’, because of the differences in birth rates between Europeans and immigrants. This process and its severity in his eyes create a sense of urgency to act. This sense of urgency is also typical of the incitement messages promoted by Islamist terror organisations that rely on a ‘godly’ religious directive which they say compels them to take action.
Ganor analyses the different phases of Tarrant’s attack and looks for the lessons to be learned for preventing, thwarting and managing such atrocities, based on Israeli counterterrorism experience.
The report steps the timeline of Tarrant’s actions from his preparations to his arrest, and explores his right-wing indoctrination and radicalisation, mostly online, in the two years leading up to the attack.
Ganor discusses Tarrant’s livestreaming of the event, which caused outrage across the world. While governments and social media companies swiftly intervened to have the footage removed, the somewhat lawless nature of the internet meant those efforts weren’t fully successful and Tarrant’s manifesto and video remain accessible to those who want to find them. This has helped spread Tarrant’s message and has been the catalyst for terrorist acts in the United States and Norway.
Ganor emphasises the important role intelligence and law enforcement agencies play in gathering public information and using data analytics to identify people who may be undergoing radicalisation or who are intent on committing an act of terror.
The report is a compelling piece of analysis that provides insights into the mindsets of terrorists and outlines opportunities for preventing and disrupting terrorist actions at key points in the planning phase.
This article is curated from ASPI’s The Strategist.