What is the connection between the shocking terrorist crime committed in Christchurch a week ago by an individual sociopathic thug, and the social psychosis of contemporary capitalist society? Since the thug was clearly acting in accord with his antisocial ideology, we must look at the nature of his ideology, and where it arises from.
Moments before committing his terrible crime, Brenton Tarrant,1 the alleged terrorist murderer in Christchurch, published a 74-page manifesto in which he outlined his own train of thought, and made many of the connections explicit. The manifesto also lays bare some of the less-than-fully-conscious psychology of the killer, too. As abhorrent as this document is, I think it is worthwhile to read it – in order better to know the enemy we face.
By the time I tried to find a copy of this manifesto online, many of the websites that showed up in a Google search as having published it had either withdrawn the document themselves or had been subjected to some kind of censorship. It was, of course, being circulated by a bunch of objectionable far-right outfits as ‘the manifesto of a hero’ – but also by some news outlets who evidently considered, as I do, that knowledge of the document is a means of gaining some insight into the crime. (In this respect, the ‘manifesto’ is quite different from the murderer’s self-promotional video of his own acts, the circulation of which could serve no purpose that I can see, other than the killer’s own purpose of encouraging admiration and emulation of his crime.)
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s campaign never to mention the killer’s name, and the associated effort to suppress as far as possible all mention of him or his ideas, only serves to turn a blind eye to a massive problem that must be faced. Unless the crime and all its complex interconnections with the ordinary social relations of the society in which we live are brought out into the open, confronted, and remedied, the deeper problem will persist. Measures such as gun control may suppress it for a moment – at best – but festering beneath the surface, it will burst out again, in unexpected forms and with redoubled violence, at some future time.
The process of thinking about this horrific crime in the wider context of social relations and political discourse has already begun. It is a difficult and painful process, and there is resistance in some quarters to opening these matters for discussion. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, for example, walked out of a press conference when asked about a report that he had suggested capitalising on anti-Muslim sentiment in the community at a 2010 shadow cabinet meeting. Morrison is not the only politician feeling the heat at present.
Some have drawn attention to a gun club that appears to have functioned as a gathering place for white supremacists, and have pointed to ‘gun culture’ and the easy availability of weapons of war as a factor. The gun club in question emphatically denies that this is the case, naturally. This article, based on a close reading of the killer’s manifesto, traces the connection to the ANZAC traditions of wearing poppies and attending ANZAC day dawn ceremonies commemorating the fallen Australian and New Zealand soldiers of the Gallipoli campaign of 1915.
Others have pointed to the anti-immigrant campaigns that have featured in ordinary capitalist politics for decades, including politicians who are now expressing abhorrence of the terrorist act in Christchurch. Many people have posted stories recounting their own daily experience of racist and anti-immigrant prejudice, of abusive comments, slurs and insults shouted by strangers at people wearing Muslim clothing, of racist jokes and comments by workmates, of discriminatory treatment in housing and employment, and of the long history of racism since the founding of the colonial settler-state in New Zealand through the act of violent dispossession of Māori. These are all necessary conversations.
But the aspect of the crime which is proving most difficult to face is its misogynist character. For whatever reason, this is one connection that many people, both men and women, are unwilling to admit, and respond with extreme hostility to those who draw attention to it.
On the Friday soon after the murders, UK feminist Sophie Walker tweeted a message of condolence that read, “Please let there come a time when male violence is recognised as the single biggest threat to peace and tackled accordingly. My heart goes out to the victims and families and everyone affected by the disgusting act of Islamophobic terrorism in #Christchurch.”
This tweet triggered a deluge of hostile and abusive responses. Unpleasant as they are to read, I have reproduced a selection of them below, so that they can be seen collectively. Each separate response is separated by a semicolon. I have only reproduced the hostile ones – there were, scattered thinly among these, some tweets in support of what Sophie Walker had said.
Here are some of the responses to Sophie Walker: Twat ; Horrendous time to play the Gender card ; And what about the women who raise these men? ; [at least six people responded long these lines, before I lost count] They arrested a female as well, or does that not suit the agenda? ; [At least twenty responses mentioned the woman arrested in Christchurch as evidence contrary to Walker’s tweet, another eight or ten added further comments like the following:] She only blamed the male terrorist ignoring the female who killed many as well ; In other news, one of the shooters was female.
Before continuing, I should point out that although four people were arrested on the day of the killings, all except the shooter (who was male) were released when it was established that they had no connection with the crime. Depending on when they commented, the people who gleefully pointed out that one of those arrested was a woman may not have known this. However, the idea that the woman was a “shooter” and that “the female killed many as well” came from no one but themselves. So it continued:
Disgraceful comment, you should be ashamed ; She is a lunatic ; Attention whore ; Sexist pig ; Violence is violence – it isn’t limited to one gender ; Are you honestly going to try to make political capital from this obscene act? Apologise unreservedly, you disgust me ; #Dick ; More cheap point-scoring by the feminist movement ; Oh of course blame all males ; Have a day off darling ; Every feminist needs to be isolated from male violence immediately, forever unable to have the male-scum interaction even to save their lives, perhaps by sealing them in a large leaden container and dropping them into the Marianas trench ; Wanker ; Nice time to make this about you ; So you use this tragic event to push you own agenda….. There is a time and place, and this definitely was not the time ; Sticks and stones may break my bones but there will always be something to offend a feminist ; Pillock ; Such a sweeping generalisation is offensive ; Bell-end ; Any word on the Male police officers who risked their lives to apprehend the shooter? This is one of the most ill-considered and shameful tweets I’ve read. The depths you’ve sunk to grab some attention are a new low! ; Idiot tweet ; This femenazi took this horrifying Islamophobic tragedy that shook and still shakes all Muslims all over the world as an opportunity to get her sexist nonsensical agenda through. Fuck you ; Just.Fuck.Off ; Using a terrorist attack to push your sexist agenda you absolute fool ; Fuck off identitarian opportunist. You are sick ; Stick to your women’s stuff if that’s all you can say.
And then there are the GIFs and memes with people shaking their heads, holding their head in hands, memes with Stupid; Who Raised You? (over a picture of Bill Cosby); “I’d like to see things from your perspective, but I simply can’t get my head that far up my own ass”; Hey, Fuck off ; Well there it this, the dumbest fucking thing I have read all day ; Once upon a time, there was a cunt. It was you. The End ; OK, I’m gonna need 100% of the attention on me ; and so on.
And on and on. This was not all of the hostile tweets, just a selection to give you an idea of the general tone and content. Walker was not attempting to engage with a bunch of rightists and white supremacists. It appears that the attention of these people was drawn to her tweet by a BBC news reader and sports presenter who was one of the first to respond – and who has half a million followers. This was very much a mainstream Twitter conversation. (The despicable role of some broadcasting journalists in this affair is a story in its own right, which Walker tells here.)
Two things immediately become clear from this torrent of abuse. The first is how surprisingly normal it is, and how acceptable it is considered, to speak in this abusive way to women who raise these issues. Twitter is, of course, a notoriously abusive medium, and has earned a reputation for being especially hostile to women. But it is simply impossible to imagine that, for example, someone drawing attention to the overt racism of the Christchurch murderer would be subjected to such unrestrained hostility, condescending put-downs, accusations of attention-seeking and of ‘playing the race card,’ suggestions that they be sealed in a lead container and dropped in the ocean, and so on.
The second striking thing about it is the collective denial that it represents. It is simply too painful and difficult for many people to admit that sexist violence was an element in this awful crime, and so they respond by trying to shout down the messenger.
But the fact is, as Walker has pointed out, the sexist element in the Christchurch murderer’s motivation is laid out in black and white, in his own words, in his manifesto. The first four sentences of that manifesto are:
“It’s the birthrates.
“It’s the birthrates.
“It’s the birthrates.
“If there is one thing I want you to remember from these writings, it’s that the birthrates must change.”
The entire rambling document is devoted to ‘Replacement Theory,’ the idea that the birthrates of Europeans (including white Australians and New Zealanders) are declining, and that is why Europe is making up for the declining white population through immigration. The first task is to “deport all non-Europeans from our lands” (that “our lands” bit has a special ironic ring to it in Australasia!) and the next is to turn around the “plummeting, free-falling birth rates all across the Western world.” Women, or rather white women, have to get back to having babies, in other words.
“Was the attack racist in origin?” he asks. “Fertility rates are innately tied to race, so yes. There was a racial component to the attack. Was the attack xenophobic in origin? Fertility rates are cultural, there is no denying that, so there was a war of cultures being fought by the invaders, and my attack was a response to this.”
The murderer makes clear the connection in his mind between maleness, strength, and the violence he is about to carry out. “The time for meekness has long since passed, the time for a political solution has long since passed. Men of the West must be men once more… Who is truly to blame? The people who are to blame most are ourselves, European men. Strong men do not get ethnically replaced, strong men do not allow their culture to degrade, strong men do not allow their people to die. Weak men have created this situation and strong men are needed to fix it.”
He decries the “culture of decay, self-hatred, childlessness, disorder and nihilism… Broken families with soaring divorce rates, that’s if they even bother to get married at all… Suicidal, nihilistic and degenerate pop icons produced from a dead culture…[including] Madonna (degenerate, drug addict, childless, whore, anti-Christian, pro miscegenation)… Empty nurseries, full casinos, empty churches and full mosques.”
Among political leaders he singles out three “enemies of our race… Traitors [that] deserve a traitor’s death.” And no surprise, a powerful woman is among them. “[German Chancellor Angela] Merkel, the mother of all things anti-white and anti-Germanic, is top of the list. Few have done more to damage and racially cleanse Europe of its people.”
He includes his vision of the future, “a new society will need to be created with a much greater focus on family values, gender and social norms and the value and importance of nature, culture and race.”
This document reveals the author’s hatred of women, as deep as his hatred of Muslims and immigrants, and his identification of violence with male strength. Anyone who denies that is simply shutting their eyes. And if the murderer’s white supremacist motivations are connected to wider currents of racism and anti-immigrant prejudice in society, might not something similar be true of his sexist glorification of violence? Take another look at the tweets above if you are still in doubt.
Yes, this is a difficult discussion, and not just for the Scott Morrisons of the world. But it is a discussion that will happen, sooner or later. Women like Sophie Walker, who refuse to be cowed into silence no matter how much abuse is heaped upon them, will make it happen. Women like Walker can teach us much about social relations in this world. They could teach us a thing or two about courage and strength, too.
- When I originally posted this a day ago, I neglected to include the name of the alleged killer in Christchurch, despite arguing that it was necessary to do so, until a friend pointed out this contradiction to me. I have now corrected this.