New Zealand massacre shines light on threat of far right extremism worldwide
The mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, which left 49 dead and many others injured, is a reminder that far-right, white supremacist ideology — which was linked to an overwhelming majority of violent extremist murders in the United States in 2017 — is the “most prominent and ascendant threat not just in the United States, but around the world,” a Southern California expert who studies hate and extremism said Friday.
A 74-page manifesto posted online by the 28-year-old man charged with the mass shooting read like a “cut-and-pasted scrapbook taken out of the neo-Nazi, white nationalist world,” said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino.
“Far right extremists are the fastest growing and prominent threat in the United States,” he said.
Levin said he was shocked by President Donald Trump’s statements during a White House press conference, Friday, that he doesn’t think white nationalists are a growing threat around the world. While Trump called the incident a terror attack and sent a sympathetic message of support to New Zealand’s prime minister, he shrugged off a question about white nationalism.
“I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems,” he said. “It’s certainly a terrible thing.”
Levin said he found those comments “appalling.”
“I’m in complete disbelief that the president can be so misguided on a critical national security issue,” he said. “I do not understand what fact, if any, the president bases his contentions upon. This is not what we, as analysts in this field, have found.”
In the manifesto, which officials encouraged the public not to share online, the accused shooter mentioned “heroes” in the white supremacist world who influenced him, including Dylann Roof, the man who killed nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., in June 2015.
The manifesto also named Anders Breivik, who is serving life in prison in Norway for shooting and killing 77 people, most of whom were youth attending a summer camp, in Utoya Island, Norway, in July 2011.
Bjorn Ihler, one of the survivors of the Utoya shooting, said he saw a number of commonalities between the accused shooter in Christchurch and Breivik, the man who fired bullets at Ihler and missed.
“The talk is very similar,” said Ihler, who now runs a counter-terrorism think tank in Sweden. “His execution using guns in combination with explosives struck me. The manifesto looks close to Breivik’s where the person is writing it as if he is interviewing himself.”
Another striking similarity is the writing on the guns, Ihler said. While Breivik named his guns, the accused shooter in Christchurch wrote white supremacist words and symbols on the weapons he used for the massacre.
Experts say the number 14 on the gunman’s rifles refers to “14 words,” which is a white supremacist slogan linked to Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” On one of the weapons was the “black sun,” an ancient Nord symbol, which has been adopted by a number of far-right groups as a symbol of white supremacy.
Ihler says the white nationalist narrative, which has been not just mainstreamed, but used successfully by populist leaders across the world, has infused the movement with new-found strength over the last few years.
The United States is not immune from such an attack, Levin said.
“We have a variety of anonymous stealth ticking time bombs in the U.S. that could do the very same thing tomorrow,” he said, referring to individuals who are radicalized online. “This movement is a more fragmented, leaner, meaner one where people are getting radicalized not in local groups, but over the Internet and using acts of violence as propaganda. Loners are being called to act out with the propaganda of a deed. It’s a marketing tool intertwined with social media.”
In Southern California, several mosques including the Islamic Center of Irvine held prayers Friday afternoon in memory of the victims in New Zealand.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Los Angeles Chapter (CAIR-LA), scheduled an interfaith community vigil Friday evening in a move to show solidarity with victims and survivors. The Long Beach Islamic Center held a news conference Friday afternoon to condemn the mass shooting and notions of xenophobia and Islamophobia.
For New Zealanders, it’s going to be a long healing process and will require fellow citizens to take care of each other and show each other that theirs is a safe, inclusive community, Ihler said.
“There is no one way to cope with it,” he said. “Healing is really difficult and it takes a lot of time and effort. I’m still on that journey.”