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White Nationalism Is an International Threat

The Christchurch attacks point to a disturbing web reaching from the United States, to the United Kingdom, to Greece, and beyond.

Mark Baker/AP Photo

On Friday, a gunman stormed a pair of mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, showering worshippers with gunfire, and live streaming the country’s deadliest mass killing since 1943. “I was able to hear the big sound of the shooting,” one survivor, Mohan Ibrahim, told the Canadian broadcaster CBC. Ibrahim fled through the back entrance, with people dropping around him. “Many, many bullets, I’ve never seen anything like that. Later on, we saw the video … he was reloading so many guns.” 

Brenton Tarrant, a twenty-eight-year-old Australian national, reportedly claimed responsibility for the slaughter. Police arrested the suspect and three others believed to be linked to the massacre, which by its conclusion had claimed 49 victims.  

Soon after emerged an apparent manifesto: seventy-three pages of the same anti-immigrant conspiracy theories and white nationalist talking points that have prompted far-right murderers to spill blood from Charlottesville to Christchurch, from Pittsburgh to Athens. The attack has underlined the internationalism of the ultra-nationalists, the global danger posed by white nationalists and neo-fascists who now feed on one another’s violence, tactics, and ideologies.

The global rise of neo-fascism and white nationalism presents an “enormous threat to the well-being of multicultural society,” Alexander Reid Ross, author of Against the Fascist Creep, told me. “This is just the latest incident in what seems like an increasing tendency of white nationalists to attack civilians in synagogues, mosques, and churches, while attempting to build off one another.”

Tarrant’s manifesto heaped praise on Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer who slaughtered 77 people in 2011, and American white nationalist Dylann Roof, who gunned down churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina nearly four years ago. The rambling document included admiration for U.S. President Donald Trump, whom Tarrant celebrated as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose” and declared that “our lands will never be their lands as long as the white man still lives.”

In Australia, whence the suspect hails, the rise in unabashed Islamophobia has buoyed far-right and ultra-nationalist movements in recent years. The country’s broad far-right category includes “several very different groups positioned on an ideological spectrum of extremism from conservative anti-immigration, anti-Islam groups to far-right neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic, generally racist, white supremacy groups,” a group of Griffith University criminologists wrote in 2016.

Many of these groups nurture relationships with international counterparts, stretching from Greece’s Golden Dawn, a violent neo-Nazi outfit currently on trial for operating a criminal organization, to anti-Muslim hucksters in the United Kingdom and the U.S. In 2018, U.K. Islamophobe Tommy Robinson and former Proud Boys leader Gavin McInnes, known for urging his followers to attack anti-fascists in the streets, managed to sell tickets for up to around $750 a head for a planned five-event December speaking tour of Australia. (It was postponed when Robinson planned a conflicting Brexit protest.) “The Australian far right draws inspiration from overseas groups in the U.S. and U.K. trying to form local chapters,” sociologist Joshua Roose told Australian broadcaster SBS in November. “However, other groups formed organically in Australia. And they mostly formed in past three years.”

These international links were on full display in the violence in Christchurch. Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) president Richard Cohen observed as much in a statement Friday, warning that the manifesto “bears the unmistakable fingerprints of the so-called alt-right, both in tone and reference.” On Twitter, SPLC journalist Michael Edison Hayden pointed out that the same meme posted on the cover of the manifesto had been promoted by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke last month.

The symbols and slogans emblazoned on the killer’s weapon also pointed to the global nature of neo-fascism and white nationalism. Written in white on the suspect’s guns were the Greek word for “Turk eater” and the number fourteen, an apparent reference to the “Fourteen Words,” a white nationalist mantra coined by David Lane.

President Trump condemned the Christchurch attacks, but his administration has spent the last three years emboldening white nationalists and neo-Nazis, cracking down on left-wing activists, and mainstreaming anti-immigration conspiracy theories tinged with anti-Semitic undertones not dissimilar to those promulgated by Tarrant. In October, the president addressed an audience of supporters at a campaign rally in Houston, Texas. He prompted “USA!” chants from the crowd when he declared himself a “nationalist” fighting against “power-hungry globalists.” 

During the 2018 midterm elections, Trump maligned a U.S.-bound caravan of refugees and migrants as an “invasion,” a conspiracy theory repeated by white nationalist Robert Bowers when he gunned down worshippers at a Pittsburg synagogue last November. The Christchurch shooter used eerily similar language in a blog post on Thursday: “I will carry out an attack against the invaders,” he wrote, apparently referring to Muslim immigrants.

The similarities are not going unnoticed. “In this case, a killer attacked Muslims worshiping at two mosques. In November, a killer massacred Jews at a synagogue in Pittsburgh,” Cohen said Friday. “Though the victims were different, and the attacks came in different parts of the world, the terrorists shared the same ideology of white supremacist hate.”

Perhaps even more disturbingly, however, far-right politicians from Australia to Europe responding to the attacks have doubled down on white nationalist rhetoric, shifting the blame from the killer to the Muslims targeted by the violence. Australia Senator Fraser Anning, who represents Queensland, condemned the attacks but used the opportunity to spread Islamophobic bile. “The real cause of bloodshed on the New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place,” Anning wrote.

Halfway across the world, Hungary’s far-right Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, on Friday celebrated Hungarians for supposedly stopping “at our southern borders, the migrant invasion directed at Europe.” Orbán has spent the last several years blaming Jewish Hungarian American billionaire philanthropist George Soros for Europe’s refugee crisis. “Without the protection of our Christian culture we will lose Europe, and Europe will no longer belong to the Europeans,” he added—an uncomfortably close echo of Tarrant’s death-struggle, us-versus-them manifesto language.

In the U.S. as well, President Trump called the attacks a “horrible, horrible thing” before quickly pivoting to the topic of immigration. “People hate the word invasion, but that’s what it is,” he said.

In the wake of yet another deadly attack amidst a global rise in far-right violence, many in the coming days will understandably be wondering what an appropriate response should look like. “It’s incumbent on leftists to work toward a clear internationalist platform that rebukes nationalism, rebukes hard borders, and rejects the notion that Europe is a white continent,” Ross told me. The increasingly international nature of rightist extremism requires an equally international anti-fascist response that addresses its root causes. Until that response comes, and so long as the people occupying the corridors of power from North America to Europe and beyond spread the same messages once thought to be confined to the dark crevices of the internet, we can expect more bloodshed targeting immigrants, worshippers, and everyone opposed to hate. 

This article has been updated to include President Trump’s remarks in response to the attack.