“Lone-wolf” is probably not the best term. See Jason Burke’s 2017 article, just as relevant for today’s terrorists: Burke, Jason. 2017. “The Myth of the ‘Lone Wolf’ Terrorist.” The Guardian, March 30, 2017, sec. News.
. . . a new trend among perpetrators of far-right violence: They want the world to know why they did it.
So they provide a comprehensive ideological manifesto that aims to explain the reasoning behind their actions as well as to encourage others to follow in their steps.
In the past, only leaders of far-right groups did this. Now, it’s common among lone-wolf perpetrators . . .
In the past decade, the language of white supremacists has transformed in important ways. It crossed national borders, broadened its focus and has been influenced by current mainstream political discourse.
Compare Patrick Cursius, the El Paso mass murderer, in his manifesto:
The best solution to this, for now, would be to divide America into a confederacy of territories with at least 1 territory for each race. This physical separation would nearly eliminate race mixing and improve social unity by granting each race self-determination within their respective territory(s).
Since the 19th century, the American white supremacy movement has stressed the superiority of Western culture and the need to preserve the dominance and racial purity of the white race. Racial segregation is essential. An example given by Perliger is 1980s KKK map of allocating set areas of the U.S. to particular races: Jews in New York, Hispanics in Florida, etc.
From Genes to Culture, “Unite the Whites”
But recently, a growing number of far-right activists have preferred to focus on cultural and social differences between communities, rather than on attributes such as race and ethnic origin.
They justify their violence as a way to preserve certain cultural-religious practices, rather than relying on their old justification – maintaining the genetic purity of the white race. In these activists’ view, the battle has moved from genes to culture.
For example, a member of the National Socialist Movement, an American neo-Nazi organization, wrote in a 2018 online post that white American is an identity like African American or Jewish American. In a statement that probably wouldn’t have been made by previous generations of neo-Nazis, the member wrote that all whites should come together, using their knowledge and weapons, to stop non-Europeans from pushing their secular agenda via government and media power.
How should we make sense of the Easter Sunday church and hotel bombings in Sri Lanka that killed more than 250 people and wounded 500? Now that Islamic State appears to have claimed responsibility for the attacks, the question arises: is this merely the latest symptom of an epidemic of Islamist violence, motivated by a belief in offensive jihad (“holy war”)?
The answer is complex and not necessarily in line with public perceptions. Islamist terrorism has been decreasing globally, and particularly in the west, since its peak in 2014-15 when Isis established its caliphate. In recent years, however, far-right supremacist terrorism has risen sharply, to more than one-third of terror attacks globally, even accounting for every extremist killing in the US in 2018. Yet it was more likely to be overlooked or tolerated by western polities, because of cultural history, familiarity and legal protections extended to domestic groups (such as US constitutional safeguards for freedom of speech and the right to bear arms). Thus, attacks by Muslims between 2006 and 2015 received 4.6 times more coverage in US media than other terrorist attacks (controlling for target type, fatalities, arrests).
Further along, Atran’s comment reminds me of the “manifestos” like Naji’s Management of Savagery.
The spread of this transnational terrorism, whether Islamist revivalism or resurgent ethno-nationalism, is fragmenting the social and political consensus globally. That is precisely its aim: to create the void that will usher in a new world, with no room for innocents on the other side, and no “grey zone” in between.
Now it’s the Right’s turn, and they have learned from the Islamists:
Far-right terrorism has increasingly co-opted key jihadist precepts and tactics (although it tends to involve lone actors linked mainly through social media). In 2007, the supremacist group Aryan Nations proclaimed an “Aryan jihad” to destroy the “Judaic-tyrannical” system of “so-called western democratic states”. Dylann Roof, who in 2015 killed nine African-American churchgoers in South Carolina, made his own link. Responding to a court examiner, he said he was “like a Palestinian in an Israeli jail after killing nine people … the Palestinian would not be upset or have any regret”. As a prelude to the Christchurch attack, the suspect posted a manifesto citing Roof and Anders Breivik, the Norwegian who killed scores of leftist youth in 2011, as inspirations. It adopts a version of the jihadists’ reasoning to justify mass killing as moral virtue: appealing to a transnational brotherhood in a clash of civilisations that pits one global identity (the white race) against another (Islam) in a fight to the death for survival, with no place for bystanders or fence-sitters.
While he’s responsible for his actions the reasons for those actions go beyond him.
Someone recently expressed some surprise that an Australian terrorist in New Zealand would be focussed on Europe in his “manifesto”. Jason Wilson sees nothing surprising here at all, however. All white nationalists everywhere talk about Europe and their European identity, he explains.
European identity and sense of grand sweep of European white people history is what they are all about.
Their fundamental idea is that white people, the descendants of Europeans, are being replaced in their home countries by non-white immigrants from non-European cultures.
He was acting for political motives. Those political motives were incubated in a movement and the context for that movement has been an increasingly Islamophobic discourse in the English speaking west in last 20 years or so since the “war on terror” started.
What is especially worrying, however, is that these views are not confined to invisible pockets of extremists. Far right extremists, says Wilson, have been making adept use of the internet and the cloak of irony to sneak their discourse under the radar and into the mainstream of political discussion. Fox news, of course, we know about, but also the vast Australian News Corp media. Prominent Australian right wing columnist, Andrew Bolt, last year was writing about the very same theme at the centre of Brenton Tarrant’s The Great Replacement –– the “threat” of a coming demographic replacement in Australia.
I had to look it up. Here is Bolt’s spiel; Tarrant could well have adapted it entirely from memory:
Notice that line about immigrants being responsible for traffic problems. Anyone who has kept an ear to Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison will know he regularly “connects with his voter base” by mentioning the same problems in the same problematic context, even since the Christchurch shooting.
Jason Wilson again:
In a moral sense obviously he is responsible for his actions, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look at the movement he’s come out of and the broader context of the societies that he’s been living in over the last number of years – to think about how we might understand those actions.
But it gets worse, so go listen to some music or read a good book if you’ve had enough. Recall how Tarrant described himself as an eco-fascist and how I made some point about Nazism having a strong ecological interest? Well, here is Jason Wilson’s most recent article:
Some see looming ecological collapse as an opportunity to re-order society along their preferred, frankly genocidal, lines.
The Nazi slogan “blood and soil” was coined by their foremost ecological thinker, Richard Walter Darré, who meant it to capture a mystical link between race and a particular territory.
In the decades since the rise of the modern environmental movement, the far right has continued its efforts to co-opt ecological thoughts and corrupt environmental movements
. . . . .
It’s hard to know exactly how many people are immersed in this milieu, but we have seen the damage just one man can do. What else might this ideology inspire?
More broadly, while conservatives (like Trump) are fixated on denialism, parts of the radical right not only acknowledge environmental collapse, but welcome it as an opportunity to re-order society along their preferred lines, and to cleanse the Earth of those they despise.
This makes a democratic, just, and global response to climate change all the more urgent. We must save our planet, and we must not create even the smallest opportunities for fascists.
I feel unwell. Time to go and watch a nice murder mystery on tv and see if once again the most innocent back-seat character at the beginning of the show in the end turns out to be the killer.
“We are very focused in ensuring you have the support that you need in the days and the weeks and the months that follow.
Many of those who have lost their lives will be the ones who will be bringing the income into their households. Many will have dependants and spouses. I want to give you assurance the through our system in New Zealand, through ACC, there is provision to provide for those families.
That provision exists regardless of the immigration status of those who have lost their lives and regardless of the immigration status of their loved ones. It includes the cost of burial. It includes support for lost income and that can last for not just months but it can last for years. So I give you that assurance”
What stood out most for me was his reminder that terrorist attacks in the 1970s and 1980s took far more lives in Europe than have modern Islamist attacks. I have copied the relevant section from Wikipedia:
Last night I read through the Christchurch (NZ) terrorist Brenton Tarrant’s ‘manifesto’, The Great Replacement, and was disturbed at how rational so much of it sounded. It did not read like the incoherent ravings of a madman and I suppose that’s what made it particularly disturbing.
I refer to white supremacy throughout the following but for what it’s worth Tarrant describes himself as an “ethno-nationalist” and “eco-fascist”.
Similarity 1 — free the homeland
Bin Laden wanted “crusaders” out of Muslim lands. Islamists fought the Russians in Afghanistan for that reason and then turned on the U.S. for its troop presence in the Arabian peninsula. Other Islamists followed and declared their intent ultimately to see the Western imperialist powers leave Muslim lands withdraw their financial and military support for pro-Western “secular-Muslim” dictators.
Brenton Tarrant makes a similar point his central theme: to declare war on “the invaders” of “European lands”. His consistent term for immigrants is “invaders”. Australia and New Zealand are included in his definition of European. The reason he says he chose New Zealand in the end was to demonstrate that there was no place on earth that “invaders” could go where they would be safe.
It hardly needs to spelled out that there is a significant difference between a people who enter foreign lands to secure control over resources and related strategic interests in the one case and those who enter foreign lands escaping from the ravages of war and breakdowns of civil society in the other. But that’s not how Tarrant sees it.
For the white supremacist the threat is that “white” and “European” people will become an oppressed minority because of the higher birthrate among the “invaders”. And race is a biological reality, he writes. The unarmed “invader” is actually a more serious threat than the armed invader because the unarmed are not opposed and are allowed to “take over” and “replace” the whites by default. If we would shoot armed invaders it is even more imperative to shoot unarmed invaders. Children, too, because they will grow up to become adult oppressors. (That reminds me of the argument used by certain Israelis to justify the killing of Palestinian babies and children.)
Similarity 2 — provoke a violent response
Bin Laden anticipated that the 9/11 attacks would provoke the U.S. into invading Middle Eastern countries in retaliation and that would result eventually in bringing the Muslim-West confrontation to a head with the eventual victory for the former. A violent response would radicalize many more opponents of the West to action and they experienced the ever more brutal revenge of the Western war machine.
The Great Replacement expresses a similar hope: that Muslims will retaliate to his act with similar violence and so bring about even more hatred and active resistance from the “whites” against them, eventually forcing them to leave. Not only on a local level, but even on a world-wide scale the author hopes for a further clear division between Western/European powers and Islamic nations.
(The tract even hopes for an ever more hostile debate over gun ownership in the United States in particular. So much so that eventually it will end in violence with those with the guns winning once and for all.)
Similarity 3 — revenge
Islamist terrorists speak of the Western imperialist nations as “crusaders”. They see a litany of barbarous crimes by Europeans (and their white appendage nations) extending back centuries.
The white supremacists (at least in The Great Replacement) reject the term “Islamophobe” because they do not fear Islam itself. But they do demonize the Muslims by presenting their history as one long bloody river of conquest and murders from the sixth century right up to today.
Does anyone else think here of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and how the Jews were demonized as a race throughout their history and up to the present day?
Similarity 4 — inspire by example
Tarrant says he does not act for fame and glory. He knows his name will not be remembered years from now. But he does express hope that by taking the “necessary” action that he has he will encourage others who feel the same way to follow and do the same.
Certainly some Islamists have acted for fame, but more commonly to set an “inspiring example” of courage to others.
Similarity 5 — belief in violence
Democracy is “mob rule” with the mob controlled by corporate powers, says the white supremacist in The Great Replacement. No great victory was ever won without sacrifice in blood. Violence, war, is the only way.
By contrast, white societies are said to be becoming weak because of their preference for diversity over unity, for their weak-willed acceptance of the dilution of their culture in the face of the foreign “invader”. Survival depends on more whites rising up to literally fight and die, to take on violence to save their culture and race.
Islamist literature exalts violence, too, and glorifies the blood of martyrs. Enough said.
Similarity 6 — vision of a future paradise
If Islamists envisioned a “pure” Islamic society on earth and paradise in heaven, we read in The Great Replacement a vision of a future where white nations (and eventually all humanity) are living in freedom and in harmony with a protected and flourishing green and clean and fruitful environment. It reminds me of the Nazi vision but Tarrant insists he is not a Nazi. Yet he does profess dedication to the vision of the pre-WW2 British fascist Oswald Mosley.
. . .
That’s enough. I just wanted to make a note of the above while still fresh in my mind after reading The Great Replacement. Normally in a more serious analysis I would cite passages from both the work discussed and those I’m comparing it with. Maybe I will do that to add some weight to the points above at a future date.
Tarrant, Brenton. 2019. “The Great Replacement: Towards a New Society.”
Everything else feels unreal after trying to take in the news from New Zealand this afternoon.
I looked at my collection of books that I had acquired in order to understand Islamist terrorism. No doubt there will be overlapping factors with white supremacists.
I am also mindful of the many people who have over the years through comments on this blog attempted to spread their hatred of Muslims (couched in language stressing their hate for Islam and not the “people” who, they go on to say, would commit rapes and murders if they took their religion “seriously”).
If you are one of those who has such vile views of Muslims, who think you know what Muslims are all about from what you have read and watched on hate sites that profess to present only “the facts” about Islam, stay away from here. Go somewhere else. You are not welcome and will not be engaged with here. I will put you on the spam list without second thought. As far as I am concerned you represent the equivalent of the vilest medieval antisemites.
A famous tipping point for Qutb that seems to pop up frequently in any discussion of his experiences in America was a church dance, and not least the lyrics of the pop song being played, Baby It’s Cold Outside.
It was a terrible week. A man shot to death his four grandchildren, wife and daughter then himself here at Margaret River, Australia. Then parents blew up their children and themselves, along with any targeted strangers in churches and a police station in Surabaya, Indonesia. That’s the first time I seem to have heard of terrorists involving their whole family, their children/parents with them, for paradise.
From what I have heard and experienced myself in the past I think I can understand a little of the motive of the Australian family murderer. (He had never really recovered from the suicide of his son and was faced with the news of the death of a second son to disease.) One comes to a place of such dark despair that death is the “only logical or natural” next step. But to alleviate the suffering that such a step would involve for others left behind, it is easier for them if they “come with you”. [I am speculating on the motives of the 61 year old grandfather who killed his family along with himself but do so on the basis of published interviews with his son-in-law and on recollections of times in my own life when (years ago) I felt myself to be at a similar brink.]
And hard on the heels of this horrific story comes the news of two, by some accounts three, families taking themselves collectively “to paradise” by murdering representatives of a society that their parents and older sons found personally intolerable.
The former found no meaning in this world. The latter, likewise, but filled that lack with a symbolic life in death.
And then a fictive family in the Middle East escalated killings of long evicted neighbours who themselves felt they had nothing left to lose.
Palestinians who got shot to death yesterday have a lot to answer for. Those who killed them cannot be blamed.
Or maybe those killed cannot be held truly responsible. After all, those who went out and got themselves killed obviously were not like us, normal people who can think and act for ourselves and have our own experiences and self-directed intentions. Someone only has to say to them, “Go” and they all like crazed mindless hate-filled creatures get up and go to kill — obviously they only planned to kill — those who have tried so hard to be so good to them and give up so much to make peace with them.
It is impossible for normal people like us to ever truly understand such sub-human creatures. If only they had a religion that taught love then they would live happily and in peace.
And I used to believe progress was inevitable over the years. How naive I was.
There has almost never been an example in Muslim history to parallel today’s terrorist acts.
I recently posted a few thoughts of Olivier Roy in his Jihad and Death and here I post something he said in an earlier book, Globalised Islam. In his Introduction chapter he has a section headed Is jihad closer to Marx than to the Koran?
His opening paragraph makes it clear that the terrorists are introducing innovations to Islamic views on the notion of jihad. In traditional Islam jihad is a collective duty contingent upon circumstances. It is only with modern radical innovators like Sayyid Qutb that jihad has been reinterpreted to mean a “permanent and individual duty”. Here is Roy’s opening paragraph (with my own bolding and paragraph formatting):
Where does the violence of Al Qaeda come from? Islamic radicals as well as many Western observers and experts try to root this violence in an Islamic tradition, or even in the Koran. As we have stated, the debate on what the Koran says is sterile and helps only to support prejudice. The reverse attitude (to explain that the Koran does not define jihad as an armed struggle, and so on) is equally sterile.
That the terrorists claim their violence is religiously motivated and legitimate is in itself important, but does not preclude what Islam really says on violence or from where the terrorists are really coming. We speak about people, acts and motivations, not theology.
Interestingly, however, the terrorists in their endeavour to root their wrath in the Koran are introducing some obvious religious innovations. The most important is the status of jihad. Whatever the complexity of the debate among scholars since the time of the Prophet, two points are clear: jihad is not one the five pillars of Islam (profession of faith, prayer, fasting, alms-giving and pilgrimage) and it is therefore a collective duty (fard kifaya), under given circumstances.
But the radicals, since Sayyid Qutb and Mohammed Farrag, explicitly consider jihad a permanent and individual duty (fard ‘ayn).30 This is probably the best criterion with which to draw a line between conservative neofundamentalists and radical ones: the latter are rightly called ‘jihadist’ by the Pakistani press. Among the few writings of Osama Bin Laden, the definition of jihad as a permanent and personal duty holds a central place.31 His concept of suicide attack is not found in Islam.32
31. See Bin Ladens fatwa (published by the London newspaper Al-Quds al-Atabi on 23 February 1998) stating that ‘to kill Americans is a personal duty for all Muslims’. The text can be found at (‘Text of Fatwah Urging Jihad against Americans’).
32. Many sheikhs have condemned the World Trade Centre attacks, while often supporting the Palestinian suicide bombers. See, for example. Sheikh Al Al-bani’s fatwa ‘Suicide Bombing in the Scales of Islamic Law’, which condemns any suicide attacks (‘These suicide missions are not Islamic – period!’; <http:// www.mushmtents.com/aminahsworld/Suicide_bombing2.html>); and the fatwa of Sheikh al-Qaradawi, which forbade attacks on civilians, except in Palestine (Doha, Qatar, 13 September 2001; <http://www.islam-onhne.net/ English/News/2001-09/13/article25.shtml>. See also the fatwa of Qaradawi and others at <http://www.unc.edu/~kurzman/Qaradawi_et_al.htm>.
(Globalised Islam, pp. 41f)
It is clear that jihad is traditionally a concept that is justified only as a collective Muslim community response to enemies. It is not, traditionally, “an individual and personal decision”.
The terrorists are evidently in something of a contradiction when on the one hand they claim to be following the pathways of their ancestors, and declare anyone who strays from their path an infidel, yet themselves justify their political activism on an “obvious innovation.”
[M]ost radical militants are engaged in action as individuals, cutting links with their ‘natural’ community (family, ethnic group and nation) to fight beyond the sphere of any real collective identity. This overemphasis on personal jihad complements the lonely situation of the militants, who do not follow their natural community, but join an imagined one.
There has almost never been an example in Muslim history to parallel today’s terrorist acts. . . . . (p. 42)
What inspires the most lethal assailants today is not so much the Quran but a thrilling cause and a call to action that promises glory and esteem in the eyes of friends.(Scott Atran, ISIS is a revolution, 2015)
Violent extremism represents not the resurgence of traditional cultures, but their collapse, as young people unmoored from millennial traditions flail about in search of a social identity that gives personal significance and glory. (Scott Atran, … On Violent Extremism…, 2015)
To be in a revolutionary vanguard is an exciting thing. I was once part of just such a fantasy in the religious realm. We saw ourselves as pioneers, a very select few, called to witness to the coming apocalypse, to witness the destruction of society and to be exalted as glorified leaders in the new utopian world to follow. And if we died as martyrs before that transition, then our glory would be truly great.
Olivier Roy in Jihad and Death appears to concur with Atran’s perspective but with a difference. Roy stresses not so much the thrill of seeking to bring about revolution and millennial future but the black nihilism of the entire exercise.
A consistent characteristic of the jihadists, Roy says, is responding to a feeling of humiliation and being dominated by taking on the role of an “avenger” and “lone hero”. A lone hero, yes, but the group is most important, too, because it is the group that will eulogize him when he gets blown up or shot leading an assault.
Radicals’ obituaries are a succession of hagiographies, and even the body of the martyr is above the fate of the everyman: he is handsome and has a sweet smell, or he is sublimated in the explosion. (Jihad and Death, p. 49)
Roy finds most striking the “extraordinary narcissistic posturing” of these jihadists.
They broadcast themselves in self-produced videos before, during, and after their actions (posthumous videos). They pose on Facebook:
Salah Abdeslam posted a picture of himself holding the ISIS flag three weeks before the 13 November 2016 attacks in Paris (proof once again that the taqiyya—dissimulation—argument used to explain the normal life of the terrorists is unconvincing).
Coulibaly called French television stations while he was holding hostage the customers of the Hyper Cacher market on the outskirts of Paris.
Omar Mateen posted selfies while he was shooting his victims in Orlando.
Abdelhamid Abaaoud had himself filmed in Syria dragging enemy corpses. Larossi Abballa left statements on Facebook while he was still in the house of the murdered police officers,
and Adel Kermiche told his friends that they would be able to stream a video of the murder of Father Hamel in real time.
It is acting out the glory of the superhero in a movie or videogame.
A typical cliche is that of the future hero whose destiny is not at first clear, as he leads an empty or too-normal life. And then he receives the call (taken in its religious sense of a sudden vocation, but with reference to the popular video game “Call of Duty”) and turns into an almost supernatural, omnipotent character.
The narrative draws upon the mythical image of the first followers of Muhammad, to martyrdom and the right to sex slaves, to the conquest of deserts and cities.
But this master narrative also fits within a very modern aesthetics of heroism and violence. Their video-editing techniques (fast cutting, succession of images, voice-over, slow motion used to dramatic effect, haunting modern music, juxtaposition of different scenes, targets plastered over faces) are those of video clips and reality television. Violence is theatricalized and scripted in sophisticated videos. Many executions are known to have been rehearsed prior to filming, which in some cases might explain the apparent passivity of the hostages.
This “barbarity” does not belong to times past: it makes use of a “Sadean” code such as that dramatized by Pier Paolo Pasolini in the film Salò (1975). A small, all-powerful group in a restricted space, united by an ideology, asserts all rights over life as well as sex. But this all-powerfulness takes on two different aspects: the law of the group and the staging of self. None of them can satisfy their desires on their own, none of them can rape at will: rape must be theatricalized and involve the group. As in the film Salò, in ISIS territory sex slaves are exhibited, exchanged, and forced into sexual behaviors that have nothing “matrimonial” about them. They are tortured and killed. But the group member who acts out of view of the others and without their approval is a transgressor and is executed in turn. Sharia, more than a legal system, is in this case a metaphor for the rules of the group, which has become a sect. (Jihad and Death, p. 50)
Thus Roy sees the ISIS as having set up a real-life “gaming space”. The heroes have a vast desert through which they can ride in their four-wheel drives, “hair and flags blowing in the wind, guns raised, fraternity exhibited by the uniform, often similar to the ninja model.”
Young losers from destitute suburbs become handsome, and plenty of young girls on Facebook go into raptures over their look. The video game turns into an epic adventure in a huge playground. (p. 51)