The Christchurch massacre and fascist revolutionary politics

The manifesto posted by the accused New Zealand mass murderer isn’t just a racist, Islamophobic screed. It also puts forward an anti-egalitarian critique of capitalism and a strategy of fascist revolution through destabilizing society.

Brenton Tarrant, the man charged in the March 15 massacre at two New Zealand mosques, published an online manifesto that offers a rationale for the atrocity and urges others to follow his example. Titled “The Great Replacement” (which I’ll abbreviate to TGR), the document warrants close attention as a work of fascist ideology and propaganda, which both reflects and may help to shape political developments within the white nationalist movement internationally.

Cards, flowers, and drawings of sympathy and support attached to a fence
Flowers and tributes at Linwood Avenue memorial
for Christchurch mosque shootings

Useful discussions of Tarrant’s manifesto
Some critics have derogated the manifesto’s coherence by describing it as “bizarre,” “sloppy,” or  “rambling [and] strangely written,” and some have worried that reporting too much about its contents will just be helping the shooter to spread his message. But if we want to understand how Tarrant has been influenced by—and may exert influence on—larger currents on the far right, we need to study what he has to say.

Fortunately, several helpful discussions are available that take Tarrant’s politics seriously. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Michael Edison Hayden posted a useful overview that emphasizes how TGR draws on ideas promoted by various rightists, from racist and Islamophobic YouTubers Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux to the defunct neonazi online forum Iron March. Historian A. Dirk Moses offers an in-depth analysis of TGR’s ideology, centered on the “white genocide” claim and its roots in both far right and conservative thought. Moses notes the absurdity of a white Australian such as Tarrant, citizen of a European settler colony “founded on the genocide and enslavement of Indigenous peoples,” castigating immigrants of color as “invaders.” Moses writes, “In an act of brazen displacement, [Tarrant] barely mentions Australia and instead trains his focus on Europe so he can cast whites (and himself) as the indigenous people overwhelmed by non-whites.” (For an Australian antifascist perspective on Tarrant, see “antifa notes (march 20, 2019): From Christchurch to Canberra” on Andy Fleming’s SlackBastard blog. On the history of white supremacism in New Zealand, see “The land of the long white stain,” by Scott Hamilton, who blogs at Reading the Maps.)

Historian Kathleen Belew points out that Tarrant’s manifesto and the Christchurch massacre highlight the “profoundly transnational” character of what she prefers to call the white power movement. (She argues that the term “white nationalist” masks this transnationalism. I disagree.) Belew notes that TGR’s “highly stylized, idyllic images of white mothers and children” resonate with the movement’s “intense emphasis on white reproduction” and fears of declining white birthrates (which Tarrant warns about at the beginning of his manifesto). Belew also points out that when “the attacker writes about how he hopes to spur a seizure of guns that would enrage the right in the United States and provoke further conflict,” he is borrowing strategy directly from William Pierce’s neonazi utopia, The Turner Diaries. I’ll come back to this connection later.

Journalist Jason Wilson further helps to contextualize Tarrant’s manifesto. He relates Tarrant’s self-description as an “eco-fascist” to a larger far right subculture in which “eco-fascists are proselytizing for genocidal solutions to environmental problems.”
Elsewhere, Wilson notes a connection between Tarrant and the Identitarian movement, a political current strongly influenced by the European New Right’s makeover of fascist ideology that is active in many European countries, North America, and New Zealand. Not only does Tarrant’s use of the “great replacement” theme echo Identitarian anti-immigrant propaganda, but it appears that he donated 1,500 Euros to the Identitarian Movement of Austria.

While these writers offer valuable insights into Tarrant’s politics, I believe more work is needed to understand his critique of power and his strategic framework. These elements are key for understanding Tarrant’s actions not simply as acts of “hate,” but as efforts to bring about fascist revolutionary change.

Third Position anti-capitalism
One of the manifesto’s most distinctive features is its strong emphasis on anti-capitalism. Like most current-day white nationalists, Tarrant opposes neoliberal policies and globalized markets as a threat to European racial autonomy. But the manifesto’s opposition to capitalist power goes much deeper than standard conspiracist rhetoric about “globalists.” TGR identifies the capitalist demand for cheap labor as the main force pulling non-Europeans into Europe en masse; decries corporate greed, the profit motive, and the sanctity of private property; denounces capitalist control of the state and media; and calls on white nationalists to “KILL YOUR LOCAL ANTI-WHITE CEO.” The manifesto also calls for increased workers’ rights, labor unionization, and a higher minimum wage to “break the back of cheap labor.”

All of this identifies “The Great Replacement” as an expression of Third Position fascism, a political current that took shape in Italy and Britain in the 1970s in opposition to both capitalism and communism. The roots of Third Positionism trace back to the German Nazi movement’s “left” wing, associated with the brothers Gregor and Otto Strasser, which emphasized class struggle against conservative elites and capitalists, and to the National Bolshevism of figures such as Francis Parker Yockey, who urged post-World War II fascists to ally with the Soviet Union against the United States. In the 1980s, Tom Metzger’s White Aryan Resistance helped make Third Positionism a force within the U.S. far right, but the current has had little organized presence in the United States since the collapse of the Traditionalist Worker Party last year. Internationally, Italy’s Casa Pound has been one of the most successful Third Positionist organizations in recent years.

At the same time, TGR is uncompromisingly hostile to leftists. Zeroing in on the profound underlying difference that separates left-wing and right-wing anti-capitalism, the manifesto declares, “Egalitarians and those that believe in hierarchy will never come to terms.” In this same passage, which has been widely quoted, the author tells “Antifa/Marxists/Communists”: I do not want to convert you. I do not want to come to an understanding…. I don’t want you by my side… I want you in my sights. I want your neck under my boot. SEE YOU ON THE STREETS YOU ANTI-WHITE SCUM.” This means that “The Great Replacement,” unlike some branches of the far right, is squarely against any sort of red-brown alliance building.

Accentuating Tarrant’s anti-capitalism, his manifesto is almost completely silent about Jews. Most white nationalists (and even most Third Positionists) regard Jews as their principal enemy, but Tarrant says simply, “A jew living in israel is no enemy of mine, so long as they do not seek to subvert or harm my people.” Nowhere does the manifesto assign any special blame to Jews for orchestrating mass immigration (as, for example, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter did last year) or for the forces that Tarrant believes have saddled Europe and its outposts with a “dying, decadent culture,” such as individualism, consumerism and the decline of traditional values. TGR’s analysis certainly doesn’t preclude anti-Jewish interpretations, but the fact that Jews are not named as a scapegoat leaves capitalists—as a group—shouldering even more of the blame.

Tarrant’s positions on these issues have received little attention outside the far right. A. Dirk Moses goes further than most, mentioning in passing that Tarrant “does not subscribe to antisemitic conspiracy theories,” and describes him as “a vehement critic of neo-liberal capitalism.” Michael Edison Hayden notes the manifesto’s anticapitalism but not its virtual silence on Jews. Writer Emily Pothast, in an otherwise insightful discussion of the manifesto, garbles Tarrant’s beliefs into “a globalist conspiracy theory in which ‘marxists’ exact corporate control over the markets, media, academia, and NGOs,” which “more-or-less amounts to garden variety anti-semitic dogwhistles.” No discussion I have found outside the far right itself delves into what Tarrant’s discussion of the power forces supposedly behind white genocide tells us about his relationship with the larger white nationalist movement.

It’s notable in this connection that Tarrant cites Anders Breivik as one of his chief sources of inspiration. Breivik is the Norwegian far rightist who massacred 77 people in 2011 and, like Tarrant, he posted a political manifesto that vilified Muslims and the “Islamization” of Europe. Although Breivik’s manifesto included elements of white nationalist ideology such as a diatribe against “race mixing,” it also endorsed Israel, called for an alliance with those Jews who oppose multiculturalism, and denounced the Nazi genocide. As I wrote at the time, Breivik’s politics largely mirrored those of pro-Zionist “counter-jihad” organizations such as Pamela Geller’s Stop Islamization of America and Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom, as distinct from neonazi or other white nationalist groups. Tarrant’s praise for Breivik doesn’t necessarily mean that he shares Breivik’s views on these issues, but it raises questions.

Destabilization strategy
The political strategy put forward in “The Great Replacement” also warrants more attention than it has received. Tarrant is unequivocal that violent revolution is needed and that white nationalists should abandon all dreams of finding a “sheltered meadow” where they can rebuild the white race without conflict. The manifesto is peppered with exhortations such as “Don’t run from the fight, run towards the fight” and “Do not expect to survive, the only thing you should expect is a true war and to die the death of a true soldier.”

Tarrant advocates the killing of racial “enemies,” from Marxists to capitalists, from politicians to drug dealers. But in concrete terms, it is Muslims (both immigrants and non-immigrants) who were his actual targets. The manifesto claims to have no quarrel with “turks” (i.e., Muslim non-Europeans) as long as they stay in their own lands, but if they “invade” “the West” they have no right to live: “Any invader you kill, of any age, is one less enemy your children will have to face.”

The manifesto describes the Christchurch massacre forthrightly as a “terrorist attack.” But the attack wasn’t just intended to instill fear—it was a political action calculated to serve specific and complex goals:

to agitate the political enemies of my people into action, to cause them to overextend their hand…to incite violence, retaliation and further divide between the European people and the invaders currently occupying European soil, [and] finally, to create conflict between the two ideologies within the United States on the ownership of firearms in order to fuel the social, cultural, political and racial divide within the United States. This conflict…will ultimately result in a civil war that will eventually balkanize the US along political, cultural and, most importantly, racial lines.

Here is a revolutionary strategy based not on organizing and mobilizing large masses of people—for example through a general strike—but rather on using violent, sensational acts to sharpen conflict and disrupt society. “Destabilization and Accelerationism: tactics for victory,” Tarrant titles one of his manifesto sections. (This use of “accelerationism” differs from neoreactionary Nick Land’s use of the term.) The SPLC’s Hayden notes that Tarrant’s strategic approach was heavily promoted on the former Iron March neonazi forum. But it also strongly evokes the approach laid out in The Turner Diaries, William Pierce’s novel about a genocidal neonazi revolution, which has deeply influenced the white nationalist movement since its publication in the 1970s. Compare the above passage from “The Great Replacement” with the following quote from The Turner Diaries:

[O]ne of the major purposes of political terror, always and everywhere, is to force the authorities to take reprisals and to become more repressive, thus alienating a portion of the population and generating sympathy for the terrorists. And the other purpose is to create unrest by destroying the population’s sense of security and their belief in the invincibility of the government.

TGR urges white nationalists to “destabilize and discomfort society where ever possible” and “encourage radical, violent change regardless of its origins” in order to foment conflict and weaken established authority. For example, “a vote for a radical candidate that opposes your values and incites agitation or anxiety in your own people works far more in your favour than a vote for a milquetoast political candidate that has no ability or wish to enact radical change.” Disruption and conflict, the manifesto argues, are the key stepping stones to seizing power: “destabilize, then take control.”

White nationalist responses
To what extent do Tarrant’s politics resonate with the larger white nationalist movement? In public, at least, white nationalists’ responses to his manifesto and the mosque killings have varied widely, with some praising Tarrant’s actions and others criticizing them as wrong or counterproductive. Of particular interest to me here are comments by other white nationalists that speak to Tarrant’s critique of power or his strategic approach. Although I can’t assess the relative popularity of different positions within the movement, some of the discussions are worth summarizing.

Unlike mainstream journalists, academics, and leftists, white nationalists have had a lot to say about Tarrant’s near silence on “the Jewish Question.” On a Stormfront discussion thread about “The Great Replacement — Manifesto of New Zealand Mosque Shooter,” “Bergvagabunden” left the brief comment: “The only thing I’d criticize [about Tarrant’s manifesto] is he doesn’t name the Jew…” In the Unz Review, Max Parry contended “It is likely that Tarrant, like Breivik, is not anti-semitic and actually views Jews as ‘allies’ in a civilizational crusade against Islam.” Several Stormfront commenters found Tarrant’s apparent lack of antisemitism suspicious. “SaintPhillip” wrote on the same thread as Bergvagabunden, “I’m seriously thinking there is a jew behind this somewhere- Mossad? maybe the dude was guided into this or maybe hes more than he seems or maybe i’m just paranoid about jews these days.” But Travis LeBlanc, writing on Counter-Currents, suggested that not denouncing Jews may have been a tactical choice. “If [Tarrant’s] goal was to rope moderates into the fight, this was the right move, since normies have a knee-jerk reaction to anything ‘Nazi.’” And commenting on LeBlanc’s essay, “blackacid” saw the manifesto’s silence on Jews as strong evidence against claims that the massacre was a false flag attack: “I have a very hard time imagining our enemies creating a ‘meme shooter’ who would refrain from going full-bore on Jews in his meme manifesto.”

By contrast, the white nationalist discussions I’ve seen have all but ignored Tarrant’s vocal anti-capitalism—not endorsing it but not denouncing it either. This is a striking omission, but it’s hard to know how to interpret it or how much weight to attach to it. It may reflect the relative weakness of Third Position politics (at least in the United States), or it may just be that the relevant discussions have been happening in darker corners.

On Tarrant’s strategic approach, white nationalists seem to be deeply divided. Colin Liddell on Affirmative Right (formerly Alternative Right) wrote that “associating oneself in anyway with this kind of violence is a totally losing strategy” because “most people will be quite simply repulsed by…the slaughter of unarmed civilians.” Brad Griffin (“Hunter Wallace”) of Occidental Dissent warned that “the bloodshed in New Zealand will simply be used to further demonize Whites, deplatform pro-White voices from social media, and fuel the push for gun control.” VDare’s John Derbyshire conceded that a government crackdown on far right “dissidents” was “just what Tarrant hoped for in his manifesto,” but rejected the “Leninist principle” that “the worse things become for moderate, non-crazy dissidents, the better the prospects for violent revolution.”

On the other side of the debate, The Daily Stormer’s Andrew Anglin praised Tarrant’s manifesto as “a very humorous, insightful and informative document” and rejected the idea that the massacre was “bad optics.” Anglin, whose political strategy seems to be to make neonazism as offensive as possible, called the Christchurch atrocity “by far the funniest” mass shooting he has seen.

Travis LeBlanc wrote that he opposed terrorism but saw “silver linings” in the Christchurch massacre: “it has actually sparked a dialogue favorable to our cause” and had succeeded in its goal of “forc[ing] the establishment to overreach” by suppressing voices favorable to Tarrant. Neonazi blogger Karl Radl declared “the lesson of Christchurch” was that “accelerationism works”: “The disproportionate response from governments—such as New Zealand’s attempt to seize its citizen’s guns…—only serves the cause of nationalism by ratcheting up the pressure on Aryans across the world by another notch or two, thus engendering more attacks as more and more people reach their breaking point…” Radl suggested that white nationalists who distance themselves from the massacre were cowards more interested in making money from the cause than in “promoting a truly nationalist revolution in the West.”

Radl’s post was republished by neonazi Billy Roper of the ShieldWall Network, who is best known for praising the 9-11 al Qaeda highjackers for being “willing to drive a plane into a building to kill jews.” In February 2019, just a few weeks before the Christchurch massacre, Roper wrote that a Yugoslavia-type civil war is “grimly inevitable” in the United States. This conflict will involve large-scale population shifts resulting in separate, ethnically homogeneous states—an outcome Tarrant’s manifesto also looks forward to. Like Radl and Tarrant, Roper endorses the principle that sharpening political conflict is the path to fascist victory. “If a truly triggering left wing radical is elected, polarization will be accelerated, since Republicans act as steam pressure release valves to postpone the inevitable.” Roper concluded, “Do you think it’s better to re-elect Trump, or another ‘conservative’, and kick the can down the road longer while the White percentage of the population grows smaller and smaller?… Or, would you rather see the whole shithouse go ahead and go up in flames, so we can have White ethnostates and start over clean?”

*          *          *

The debate between white nationalists about whether Christchurch and other mass killings help or hurt their cause is not a debate between extremists and moderates. It’s a debate about the best way to create states where people defined as non-white are not only systematically subordinated, but have no right to live. It’s a debate about fascist revolutionary strategy.

The white nationalist far right includes people, such as Brenton Tarrant, who favor dramatic acts of violence and others, such as Gregory Hood and James Lawrence, who favor long-term, systematic efforts to build mass support. Both of these approaches grow out of a sense that their movement is weak and isolated, and that it cannot rely on politicians or elected officials—even those who share many of their views. Hood and Lawrence, for example, might well agree with Tarrant’s answer to the question whether he supports Donald Trump: “As a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose? Sure. As a policy maker and leader? Dear god no.”

Tarrant’s portrayal of the power that must be fought—his denunciation of capitalists and virtual silence about Jews—fits into white nationalist debates as well. Most white nationalists blame Jews for white genocide, but there are some within the movement who have argued that if all Jews move to Israel they would no longer threaten the West and could be allies in the war against Muslims. And while anti-capitalism is relatively weak among white nationalists currently, it has a long history in the far right. Whether or not Tarrant has strengthened these positions within the movement, he has at least raised their visibility.

Photo credit
Photo by Paul Cull, 23 March 2019 (CC BY-SA 4.0), via Wikimedia Commons. 

3 thoughts on “The Christchurch massacre and fascist revolutionary politics”

  1. I know that Tarrant claims to be an ex-communist/anarchist – do you think that, despite his own opposition to red-brown alliance-building, he might have been won over to Third Positionism by that kind of anti-capitalist and anti-imperalist rhetoric? Or the whole claim to be an ex-leftist just more smoke and mirrors designed to confuse people?

  2. It's a good question, Cautiously Pessimistic, and it sent me back to the manifesto to see if I could suss out any clues. But I don't think there's enough there to go on one way or another. I think he only mentions being an ex-leftist once, and I can't tell if it's smoke or just something he doesn't want to dwell on. There have certainly been leftists who moved to the far right–Mussolini, for example–but who knows.

  3. I think the lack of discussion on his manifesto's anti-capitalism likely stems from the fact that many of the kingpins in the alt-right are funded by rightwing media companies. Taking a specifically pro-capitalist stance in response would be suspicious and generally against the grain of alt-right currents, but taking an anti-capitalist stance would not sit well with their backers.

    Thank you for the lens into how the alt-right reacted to this aspiring martyr. Definitely glad I didn't have to wade through all those sh!tposts to find the relevant info.


Leave a Comment