Mass murder as a device for garnering media attention

The person who committed the deadly attacks on two mosques in New Zealand apparently had live-streamed the whole thing of Facebook. Although the video was subsequently taken down, in these days nothing ever disappears and I am sure that with some diligent searching, one could find it. The questions are why one would want to do so and whether one should do so. I did not watch the video and will not do so because I find acts of violence to be repulsive. This applies even to scripted violence in films and TV and I will only watch it if it serves an integral part of the story, which is very rare actually. It seems like much of the violence on screen is gratuitous. If I see a film as containing violence as its primary descriptor, I immediately rule it out.

So should people watch this murderer’s video? On the public radio show The World, host Marco Werman had a discussion with Zeynep Tufekci, who studies the intersection of technology and society at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, who said she refused to watch it. She made an excellent case that the video was essentially a snuff film and watching it serves no purpose for anyone other than law-enforcement and scholars, and that it is disrespectful towards the victims and their families to watch people in their death throes. The five-minute interview is well worth listening to.

Tufekci says that these murders are designed by the killers as mass media events and that getting publicity is an integral part of their plan. They carefully note what elements garner media publicity and include them and enhance them. They know that the kill total is an important factor and so we now have a race, like in a video game, to maximize the death toll. She said that the killer’s 75-page manifesto also seemed as if it had been created by a search engine optimization algorithm, sprinkling keywords that would raise its ranking in search results.

But while watching the video is inadvisable, reading the manifesto is something else. I think it is of value mainly for investigators and scholars and serious reporters who can get beyond the trolling so that we understand the phenomenon and can take action. We should not ignore looking for the source of the killer’s ideas. Right-wingers are urging everyone to move along quickly because they know or suspect that the manifesto points to them as the ultimate source of the killer’s motivations.

Will Sommer and Kelly Weill make a similar point.

In an echo of ISIS and Al Qaeda, alleged terrorist Brenton Tarrant staged the attack for the media, filming it and then releasing his own message about it, faster than the press or authorities could fact-check. He jammed dozens of references into his manifesto, calling himself an “ecofascist” and trolling reporters with the claim that he drew inspiration from conservative personality Candace Owens. The shooter apparently knew that immediately after mass shootings, journalists often face a deficit of information on the suspect, and eventually compile a complete picture based on interviews and confirmed reports.

Robert Evans at Bellingcat says that the manifesto is a classic example of what he calls ‘shitposting’.

Shitposting is the act of throwing out huge amounts of content, most of it ironic, low-quality trolling, for the purpose of provoking an emotional reaction in less Internet-savvy viewers. The ultimate goal is to derail productive discussion and distract readers. “The Great Replacement” is a clear and brutally obvious example of this technique.

Josh Marshall also read the manifesto and gives a quick summary of what it says, that it builds on the white nationalist movement’s idea that white Christian people are going to be subjugated unless they take immediate action against people of color, an ideology that goes under the grandiose name of the “Great Replacement”. He says that the first and second halves read like they were written by two different people.

I read through the Christchurch gunman’s manifesto. It is, in so many words, 75 pages of “Great Replacement” ideology.

Most of the first half or so is rambling and looks written quickly. It includes a faux Q&A with himself, explaining his background, motivations, aims. Along the way there are a few jokes, a number of allusions to racist internet memes and even quotes.

One unsurprising theme that comes through again and again is that that he actually admires what he perceives as the traditionalism (cultural, sexual, religious) of the immigrant communities he wants to expel or exterminate. He refers to targeting people “from a culture with higher fertility rates, higher social trust and strong, robust traditions.”

There’s also a lot of “propaganda of the deed”, the belief that only cataclysmic acts of violence can spur revolutionary change. Relatedly, he is big on sparking conflict between the left and right, even if the left or non-whites sometimes get the better of it, because more conflict the better in achieving his aims.

That’s a twofer for him because this 2nd amendment war will turn into a race war and lead to regional/ethnic balkanization in the US. The US is also the global progenitor of deracinated individualism which, he believes, has brought the white European race to its knees.

He loves Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” But “as a policy maker and leader? Dear god no.” His real influences, the people he returns to again and again, are Anders Breivik (the notorious Norwegian rightist mass murderer and Dylann Roof.

Mehdi Hasan says that our revulsion at the manifesto should not prevent us from using it to trace responsibility back to its sources.

Whether or not this manifesto turns out to be a trap, designed for the purposes of trolling, baiting, and “shitposting,” as Bellingcat’s Robert Evans has argued, there is no denying that it is a hate-filled screed. It is vile, viciously anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant, and unhinged.

But what it is not is shocking. There is nothing shocking about it. How can there be? Have you not been paying attention? Much of his rhetoric and references are borrowed from the political and media mainstream — especially here in the United States.

When I read his manifesto, I couldn’t help but think of high-profile American politicians, such as the president of the United States who said, “Islam hates us,” referred to “people coming out of mosques with hatred and death in their eyes and on their minds,” and compared a caravan of migrants to an “invasion.” Or Sen. Ted Cruz, who called on “law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” Or Sen. Marco Rubio who said he was in favor of “closing down anyplace — whether it’s a cafe, a diner, an internet site — anyplace where radicals are being inspired.” Or Sen. Lindsey Graham who declared: “If I have to monitor a mosque, I’ll monitor a mosque.” Or former Gov. Mike Huckabee who described Muslims in the Middle East coming out of mosques on Fridays “like uncorked animals.” Or even former President Bill Clinton, who suggested at the Democratic National Convention in 2016 that Muslim-American citizenship was contingent on good behavior and proving loyalty: “If you’re a Muslim and you love America and freedom and you hate terror, stay here and help us win and make a future together.”

When I read the manifesto, I couldn’t help but remember the names of some prominent liberals, too, such as atheist and scientist Sam Harris, who dubbed Islam “the mother lode of bad ideas” and announced that “we are not at war with ‘terrorism.’ We are at war with Islam.” Or TV host Bill Maher who called Islam “a mafia” and accused “violent” Muslims of bringing “that desert stuff to our world.” Or author and ex-Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has demanded that Islam be “crushed” and thinks “every devout Muslim who aspired to practice genuine Islam, even if they didn’t actively support the [9/11] attacks, they must have at least approved of them.” Or novelist Martin Amis, who once said, “There’s a definite urge — don’t you have it? — to say, ‘The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.’ What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation — further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan.”

So there we are. Right now, there is someone out there like this murderer, taking notes on what was effective in generating media coverage for this atrocity so that they can get even more attention next time. That is the reality we face.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    Sen. Marco Rubio who said he was in favor of “closing down anyplace — whether it’s a cafe, a diner, an internet site — anyplace where radicals are being inspired.”

    Great. Start with 8chan.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    I found a copy of Tarrant’s “The Great Replacement” manifesto at a right-wing site (link omitted deliberately).

    Didn’t read it through, but searched to see if he’d included religious or anti-religious themes (nope: no “Jesus”, “god”, “lord”, “savior”, “crusade”, “athe”, “Harris”, “Dawkins”, “Hitchens”…; “Christ” and “church” only in the surrounding text mentioning the location of his crimes).

    The “cover” graphic caught my eye: the neo-Nazi Schwartze Sonne (“black sun”) graphic at the center of an 8-piece pie of professed ideals. At least three of those would seem right at home in a leftist/progressive list of demands -- “Workers’ Rights”, “Environmentalism”, and “Anti-Imperialism” (though I would not expect lefties to illustrate that last with a sketch of George Washington).

    Co-optation hasn’t gotten much discussion that I’ve seen in analyses of neo-fascism, but it should. After all, Hitler and Drexler included a lot of leftist rhetoric in their party agenda 99 years ago.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    Hitler and Drexler included a lot of leftist rhetoric in their party agenda 99 years ago

    Indeed. “National Socialists”.

  4. says

    I watched a beheading video once because somehow I convinced myself I needed to see it to really get an idea of the violence that’s going on somewhere else. As it turns out, no, I didn’t need to see it. I can still understand that people are dying, usually in gruesome ways. The images I saw stuck with me. Usually “can’t unsee it” is used in a joking manner, but it’s an actual thing. So no, I don’t need to see this murderer’s video either to know what he did was monstrous. (All that said, I have no problem watching fictional violence because I know it’s all fake (John Wick doesn’t really have a plot but it’s still one of the greatest action films ever), and this may be why horror films don’t scare me.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *