by Tim Leadbeater
I’ve just spent two hours wading through Brenton Tarrant’s hate-filled 174-page manifesto ‘The Great Replacement’. It is a sickening experience. I would not hesitate to recommend reading it: we owe it to the victims to honestly confront this evil, to connect the dots between the ideology of fascist mass murder and the racist structures of our own society. Blurring out images of his face and refusing to utter his name are both noble gestures. But they fall short of what is required.
So far the commentary I have read focuses on Tarrant’s fondness for memes, ‘shitposting’ and popular internet youth culture references. These are notable features, and worthy of some consideration. Far right political movements are now international, connected and nurtured by the internet. Tarrant himself is only 28 years old, and apparently immersed himself in online forums.
To me, these 21st century features were not the most striking. The dominant elements of Tarrant’s racist screed are framed in terms of war: European people all over the world are faced with the problems brought by ‘invaders’ living on their soil. ‘Invaders’ are all non-white people, but Muslims are a standout category. Tarrant weaves into his statement an eclectic pick-and-mix grab bag of cultural and historical references. His mentions of 21st century co-ordinates such as Donald Trump and the video game ‘Fortnite’ are at least equally paired with more ‘weighty’ themes.
The concluding words of the racist screed reflect a deeply-rooted delusion of grandeur:
As for me, my time has come. I cannot guarantee my success. All I know is the certainty of my will and the necessity of my cause. Live or die, know I did it all for you; my friends, my family, my people, my culture, my RACE. Goodbye, god bless you all and I will see you in Valhalla.
Tarrant sees himself as soldier fighting an ongoing war between races, as a sort of shock trooper. The conclusion is littered with terms like ‘victory’ and ‘defeat’, he urges white people to ‘march’ and not be put off by high death tolls. In a section designed to justify the use of terrorist tactics against innocent people, Tarrant argues that terrorism is something like ‘war continued by other means’:
If you were to kill sixty armed invaders having shown the will and the intent to bring harm to your nation and people, you would be hailed a hero, given your nation’s highest civilian honours, paraded before the media and the adoring public. But kill sixty unarmed invaders having shown the will and the intent to bring harm to your nation and people, and you will be considered a monster, dragged through the streets, ridiculed, attacked, your character assassinated in every way it can be and finally tried in court and imprisoned for the rest of your life.
Many commentators have rightfully pointed out the problems with the ‘This is not us’ statement. Brenton Tarrant is an extreme manifestation of a widespread culture of racism, deeply embedded in our media, our schools and our political institutions. We cannot do justice to the victims of this tragedy by merely emphasising the evil and inhuman aspects of the mass murder, we must honestly face up to the continuities with mainstream culture and widespread attitudes. This means both acknowledging the reality of far right forces and a determined fight against them, but it also means that we don’t shy away from drawing links with more ‘respectable’ forms of racism such as anti-immigrant sentiment.
The same logic should apply to how we see ‘terrorism’ relate to ‘war’. We cannot ‘silo off’ terrorism as a kind of alien bogeyman, which simply pounces upon innocents from the darkness of inhuman ‘extremism’ every so often. We need to draw the links between the ‘unofficial’ violence of terrorism and the ‘official’ violence of state-sanctioned war. Observing these links, explicitly stated in Tarrant’s noxious manifesto, is not a particularly challenging task. They are everywhere.
In a section which reads like what I imagine gets posted on sites like 8chan, Tarrant boasts of his military prowess and glorifies the US Navy Seals. He sprinkles Americanised slang amongst his macho boasts as if channeling a warped version of Full Metal Jacket, riffing off the assassination of Bin Laden and ‘numerous secret raids on Al Qaeda’. This feeds into his Grand Vision of catalysing a global war, with the US as the epicentre of a racial struggle.
While the numerous references to US politics are significant, the geographical standouts are Europe and also Turkey. Tarrant talks about his travels to places such as France and Turkey when he explains his motivations for the attack. The section which answers the question ‘Why did you carry out the attack?’ includes these reasons:
- To take revenge on the invaders for the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by foreign invaders in European lands throughout history.
- To avenge those European men and women lost in the constant and never ending wars of European history who died for their lands, died for their people only to have their lands given away to any foreign scum that bother to show up.
- To drive a wedge between the nations of NATO that are European and the Turks that also make a part of the NATO forces, thereby turning NATO once more into a united European army and pushing the Turkey once more back to the true position of a foreign, enemy force.
Why the focus on Turkey? Why not Iraq, or Syria or any other Muslim country? One possible answer is geographical: Turkey is directly ‘in the middle’ of the West and the East. Tarrant himself draws the ‘line’ at the Bosphorus river, cutting Istanbul into an east and west side. Except in Tarrant’s overblown grandiose framing, Istanbul retains its Christian name:
We are coming for Constantinople and we will destroy every mosque and minaret in the city.
The Hagia Sophia will be free of minarets and Constantinople will be rightfully christian owned once more.
Tarrant does not make the link explicitly, but his demand that everything west of the Bosphorus belongs to ‘Europe’ does include a place significant to many Australians and New Zealanders: Gallipoli. It is hard to ignore the obsessive focus on Turkey, and this focus makes a lot of sense if considered in the context of Anzac ideology, especially in its more virulent Australian form. Tarrant’s far right belief system surely owes a lot to people like Oswald Mosely and Anders Breivik, but I would hazard a guess that these noxious ideas sprouted easily on a soil nurtured by red poppies and candlelit dawn services commemorating the ‘fallen’.
This context of war ideology is even more explicit and clear in a section where Tarrant describes his travels through France. He drives a rental car through the countryside, and comes across a cemetery of French WW1 soldiers:
I had seen many pictures and heard many people discuss the cemeteries, but even knowing about these cemeteries in advance, I was still not prepared for the sight.
Simple, white, wooden crosses stretching from the fields beside the roadway, seemingly without end, into the horizon. Their number uncountable, the representation of their loss unfathomable. I pulled my rental car over, and sat, staring at these crosses and contemplating how it was that despite these men and women’s sacrifice, despite their bravery, we had still fallen so far. I broke into tears, sobbing alone in the car, staring at the crosses, at the forgotten dead.
Why were we allowing these soldiers deaths to be in vain? Why were we allowing the invaders to conquer us? Overcome us? Without a single shot fired in response? [emphasis added]
It does not take a very great leap of imagination here to draw the lines and connect the dots: thousands of Australians making the ‘pilgrimage’ to Gallipoli every April 25th, draped in flags and shedding sacred tears of remembrance, with all the echoes of ‘sacrifice’ and bravery that accompany this state-sanctioned paean to Empire. Most people may well not focus on the whiteness of this same Empire: but it is there. Tarrant does not ignore this fact, or merely wallow in a vague spiritual sense of connection with his ancestors. He draws the lines, he connects the dots.
The Anzac legacy is white supremacy.