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Mosque shooter a white nationalist seeking revenge

Mosque shooter a white nationalist seeking revenge Photo: AP.

March 15, 2019 09:22 PM

SYDNEY (AP) — The gunman behind at least one of the mosque shootings in New Zealand that left 49 people dead on Friday tried to make a few things clear in the manifesto he left behind: He is a 28-year-old Australian white nationalist who hates immigrants. He was angry about attacks in Europe that were perpetrated by Muslims. He wanted revenge, and he wanted to create fear.

He also, quite clearly, wanted attention.

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Though he claimed not to covet fame, the gunman — who authorities identified as Brenton Harrison Tarrant — left behind a 74-page document posted on social media under his name in which he said he hoped to survive the attack to better spread his views in the media.

He also livestreamed to the world in graphic detail his assault on the worshippers at Christchurch's Al Noor Mosque.

That rampage killed at least 41 people, while an attack on a second mosque in the city not long after killed several more. Police did not say whether the same person was responsible for both shootings. Tarrant appeared briefly in court on Saturday morning amid tight security and showed no emotion as the judge read the charge against him.

While his manifesto and video were an obvious and contemptuous ploy for infamy, they do contain important clues for a public trying to understand why anyone would target dozens of innocent people who were simply spending an afternoon engaged in prayer.

There could be no more perplexing a setting for a mass slaughter than New Zealand, a nation so placid and so isolated from the mass shootings that plague the U.S. that police officers rarely carry guns.

Yet the gunman himself highlighted New Zealand's remoteness as a reason he chose it. He wrote that an attack in New Zealand would show that no place on earth was safe and that even a country as far away as New Zealand is subject to mass immigration.

He said he grew up in a working-class Australian family, had a typical childhood and was a poor student. Tarrant's relatives in the Australian town of Grafton contacted police after learning of the shooting and were helping with the investigation, local authorities said. Tarrant has spent little time in Australia in the past four years and only had minor traffic infractions on his record.

A woman who said she was a colleague of his when he worked as a personal trainer in Grafton said she was shocked by the allegations against him.

"I can't ... believe that somebody I've probably had daily dealings with and had shared conversations and interacted with would be able of something to this extreme," Tracey Gray told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

The rambling manifesto is filled with confusing and seemingly contradictory assertions about his beliefs.

Beyond his white nationalistic views, he claimed to be an environmentalist and said he is a fascist who believes China is the nation that most aligns with his political and social values. He said he has contempt for the wealthiest 1 percent. And he singled out American conservative commentator Candace Owens as the person who had influenced him the most, while saying "the extreme actions she calls for are too much, even for my tastes."

In a tweet, Owens responded by saying that if the media portrayed her as the inspiration for the attack, it had better hire lawyers.

The manifesto also included a single reference to President Donald Trump in which the author asked and answered the question of whether he was a Trump supporter: "As a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose? Sure. As a policy maker and leader? Dear god no."

Throughout the manifesto, the theme he returns to most often is conflict between people of European descent and Muslims, often framing it in terms of the Crusades.

Among his hate-filled statements is a claim that he was motivated toward violence by an episode that occurred in 2017 while he was touring through Western Europe. That was when an Uzbek man drove a truck into a crowd of people in Stockholm, killing five.

He said his desire for violence grew when he arrived in France, where he said he was offended by the sight of immigrants in the cities and towns he visited.

Three months ago, he said, he started planning to target Christchurch. He said he has donated to many nationalist groups, but claimed not to be a direct member of any organization. However, he admitted contacts with an anti-immigration group called the reborn Knights Templar and said he got the approval of Anders Breivik for the attack, a claim that has not been verified.

Breivik is a right-wing Norwegian extremist who killed 77 people in Oslo and a nearby island in 2011. Breivik's lawyer Oeystein Storrvik told Norway's VG newspaper that his client, who is in prison, has "very limited contacts with the surrounding world, so it seems very unlikely that he has had contact" with the New Zealand gunman.

The gunman rambled on about the supposed aims for the attack, which included reducing immigration by intimidating immigrants and driving a wedge between NATO and the Turkish people. He also said he hoped to further polarize and destabilize the West, and spark a civil war in the United States that would ultimately result in a separation of races. The attack has had the opposite impact, with condemnation of the bloodshed pouring in from all quarters of the globe, and calls for unity against hatred and violence.

The gunman used various hate symbols associated with the Nazis and white supremacy. For instance, the number 14 is seen on his rifle, a possible reference to the "14 Words," a white supremacist slogan attributed in part to Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. He also used the symbol of the Schwarze Sonne, or black sun, which "has become synonymous with myriad far-right groups who traffic in neo-Nazi," according to the center.

His victims, he wrote, were chosen because he saw them as invaders who would replace the white race. He predicted he would feel no remorse for their deaths. And in the video he livestreamed of his shooting, no remorse can be seen or heard as he sprays terrified worshippers with bullets again and again, sometimes firing at people he has already cut down.

The gunman — a licensed gun owner who bought the five guns used in the shootings legally — left a scene of carnage that shocked the nation, and the world. It was, in the words of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern "one of New Zealand's darkest days."

Credits

By KRISTEN GELINEAU

(Copyright 2019 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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