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Trump opened Pandora's box, freeing white supremacists

Mar 20,2019 - Last updated at Mar 20,2019

It is not surprising that the horrific attack on innocent Muslim worshippers at two mosques in New Zealand was perpetrated by Australian Brenton Tarrant. He was born and nurtured in a country saturated with white racism, and carried out his massacre in a land where white racism is covert but widespread. His stated objective was to “create an atmosphere of fear” and incite “violence” against Muslims.

During the 19th century, there was white racism in both countries against black indigenous peoples, who were persecuted by white colonisers, and against Chinese people seeking to enter. These days, Australia bans boat people, many of them Muslims, fleeing war, persecution and poverty. Anti-Muslim racism has been intensified by Australia’s participation in the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It may be significant that Tarrant chose to carry out his attacks in a city with a long history and Christian heritage. It was named Christchurch by mid-19th century British settlers seeking to build a city around a cathedral and a college modelled on Oxford University’s Christ Church. The city, which now has 400,000 residents, was the first to be incorporated in New Zealand. Christchurch has a tiny population of immigrants.

Fifty people were killed and 48 wounded in the shootings at two Christchurch mosques during Friday prayers attended by 200 people. The 28-year-old gunman not only live streamed his attack online, but also explained why he carried out this well-planned operation in a 74-page manifesto.

Tarrant appears to be a typical white supremacist. He comes from a working-class family living in a small town in Australia. He did not go to university but worked in cryptocurrency and as a personal trainer. He did not show signs of radicalisation.

Unlike most supremacists, he travelled widely due to an inheritance left by his father upon his death. Tarrant began in France, Spain and Portugal. In France, he witnessed the influx, which he called an “invasion”, of migrants from Africa and this region. In 2016, he travelled to Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, and in 2018 to Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Pakistan. He also paid two visits to Turkey, the first of three days and the second of 43 days. Travel did not broaden his horizons but led him to focus on how migration is transforming white societies.

Tarrant may have been motivated by a specific incident. In his case, this was a 2017 attack in Sweden mounted by Uzbek asylum seeker Rakhmat Akilov, who hijacked a lorry and drove it into a Stockholm deparment store, killing five people and injuring 10. Although he claimed to be a Daesh supporter, he had been told to leave Sweden after being refused residency.

Tarrant is clearly delusional. In his infamous manifesto, he wrote that he did not expect to be freed from prison any time soon, but expected to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize like Nelson Mandela, “once his own people had achieved victory and took power”. Tarrant compared his attack on the mosques with violent actions in the campaign to free South Africa from the apartheid regime. Tarrant believes he will be released in 27 years, “the same number of years as Mandela”.

He ranted against Third World migration into Western countries, where white people are being “threatened with extinction” by the high birth rates of migrants. He claimed to be an “eco-fascist” who believes the planet is being destroyed by overpopulation in developing countries. He called migrants “invaders” and urged his followers to “kill the invaders, kill the overpopulation and by doing so, save the environment”. He has obviously absorbed the rubbish posted on white supremacist websites and circulated on social media.

He is an admirer of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who supported the massacres of Muslims during the 1992-1995 war and was convicted of genocide and war crimes. Tarrant seems to have modelled his attack on operations carried out by two white supremacist predecessors who, although they had mental health issues, were able to acquire the guns they used to massacre innocent people. The first was Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer who systematically killed 77 people in 2011, of whom 69 were members of the country’s Labour youth movement. The second was Alexandre Bissonnette, who carried out a shooting, killing six and wounding five, at a mosque in Quebec city, Canada. It is significant that he took this action in January 2017, nine days after Donald Trump moved into the White House.

Having admitted he had carried out a “terrorist” attack, Tarrant praised Trump and called him a “symbol of renewed white identity” and “common purpose”. In response to the shooting, Trump said he does not see rising white supremacy as a global threat. “I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.” He said he could not make a judgement on the New Zealand case until he had more information. This is what he does when confronted with an event he does not wish to discuss. He expressed his sympathy to New Zealanders and called the attack a “terrorist” incident.

Trump could not shrug it off as he did to the 2017 death of Heather Heyer, when a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd in Charlottsville, Virginia, during duelling demonstrations over a Confederate-era statue, a symbol of white power, from the campus of the university. When peaceful protesters gathered to call for removal of the statue, they were assaulted by scores of white supremacists, neo-Nazis and anti-black clansmen wearing body armour and carrying weapons. After calling for unity and castigating hatred, he condemned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides”. He called those on both sides “very fine people”.

His use of “many sides” and “very fine people”, which merged peaceful protesters who defended themselves with radicals who attacked them, was criticised as totally unbalanced. Trump belatedly issued two subsequent statements, which were deemed insufficient. He had opened a Pandora’s box, freeing white supremacists who have since increased their attacks on blacks, browns, Muslims and Jews.

Hate crimes have increased across the world in recent years. In 2017, they rose by 17 per cent in the US alone. The experts warned that Trump’s slanging of immigrants and people of colour and policies that curtail their rights are at least partly responsible. Trump “both from his social media presence and his remarks during formal White House events, is regularly referring to fear as a motive for policy”, stated Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute. “We are seeing the presidential bully pulpit being used to divide and spread fear, and without question that has consequences in real peoples’ lives.”

Trump has obviously not taken in the fact that 73.3 per cent of US deaths from mass attacks are caused by US right-wing extremists, while domestic Muslim radicals are responsible for 23.4 per cent. On the global level, Muslims have been the main victims of religious terrorism since the attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001.

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