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MediaAugust 5, 2019

How Christchurch became a ‘high score’ for the El Paso shooter to aspire to

Protestors March Against Gun Violence In NYC After Two Mass Shootings
Protesters against gun violence dressed in white hold up photos of the victims of gun violence in Times Square in response to recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Denton, Ohio. (Photo by Go Nakamura/Getty Images)

The white supremacist terrorist who killed 20 people in El Paso over the weekend claimed direct inspiration from the Christchurch mosque shootings. Don Rowe explores how our darkest day became an aspirational target for the far right.  

Scrolling 8chan after another white supremacist terrorist attack was foreshadowed on the site over the weekend I flicked past some hardcore pornography and the decapitated heads of 10 Mexican civilians to find debates raging over the success of the El Paso shooter relative to the Christchurch terrorist attacks of March 15.

On websites like 8chan, an unmoderated and anonymous messageboard frequented by the far right, that’s the new gold standard. The pain and terror of March 15 is nothing more than a new high score. Our darkest day is aspirational, gamified fodder in the worst recesses of the internet. And there are people like the El Paso shooter, who claimed direct inspiration in his manifesto, gunning for the top spot. 

The board was split in most part between those who celebrated the El Paso shooter, calling him “our guy” and anointing him “a saint” on par with the Christchurch shooter, and those who supported the attacks but questioned his possible Jewish heritage.

A sign near the scene of a mass shooting on August 4, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The “kill count” of the El Paso shooter was compared to that of the Christchurch shooter, who announced his attack on 8chan before livestreaming the killings on Facebook in a videogame point-of-view. The El Paso shooter’s manifesto, posted to the site shortly before the attacks commenced, was picked over and dissected. His choice of weaponry and ammunition was scrutinised like a Call of Duty loadout. His tactics were criticised and suggestions were made on how it could be improved on. 

The moderators of 8chan have had plenty of practice pulling down terrorist manifestos. This year alone there have been three attacks announced on the messageboard. Even Fredrick Brennan, who created 8chan after 4chan moderators ruled that hounding suicidal women was no longer acceptable, has distanced himself from the site and called for it to be shut down. 

Today CloudFlare, who until now had protected the site from DDoS attacks from internet vigilantes, announced they would no longer retain 8chan as a client. CloudFlare had previously argued it had a moral imperative to keep 8chan within their network as it meant they were able to monitor violent activity and assist law enforcement.  

“While removing 8chan from our network takes the heat off of us, it does nothing to address why hateful sites fester online,” they said.

“In taking this action we’ve solved our own problem, but we haven’t solved the internet’s.”

Amazon, which indirectly funds 8chan by providing owner Jim Watkins with a platform to sell audiobooks, has remained silent. 

People gather to lay flowers outside the Botanic Gardens on March 16, 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

While the shooter’s original post on 8chan is gone, his manifesto has been widely disseminated outside the confines of the message board – it ended with a request that his “brothers” “do their part” and share the document widely. Creating an easily distributed media kit is now part and parcel of white supremacist attacks, and as the conviction of white supremacist Phillip Neville Arps, who commissioned and shared a gamified ‘high score’ version of the Christchurch attack video shows, the acolytes are ready and willing. 

Chief Censor David Shanks told The Spinoff his office has not yet made a decision to ‘call in’ the manifesto for classification, however that didn’t mean the document was harmless. Shanks called on the media to report responsibly on the shooter’s manifesto.

“It is clear that these attackers are writing these documents with the intention of having others follow their inhumane example, and while the vast majority will not be influenced by these documents, they are not being written for the vast majority of readers.”

“It is obvious now that these terrorists are relying on mainstream media and social media to amplify and broadcast their message. We don’t need an ‘objectionable’ classification in order to avoid that trap.”

As with the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto, the rambling, error-filled screed of the El Paso shooter echoes Trumpian, white supremacist rhetoric and the worst frothings of the American conservative media. 

The shooter views himself as a defender of the West, a neo-Crusader fighting a holy war against an ‘infestation’ of ‘invaders’. The ‘great replacement’ theory subcribed to by the Christchurch shooter and the El Paso shooter alleges a white genocide, in which foreigners with high birth rates are replacing Europeans en masse. The El Paso shooter predicts a political coup from a Hispanic voting bloc, and states his attack will provide an incentive for them to ‘go home’. 

The language echoes that of President Trump who recently tweeted that four congresswomen of colour should “go back” to the “corrupt” countries he claimed they came from (three of them were born in the United States). Trump later stood idly at his lectern as supporters chanted that one of them, Ilhan Omar, should be ‘sent back’ to Somalia, from where she came as a refugee in 1992. Trump has said he “didn’t know” if he could stop supporters from chanting similar things in the future. 

That rhetoric is not exclusively seductive to Americans, however. Last week, a labourer named Daniel Nicholas Tuapawa was sentenced to supervision after he abused worshippers outside Al Noor Mosque a month following the Christchurch attacks. Tuapawa, wearing a Trump for New Zealand shirt, said Muslims were terrorists and “they need to leave”. 

Unlike in the days following the Christchurch attacks, 8chan and its ilk remain accessible through New Zealand ISPs. 

While the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto remains illegal in New Zealand, for some on the internet it’s not a macabre and tragic reminder of what has been, but an example of what is possible. 

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