Where did Brenton Tarrant come from?
From a complex mix of 1) mainstream acceptance of racist attitudes in Australia 2) poor prospects for young people in an increasingly unequal world 3) travel through europe funded by bitcoin-related speculation, where he misunderstood France’s migrant history (confusing french colonialism’s long history of foreign-born citizens with recent refugee inflows).
I’m not sure the push to suppress his manifesto is a wise one. Good people like New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern (who relatively-speaking is on the side of a more egalitarian future) say we must clearly proclaim this type of hate-speak isn’t acceptable. Well true, but if we don’t understand where it came from and stand up for a much more egalitarian future – nationally and particularly internationally – we’ll see more of this. Being politically correct is not going to be enough, we need to talk about where fascism comes from, and expect large and effective political changes, less hot air.
So, below is a summary of some of the key points from Brenton Tarrant’s manifesto, to understand where this tragedy was born:
His favourite author is (Sir) Oswald Mosely, a upper-class English politician and fascist writer;
He hints at, or perhaps jokes about, some youthful interest in communism, anarchism, eco-activism but was never involved in a group – most likely, he’s been socially isolated, debating with other rootless young people in his travels, while looking for “answers”;
He observed the 2017 french presidential election, describing the racist Marie Le Pen as ” a milquetoast, feckless, civic nationalist, an uncontroversial figure” (but missing the widespread public campaigning for the new politics of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s left-wing La France Insoumise (“Unbowed/Untamed France”);
He was pushed from cynicism to extreme action by media coverage of a terrorist attack taking a child’s life;
His answer is that men must be men again, and act like terrorists, against migrants (he conflates all migrants as effectively terrorists (since, for him, low-wage migrants have taken away the easy working life that low-skilled young white men used to have in rich white racist societies like Australia, before globablisation’s oligopolised “free” markets, high-growth high-migration, and destabilisation of developing nations);
He doesn’t mention women much, but he does say white people’s low fertility has to be addressed (quote: Immigration “is ethnic replacement. This is cultural replacement. This is racial replacement. This is WHITE GENOCIDE”), so the implication is women should have more babies – sounds just like nazi-era family fascism.
Below is some detail about Brenton’s personal life so you can make your own judgement on what created this particular brand of modern fascism, sourced from the web:
Notably; he followed his father’s emphasis on fitness but his father died of asbestos related illness when he was still at school (the companies responsible for aspestos fought successfully for many years to avoid paying compensation to dying victims); he was a fitness trainer (low pay, low prospects, working for wealthier clients); he made enough money from bitcoin-related speculation to have the luxury of international travel (without the background to understand history and politics).
In Grafton, residents struggled to understand the radicalisation of a young man from an unremarkable regional town. Tarrant’s mother, a teacher, was said to be afraid and had changed her name on social media profiles.
“I think they’d known he’d gone a bit odd, but does anyone really expect that to happen, ever?” said one woman who did not want to be named. “It’s not the sort of thing you want your town to be known for. This is the sort of place where if you didn’t know him, you’d know someone who did, at least if you’ve lived here long enough. It’s just shocked everyone.”
Tarrant’s father died of cancer aged 49 when his son was still at school, according to ABC News. Tarrant is believed to have a sister.
At the town’s Clocktower Hotel, people described Tarrant as an unremarkable student who was well-regarded as a personal trainer after leaving Grafton high school in 2009.
Sally, who was in the same school year as Tarrant’s sister, said: “I don’t remember much about him but definitely knew who he was. He was just not really out there, not political in any way, or at least we couldn’t tell whether he was. It seemed like he was into the gym more than anything.
“He stayed a few years after high school and then went travelling.” Others said Tarrant returned to Grafton briefly in 2017 and left the same year.
Gym manager Tracey Gray confirmed the man who filmed the attack and streamed it online was Tarrant. She said he worked at the gym after he finished school in 2009 until 2011, when he left to go travelling overseas in Asia and in Europe.
“He was a very dedicated personal trainer,” Ms Gray said. “He worked in our program that offered free training to kids in the community, and he was very passionate about that.” Ms Gray said Tarrant did not strike her as someone who had an interest in firearms.
“I think something must have changed in him during the years he spent travelling overseas,” she said. Tarrant said he worked for a short time before making some money from Bitconnect, a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, then used the money to fund his travels. Tarrant is known to have visited Europe, South-East Asia and east Asia.
His travels also took him to North Korea, where he was photographed in a tour group visiting the Samjiyon Grand Monument.
Ms Gray said she recalled that Tarrant’s father Rodney died from some kind of asbestos-related illness when Tarrant was finishing high school. She believed that he still had a surviving sister and mother. An obituary for Rodney Tarrant in local newspaper the Daily Examiner in August 2010 said he died of cancer at the age of 49 in April 2010.
A family photo taken in the 1990s shows Brenton, a toddler with a curly mop of hair, in his father’s arms. Rodney is wearing a Gold Coast Marathon t-shirt and his wife and daughter are beside him.
Tarrant inherited his father’s interest in physical fitness. “He was very good, very dedicated with his training,” Ms Gray said. “He would train a lot, and some could say quite excessively, but then he was passionate about health and fitness and making those changes in his personal space.”
Ms Gray said Tarrant was in every way a model fitness instructor who went out of his way to help people and put in extra effort. “I honestly can’t believe that somebody I have probably had daily dealings with and had shared conversations and interacted with would be capable of something to this extreme,” she said.
In summary, Brenton is a fascist terrorist, a victim of today’s extreme inequality, born in a nation (Australia) where easy well-paid jobs for unskilled white men have been removed by corporate globalisation’s deregulation-growth-migration agenda; looking for someone to blame and choosing what is most visible close to him, migrants; a loner, immersed in closed racist internet chat groups (he was quoted saying they were the best bunch of mates a guy could have).
If Brenton thinks its tough being young in Australia, stop to think about the boost Greek fascism is getting with youth unemployment still, today, at 37% – and that’s after a large share of Greece’s most skilled young people had to leave their home country to be migrant workers overseas (a 2010 survey showed 74% of young people wished to leave Greece).
There is plenty for young people to be angry about today, and it’s easy to grow up in the comfort of a rich country blaming poor foreigners for your problems – especially when there is no public blame attached to multinational corporations and all their yes-people in the media, parliament, economics and other in well-padded jobs.
Three notable responses to these murders
- Okirano Tilaia, from Cashmere High School (attended by two of the dead), said at a vigil in Christchurch “We can’t go back and change the beginning. But we can start where we are and change the ending”.
- Kamila Shamsie, author of six novels including Home Fire which describes the life of a young terrorist and won the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction, was interviewed on Radio New Zealand after the Christchurch murders. Among many wise points, she described her research of terrorist propaganda prior to writing the book, and noted that the main themes were not violence but sense of belonging, nation building, the welfare state, brotherhood, freedom to worship your religion without being looked down on. Full interview here, highly recommended: www.radionz.co.nz/audio
- Rapid political agreement to outlaw automatic guns in New Zealand