On March 15th, 2019 a lone gunman walked into two separate Islamic Mosques during Friday Prayer in Christchurch, New Zealand. He was arrested 21 minutes after the first emergency call, but in that short time, he killed 51 and injured 49. I have chosen to not name the gunman because broadcasting mass shooters’ names and pictures brings them the notoriety and infamy for which they yearn. Additionally, the fact that the shooter streamed the first 17 minutes of the attack on Facebook Live reveals that he wanted to ensure as many people witnessed his horrific attack as possible. I refuse to give him the satisfaction of infecting another reader with his name and image. The reason why I am even discussing Christchurch is to touch on the killer’s motivations and the fact that he represents a larger problem that has been plaguing the Internet: white nationalism.
Since 2015, many who frequently consumed YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc, started to notice a trend that eventually peaked when online threats became actual armed and shielded people in the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in August 2017 (for an in-depth report click here). The content people like the Christchurch shooter consumed, despite being disagreeable, typically falls under free speech and in the jurisdiction of the marketplace of ideas. Opinions such as the great replacement (the idea that white people are being replaced by people of color), multiculturalism is weakening western culture, and that white families are in danger from criminal Zionists and dangerous people of color (the language typically used is not nearly as pleasant). While these are just opinions without facts or any credible evidence to affirm such statements, it does not matter to those who consume the content that purportedly prove to the viewer that it is a dangerous time to be white. The Christchurch shooter wrote a 74 page manifesto that was actually titled The Great Replacement (a direct call to what was previously described) which displayed various neo-nazi symbols, called for immigrants to be eradicated from Europe, cited other mass shooters as inspiration, and used U.S. politics as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.
But it is no accident that the shooter came to such conclusions as the very way our social media is designed algorithmically is to only show you content similar to what you have consumed in the past, without checks or balances. This can be seen from your own social media. I know I shamefully have many people who believe similarly to me on my various accounts, so I have formed my own echo chamber without outside interference. Now, imagine that my social media was not filled with pictures of homeless pets and ads from coffee companies, but things that stroked my worst fears. Easily, someone with questions can fall down a rabbit hole of video after video that reaffirms their most racist suspicions. It must be noted that after the Charlottesville Riot there was an enormous amount of fallout from social media platforms and YouTube has recently made a concerted effort to change how their videos are presented to viewers. However this was only after peaceful protester Heather Heyer was killed in the street by a white nationalist who rammed his Dodge Challenger into a crowd going between 23-28 miles per hour.
Additionally, the prominent people of the white nationalism movement are not your grandma’s neo-n*zis. They do not have jack boots or swastikas on their necks, in fact, they look like young professionals on their way to an investor meeting. They look like people I have heard give keynote speeches. They look like credible individuals who were not screaming racial epithets, but those who would happily speak on campus or debate with anyone who opposed their views. This calm, almost pleasant demeanor makes them marketable and especially dangerous to those on the fence about race issues. There are numerous videos on YouTube with these white knights standing up for their European descendant brothers and sisters being screamed and berated at by college students with multiple piercings and colored hair (often denoted as snowflakes). Now from the outside, those who are screaming, even if they are justifiably upset by inflammatory statements, are not seen as credible and suddenly this guy who discusses the great replacement may be seen by certain viewers as rational and logical.
There was much that was revealed after Charlottesville, but the most startling was that law enforcement had not been keeping track of white nationalists in America. This is despite the danger that they have been presenting since the lynching days of Jim Crow. Back then they rode during the night with white hoods before they evolved into paramilitary uniforms, but now they have settled into tailored suits making well produced content for the Internet. Despite warnings following the phenomenon of lone wolves who had self-radicalized online, law enforcement did not consider looking into white nationalists as the threat they are. In an article published last year entitled, “U.S. Law Enforcement Failed to See the Threat of White Nationalism. Now they Don’t know How to Stop it” by Janet Reitman, she discusses how “According to a recent report by the nonpartisan Stimson Center, between 2002 and 2017, the United States spent $2.8 trillion — 15 percent of discretionary spending — on counterterrorism. Terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists killed 100 people in the United States during that time. Between 2008 and 2017, domestic extremists killed 387 in the United States, according to the 2018 Anti-Defamation League report.” And “71 percent of the extremist-related fatalities in the United States between 2008 and 2017 were committed by members of the far right or white-supremacist movements.” (For full article click here).
I wish I had a happy ending for you. I wish that I could tell you that there are people working around the clock to solve white nationalism and we will regain control in the next 10 years. The truth is that I wanted to write this in order to give a TLDR (too long didn’t read) on why the Christchurch shooting happened, why it is just one of many, and why crimes that are attributed to white nationalism around the world will not stop until we address and acknowledge the issues. These issues revolve around our refusal to acknowledge the darker parts of our world and the fact we do not adequately educate each other. We need to make sure that we challenge each other, especially those in our family that seem to have strayed from shared values of decency and compassion. As an educator I take my job very seriously in not just slapping the wrists of those looking down the wrong path, but also giving them the tools to make knowledgeable decisions for themselves. Hence, this is one of my tools that I am offering to you. Sleep tight and try not to lose yourself in the links throughout this article.