By Asne Seierstad
March 18, 2019
Before he allegedly killed 50 Muslims praying at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday, Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian, reportedly posted a 74-page manifesto titled “The Great Replacement” online. In his tract, Mr. Tarrant wrote that he had only one true inspiration: the Norwegian political terrorist, Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in 2011.
I always thought that Mr. Breivik was at his most dangerous before we got to know who he was, when all we had was the photoshopped photographs he had posted online, the ones where he looked tall and well-built, blond and Aryan, posing with his gun.
Mr. Breivik wanted fame. He wanted his 1,500-page cut-and-paste manifesto to be read widely, and he wanted a stage — his trial in Oslo. He called the bomb he set off outside the prime minister’s office in Oslo, and the massacre he carried out on the island of Utoya, his “book launch.” He told the Norwegian court he had estimated how many people he needed to kill to be read. He had figured a dozen, but ended up killing 77.
Eight years after the massacre in Norway, the Norwegian political terrorist continues to be read by his desired audience: On far right forums on the internet the term “going Breivik” means a full commitment to the cause.
While researching Mr. Breivik, which included sending him questions by letters and receiving answers from him in prison, I found a life full of shame, failures, abuse and rejections. A boy who never got the attention or care a child deserves; a rejected, un-cool teenager; a man who in his late 20s moved in with his mother and mostly played video games. Isolated and angry, but with newfound friends on the dark web, he decided how he would be seen, heard, recognized and feared. He plotted his attack with an audience in mind.
After my book about Mr. Breivik was published, I was often asked: Why do you publish his words and methods? I believed he was more dangerous as a symbol and less of an inspiration when seen with all his human failings. After his arrest he complained about lukewarm coffee and a lack of skin moisturizer in prison and whined that he did not have PlayStation 4.
But his fellow travellers and followers ignored the critical texts produced by journalists and went directly to his manifesto, which continues resonating with new audiences. Christopher Hasson, a lieutenant in the United States Coast Guard and a self-described white nationalist who wanted to trigger a race war, was inspired by the Norwegian.
Mr. Tarrant’s tract is a lighter version of Mr. Breivik’s manifesto, filled with references to memes and internet in-jokes, but similar in content, structure and tone. Both published their texts on the web right before their attacks. While the Norwegian, who had planned to stream his attack on YouTube but failed to do so, the authorities say Mr. Tarrant broadcast his terrorist act live on his Facebook page.
The two men mix rage with self-pity. They see themselves as victims and use terms like “invasion,” “mass immigration” and “white genocide” to describe what they regard as the destruction of Europe and the white race. Both the Australian and the Norwegian barely mention their own homelands and focus on Europe and the United States. Mr. Tarrant sees the white population of Australia and New Zealand as Europeans.
He writes how he decided on his “final push” after visiting France in 2017, where he saw how the European French had been “replaced” by “nonwhites.” Thus the title of his manifesto: “The Great Replacement.”
Like the Norwegian, Mr. Tarrant is obsessed with birth-rates and describes Europe as growing weaker and older. The Norwegian terrorist wanted to establish state-run birth clinics where blond, blue-eyed mothers would give birth to a dozen children each. Mr. Tarrant wants to restore what he calls “traditional family values.”
Even though Mr. Tarrant’s manifesto is tailored to his dark web audience, sometimes with coded language, he tries to create a background of normalcy by quoting poems by Rudyard Kipling and referring to more mainstream right-wing figures. Likewise, Mr. Breivik frequently quoted people like Thomas Jefferson, as if he were the rightful heir to well-established ideas.
Their main agenda is the same: to crush Muslim immigration. Mr. Tarrant wants to “deport those invaders already living on our soil.” Mr. Breivik suggested that every Muslim should be given the opportunity to convert to Christianity and take a Christian name. Those who do not obey should be deported or executed. All examples of Islamic art should be destroyed including all mosques; languages like Arabic, Persian, Urdu and Somali would be banned.
One of the mosques targeted in New Zealand is built on the site where a church once stood. While the Christchurch gunman aimed straight at his targets, Mr. Breivik wanted to kill the so-called traitors, the members of the liberal elite and ruling Labour Party who had let Muslims into the country.
Both men wrote about sacrificing themselves to a greater cause and envisioned that they would be released from prison by their followers after a “conservative revolution”swept through the world.
Mr. Breivik was diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder by court psychiatrists; Mr. Tarrant displays similar traits. He wrote in his manifesto that he not only expects to be released but hopes to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He should be free after 27 years, he wrote, like Nelson Mandela, after serving “for the same crime.”
While parts of Mr. Breivik’s manifesto can be read as a manual for an act of terror, it is a call to action. Mr. Tarrant echoes that call, writing, “Whilst you wait for a signal, your people wait for you.” Both described themselves as fascists and used metaphors of war to justify the murders.
Are we complicit in spreading the ideas of these fascists by writing about them? The answer is no. Radicalization happens first and foremost on the internet, where violent extremists meet and incite each other, and where they should be tracked down and monitored.
We can’t allow ourselves to be ignorant. To fight terrorism, we need to research how individuals become terrorists. We need to analyze and expose fascist thoughts and violence.
People like Mr. Breivik and Mr. Tarrant spread myths and conspiracies dressed up as facts. They use guns to be read. Their thoughts thrive in the darkness, tailored to an underground community. We need to expose the ideas and the lives of these white supremacists. Only then can we dissect them properly.
Asne Seierstad is the author of “One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway” and “Two Sisters: A Father, His Daughters and Their Journey Into the Syrian Jihad.”