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After Christchurch: the calm before the storm

Aug 31, 2020 • 17m 16s

Last week the Christchurch terrorist was sentenced to life without parole, the first time the sentence has ever been handed down. But even though he’s behind bars, his atrocities continue to inspire far-right extremists around the world. Today, Osman Faruqi on the increased threat of violent white nationalism and what happens after Christchurch.

Note: This episode contains use of the attacker’s full name.

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After Christchurch: the calm before the storm

298 • Aug 31, 2020

After Christchurch: the calm before the storm

[Theme music starts]

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones. This is 7am.

Last week, New Zealand’s high court sentenced Brenton Tarrant to life without parole, the first time the sentence has ever been handed down in the country.

But even though he’s behind bars, his atrocities continue to inspire far-right extremists around the world.

Today, Osman Faruqi on the increased threat of violent white nationalism and what happens after Christchurch.

[Theme music ends]

RUBY:

Os, last week there was an extraordinary four-day sentencing hearing for Brenton Tarrant, the terrorist behind the Christchurch attacks. What happened over those four days?

OSMAN:

Brenton Tarrant was flown from the prison that he normally resides in, in Auckland to Christchurch for that sentencing hearing on a military aircraft. And he was heavily guarded by security and police throughout the entire week, including when he was in court.

RUBY:

Osman Faruqi wrote about the sentencing of Brenton Tarrant for The Saturday Paper.

OSMAN:

He was separated by everyone else from a glass panel over the course of the four days. And over that period, 90 survivors of the attack and their family members delivered witness impact statements describing the impact that the attack and Tarrant’s violence had on their lives.

Archival Tape -- Witnesses:

“My name is Wasseim Sati Daragmih.”
“My name is Mazharuddin Syed Ahmed.”
“My name is Ibrahim Abdirahman.”
“My name is Sara Qasem.”

OSMAN:

Because there are so many survivors and witnesses, there was a really wide range of testimony given over those days.

Janna Ezat, whose 35 year old son, Hussein Alomari, was killed at the Al Noor mosque said that she forgave Tarrant.

Archival Tape -- Janna Ezat:

“I decided to forgive you, Mr Tarrant, because I don’t have hate, I don’t have revenge, and in our Muslim faith we say... if we are able to forgive, forgive.”

OSMAN:

There was also a lot of testimony given that was angry, and a lot of survivors who channeled their grief and rage in what they said in the courtroom.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Witness:

“He is a loner, a big fat loser, a coward and pathetic human being.”

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Witness:

“Ata gone but never forgotten.”

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Witness:

“Let be known these tears are not for you.”

OSMAN:

One witness in particular whose testimony went viral, really, all around the world was Ahad Nabi. His father, Haji Mohammad Daud Nabi, fled Afghanistan during the war with Russia in 1979 and settled in New Zealand. Hajji Mohammed was shot dead at the Al Noor Mosque. And so Ahad on his behalf was giving testimony to the court. He entered court and he was dressed in the jersey of the New Zealand Warriors, the NRL team for the country. And he was wearing a pakol, which is a traditional Afghan hat.

Archival Tape -- Ahad Nabi:

“You are weak. A sheep with a wolf's jacket on for only ten minutes of your whole life.”

OSMAN:

He looked Tarrant in the eyes, pointed at him at certain moments. He stuck up his middle fingers at Tarrant and his voice, which started out shaking, then became firmer.

Archival Tape -- Ahad Nabi:

“I would like to say that my 71-year-old dad would’ve broke you in half if you challenged him to a fight.”

OSMAN:

He described Tarrant's father as a garbage man and described Tarrant himself as trash of society and said that he deserved to be buried in landfill.

Archival Tape -- Ahad Nabi:

“I am strong, and you made me even stronger. Allahu Akbar.”

RUBY:

During these four days, this sentencing hearing, what did we learn about Tarrant's activities leading up to the massacre?

OSMAN:

So, as well as a survivor testimony last week, we heard new details about how meticulously planned the attack was. Tarrant has spent the two years since he moved to New Zealand amassing a cache of weapons and had built up a stash of seven thousand rounds of ammunition. The court heard that he practiced with those weapons at several rifle clubs during the two years he lived in the country.

And just two months before the attacks, he flew a drone over the Al Noor Mosque, capturing an aerial view of the building and its grounds and taking note of the entry and exit points.

We also got an insight into his state of mind immediately following the massacre when he was arrested, detained and questioned.

Tarrant said to police immediately after being arrested that he did this because he wanted to create fear among Muslims. He said that he wanted to instill fear into those he described as invaders.

He also expressed regret for not taking more lives, his original plan was to attack a third mosque and burn down all of those that he attacked and he expressed dismay and regret over not being able to complete the mission he had set himself.

RUBY:

So given all of that, given the level of planning that was going in to this attack and the weapons that he was stockpiling and what we also know about his connections to the far right, how is it possible that he was evading scrutiny?

OSMAN:

I think that's a really, really important question. And I think in addition to the details we know about what Tarrant was doing in the months and years leading up to this attack while he was in New Zealand, we also know how involved he was in far-right organizations and steeped in foreign ideology for years preceding that.

You know, he donated thousands of dollars to far-right organizations across Europe. He had been an e-mail communication with a particular neo-Nazi leader in Austria. He's used social media to praise a number of far-right figures in Australia, was active in a number of online discussion forums for some of Australia's most notorious white nationalist groups and was even on the radar of one of Australia's most prominent white nationalists, who had sought to recruit him to his organization.

This involvement that Tarrant had in organizations that were openly Islamophobic, anti-immigrant and white nationalists, as well as the fact that he had spent years building up this arsenal of weapons, I think really do raise important questions about how proactively security agencies up until Christchurch were taking the threat of far-right violent extremism.

And last week, I spoke to one former senior intelligence officer who worked for years in the Department of Defense. And he said that this attack was a disastrous failure on the part of security agencies.

And I think that's the question here, because even though this sentencing last week sort of closes the chapter on the Christchurch attack itself, that attack was really just the beginning of a new phase of the far right who have been emboldened and in some ways radicalized and inspired by what Tarrant did.

RUBY:

We’ll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:

Os, let's talk about the impact that the Christchurch attack has had on the far right. What has happened in the 18 months since that attack?

OSMAN:

I think the most immediate impact that the attack had was that it led to copycat incidents right around the world, in the U.S. and in Europe in particular. Just nine days after Christchurch there was a five bomb attack at a mosque in Escondido in California.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Man #1:

“An arsonist who attacked a San Diego county mosque left behind a note about the deadly mosque attacks in New Zealand. Police are investigating the incident as a hate crime.”

OSMAN:

The next month, there was a shooting at a synagogue in California.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Woman #1:

“Chabad Poway near San Diego was packed when a 19 year old white male shooter entered with an AR style rifle and open fired at 11:23 AM.”

OSMAN:

Later in August that year, there was a mass shooting in El Paso in Texas that killed 24 people.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Man #2:

“Captured on CCTV at the moment he walked into the mall armed with an automatic rifle, intent on causing mass casualties.”

[Sounds of people escaping the mall]

OSMAN:

Both of those attacks were directly inspired by Christchurch. Just this year, earlier this year, a far-right gunman killed 10 people in the German town of Hanau, targeting an area that was frequented by Muslim migrants.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Woman #2:

“Nine of the victims were gunned down at two separate shisha bars. Officials also say the 43 year old suspect had deep rooted racist views and left a letter and a video admitting to the attack.”

OSMAN:

So we have seen an escalation of quite severe violent massacres inspired by what happened in Christchurch.

But it's also changed the way that the far-right groups and far-right extremists more generally are organizing, recruiting and planning.

I spoke to Debra Smith, who's a researcher of violent political extremism and the far right at Victoria University.

Archival Tape -- Debra Smith:

“I think what we know about extreme far-right movements is that they are very pragmatic and very adaptable, so they clearly have responded to the attention that would’ve come on them from authorities by becoming much more security conscious and being much more on platforms that are less moderated.”

OSMAN:

She said one of the things that's happened since Christchurch is that Tarrant has become this sort of poster boy for the far-right movement

Archival Tape -- Debra Smith:

“People who have turned him into a sort of vile type of poster boy for the movement and something to aspire to.”

OSMAN:

You know, I've seen in my reporting images of Tarrant that have been printed out and stuck on to the magazines of assault rifles of far-right activists in America. They referred to him as a saint. Even just last week in Australia, one far-right activist that Tarrant has previously been in communication with posted last week a statement on his social media channels: “Remember always that we are at war. There's a racial struggle that's being carried out and our enemies want to destroy our race”.

Those sorts of comments are very aligned to the kind of rhetoric that Tarrant himself espoused in his manifesto.

And I guess this brings us to the current situation where, you know, where is the line between people who are espousing a violent ideology, who have looked up to someone like Tarrant and when they might actually take action.

RUBY:

Earlier this year we saw the director-general of one of Australia’s intelligence agencies, ASIO, flag the increased threat from far-right extremists. What more do we know about their focus on these groups?

OSMAN:

I spoke to ASIO just last week, and they told me that while the threat of Islamic extremism remains their greatest concern, extreme right-wing groups represent a serious and increasing threat to security, particularly since the Christchurch attack. They also said that those groups are more organized, sophisticated and security conscious than ever before and they're becoming even more ideological and radicalized and they're attracting an even younger membership base.

And the real concern here is that some of those people might not visibly appear to be extremists. There might be a disconnect between their public persona and what they participate with online. If we are in a situation that seems to be what ASIO saying, that there are increasing numbers of young Australians, some of them who they said are barely in their teens being radicalized, then we do have a problem.

RUBY:

So what avenues are available for security agencies and the federal government in terms of addressing this?

OSMAN:

One really specific area that I've been looking into is the way that the Australian government operates its national register of terrorist organizations. And that's one tool that the Australian government has used to disrupt Islamic extremism in the past.

Putting a group on that register means that it's illegal for anyone to be a member of that group or even to associate with it in some circumstances. But there are 27 groups in the register and 26 of them are Islamic terrorist networks.

No far-right groups are listed and that approach taken by Australia is quite different to approaches in similar jurisdictions, like the UK, where there are a number of far-right groups listed as banned terrorist organizations.

RUBY:

Do we know any more about the list in Australia? How is it put together?

OSMAN:

So one of the challenges with the way that list is maintained is that it's pretty much solely at the discretion of the Home Affairs Department. When groups are added to that list, there's a parliamentary committee process that allows politicians to scrutinize whether or not those groups should be able to be prescribed and subjected to this extraordinary sort of government intervention.

But what we don't have in Australia is an opportunity for people who are outside of the Home Affairs Department to put forward groups that should be on that list. And there have been growing calls, including from the Labor Party, that that list should start including far right groups. But at the moment, there's no way to force that to happen.

And look, there are risks with this, you know, handing over more executive power to the government to ban organizations they don't support. It is always a risk when it comes to things like civil liberties. But that does send a very clear message to the community about the sorts of values that are considered okay and not okay in our society.

RUBY:

So Os, where does all of this leave us now, in terms of the threat of terrorism from the far right, and what might happen next?

OSMAN:

I think the concern that a lot of the experts who monitor the fight have is that even if last week's sentencing of Brendan Tarrant closes the chapter of that story, it could actually just be the start of a new, more aggressive form of extremism from the far right. And that's obviously something that ASIO itself has told me it's concerned about him, and as Debra Smith put it to me, that this could just be the calm before the storm.

RUBY:

Os, thank you so much for your time today.

OSMAN:

Thanks heaps, Ruby.

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[Theme music starts]

RUBY:

Also in the news today…

Doctors in Victoria are worried that fears about Covid-19 are leading parents to avoid vaccinating their children.

A survey of 2000 parents conducted by the Royal Children’s Hospital found one in three parents were delaying their child seeking medical attention when they were unwell or injured, and one in five had delayed routine vaccination.

There are concerns that outbreaks of whooping cough or measles could occur if too many children were not vaccinated when school returns.

Doctors and the government are now trying to send a message that health facilities, like hospitals, are safe for families.

And a childcare centre in Brisbane has been closed due to a positive Covid-19 case. The case is part of a cluster linked to a youth detention centre.

Queensland Corrective Services have identified 170 prisoners most at risk from the cluster and testing was being completed over the weekend.

From today, gatherings in Brisbane and a number of regions in south east Queensland will be limited to 10 people.

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am. See ya tomorrow.

[Theme music ends]

Last week the Christchurch terrorist was sentenced to life without parole, the first time the sentence has ever been handed down. But even though he’s behind bars, his atrocities continue to inspire far-right extremists around the world. Today, Osman Faruqi on the increased threat of violent white nationalism and what happens after Christchurch.

Note: This episode contains use of the attacker’s full name.

Guest: Journalist and editor of 7am, Osman Faruqi.

Background reading:

Lessons of the NZ mosque attacks in The Saturday Paper

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7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem.

Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief.
Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

New episodes of 7am are released every weekday morning. Subscribe in your favourite podcast app, to make sure you don’t miss out.

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christchurch terrorism farright extremism ASIO




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298: After Christchurch: the calm before the storm