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New Zealand terror suspect ‘a product of our time,’ UCC expert says

The recent mass shooting at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch is the latest major terrorist attack carried out by a right-wing extremist. 50 people were killed and many injured as a result of the attack made by 28-year-old Australian, Brenton Harrison Tarrant on March 15th. Dr Orla Lynch, the Head of Criminology at UCC, focuses her research on the perpetrators and victims of terrorism, and says that in the past year there has been a worldwide rise in far-right extremism and an increase in far-right killings. Dr Lynch says that while we may never fully know why attacks such as that in New Zealand happen, there are various factors we can understand.

According to Dr Lynch, we can understand how there is a supportive political climate allowing the views of the terrorist to be unchallenged and that the language of the public sphere also contributes to viewing a minority population as an invasion in society. Dr Lynch also states: we can understand how the poisonous rhetoric of the extreme right-wing has successfully crept into the mainstream media and has manifest itself as publicly acceptable forms of racism”. The language may not be overtly about race, it is more likely to be about culture and identity but have no doubt, this exclusionary rhetoric serves to legitimise the extreme right-wing as an extension of moderate right-wing views”.

In relation to the response of Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern to the terrorist attacks in Christchurch, Dr Lynch says that the real challenge lies in the long-term responses to extreme right-wing terrorism, stating: “Her calls for legislative controls on social media companies and appeal to the broader media not to grant the perpetrator notoriety are well intentioned but most likely do not get to the root of the problem”. Tarrant released a 74-page manifesto entitled ‘The Great Replacement’ before the attack and then live-streamed the attack on Facebook. Dr Lynch states “There were multiple audiences for Tarrant’s violence but primarily he aimed to influence the extreme right-wing online communities who exist in the blogs and chat rooms of the net and the recesses of the dark web”, adding: “His manifesto and the content of his live streamed video used coded language, irony, memes, references to previous far right terrorists, material that would only make sense to those participating in the internet trolling culture indicative of the extreme right-wing.”

Dr Lynch says “Tackling this subculture is exceptionally difficult because any effort at intervention or prohibition feeds directly into the conspiracy that western governments are seeking to stifle white culture”, continuing: “However intervention is possible but it is with those individuals who do not subscribe to the racist underpinnings of the extreme right-wing, but for whom Tarrant’s manifesto resonates to some degree.”

In going forward, Dr Lynch notes“Preventing the creep of the extreme right-wing rhetoric into mainstream narratives should be a priority and challenging it when it appears is a useful way forward.” Dr Lynch warns that “we must not underestimate the power of legitimising narratives and the role they play in bolstering and legitimising the identity position of individuals like Tarrant”.

“Understanding terrorism is on the one hand about understanding the terrorist” Dr Lynch concludes, “but more importantly, it is about understanding the complex societal dynamics that made him possible”.