Niche violent and Islamophobic content is increasingly prominent even on mainstream platforms. To confront the legacy of the Christchurch attack will require deeper conversations about how the modern internet worksby Hussein Kesvani / March 18, 2019 / Leave a comment
Last week New Zealand became home to a new, and very 2019, form of terror attack. A man in his twenties, armed with weapons, drove to two Mosques and killed 49 people while they were praying. His victims included women and infants.
The shooter also had a camera strapped to his body, and apparently streamed the attack live on the internet. I will not post, nor will I describe, what happens in the video. What is worth noting, however, is the way in which he streamed the attack—something akin to a first-person shooter game, of the kind that are extremely popular on gaming platforms like Discord and Twitch.
It’s a similarity that hints to a wider and extremely troubling relationship with online spaces. The killer’s behaviour has been linked to mainstream Islamophobia, with comparisons made to figures like Tommy Robinson.
The shooter’s “manifesto,” which he appears to have uploaded online hours before the attack, is laced with Islamophobic rhetoric. It features comments about Muslims “outbreeding” white Europeans, reinforcing the familiar trope of the “Great Replacement,” a conspiracy theory with Islamophobic and Antisemitic connotations that imagines a deliberate strategy to kill off white Christians.
Aside from the fact the killer targeted a Mosque, magazine rounds found at the site of the attack had Islamophobic tropes written on them in white marker, including references to the Rotherham grooming scandal and to the Crusades.
Look a little closer, though, and you’ll see something more complex, and certainly more sinister, being communicated. While the manifesto appears to lay out some of the killer’s intentions using justifications typical of the far-right, it also uses a particular kind of “humour”: jokes formed by layers upon layers of irony, and in-jokes developed in particular corners of far-right online spaces.
While describing himself as an ethno-nationalist, it includes references to Candance Owens—the African-American leader of the US social conservative movement, Turning Point, which recently launched a chapter in the UK. More notably, it references the YouTuber Pewdiepie, one of the platform’s biggest stars, who has recently gained the support of right-wing figures like Infowars pundit Paul Joseph Watson and, even more bizarrely, Ukip in his quest to attain more Youtube subscribers than his rival, an Indian entertainment company called T-Series.