I’ve been pretty wrecked most of March as I read about the mass shooting in New Zealand.
The man arrested for carrying out the mosque attacks in what has been described as the worst mass shooting in recent New Zealand history was in court last week. An avowed white supremacist, the man – who like New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern I won’t name – has been charged with 49 counts of murder at two mosques.
Since the tragedy on March 15, the newspaper stories repeated and repeated: 48 worshippers at Friday prayers left dead.
They were massacred while the shooter brazenly live streamed the assault on social media.
The story in Christchurch, New Zealand dominated the news.
The victims included women and men, ranging many ages. Many died while attempting to save others. The massacre was committed on a holy day when many practicing Muslims were in attendance. The alleged shooter, 28 year old Brenton Tarrent, was an avowed xenophobe and racist who politically aligned with far-right extremists and white nationalists.
During his first court appearance, the killer flashed an upside-down “OK” sign — which (although some still attempt to downplay its seriousness ) has become the new symbol of white power fanaticism, lionized by the alt-right. Shortly before the attacks, Tarrent posted online commentary praising other far right mass murderers, Dylann Roof, in the USA, and Anders Breivik in Sweden.
The Washington Post ran an article the day after the massacre, stating, “ The unspeakable carnage in New Zealand must be called by its proper name: a terrorist attack by a white-nationalist bigot consumed by Islamophobia and impelled by the fervid terrorism that suffuses the internet’s darkest crevices.”
Then the article proceeded to connect the shooter’s sickness to America’s own moral failings, exacerbated by President Trump.
The article did not directly blame President Trump for the shooting, but directly faulted and sanctioned him for refusing to recognize white nationalism spreading here and abroad.
Citing Trump’s own history of Islamaphobic statements, his attempts to institute a travel ban that targets Muslim nations and his refusal to condemn white nationalists following the Charlottesville riots, the Washington Post article stated that, “Trump should go further, by condemning the alleged killer whose nativist rhetoric overlaps with the president’s own.”
Instead on the very day of the shooting, Trump was busy spreading his false narrative that the U.S. faces a national emergency that requires billions of dollars to pay for an ineffective wall at the Mexican-American border. Later Trump in his first public statements held to his same old line, when asked if he believed white nationalism was a growing cancer. “I don’t, really,” he responded.
Of course he doesn’t. Given that Trump has called Mexican immigrants derogatory names and negatively portrayed Arab and Mexican immigrants — rather than the hopeful dreamers and persecuted asylum seekers they are – he cannot demonize the accused New Zealand killer’s psychopathic nature too harshly without criticizing his own contributions to it.
The New Zealand suspect in his rambling, disjointed online manifesto called himself a Trump supporter because the president is “a symbol of renewed white identity.”
The FBI reported in 2017 that white supremacist groups have carried out more attacks in the U.S. than any other domestic extremist group over the past 16 years, while the Anti-Defamation League reported that in 2018 hate groups killed at least 50 people in the US. “White supremacists were responsible for the great majority of the killings,” the report states.
The violent incidents have included violent attacks on Muslims, Jews, and immigrants. Victims in 2016 included 11 people shot dead in a Pittsburgh synagogue, and Heather Heyer, the protester who was mowed down by a white supremacist in Charlottesville.
A year earlier, yet another high-profile white supremacist attack was the 2015 Charleston Church shooting which the New Zealand suspect praised.
The most chilling fact for me must be that the hate that drove the Neo-Confederate Dylann Roof to callously massacre nine Churchgoers attending a Bible study class in Charleston, South Carolina has spread across the globe.
I may live far, far away from the victims of these dreadful attacks. But I lived in Charleston, SC for many years. I returned to the city in the days following the Charleston church shooting to attend the funerals.
In this way, I relate to the process of anguish in New Zealand. I know that the community must first attend the depressingly numerous funerals, where they will revive their good memories of the dead. Next, the mourners will repeatedly wonder why this happened? If one of their loved ones had been late to the worship service that fateful day, would they be still be alive? How can the living give the massacre meaning?
Then the majority will be gripped by the determination that a hate crime like this will never happen again – to their loved ones in New Zealand, nor anywhere else in the world.
It is at that point that they will protest white supremacist hate groups with renewed vigor.
And we must join their voices and support them by calling on President Trump to admit to his immense influence over white supremacist groups, making him aware that he must reject the ideology. Or accept the blame whenever the nightmare strikes again.
Darryl Lorenzo Wellington is a poet and writer at Community Change.