Violent white nationalists increasingly resemble the jihadists they hate
A FANATIC WALKED into a house of worship and opened fire. Men, women, children; he made no distinction. Brenton Tarrant showed no mercy because he did not see his victims as fully human. When he murdered 50 people, he did not see mothers, husbands, engineers or goalkeepers. He saw only the enemy.
The massacre in New Zealand on March 15th was a reminder of how similar white-nationalist and jihadist killers really are. Though the two groups detest each other, they share methods, morals and mindsets. They see their own group as under threat, and think this justifies extreme violence in “self-defence”. They are often radicalised on social media, where they tap into a multinational subculture of resentment. Islamists share footage of atrocities against Muslims in Myanmar, Syria, Xinjiang and Abu Ghraib. White nationalists share tales of crimes against white people in New York, Rotherham and Bali. The alleged shooter in New Zealand, who is Australian, scrawled on a gun the name of an 11-year-old Swedish girl killed by a jihadist in 2017.
It takes a vast leap of illogic to conclude that the murder of a young girl in Stockholm justifies the murder of Muslim children 17,500km away. But when extremists meet in the dark corners of the web, they inspire each other to greater heights of paranoia and self-righteousness. Their enemies want to destroy their people and their faith. It is a fight for survival. Apparently unconnected outrages are part of a global plot which, after great contortion, both jihadists and neo-Nazis often blame on the Jews.
Worldwide, jihadists kill many more people than white supremacists do. However, in the West, white-nationalist violence is catching up with the jihadist variety and has in some places overtaken it (see article). The numbers are hard to pin down, but there is cause for alarm. By one estimate, between 2009 and 2018 white supremacists killed more than three-quarters of the 313 people murdered by extremists in America. Far-right networks with violent ambitions have been uncovered in the German army. The West has no white-nationalist equivalent of Islamic State, but plenty of angry racists there have access to guns. And recent events have fired them up. The Syrian refugee crisis, for example, created vivid images of Muslims surging into Europe, fuelling the fears of those who fret that non-whites are outbreeding whites and will one day “replace” them in their ancestral homelands.
Yet there is hope. Another reason the white racist threat looms relatively larger is that the West has grown better at thwarting the jihadist one. Since the attacks of September 11th 2001, security services have put huge efforts into infiltrating jihadist groups both in person and online, eavesdropping on their conversations and taking down their propaganda. Since jihadism crosses borders, intelligence services have also shared information and worked hand in hand to disrupt plots. Governments have strengthened the defences of obvious targets, starting with airline cockpits. They have foiled dozens of plots and jailed hundreds of jihadists. They have also worked to deradicalise extremists, or to prevent them from taking up arms.
All these methods should be used against violent white nationalists, too. More cash will be needed. It is absurd, for example, that America’s Department of Homeland Security has no experts in far-right terrorism. But even with ample funds, the task will not be easy. People who post racist diatribes online often pretend that they are joking. Spotting potential killers among the much larger number of poison-pontificators is hard. So is finding the right people to deradicalise the far right. Would-be jihadists can sometimes be talked out of it by moderate imams, who ground their arguments in texts that both parties revere. This is trickier with neo-Nazis, but a mix of public ostracism and patient counselling can work.
Sensitivity is essential. Lots of non-violent people share at least some of the extremists’ concerns, albeit in milder form. And just as the struggle against jihadism must be calibrated so as not to pick on peaceful Muslims—or create that sense—so the struggle against white extremism should avoid alienating peaceful whites who happen to oppose immigration or who occasionally say obnoxious things online.
It is an explosive problem, and one that would be easier to deal with if prominent politicians stopped throwing lighted matches at it. When President Donald Trump calls the flow of immigrants an “invasion”, he lends cover to those who would repel them violently. Likewise Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister, when he claims that a Jewish billionaire is plotting to flood Europe with Muslim migrants in order to swamp its Christian culture. And so too Turkey’s strongman, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, when he says that the shooter in New Zealand is part of a grand plot against Turks. By contrast, New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has struck the right note. She donned a headscarf, to show that an attack on Muslims is an attack on all New Zealanders. She is tightening the country’s gun controls. She has shown how an assault on New Zealand’s values of tolerance and openness is in fact a reason to strengthen them.
print this article send this article to a friend link to this article