Christchurch terror suspect Brenton Tarrant travelled widely, mainly in Europe, in the years before he undertook last week's deadly mosque attack. On a journey paid for by an inheritance from his dead father, Tarrant, who grew up in country NSW, honed his violent, anti-Islam, white supremacist views.
In his "manifesto" he referred to revelations such as seeing the number of Muslim families in French towns, the 2017 French elections, an Islamist terror attack in which an 11-year-old girl was killed, and visits to war cemeteries.
As most struggle to comprehend his act of mass murder, we take a look at the political climate Tarrant would have encountered as his extremism intensified.
France saw a surge of Muslim immigrants in the late 1960s and 1970s, from African colonies to industrial regions and cities. Studies have shown French Muslims are among the most integrated and patriotic in Europe. A 2015 Pew Forum survey found 76 per cent of the French had a favourable view of Muslims.
Supporters of French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen at a rally in La Trinite-Porhoet in 2017.Credit:The Washington Post
The shooter claimed to have visited France during the 2017 presidential campaign, when far-rightist Marine Le Pen faced off against centrist Emmanuel Macron and the national conversation crackled with fierce debate on immigration, fired by the country’s Islamist terror attacks in the years before.
One of Le Pen’s major themes was stopping so-called “uncontrolled” immigration and denouncing what she called the “evils” of globalisation and Islam.
“We are being submerged by a flood of immigrants that are sweeping all before them,” she told a rally in Marseille. “If we carry on like this the whole of France will become a gigantic no-go zone.”
Macron said welcoming refugees was a moral duty. He won the election by 66 per cent to 34 per cent.
It is not clear if the shooter attended any rallies, but the rhetoric would have been hard to ignore and he was clearly aware of it from his so-called manifesto.
France is also the original home of the "identitarian" far-right movement, whose racist policies were extensively echoed in the shooter’s so-called manifesto.
French authorities are investigating whether he contacted any French extremists.
He said he had also visited war graves in north-eastern France. The trip may have coincided with the Anzac Day ceremony at Villers-Bretonneux.
In April-May 2017 Britain was gearing up for a snap general election. Migration was a major theme of the campaign – the Conservatives had pledged to “reduce and control” migration, while Labour rejected “bogus” immigration targets.
British anti-terror police have warned of a rising wave of far-right terrorism.
In June 2016, a white supremacist murdered Labour MP Jo Cox in Yorkshire. The killer had called Cox a “traitor” to white people and had links to far-right groups including the National Front and English Defence League (EDL), and collected Nazi regalia and clippings about far-right Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik.
The Christchurch shooter reportedly entered Britain from France in 2017.
In his so-called manifesto the shooter referred to the Rotherham scandal, a period of 20 years of child sexual abuse in that Yorkshire town by British-Pakistani men that local authorities failed to investigate or prevent.
English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson.Credit:PA
In May 2017 far-right former EDL founder and leader Tommy Robinson was also active, promoting provocative online videos that saw him convicted of contempt of court.
The shooter was thought to have stayed in Britain for a few weeks. British security services are examining whether there were any links or contacts between the shooter and groups or individuals in the UK.
Islam has a rich and still-visible heritage in Spain, which was ruled by Muslim sultans from the 8th century until the Reconquista ("reconquest"), driven by Christian kings, finally drove them from their last stronghold in Granada in 1492. The approximately two million Muslims now in Spain arrived mainly in the last two decades from Africa.
Santiago Abascal, the national president of Vox, centre, applauds during a rally of the far-right party in Madrid, Spain.Credit:AP
Journalist Ignacio Cembrero told Politico that Muslim migrants tended to live in particular areas that can give “the feeling like you’re somewhere in Morocco or Algeria”. He added: “I don’t think that’s necessarily a problem.”
The far right has been on the rise in Spain in recent years. In 2018 the far-right Vox party in Spain took seats in a southern regional parliament. The party’s leader has called for a “new Reconquista”.
Spain’s government has recently tried to order the removal of hundreds of memorials: statues, street and square names, recalling the fascist Franco regime.
At the time the Christchurch shooter claimed to have visited the country in 2017, there were pervasive fears about extremism in the name of Islam, though the terrorist attack in Barcelona that killed 14 and left more than 100 injured was yet to happen.
The shooter wrote the name of a Spanish neo-Nazi, jailed for the murder of an anti-fascist protester a decade ago, on his weapons.
The shooter claimed to have visited Spain in northern spring 2017. There were media reports speculating he visited Reconquista battle sites.
Spanish media reported he visited in February 2018, spending one night in the southern city of Jerez, home to sherry, the famous Andalusian horses and architectural reminders of Moorish Spain.
Portugal shares Spain’s rich – and divisive – Islamic history. The shooter reportedly visited the Convento de Cristo in Tomar, home of the Order of Knights Templar who fought in the Reconquista. This world heritage 12th-century castle resisted a Muslim army for six days and is now a tourist favourite.
In April 2017 it was reported the number of refugees taken in by Portugal had doubled though many then sought to move elsewhere in Europe. Portuguese newspaper Diario de Noticias reported at the time that “integration difficulties” were driving refugees to leave the country.
Human rights researcher Margarida Teixeira has written of the problem of “ghettoisation” of Portuguese Africans one the peripheries of its main cities.
However right-wing populism has failed to gain electoral support in Portugal. The far-right Renovador party won just 0.5 per cent of the vote in 2015 and “the populist discourse is scarcely found in Portuguese politics'’, researcher Rodrigo Quintas da Silva wrote in a paper published by Nature in early 2018.
He cited low immigration and the fact that most immigration to Portugal comes from countries with Portuguese as their mother tongue. “Despite the challenges, this immigration has been well integrated in the Portuguese society,” he said.
Activist Mustafa Yumer told Reuters in 2009 people were “very worried [and] scared by far-right parties who preach and want to see Bulgaria becoming a single ethnic nation”. There were repeated acts of vandalism at mosques.
Hundreds of Bulgarian nationalists march last month to honour an anti-Semitic World War II general.Credit:AP
In 2017 the United Patriots won more than 9 per cent of the vote, enough to give them a part in the ruling coalition government.
The parties’ leaders “are notorious for their abusive racist comments and hate speech”, historian Tom Junes wrote for Balkan Insight. “Hate crimes, targeting members of national minorities like Roma and foreigners alike, have become rampant.”
Bulgarian authorities said Tarrant had visited the country multiple times. The most recent time he spent around a week there, arriving from Dubai.
According to media reports he visited Sofia and Plovdiv, a city liberated from Ottoman rule at the end of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877/8. He reportedly hired a car and visited Pleven, the site of a battle in that war where Russian and local forces besieged the town and then forced the Ottomans into death or captivity.
He also visited the scenic Shipka Pass, the site of a series of battles in the same war. A nearby church commemorates soldiers who died liberating Bulgaria from the Ottomans, with the names of Russian regiments and Bulgarian volunteers written on marble plates, and a church bell cast from spent cartridges. A ‘Liberty Memorial’ at the battle site is a drawcard for nationalists – one visitor wrote on TripAdvisor in late 2018 it was “built to remember us the glory battle for our liberty from Ottoman yoke”.
Romania in 2017 was a rare thing: it had no significant far-right political party. However anti-immigrant sentiment was stirred as refugees arrived from the Middle East in 2015.
Researchers Georgiana Udrea and Oana Stefanita wrote an academic study in 2017 based on a small focus group that found some – particularly older – participants associated asylum seekers with risks of terrorism and immorality.
“They are very dangerous, more dangerous than our gypsies,” one focus group member said. “When I think of refugees I think that they are extremists and indoctrinated with their religious beliefs,” said another. Their intolerance was fuelled by the perception that Romania was too poor to help others, the researchers found.
Peles Castle, Romania.
The Christchurch shooter reportedly flew into the capital Bucharest from Bulgaria and hired a car.
Romanian police are reportedly working to track his journey.
He reportedly visited a monastery built where a Romanian prince once prayed for victory against the Turks, and a castle built around the time of Romania’s war of independence from the Ottomans – possibly Peles Castle in the Carpathian mountains.
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has styled himself the defender of Christian Europe against “Muslim invaders”.
The television network al-Jazeera reported last year that growing numbers of Hungary’s youth are joining far-right and neo-Nazi movements such as the Highwayman Army (Betyarsereg). That group supports racial violence and is both anti-Semitic and Islamophobic.
Filmmaker Theopi Skarlatos said Orban had created a world “ripe for the return of fascism” by “creating an atmosphere where Hungarians feels they must constantly defend against an invisible evil”.
The shooter reportedly arrived in Hungary in November 2018 on a train from Romania, travelling on a tourist visa. He spent about a week there. He wrote on his weapons the names of historical Hungarian military leaders who fought the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban waves during the final electoral rally of his Fidesz party last year.Credit:AP
In late 2018, around the time of the shooter’s visit, European leaders were in Marrakesh to sign a global compact on migration – a pact that Hungary had led the way in refusing to sign (Australia also refused). The shooter referenced the pact in his so-called manifesto.
Islam arrived in this region in the 15th and 16th centuries, leaving a large population of “Bosniaks” as well as other ethnic and religious groups. After the collapse of Communism, when civil war enveloped the fracturing Yugoslavia, this group was targeted for genocide, as the Serbian army enacted a policy of “ethnic cleansing”.
Far-right groups in the Balkans have reportedly flourished in recent years, turning to the internet to promote the idea of ethnically pure nation states and neo-Nazism.
Bosnian Muslims carry one of 127 coffins with identified victims of the Srebrenica massacre in 2016.Credit:AP
The 2017 Islamophobia report, published by the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research in Turkey, found that 2017 “saw a rise in anti-Bosnian and anti-Muslim bigotry” in Bosnia and a “continuation of physical and verbal attacks on mosques and imams”.
In Serbia it saw “the aggressive revival” of political parties and individuals linked to the ethnic cleansing of the war with a “radical anti-Muslim stance”.
The Christchurch shooter travelled by bus across Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in late 2016. He reportedly visited the Museum of Marko Miljanov Popovic at Madun in Montenegro. Popovic was a late-19th-century Montenegrin Serb general and writer, who led fighting against the Ottomans.
In Serbia, the shooter reportedly toured battle sites from the country’s war with the Ottoman Empire.
In 2016, Greece was reeling from the impact of the flood of refugees from the wars in the Middle East, which had coincided with the near-collapse of the country’s economy.
Golden Dawn, the Greek neo-fascist party, had MPs in parliament. Its manifesto explicitly asserted the supremacy of the Greek race, tied to the legacy of ancient Greece and the historical conflict with the Ottoman Empire.
Golden Dawn supporters in Greece await national election results in May.Credit:AP
The Christchurch shooter visited Greece briefly in late 2016, including two stopovers at a Greek airport and a few days’ visit to the islands of Crete and Santorini. Officials are investigating his movements during the visit.
Centre-right politician Sebastian Kurz, the young chancellor of Austria, ran for office warning “those who do not put clear limits on migration will soon start to feel like strangers in their own land”.
He formed a coalition government in 2017 with the Freedom Party, a movement founded by neo-Nazis, and whose presidential candidate narrowly lost the 2016 election.
Austria is home to Martin Sellner, the European far-right group Generation Identity’s highest-profile figure. Identitarian tropes were central to the Christchurch shooter’s so-called manifesto.
The country’s domestic intelligence agency has established that the Christchurch shooter visited the country, but did not say when or for how long. An investigation is continuing into where he went and why.
Despite having a tiny proportion of immigrants – almost none of them Muslim – Poland’s ruling PiS (Law and Justice) party won power in 2015 partly by talking up fears of immigrants.
The ‘March of Independence’ organised by far-right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland’s independence.Credit:AP
Party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski told one campaign rally that Muslim immigrants were behind “the emergence of very dangerous diseases which haven’t been seen in Europe for a long time”.
The anniversary of Poland’s independence day, in mid-November, is used as a rallying point for international far-right groups according to British anti-extremism group Hope Not Hate.
Joe Mulhall, a senior researcher with Hope Not Hate, reported from last year’s march a “sea of skinheads in bomber jackets”.
In 2016 a pro-refugee activist told the Iceland Monitor there was a trend “of rising extremist forces of nationalism, prejudice and hatred, and Iceland is no exception”.
But the right-wing nationalist Icelandic National Front, which opposes new mosques and Islamic schools, came 11th in the 2016 national election with just 0.16 per cent of the vote. In 2017 the Foundation for Economic Education reported Iceland was “largely immune to nationalist rhetoric” and was friendly to foreigners.
Far-right extremists are active in Ukraine, as ultra-nationalist support was boosted by threats to Ukrainian sovereignty from Russia and elsewhere.
Volunteers with the right-wing paramilitary Azov National Corps rally in front of the Ukrainian parliament.Credit:AP
Many nationalist groups focus on independence, but others adopt xenophobic ideology. Far-right groups have targeted Holocaust memorials and violently attacked the Roma community.
“Brutal attacks on Roma people, LGBT people, and rights activists have been on the rise in recent months in Ukraine," said Tanya Cooper, Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government has taken little action in response, which cannot but embolden and encourage the attackers.”
- * Source Eurostat as of January 1, 2018
- ** October 2017 European Commission poll: “To your knowledge, what is the proportion of immigrants in the total population”
- *** Pew Research Centre 2017
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