This episode we talk about the New Zealand Christchurch shooting and anti-fascist perspectives on how to move forward. We talk in particular about how to address security concerns, confronting white nationalism, free speech on the internet and who is responsible, as well as New Zealand’s recent gun control measures in the wake of the shooting.
March 15, 2019 marks one of the most horrifically visible manifestation of far-right hatred that most can think of in the last couple of decades. A “lone wolf,” whose actions were incubated in hate filled internet forums like 8chan, posted an FB link to a live stream of him murdering 50 people and wounding an additional 50. Victims from two different mosques several miles away from each other in Christchurch, New Zealand, were between the ages of 2 and 71.
If you watched the video and dig into some of the reporting you will come to realize that in the middle of a city the gunman shot people for seven continuous minutes, left the area to another mosque across the city, nearly fifteen minutes away, and killed seven more people until he was confronted by a potential victim who was worshiping at the mosque when it came under attack. According to Abdul Aziz, he first confronted the shooter by throwing a credit card machine at him, then ducking behind cars to prevent being shot, only to chase him down again after picking up a gun the terrorist had dropped earlier.
“When he saw me with the shotgun in my hands, he dropped the gun and ran away toward his car. I chased him,” he said. “He sat in his car and with the shotgun in my hands, I threw it through his window like an arrow. He just swore at me and took off.”
Abdul Aziz prevented more bloodshed with his decisive and aggressive response. He used improvised tools as well as the shooters own gun to stop the attack. The State and the police on the other hand were unable to respond in a timely manner. They did eventually stop him and now believe that he was on his way to a third mosque. The mantra, “when seconds count, cops are just minutes away” has renewed weight after this mass shooting. In fact, intelligence agencies set the stage by averting their gaze from white nationalist organizing under their nose and ignoring right wing extremism entirely from their intelligence gathering. A blanket disarming of an entire populace at the gun barrel of police and military is just the thing a State with a terrified and vulnerable community do. Assuredly, if firearms were to remain available, Muslims and members of other targeted communities would begin to arm up in earnest, which is too threatening and challenging to the established order. The government did however manage to ignore warnings from within the community about the gun club the shooter was a member of. They were told by a concerned member of the community who had visited the gun club that members openly Islamophobic and proudly displaying confederate flags – proving once again that it’s a symbol of white terrorism. The concerned person was given no serious thought by authorities.
The rhetoric of DO SOMETHING! DO ANYTHING! pushes fickle and malnourished solutions presented by politicians to the front of the line. Often as that same practice does in America, it misidentifies the root causes of this violence, discourages the deep introspection and self criticism that would challenge societal structure, and appears to accomplish something while leaving substantive solutions erased from the popular consciousness or without the ability to gain momentum. In fact, this instance, and for that matter mass shootings across the world, is an opportunist dream for the State to re-enforce its legitimacy and the need of the populace to depend on their security apparatus for safety. That is already being seen with the New Zealand police tracking down people at their workplaces and showing up at their front doors demanding they open their gun safe and give over their guns. “This isn’t us” dominates public discourse, when it is in fact exactly the collective “us” that allows the views which motivated the shooting to spread and fester until it consumes lives. Now the battle and energy in the discussion has shifted to gun ownership rather than Islamophobia.
In the weeks after the attack, New Zealand enacted a series of laws which reclassifies just about every semi automatic gun, with a capacity of more than 5 rounds for shotguns and 10 rounds for rifles, as a military style semi-automatic’s (MSSA) which put them under more strict licencing laws. The authorities will begin to institute a buyback program and will destroy the guns afterwards. No surprise to leftists, but the police will be the main entity administering the program and enforcing penalties on folks that are reticent to comply. Already the gun reclamation program appears to have taken a life.
Reportedly, a 16 year old boy in New Zealand had his profile picture reported to authorities on line, when he uploaded an old photo of him with an air rifle. Police came out in force to search the home. His father who was on his way back home, then fled the area when he saw the several police outside of his home. The authorities tracked down his vehicle shortly afterwards, catching him in a nearby park area. They deployed an additional helicopter, a spec operations team, and a negotiation team. They established contact with the 57 year old father and tried to get him to come out, while detaining his family. Reportedly he made calls to his son, an ex-partner, and a friend – telling them goodbye. Authorities fired gas canisters into his car, blowing out his back window, and found him dead from an apparent self inflicted knife stab. Reporting on the story in the last few days suggest that he collected a bunch of WWII Nazi paraphernalia and a neighbor reported that he would do something similar to a Nazi salute at times. Those details certainly complicate the narrative, and if authorities did target the household because of Nazi affiliation and having firearms, that’s more of a step in the right direction, but that doesn’t actually appear to be the case thus far. Interestingly him being a Nazi doesn’t appear to be the motivation for the raid or the reason for the militarized response. From the reporting that factor appears to be more happen stance than a material consideration in the authorities approach. So far, there isn’t any reported connection between this victim and the Christchurch shooter. In sum, it appears that authorities just received a tip from an online user reporting the sons profile picture, and responded with multiple units and a helicopter to execute a search warrant for weapons during what is supposed to be a 6 month amnesty period for gun owners to come into compliance with the law. Thus far, the implication is that, irregardless of political affiliation, this extremely cohesive and violent approach to gun owners can and likely will be repeated into the future.
The clearest example of misplaced weight being thrust into a fruitless gun debate and away from materially effective practices is New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) and their powers under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993 (FVPCA) to restrict certain Internet Service Providers which distribute offensive content. Despite being limited in its powers to filter internet content within the country at its conception, the program, also known as Digital Child Exploitation Filtering System (DCEFS), won that ability in 2010 and began implementing the filtering system, with the stated purpose of filtering sexual abuse and exploitation of children. Ironically, 4chan and 8chan has an established history in that category well before 2019, but the DIA wasn’t interested in ripping down those sites until they hosted and wouldn’t pull down video of the March 15th massacre. They did arrest a 22 year old in NZ for distributing the material under the FVPCA. So the legislation does in fact has some teeth relevant to terroristic video content. Even then, it was only a temporary measure for websites 4chan and Voat. Permanently denying access to the websites the shooter was radicalized on and tailored his content for is just two radical a measure apparently. As of right now 8chan is still blocked. The rub here is the battle around political dissent and free speech. Subsequently, there is very little push by the media to discuss this issue at length.
This is the nexus of ongoing battle lines in the US and technologically developed countries as reactionaries use the internet to organize and inspire random acts of violence the world over. Enter Cloudflare, a service that helps deliver the content of a given website to the viewer more efficiently as well as providing protection for the content. Cloudflare is particularly effective at stopping DDoS (Denial of Service) attacks on websites, as well as other forms of attack that could potentially severely disrupt websites, say like 8chan, which is an actual benefactor of that Cloudflare’s protection (so are several of the most popular ISIS websites for that matter). If Cloudflare were to end its protection of the site it wouldn’t take the website down, but it would remove its shielding making it very vulnerable, which almost guarantees the site would end up deplatformed and sequestered deep into the dark web, stunting its reach and impact. As a rough metaphor, they are just some of the cops from among a squad of cops that stand in between speakers and their audience. Cloudflare and other similar service providers, such as BitMitigate, which now hosts dailystormer after it was kicked off Cloudflare, take a strong stance on free speech and being “content neutral.” They have made strong arguments that it is not the responsible entity for monitoring and censoring the content of the websites it hosts. True enough, they are a private company who isn’t really beholden to anyone. Subsequently though, they are not a legitimate entity to stand in the way of legitimate feedback from the people either. Cloudflare and the protections they are imbued to provide make them unaccountable referees of sorts, standing in between fascists and anti-fascists, the government and its people, speakers and their audience, and making sure that everyone plays by the rules of a game that doesn’t really have a name or any set goals. Those rules are being set largely by governments, but also loose agreements between the CEO’s of different intermediary companies in the internet supply chain who services make content accessible from the speaker to their audience. Ironically, Cloudflare recognizes that protection from attacks on the web isn’t a guaranteed right. Less ironically, they don’t seem to understand that allowing feedback to speech is not something people who speak are protected from, and a DDoS attack is a form of direct feedback. Kinda like a noise demonstration drowning out the public speech of a racist. The fear from the CEO of CloudFlare, as well as the EFF and similar groups, is that removing those protections will make the internet as a whole the wild west, and that powerful entities like governments or big internet corporations, that are a fundamental part of the webs infrastructure and concentrated into into a handful of organizations, will wield undue power when they start making decisions on who can and can’t say whatever on the web.
Confused yet? So am I. It’s a complicated field and being effective at knowing how to tackle this problem through direct action is an area of analysis that the Left just hasn’t grappled with in a serious material manner or built our own infrastructure around. We have made good critiques of liberal conceptions of free speech, especially as it relates to the public realm, but may need to develop some more depth to figuring out direct actions on the web beyond doxxing, and how to leverage public pressure on who and what entities when it comes to internet infrastructure. What’s clear though, is that the collective we, especially folks with the skills to do so, should be spending time tracking, thwarting and infiltrating 8chan, 4chan, Voat and the like. The authorities certainly don’t seem interested in doing so.
Meanwhile, the media in America has hit the familiar sound bites after mass shootings by honing in again on firearm ownership and gun control legislation while focusing little on the threat of white nationalism and the infrastructure that supports is growth. They even go as far as minimizing his hatred as a ploy for fame and notoriety, while leaving his deep hatred of Muslims explored with little depth or structural analysis. He is portrayed as an aggregated individual, disconnected from mass culture- he is “NOT US.” The truth is, yes he was signaling to his chan buddies, but he didn’t murder 50 people principally to impress anyone. He was primarily trying to kill his enemy. He did it in a way that will inspire his allies in hate to act and commit violence. He did it to accelerate tensions and cause the most amount of conflict on the global stage. He did it on a stage that was built by global trends in white fear of vulnerable communities, led by Americans first and foremost.
In light of all this, targeted folks and dedicated community organizers everywhere are contemplating what we can do to prevent these actions in the future and what lessons can be drawn from this particular instance so we can fight like hell for the living. Developing tangible actions and analysis around who is responsible for what on the internet as discussed earlier is certainly one thing. Monitoring, infiltrating and deplatforming 8chan, 4chan, and similar sites is certainly another. Being that those are forums people are being radicalized in, we would do well to pay more attention to those areas. Outside of those considerations there is much more to consider in terms of practicality and assessing threats going forward.
First we should touch on the practical matters. The folks that inspired this attack don’t just target or hate Muslims, they hate folks of color, immigrants, women, and the LGBTQ+ community too. It is incumbent for us to have strong and renewed commitments to build networks across all those lines together. White nationalists are looking for soft targets among leftist organizers in particular. In a post by crying Nazi Chris Cantwell, he encouraged, “mass shooters should find left wing activists and gun them down instead of random people in mosques and synagogues.” The shooter himself picked soft targets to attack. His manifesto reveals that he desired to live through the event, maybe eventually freed when a conservative wave pardoned him as a hero.His fleeing behavior after being confronted indicates that as well. He wasn’t looking for a fight, he wanted to do damage and run, not engage in a firefight. In fact, when police caught him it doesn’t appear that he had any intention to shoot at them and escape. Many mass shooters live through their attacks. Hardening your spaces and setting up a security plan with the ability to scale its response to escalating attacks should be extremely important now as an effective form of deterrence from non-state, vigilante violence. It’s also better equipped to address violence as it unfolds. Waiting on a security apparatus to respond quickly and efficiently to end a threat may not be the best answer. In Orlando the authorities took hours to neutralize the threat, and when physically confronted he shot at hostages he took while authorities where waiting outside, resulting in another death.
Video of the massacre also showed how quickly murderous violence can play out. He used common military and SWAT tactics of surprise, speed, and violence of action to overwhelm his victims. He was so effective at this that while he was reloading in the middle of the floor, with his backs turned to people he had not shot yet, that they stayed in their corner stunned. To overcome this we need to mentally prepare and train ourselves to have both the attitude and skills to fight off an opponent if the time comes. Abdul Aziz proved that point. He even did so without an actual weapon, just a credit card reader. If you don’t have the skills and attitude to fight, decisive action to get to cover or concealment is of vital importance. Additionally, the speed of the attack should inform how you carry your firearm and how you set up security. If you carry a firearm with you, I hope that the speed of the attack will open your eyes to the reality of these situations and that you need to carry chambered if at all possible. In that environment having the fine motor skills to put a round in the chamber would prove to be extremely difficult.
The time to take security concerns as serious as you do political analysis is here. Arm folks for security at your events, have simple plans in place for when violence on any scale happens if reactionaries enter into your space, and make security a normalized element of your political activities. If you are unable or unwilling to carry a firearm, effective mace can be a huge difference maker. Anti-racist and anti-fascist organizers, even if you aren’t militant, must begin to more seriously grapple with security concerns at our meetings and events. In the American context, guns are most likely gunna stay. Reactionaries already have them, know how to use them, have the willingness to escalate, and see you as an acceptable target. Self defense is not violence, its survival. You deserve to live. So, wherever you land on the gun debate, these weapons aren’t going away and you have to think through how you are going to deal with it. Are you going to have the the things in place which enable you to effectively fight back?
Folks focused on community defense have to think in particular how to organize and lend a hand in these situations. If you are arming yourself and your network you need to look at this instance and others and figure out what skills you need to develop. Learn cover and concealment, and the differences between them. Think through how to get your people out of a situation. Have an exit or extraction plan for your meetings. Dedicate brain power, real energy, and resources to building a security network that reaches past the symbolic sphere of politics and into the material world on a neighborhood or household level. Don’t just slap some ad hoc security shit onto your public or regular events and meetings as a last minute thought or an inconvenience to the operation of your community organization. Do an an actual area study of different threats and make it appropriately accessible and understandable to the people around you.
Anti-fascist and anti-racist organizers already do this, but double down. Jokes aren’t jokes, we need to call that shit out all day. Jokes are the bait and switch that 4chan and 8chan run off of. Fuck those jokes. Additionally, we gotta continue to call out liberals. Shifting the conversation to gun ownership instead of locking horns with white supremacy and the spaces they are allowed to operate is a fucking travesty. Their nauseating weak kneed responses that focus on the symptoms of a problem is a core element allowing this shit to continue to fester.
Red Strings & Maroons is a bi-weekly podcast about guns and history. Our content is specifically targeted at making a new gun culture that is accessible and enjoyable for folks struggling towards liberation. I’ll be sharing my personal experience as an intermediate skilled and developing shooter. I'll be taking you through my limited knowledge and sharing the things I learn as I gain skills and experience. In addition, my guests will share their deep knowledge on the topics we discuss each episode, be it practical gun stuff or the history surrounding an armed uprising. Together we will be learning how to defend ourselves and our communities better.
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