“In general, I support the Christchurch shooter and his manifesto.”
That is how the man accused of shooting at least 20 people in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, began the document he posted on the Web site 8chan.
The atrocity comes in the wake of a murderous attack on the Chabad of Poway synagogue in California on April 27.
The man detained for that crime also posted a manifesto to 8chan and also described the Christchurch shooter as a catalyst, saying: “He showed me that it could be done.”
What might induce people to imitate the Christchurch massacre, an atrocity in which a self-identified fascist allegedly murdered 51 innocents in cold blood?
To answer that question, we must grasp the historical evolution of fascism in the 21st century. The ongoing “war on terror” normalized an anti-Muslim rhetoric that replicated, almost exactly, all the traditional tropes of anti-semitism.
Yet, in the English-speaking world, the main beneficiaries of the new racism were not fascists but right-wing populists.
A new generation of politicians, parties and media personalities openly embraced xenophobia and Islamophobia, but, for the most part, they eschewed the culture of violence associated with genuine fascists.
Racist populists denounced the “elite” for facilitating immigration. They did not, however, call for that elite to be executed, nor did they build paramilitary forces to physically attack those they deemed “traitors.”
Fascism grew online rather than in the real world, with neo-Nazis and white supremacists finding an audience on Web sites like 4chan (and later 8chan).
The distinctive online troll culture allowed rants about Hitler, gas chambers and death squads to circulate widely disguised as edgy “humor.”
The election of US President Donald Trump, a man associated with racist populism, encouraged some fascists to move from online propaganda to real-world activism.
In the US, their efforts culminated in the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville in 2017, the event at which anti-racist activist Heather Heyer was murdered.
However, after Charlottesville, most of the fascist organizations fell apart: in part because of scrutiny from authorities and the media, but mostly because of the consistent counterprotests by anti-fascists.
The Christchurch perpetrator planned his attack as a response to that defeat, and the similar decline of the Australian fascist grouplets he admired.
That is crucial to understanding both his massacre and the killings inspired by it.
He embraced terrorism precisely because terror attacks could be launched by isolated individuals, people without organizational backing or any real political support.
Anti-fascists might prevent white supremacists from holding marches or meetings. However, it is much harder to stop an unknown terrorist from opening fire in a public place.
The Christchurch killer made clear in his manifesto that his decision to murder Muslims was entirely tactical. He regarded all non-whites as “invaders” and chose Muslims simply because Islamophobia made them unpopular.
In a sense, violence was an end in itself, a way to distinguish himself from racist populists who talked but did not act.
It was on that basis that an Islamophobic attack could inspire the Poway shooter to shoot up a synagogue and the El Paso killer to target Hispanics, as one form of racism blended into another.