White supremacist groups and militias are not a novelty in the US, where the worst terrorist attack to take place in the country before 9/11 was orchestrated and executed by Timothy McVeigh on an Oklahoma FBI building in 1996 which killed 168 and injured over 680 Americans.
Since then, US security has been scrutinising the growing white supremacist and far-right extremist movements in the country. However, the horrific attacks on 9/11 shifted the focus to Islamist and jihadist terrorists, especially those allied with Al-Qaeda and later to the Islamic State (IS) group.
Attention shifted to New Zealand last week, a country of five million people and with about one per cent Muslim residents, when it witnessed its most horrific terrorist attack ever at the hands of a white supremacist called Brenton Tarrant. The Australian national had travelled to the peaceful country and committed an atrocious act of terrorism on 15 March when he killed 50 worshippers in two mosques while injuring about 50 others.
He was stopped by one of the mosque guards from killing more people before the security forces arrived. He also recorded the entire massacre and broadcast it live on Facebook, bragging about his act of terrorism.
World governments condemned the atrocious act of barbarism committed by the Australian terrorist, and a state of emergency was declared in New Zealand after four others were arrested who had been involved and had had bombs that were ready to detonate.
Tarrant described Muslims as being “invaders” of the West and related his actions to other acts of terrorism carried out by jihadists and Islamists. He framed his sickening rhetoric in historical terms by looking back to the mediaeval Crusades, which he glorified along with acts in the contemporary period by neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
Some white supremacists, including Tarrant, have adopted what they call an “ecofascism” brand of terrorism that invokes the “historical supremacy of the white Aryan race” mixed with a form of environmentalism that aims to preserve that race within certain societies. According to historian Michael Zimmerman, their ideology can be defined as a totalitarian form of government that requires individuals “to sacrifice their interests to the well-being and glory of the land”.
This brand of fascism has been spreading, and while most white supremacists believe in Christianity as their chief religion, ecofascist groups believe in paganism and Norse gods such as Odin, Thor and Freyja. These have become popular through hit TV shows such as “Vikings” and brands of heavy metal music in the West, such as Viking Metal and Nordic Death/Black Metal, which are attracting younger audiences.
The manifestos adopted by the various types of fascists have major similarities whether they are ecofascists, traditional white supremacists, or neo-Nazis, with the latter two being more Christian-based and more commonly found in the United States. They carry nearly the same racist agendas against minorities and other races but differ in the details.
Since the millennium, the activities of white supremacists and far-right radicals have gained ground while the world was occupied by fighting Islamist terrorists, not just in the United States but across the European continent. What has exacerbated the situation is the fact that far-right parties have gained political ground in countries such as Italy, France, Poland and Hungary, among others. These are signs of evil rising that cannot be treated less seriously than Islamist and jihadist terrorism.
In Western societies in general and particularly in the US and EU, an anti-immigrant and anti-minorities tone has been becoming harsher and more vocal, with some officials bashing immigrants and minorities in speeches and accusing them of causing their countries’ problems. Some of these officials have found places in their countries’ parliaments and have even entered government in an enormous shift from the more reserved rhetoric that followed the end of World War II.
Centre-right and centre-left parties in Europe have been losing some of their traditional voters, as new generations are more likely to join or vote for anti-establishment far-left or far-right parties. These newer generations have not encountered the hardships of wars and political tyranny, such as the Communism period in Eastern Europe, and they tend to attribute issues of unemployment and a lack of financial means to immigrants and minorities, while joining parties that call for their banishment.
Such anti-minority tones have not been directed to a specific minority but have attacked all religions and minorities equally, including Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Indians, blacks and others.
The rise of anti-Semitism has been marked even in countries pulverised by the Nazis in World War II such as Poland, where a growing anti-European movement fuelled by the far-right has seen the Eurosceptic Law and Justice Party winning a majority in the national elections with 37.6 per cent of the votes, a feat unprecedented since the fall of Communism 30 years ago.
The tone in Poland particularly is becoming more aggressive towards Jewish residents, with a far-right newspaper called “Tylko Polska”, or “Only Poland”, recently publishing a front-page article on how to recognise the Jews and how to defeat them. This is reminiscent of the anti-Semitic trends in Europe and particularly Germany during the Nazi era.
In Britain, neo-fascist parties such as the British Democratic Party and British First are drawing crowds with anti-Muslim rhetoric and an ethnic-nationalist discourse aimed particularly at the Muslim community in Britain. While these parties are faced with strong opposition from the mainstream media and politicians, they are still drawing some younger people to their vile ideas.
The terrorist attack in New Zealand also falls into the lap of the Islamists who have not missed this opportunity to broadcast their traditional rhetoric of victimisation. However, they have also been guilty over recent decades of advocating similar crimes and justifying terrorism under a variety of pretexts, and they must not be allowed to exploit the misery of innocent Muslims to carry out their own horrific crimes.
If there is any light at the end of the tunnel after the New Zealand mosques massacre, it would be that the world media has finally started to stop using terms such as “gunman”, “shooter”, and “domestic-terrorist” when describing terrorists of European or white origins, and has now used the word “terrorist” instead as it does for jihadist and Islamist terrorists. The media has become aware that terrorism targets innocent human beings indiscriminately under different pretexts and agendas. A terrorist attack or a bullet fired at a Muslim, Christian, Jew or any other is equally lethal and cannot be categorised based on political agendas.
The manifestos carried by Brenton and like-minded racists are not very much different to the Islamist supremacist manifesto written by Brotherhood founder Hassan Al-Banna in his Al-Rasael (Messages).
This is a fully-fledged supremacy manifesto for Islamists to take to the world stage and establish a “caliphate” that Al-Banna claimed would spread justice on earth. A version of this so-called caliphate was witnessed in the ill-fated Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The mass murders and devastation it caused, and is still causing, in the region is testimony to where supremacist notions propagated by the Islamists can lead.
White supremacist agendas are of no less danger to the planet, and the world already paid over 60 million lives lost and nearly double that number in injuries to stop one of those agendas being imposed by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy during World War II.
If the likes of Brenton Tarrant are not taken more seriously and prosecuted more efficiently, they could be the start of something truly ominous in the upcoming period.
*The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy
**A version of this article appears in print in the 21 March, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: White supremacists enter the fray