In the wake of the attack on the Poway synagogue some voices have argued that we shouldn’t read the perpetrator’s alleged manifesto. We heard similar arguments after the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre and the New Zealand terror attack. In each instance we were told that we shouldn’t read the manifestos and that by not reading them somehow that would help stop terrorism. It didn’t.
“Ignore Poway shooter’s manifesto,” urged the website Bellingcat in an article on April 28. Instead “pay attention to 8chan’s,” the headline noted. The author, Robert Evans, argued that the ChristChurch terrorist and the California perpetrator were “both radicalized in the same place,” on 8chan’s “pol/board.” The article claimed that the shooter’s manifesto is filled with “internet in-jokes meant to distract authorities and the media.” The article claims that these online discussions urge “autonomous terror attacks by individuals as a way to bring about the fragmentations and eventual destruction of American society.” Supposedly the “sheer density of in-jokes and references to obscure aspects of ‘channer’ culture in both manifestos leaves one with the question: What can we take serious”? Evans says we should take seriously “the Nazi stuff.”
The article continues to claim the shooter’s manifesto had “dumb jokes,” but I read the manifesto and it doesn’t have that many jokes or obscure references and it doesn’t seem very distracting. It’s not “Nazi stuff,” it’s more like Nazism. In the manifesto the author begins by identifying himself and saying he is of European ancestry. He asks rhetorically why he would throw his life away in this attack. “I do not care for the bread and circus that Jewry has used to attempt to pacify my people. I willingly sacrifice my future,” the perpetrator writes. He goes on to say that “there has been little done when it comes to defending the European race,” and he acknowledges that his act will only kill a few people. He goes on to reference Robert Bowers, the Pittsburgh perpetrator and Brenton Tarrant, the New Zealand attacker.He even goes into a discussion about how some of his fellow-travelers have claimed that the attack in Pittsburgh and New Zealand were “Mossad false flag operations.”
Where are the “in-jokes” and references to “obscure” issues? Where are the “dumb jokes” that Bellingcat told us were in the Manifesto? Why are we told these manifestos are too “dense” for people to look at? I posed this question online and was subjected to a withering critique. “The manifestos are purposely filled with red herrings in the form of in-circle meme jokes. To share and dissect the doc is to spread their chaos,” one man told me. It’s all just nonsense.
What “red herrings”? The manifesto seems like a clear explanation of the perpetrators desire to murder Jews because of a belief that Jews are part of a conspiracy controlling the US, foisting migrants on the US and even running the slave trade. “He’s reading that garbage so we don’t have to,” one person told me, arguing that we shouldn’t read any of this online hatred.
After the New Zealand terror attack the country sought to ban the manifesto. But banning it didn’t stop the California attack. There is no evidence that simply banning the reading of things for the law-abiding public has actually made the other public, of shadowy hate-filled chat rooms, stop spreading hate. Is there a correlation between the number of neo-Nazis and the ease with which one can obtain Mein Kampf. I remember seeing Mein Kampf for sale when I was younger in the US in normal book stores. You can buy it online at Barnes and Noble. It has a 3.5 star rating and 175 reviews in the online store. Is there any evidence that this has increased the number of far-right hate crimes than in countries like Germany where it was not available until late 2016? There were around ten far-right hate crime attacks a day in Germany on migrants in 2016 according to data published in February 2017. Where is the evidence that disseminating or reading hate manifestos increases hate crimes? In the opposite, it may reduce them because people are aware of the signs of hatred and may be more likely to report it. That is how Islamist extremism has been reduced in some places, but making people more aware of its threat.
Why do articles about the manifestos seek to downplay their content, to make it seem “dumb” or “in-jokes” or “crazy” or meant to “distract”? These perpetrators, from Anders Breivik to New Zealand, Pittsburgh and California are dangerous individuals and they can’t possible just be crazy ranting people. They often planned their attacks, acquired weapons and even went to great lengths to consider their attacks. The New Zealand perpetrator meticulously decorated his firearms with names of his heroes. These aren’t “in-jokes,” this is a worldview.
The New York Times ran anoped on April 28, 2019 also arguing that “mass shootings have become a sickening meme.” The author argues that the manifesto has a “litany of toxic in-jokes meant to confuse the media and those less savvy in far-right online culture.” What exactly are the “in-jokes”? “Anyone who denounces violent self-defense against the Jew is a coward,” the perpetrator wrote. Do we need to be “savvy” to understand that? “The Jews have depleted our patience and our mercy. I feel no remorse,” he wrote. Is that an “in-joke.” Is that just “stuff”? It seems quite clear. Are there some other sections of the manifesto that are more obscure? Yes. But they are obviously lingo from the killer’s milieu. To suggest that reading any of this leads us to be “confused” and that it is all a plan to “confuse the media,” lacks any evidence. It’s not confusing.It’s quite clearly far-right hate that borrows from a long history of conspiracies and hate, adding only bits and pieces from today’s sub-culture of the extremists. The word “Jew” was used 69 times by the perpetrator, the n-word only four. Of some interest, unlike the New Zealand attacker, the perpetrator in California did not write about Muslims. He was inspired by Tarrant, he claims, but did not have the same precise animus.
What is the agenda behind urging people not to look at the manifesto of these perpetrators and to pretend it is full of jokes so dense and confusing that we won’t understand it? What is the agenda in claiming that only experts should see the cesspool of online hatred? Is it really because the theory is that if people read it they will all become extremists? Why are we told that even journalists in the media shouldn’t look at it because it’s too confusing. This would imply that the perpetrator’s are so complex that they have crafted documents that educated people can’t understand, and only a small number of gatekeeper experts can explore it? But at the same time we are presented with an image of them as sort of crazy morons with “dumb jokes.” Well, which is it? Are they dumb, which would mean we could understand them,or are they so complex that they are unique within the far-right extremist cesspool of online hate? Or maybe they are something in the middle. Neither the Unabomber or Timothy McVeigh.
After decades of rising extremism, on the Islamist far-right and the white nationalist or European identitarian far-right, why are we still being told to ignore what the perpetrator’s say? We were also told in 2013 to ignore the rise of ISIS, who were called “insurgents” and “extremists.” But ISIS didn’t go away the more we ignored them online. Instead they started a genocide in Iraq, systematically destroying religious minority community, selling slaves, destroying ancient culture. We ignored them at our peril and then more than 70 countries had to fight them. Hundreds of thousands of ISIS social media accounts had to be removed, and in the third quarter of 2018 three million different items of ISIS and Al-Qaeda propaganda were removed by Facebook. What if we had not ignored the ISIS “in-jokes” and “memes” in 2013 and early 2014?
We cannot rely on just a few experts to go into chat rooms and online forums and look at extremist ideas and tell us that it’s too complicated for us to understand. We need to be aware of all the ideologies of hate that drove the Pittsburgh, New Zealand and California attacks, among others. We need to be more educated in our societies about extremist hate, including those groups like ISIS that radicalize people. If you don’t tell young people about the evils of hate and you tell them not to learn about it, then you leave them susceptible to these ideologies. It is through education against the KKK ideology, the ISIS ideology and other hate concepts that people will be inoculated against it. Education is a vaccine against extremism. Describing hate ideology as just jokes and “stuff” and “confusion” and “dumb” isn’t helping.We were told for too long “see no evil, hear no evil.” If we want to stop evil we need to open our eyes.