In response to the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand, which left 50 people murdered in cold blood, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pledged that her government would draft new firearms legislation and ban semi-automatic “assault weapons” such as the AR-15 pattern rifles the gunman used. The New York Times editorial board beamed with their headline, “America deserves a leader as good as Jacinda Ardern.” CNN admonished America’s 241-year-old constitutional republic, writing, “Imagine if Nancy Pelosi controlled the government and there was no Senate,” before going on to decry our system of checks and balances as too slow.
All of this no doubt leaves the gunman, a self-proclaimed eco-fascist, smirking in his jail cell. This is exactly what he wanted, and what he predicted in writing. The shooter’s manifesto is filled with sarcasm, nihilism, and insane conspiracy-theory drivel. However, although his words cannot be taken at face value, they can also not be simply dismissed because they make us uncomfortable. The killer is no mere “internet troll,” a label freely applied to him as though he is akin to a socially disenfranchised youth posting Pepe the Frog memes on social media sites. These claims lost their merit the moment he charged into a mosque and began murdering unarmed civilians.
There is an unfortunate segment of our population that feels the need to act as a de facto apologist for right-wing inspired attacks, as if their actions reflect on any and all Republicans and conservatives. I would argue that this is exactly the wrong approach. To claim that the gunman isn’t really a right-wing fascist, but rather an attention-seeking troll, would be like a guard at Auschwitz claiming after the war that he isn’t really a Nazi at all but was just doing it to “trigger the libs.” If you believe that truth is revealed in action, then the Christchurch mosque gunman was a fascist mass murderer. That we hesitate to say what is plainly true is, itself, a bizarre adherence to political correctness.
Meanwhile, as deranged as the shooter was, he turned out to be quite successful in hijacking the political process in New Zealand and stirring up more animosity in the United States. In his manifesto he spells out clearly what were his motives for the attack. In addition to his creepy eugenics arguments about demographic displacement, he writes that his goal was to “agitate the political enemies of my people into action, to cause them to overextend their own hand and experience the eventual and inevitable backlash as a result.”
The manifesto continues, spelling out the direct impact the killer wanted to have on American politics by creating “conflict between the two ideologies within the United States on the ownership of firearms in order to further the social, cultural, political and racial divide within the United States.” He spells it out very clearly, stating that he wants to end the “melting pot” of American multiculturalism by exploiting pre-existing racial and cultural schisms. As he acknowledges himself, he could have used a bomb to carry out the attacks but the choice of semi-automatic firearms as a weapon was deliberate: He knew that this was a lever he could pull to manipulate social discourse in America.
Sadly, he appears to have been quite successful. That a mad man was so easily able to predict and control our national conversation is something that should give us all a moment of pause. Major publications in the United States are criticizing our very structure of government, as if it is broken, because certain laws cannot be passed in a seemingly unilateral fashion without checks and balances. That is even scarier than a mass shooting. After 9/11, the United States government passed the Patriot Act and the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, both of which continue to haunt us to this day.
In the aftermath of a crisis, people will shout to have their freedoms stripped from them because to do nothing is an act of cowardice. We demand action, we demand that our government protect us, and so we trade more freedom for alleged security. At least Americans are somewhat more skeptical of these promises from their government than the citizens of Commonwealth nations, who appear altogether docile and gullible when their governments claim to take care of them.
In the United States, the gun control debate is a long and tired one. The Clinton administration enacted an assault weapons ban that did little if anything to curb actual crime. Meanwhile, gun violence in the United States continues to decline, including mass shootings. Yet many of us are under the impression that both are skyrocketing.
The Christchurch gunman certainly wants to keep it that way.