4 March 2020

The overlooked ideology behind 21st century far-right terror


Like a number of previous far-right terrorist attacks, the recent shootings in the German town of Hanau were accompanied by the publication of a manifesto. Perpetrator Tobias Rathjen’s document contained pseudo-scientific narratives rooted in ethnic-supremacist beliefs – calling for the destruction of non-white peoples in countries such as Algeria, Uzbekistan, India and Laos.

With the threat of far-right terrorism becoming increasingly globalised, the new report from the Henry Jackson Society analysing three far-right manifestos produced in 2019 is extremely timely. These documents – authored by suspected far-right terrorists Brenton Tarrant, John Earnest, and Patrick Crusius – while incorporating some familiar theories, also contain themes which suggest that the ideological complexities associated with contemporary far-right terrorism have been somewhat neglected.

What binds together the documents are classic white replacement theories, which are gaining serious traction in the online space. At the heart of these theories is the belief that white people of European heritage are being ‘replaced’ in parts of Europe, North America, and Australasia – in both a socio-demographic and socio-cultural sense. While Tarrant, an Australian, fleshes out that his parents are of English, Scottish, and Irish stock, Earnest, an American – referring to his “magnificent bloodline” – emphasises that he is of English, Irish, and Nordic heritage.

Elements of the far-right are also of the view that these processes of change have been deliberately engineered by mainstream pro-diversity politicians who kowtow to a multiculturalist ideology and the principle of ‘cultural enrichment’. Earnest, in his aggressively anti-Semitic manifesto titled An Open Letter, blames an all-powerful international Jewry for “the meticulously planned genocide of the European race”. This is supposedly attempted through a number of methods, such as bankrolling pro-immigration mainstream political parties.

But there are ideological elements of the manifestos which have been overlooked – or perhaps ignored – by much of the progressive mainstream media. What emerges from the analysis is a clear anti-corporation sentiment – a rally against the perceived excesses of free-market capitalism and globalised markets.

Indeed, the front cover of Tarrant’s The Great Replacement includes a ‘sunwheel’ segmented into eight sections – three of which are labelled ‘anti-imperialism’, ‘workers rights’ and ‘responsible markets’. While Tarrant claims he is “anti-immigration, anti-ethnic replacement and anti-cultural replacement”, his pre-attack manifesto also expresses support for left-leaning economics. As well as calling for a rise in the minimum wage in Western market-based societies, Tarrant encourages the greater unionisation of workers.

This same anti-corporate sentiment is a prevailing theme in the pre-attack manifesto produced by Crusius. More generally, the manifesto itself can be interpreted as a protest against the perceived excesses of ‘Corporate America’ and, more broadly, the US free-market capitalist system. Crusius criticises the market forces of globalisation and bemoans the socio-economic effects of industrial decline and the human cost of growing automation (although he suggests the latter may be a blessing in disguise, as it may reduce corporate demand for low-cost migrants to fill menial roles).

With large-scale, automation-related job losses being considered an inevitability, Crusius suggests that the threat of widespread poverty and civil unrest can only be neutralised through the provision of comprehensive social security. However, he argues that ambitious welfare schemes such as socialised healthcare and a universal basic income (UBI) will only be socially and financially sustainable if millions of migrants dependent on welfare assistance are “removed” from the US.

In the far-right context, anti-capitalist sentiment is ultimately based on the idea that profit-driven Western corporations thrive on cheap migrant labour from developing countries, which in turn contributes to both demographic and cultural change. On occasion, this feeds into something resembling a green agenda too. The title of Crusius’ manifesto The Inconvenient Truth alludes to former Democrat presidential candidate Al Gore’s 2006 environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which highlighted the dangers of global warming.

Following in Tarrant’s footsteps, Crusius raises a number of environmental concerns. They include the perceived corporate destruction of the environment through the “shameless overharvesting” of resources. Crusius also blames “urban sprawl” for the creation of “inefficient cities” that lead to the destruction of green spaces – which ties in with Tarrant’s concerns over mass immigration contributing to forms of environmentally-unfriendly urbanisation. In line with sentiments expressed by both Tarrant and Earnest, Crusius takes issue with the excesses of “consumer culture”, which he blames for the creation of mass plastic and electronic waste.

The manifestos, as well as being ideologically complex, are geared explicitly towards inspiring further waves of far-right violence. Tarrant’s focus on European peoples, which sets the foundations for his ‘brother nations’ concept, envisages the construction of a white-internationalist militant alliance bonded by a shared desire to confront demographic change, cultural diversification, and environmental damage.

The ‘gamification’ of the far right is also a common theme in these manifestos. We found a number of gaming references, designed to ‘dehumanise’ targets and encourage others to achieve high death tolls to boost their position on online ‘scoreboards’.

Publishing pre-attack manifestos is increasingly establishing itself as a feature of modern far-right terrorism. Of course, surveillance activities and monitoring techniques will continue to play an important role in combating forms of extremism. But much of the response to far-right extremism will have to be counter-ideological – the fashioning of compelling counter-narratives that take the fight to the extremists.

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Dr Rakib Ehsan is a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society. The HJS report he co-authored with Dr Paul Stott, was supported by the Airey Neave Trust.