Terror in Chch

Germany shooting a Christchurch copycat?

Experts in far-right extremism see a number of similarities between the Christchurch terror attack and last week's mass shooting in Hanau, Germany. Marc Daalder reports.

On the evening of February 19, a man shot up two shisha bars frequented by Muslims in Hanau, Germany. It later emerged that he had released a German manifesto online as well as a pre-recorded video in English in which he ranted to an intended American audience about a wide range of conspiracy theories.

After the carnage, experts on far-right extremism have noticed similarities between the tactics used by the Hanau gunman and the alleged perpetrator of the March 15 terror attack in Christchurch.

"It's part of an unfortunate international pattern," Paul Spoonley, Pro Vice-Chancellor of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Massey University and an expert on New Zealand's far-right, said of the Hanau shooting.

The fact that New Zealand is being used as a blueprint for carrying out international terrorist attacks raises difficult questions for a country that has been eager at times to bear no culpability for the extremism unleashed by the March 15 attack.

Similarities hard to ignore

Spoonley says that both the Hanau gunman and the Christchurch accused fit into a "pattern of individuals who are self-radicalised, who unfortunately appear to be adopting some very similar patterns of behaviour: the manifesto, the purchase of guns legally, the deliberate attempt to kill people because of beliefs about their racial and religious threat."

"I see a number of disturbing similarities here. Even though you might not be able to draw a direct link between the two, I'm sure there's an influence."

While this pattern predates March 15, the combination of a viral livestream and the media firestorm that followed the Christchurch attack made it the most famous case study thus far.

Terrorists appear to have adopted similar tactics going forward: a gunman in El Paso, Texas, targeted a Walmart frequented by Latinos in August; a would-be synagogue shooter in Halle, Germany tried to livestream his actions in October; and the Hanau attacker targeted two locations that he knew would host Muslims, even driving from pre-planned target to pre-planned target like the Christchurch accused.

Dr. Hans-Jakob Schindler, a senior director with the Counter Extremism Project, says there were likely different reasons for the similarities in attack tactics between Hanau and Christchurch. In the case of the Christchurch accused, "there was a deliberate attempt to basically do an Islamic State tactic: attack one place, let the security forces go, until they arrive at that place, you're already at the next place to do an attack and you have then even longer in the second place to conduct your attack".

Meanwhile, the Hanau shooter moved to his next location only because there was no one left to fire at in the first bar, Schindler said.

Schindler agrees there are similarities between the attacks but, like Spoonley, emphasises we don't know of a direct link. "Yes, there are these similarities," he said.

However, "we went through all [the Hanau shooter's] material online. There were lots of links to conspiracy theories, lots of links to just wacky stuff on the net. It didn't seem that there was any provable connection to Christchurch. Obviously no one could have escaped the events in Christchurch because it was just all over the media, so in detail and so intensively, so one could argue that the way he's done it, the way the things unfolded, seems very much inspired by Christchurch."

"You can make that case that it is very likely inspired by [2011 Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders] Breivik and from Christchurch, but you can't prove it."

Online and ideological connections

The widespread copying of the alleged Christchurch shooter's tactics should worry New Zealanders, Spoonley says. "New Zealand's not exempt any longer. It's pretty naive to thing that that was a one-off."

"To think that somehow we can excuse the behaviour because in this case he was an Australian who chose Christchurch. I think that would simply be naive."

The interconnectivity between far-right terrorists and their supporters - potential terrorists themselves - means the Christchurch event will continue to have an influence for years to come. "The thing that has really changed in the last decade or so is the opportunity provided by online connectivity, so that what happens in Christchurch is not isolated from what happens in Hanau or anywhere else," Spoonley said.

"They're part of an international community that looks at and models themselves as people that they aspire to be: racial warriors."

"Of course it doesn't matter whether you're in Christchurch, or whether you're in Ukraine or whether you're in Berlin - you're talking to each other," Schindler said. "And with the great replacement theory, you have a common ideology. It's no longer ultra-German nationalism, it's now the defence of the West against the population of these kinds of foreigners or brown people."

The great replacement conspiracy theory poses that a cabal of "globalists" - usually Jews - is seeking to destroy Western society and culture by encouraging mass migration of non-white people to Western countries. The conspiracy theory was frequently alluded to in the alleged Christchurch shooter's manifesto, which was titled the Great Replacement.

A new kind of far-right terrorism

This network also extends beyond the internet. Schindler said the CEP has observed connections between far-right groups across Europe, largely forged in battles in the ongoing separatist war in Ukraine, where several hundred far-right foreign fighters have served. "This infuses right-wing radicalism all over the Western world with a level that we have not had before," he said.

"We've had the right-wing groups always being interested in militaria, doing their summer camps, trying to join the army. We've never had right-wing radicals with actual, practical combat experience, actual, practical experience to handle explosives in combat situations.

"We're predicting that this is infusing a new level of willingness [to resort to] violence in right-wing networks that we have not had before. We do see, potentially, the Christchurch attack as a massive wake-up call. Even if [the Christchurch accused] has no personal connection [to Ukrainian fighters], it is a symbol of what may happen."

"Hanau and other attacks really demonstrate that we now have - at least for the German case, let me tell you - an increased propensity towards violence."

Schindler expects an escalation from "low-level, 'Yeah, right-wing guys talk ugly and every once in a while they may beat up someone'."

"Now we have with L├╝bke, the politician who got executed in his home; with Hanau; with [the attempted Halle synagogue attack], with these attacks, we now see them to move out of this kind of low-level, individualised attacks to a more terrorism-like style of doing things. So yes, we do see the Christchurch attack as a very important sign, not the odd one out."

Spoonley is also concerned that Kiwis will think the impact of Christchurch is confined to overseas events.

"What concerns me is that as we move further away from the event, we assume that that was a one-off - that these politics and these views are somehow not representative of our community," he said.

"All I would ask is that New Zealanders talk to the Muslim community in New Zealand, who will quickly dispel the notion that somehow Islamophobia is confined to that one event and is not part of New Zealand society or parts of New Zealand society."

Can you help our journalists uncover the facts?

Newsroom is committed to giving our journalists the time they need to uncover, investigate, and fact-check tough stories. Reader donations are critical to buying our team the time they need to produce high-quality independent journalism.

If you can help us, please donate today.


Newsroom does not allow comments directly on this website. We invite all readers who wish to discuss a story or leave a comment to visit us on Twitter or Facebook. We also welcome your news tips and feedback via email: contact@newsroom.co.nz. Thank you.

With thanks to our partners