The Limits of Hatred

The White nationalist gunman who killed 50 in Christchurch triggered worldwide interest in far-right movements and their ideological underpinnings -- but not significantly.

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British fascist Oswald Mosley.

The attack on two New Zealand mosques by a White supremacist gunman that left 50 dead sparked an uptick in online interest in far-right movements worldwide. The shooter, a 28-year-old Australian national, disseminated a 73-page manifesto before the attack. Patterns of online attention show that the shooting has caused internet users to scrutinize far-right movements, incidents, and esoteric White supremacist ideological strains. Yet, so far the effect has been relatively minor. The shooter’s act of terror has failed to generate the shockwaves in the digital realm that he may have hoped for.  

In the UK, interest in far-right movements surged to its highest level of the year, but remains below levels seen at the end of 2018. Particular subjects did receive extraordinary attention, however. Activity on web pages related to Oswald Mosley, a WWII-era fascist MP, hit its highest level ever. A protectionist, anti-Semite, and the founder of the British Union of Fascists Party, Mosley was one of those the shooter cited as an ideological inspiration.

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In the United States, interest in the Alt-Right shot upward after the Christchurch shooting, but remained well below recent highs.

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In Germany, the story is similar. The Christchurch attack caused a rise in interest but to a level well below recent highs. Interest in the German far-right has coincided with the debate over refugees, and in particular over crimes perpetrated by refugees. After the New Zealand shooting, web pages that received exceptional levels of attention related to the 2016 Munich shooting, when a gunman motivated by xenophobia and ethno-nationalism killed nine and himself outside a shopping mall.

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The shooter’s goal was to inspire White nationalists worldwide. The signals suggest that though his act of terror was shocking, it has failed to resonate in the digital realm to an exceptional degree. Extreme right-wing movements tend to be localized and, often by design, nationalist in their salience. Indeed, the signals demonstrate that national events galvanize interest in a country’s respective far-right wing more so than international incidents. The shooter’s goal of inspiring an international uprising against multiculturalism appears on track to fail.