Day One Of Four: The Christchurch Terror Hearing

In the first of four days, the High Court in Christchurch has relived the horrifying details of New Zealand’s worst peacetime massacre. The actions of an Australian terrorist – who will not be named in this article –murdered 51 people, across two Islamic places of worship in March 2019. His charges include 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and a terrorism charge. He faces the possibility of being the first offender in New Zealand to be sentenced to life in prison, without the chance of ever leaving jail.

In recounting the events of the meticulously planned terrorist attack, no details were spared. Crown Prosecutor Barnaby Hawes provided an unfiltered account of March 15th, where the court heard that the terrorist’s move from Australia to New Zealand in 2017 was done with purpose. He had planned the attacks on Kiwi soil, as relaxed laws on firearms acted as an impetus.

As he gradually added to his stockpile of weapons and ammunition, military-style protective equipment, and ballistic armour, the Australian flew drones over the mosques he would later attack. In scoping out peak attendance times, entrances and exits, maximum efficiency in destruction to gain a high body count was the clear goal. At the time of his capture, authorities found four modified containers which were intended set alight the mosques, following the shootings. While it is not clear why he did not go through with this final detail of his plan, the court heard in a police interview that he expressed remorse at not having done so.

This was the largest terrorist incident by a far-right perpetrator since 2011, when Anders Breivik killed 77 people in Norway. However, what is distinct about the Christchurch terrorist’s actions is the lengths he went to, in order to pander for his far-right audience. By uploading a manifesto to anonymous forums frequented by like-minded individuals, the white nationalist detailed how he was motivated to cull immigration numbers by indiscriminately killing Muslims, reciting similar motifs as many of his far-right role models did. This was further illustrated on his instruments of death: all tools were inscribed with some kind of reference to either historic battles and figures, recent events and symbols co-opted by nationalist groups like the Norwegian SS.

The self-professed white supremacist used social media to broadcast especially heinous scenes. He would often engage with his online audience – during the attack – by using familiar phrases which are distinguishable to those who visit fringe forums and gaming communities. This is not to say that there is an inherent connection between gaming communities and the perpetration of far-right ideologies. Rather, his self-described “real-life effort post” paid homage to online communities that he knew would circulate the video showing death, repurposing it for someone else’s nefarious intentions.

As the victims began to give their statements – with some addressing the terrorist directly – he showed no sign of remorse. The white supremacist was unperturbed by the graphic descriptions of how he assassinated a three-year-old child, who clung to the leg of his dead father; nor was he disturbed by the account of a woman who is now bound to a wheelchair due to the spinal injuries she incurred, or of another woman he had shot and then ran over as he fled one of the mosques.

Throughout the next four-days the court will continue to hear statements similar to the ones above from more than 60 people. One of the comments made in the terrorist’s extensive manifesto was a clear intent to create “an atmosphere of fear.” There is no doubt that victims are reliving their past trauma. However, importance needs to be placed on the words of Imam Gamal Fouda – he stands as the religious authority at Al Noor mosque, the first place the gunman terrorized.

“We are a peaceful and loving community, we did not deserve your actions … if you have done anything you have brought the whole community closer with your evil actions.” He continued to address the terrorist’s Australian family, and Australia as a whole.

“I can say to the family of the terrorist that they have lost a son and we have lost many from within our community too, I respect them as they are suffering as we are,” he said.

Australia is our neighbour and we are all one against hate and racism.”

More to follow in the upcoming week.