Friday 16 April 2021

Can The State Pull The Lone Wolf Terrorist’s Teeth?

Punished, But Not Prevented: Though bitterly contested by those firmly convinced that the Christchurch Mosque Shootings represent something more than the crime of a Lone Wolf terrorist, the Royal Commission’s finding that no state agency could have prevented Brenton Tarrant from carrying out his deadly intent – except by chance – is correct. He understood that, for his “mission” to succeed, he must do nothing to draw the attention of the authorities – and, God help us all, he didn’t.

WHEN GOVERNMENTS EXTEND the state’s power to monitor their citizens’ ideas and activities, we should all be on our guard. Even when such extensions are introduced in response to a terrorist atrocity, we need to ask ourselves: would these new powers have prevented it?

For better, or for worse, this is no longer a moot point. Earlier this week the Justice Minister, Kris Faafoi, announced a raft of changes to our counter-terrorism laws.

Responding to the recommendations of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch mosque shootings, the Minister gave notice of the Government’s intention to: alter the definition of a terrorist act; criminalise planning and/or preparing for a terrorist attack; further criminalise terrorist weapons and combat training; criminalise international travel for the purpose of carrying out a terrorist attack; further criminalise the financing of terrorism to include broader forms of material support; and broaden the scope of ‘Control Orders’ to include convicted terrorists who may have served their prison sentences yet remain, in the judgement of the state, an ongoing terrorist threat.

The Minister further justified his strengthening of New Zealand’s anti-terrorism legislation by drawing attention to the way the Christchurch attacks “mirrored how the nature of terrorism has been changing internationally, involving lone actors rather than organised terrorist groups. We need to ensure our laws can respond to that.”

But will these changes produce the intended effect? More pertinently, had they been in place in the year immediately preceding the mosque attacks, would they have led to the early apprehension of the Christchurch shooter?

The answer to that question, sadly, is: almost certainly not.

Brenton Tarrant inhabited a Manichean moral universe in which the forces of Good were engaged in a never-ending struggle with the forces of Evil. Geopolitical events led him to the conviction that, as in the Middle Ages, this struggle was manifested principally in the conflict between Christendom and Islam. Following the death of his father, Tarrant inherited a sum sufficient to fund overseas trips to battlefields where holy armies of crusading Christian knights had thrown back the Ottoman invaders of Eastern Europe. Fortified by his ever deeper immersion in anti-Muslim propaganda, Tarrant’s fanaticism gradually morphed into the cold-blooded mindset of the “Lone Wolf” terrorist. With great care he set about planning an “inspirational” massacre worthy of his hero, the Norwegian terrorist, Anders Breivik.

It is extremely difficult to see how any of the legislative changes proposed by Minister Faafoi could possibly have deflected Tarrant from his murderous mission.

The state can hardly prevent citizens (or Australian visitors) from watching the news, surfing the Internet, or taking books on Medieval History out of the local library. Nor can it criminalise the intellectual tradition bound up with what writers and political activists have, for more than century, characterised as the “Decline of the West”.

The idea of Western civilisation under pressure is related to, but not quite the same as, the “white supremacist” beliefs attributed to Tarrant. This twisted individual was radicalised by, of all things, his tragically “wrong” reading of Europe’s past. Is Minister Faafoi proposing to criminalise history?

It would also be interesting to know how the Minister plans to prevent people from spending their inheritance. Does he propose to confiscate all legacies lest they be put to terroristic purposes?

Nor would the criminalising of terrorist weapons and combat training have stopped Tarrant. He purchased his weapons lawfully, on the basis of a firearms licence issued to him by the Police. His “combat training” involved attending – alongside many other firearms enthusiasts – a rifle-range about twenty kilometres from his Dunedin residence. Does the Minister propose to shut down all gun-clubs and rifle-ranges?

Though bitterly contested by those firmly convinced that the Christchurch Mosque Shootings represent something more than the crime of a Lone Wolf terrorist, the Royal Commission’s finding that no state agency could have prevented Tarrant from carrying out his deadly intent – except by chance – is correct. He understood that, for his “mission” to succeed, he must do nothing to draw the attention of the authorities – and, God help us all, he didn’t.

Against such careful and pitiless premeditation, all the laws on our statute books are powerless. The state can punish Lone Wolves, but it cannot stop them. In attempting to minimise the terrorist threat, however, the state can eliminate our freedoms.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and Greymouth Star of Friday, 16 April 2021.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

If the police had done their job properly, he never would have got a firearms license, particularly one for an MSSR. I guess it just wasn't a priority, unless you're brown and live in the Ureweras.

Odysseus said...

While the Royal Commission absolves State agencies of any failure (so who issued the gun licenses?) and buries much of their evidence, it then goes on to propose radical limitations including severe penalties on New Zealanders' freedom of speech with what amounts to a new blasphemy law. A total non sequitur that appears to be politically driven, eh Jacinda?

Chris Morris said...

Isn't there a legal saying around somewhere about sensational cases make for bad laws. This is a case in point. You are correct in challenging the Minister about how would these laws have stopped Tarrant. If he can't give a sensible answer, then that destroys his justification

AB said...

"The state can punish Lone Wolves, but it cannot stop them. In attempting to minimise the terrorist threat, however, the state can eliminate our freedoms"

If you are looking to formulate a general principle, then it would be more accurate to say that "it cannot stop all of them." And in this case we don't know what the intelligence services might have found out about Tarrant if they had cared to look - or whether it might have been sufficient to stop him.

Plus there is one important caveat on this general principle:
That to whatever extent we allow the intelligence services to intrude into our lives - that intrusion must be applied impartially against all types of threats to the whole public. The intelligence services must not be allowed to focus their attention largely on perceived threats to the existing alignment of economic power, i.e. disproportionately surveilling 'the left' as they have done historically, and will always instinctively do if not tightly managed.

greywarbler said...

Looks like a 'grey wolf' in the image. I'm interested in his type, and how he got that way. Obviously ended up with a slanted brain process from his growing-up years. I guess he has had troubles and it seems there is nothing like going out and killing a whole lot of people to wipe mind off them. Instead of working through your perceived faults, inadequacies and lack of personal purpose and going from there to create a good life for oneself. The anomic* person needs to come to grips with themselves and be stirred to do something positive.

James Hampton, died in 1964, left a monumental art work behind that has been treasured.
Wondrous works of art from scraps has been recognised and displayed by the Smithsonian.

If we treated each other like works of art full of potential for doing good things and inspiring us, the bad thoughts that settle in the brains of shooters would find no room. Do it somebody who has the levers of power to make things happen!

Perhaps stop watching tv movies and series that picture people going round doing bad things, the thoughts get into the brain and apparently sit alongside reality and probably to clear one night's terror and war movie would require ten good things happening, and they must be noticed and not taken for granted. Feeling grateful for the good things around us, even if only a few, could keep the 'black dog', the 'red rage', the 'green envy', the sour dislike and rolling hate, at bay. We have to watch out for the warped and dangerous, but we shouldn't either be careless and complacent and feel entitled like Grace Mullane, nor too scared to form relationships with others, just wait till we can assess their drives and personalities.

The term was introduced by the French sociologist Émile Durkheim in his study of suicide. He believed that one type of suicide (anomic) resulted from the breakdown of the social standards necessary for regulating behaviour

The thinking around crime, anomie and its growth is interesting and is relevant to New Zealand people concerned about society's behaviours.

Implication for Criminal Policy
Obviously, according to Durkheim’s theses, the political goal must be to prevent the state of anomie in a society. This is at least possible for the state by successfully communicating values and moral concepts that apply equally to all members of society. If society or the state prescribes a clear and unequivocal standardization, the individual recognizes it and renounces certain desires or severely restricts many of his needs.

A prerequisite for this, however, is on the one hand that the members of society accept the content of the norms set and do not only adhere to them out of pure fear of sanctions (this acceptance can, however, only be expected if the distribution of goods in the social structure is not too unequal). On the other hand, the stability of the norm-setting society is a prerequisite: economic or social collapses as well as other changes in times of social change weaken collective consciousness and call into question the moral principles previously shared.

In summary, it can be said that, according to Durkheim, the clear and unequivocal communication of social norms on the one hand and the stability of economic and social factors in societies on the other hand can prevent the outbreak of increased crime.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Guerilla Surgeon.

If the Police had been more thorough in relation to Tarrant's firearms license they would have contacted his sister in Australia - who would, almost certainly, have vouched for him - and the license would have been issued just the same.

As for those proto-terrorists training in the Ureweras, they were mostly equipped (if the video footage is any guide) with rifles - not MSSAs. Either weapon will, of course, leave its targets just as dead.

Your willingness, GS, to flippantly downplay what was happening 11 years ago in the Ureweras, while demanding a stringent crackdown on right-wing proto-terrorists, is disturbing.

Neither left-wing nor right-wing extremists in NZ are guilty of committing any atrocities. It bears repeating that Brenton Tarrant was an Australian, who chose this country as the venue for his attacks precisely because of its total unfamiliarity with extremist and/or terrorist violence. He knew he could hide here in plain sight without fear of being detected.

Nothing can now undo the accuracy of Tarrant's assessment, and the Government's determination to shut the stable door long after the horse has bolted will achieve very little - apart from strengthening the surveillance powers of the New Zealand state. The apprehension of Lone Wolf terrorists before they strike is almost entirely dependent on them making a mistake - or the Police benefitting from the very purest of dumb luck.

Think about it: if those two Ashburton cops hadn't acted on their inspired guesses, Tarrant may have been out of Christchurch and in the wind well before an effective cordon was established. The authorities may never have apprehended him.

Given the Woke Left's behaviour since 15 March 2019, it is likely that every right-winger in the country would still be paying the price for the terrorist's escape. They would be storing up the grapes of wrath for the day when the Right was in a position to return the favour.

Repression is easy to start - but very hard to stop.

Shane McDowall said...

"Neither left-wing nor right-wing extremists in NZ are guilty of committing any atrocities".

But for four layers of armoured glass and a large desk two security guards would have been killed by a punk-anarchist at Wanganui in 1982.

And the 1984 Trades Hall bombing, which did take a life, was almost certainly committed by a right-wing nut. The name of the possible (I'd say probable) bomber is available on the internet.

Apart from this detail I strongly agree with your article. Lone Wolf attacks are virtually impossible to prevent.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"flippantly downplay what was happening 11 years ago in the Ureweras, while demanding a stringent crackdown on right-wing proto-terrorists, is disturbing."

The Urewera raids were egregious - considering no-one was ever charged with any but trifling illegal acts, and I certainly wasn't being flippant about them. But the gap between the intelligence services and police's attitude towards right wing and Left/Maori 'terrorism' was what I was highlighting. It's the same in Australia, Britain and the US. The extreme right is always considered less of a threat than the left for... reasons.
I also can't for the life of me see in that short post where I said there should be a crack down on R/W 'proto-terrorists'. But the police said that short staffing was the reason that Tarrant wasn't investigated properly. Maybe if they weren't so busy chasing daffy pacifists and the like. FFS they didn't even visit his Facebook page AFAIK.

Incidentally was there something illegal about what they were doing in the Ureweras? Playing soldiers is perfectly legal surely... and used to be approved of by conservatives if not compulsory. That's not flippant either. If you are going to be chasing people around for doing this there needs to be a law agin it. Should there be? According to you seemingly - but not me. So which of us wants a crackdown again?

Chris Morris said...

That is a pretty stupid statement you made. Tarrant could have just as easily got an illegal gun and not one from a registered owner. The gangs have no problem. And I note there has been no outrage from you on their weaponry.
If you talk to an real armorer, it is not that hard to turn many single shot rifles into a semi-automatic. You can easily get parts to turn them to fully automatic if you bring them in in your luggage. You are unlikely to get caught as customs officers wouldn't recognise them, especially if disguised in among other machine parts. You can also convert rifles to pistol grips at home - the distinguishing feature of a MSSA.

Geoff Fischer said...

Kia ora Chris
The influences on Brenton Tarrant do not all or even principally go back to the Middle Ages.
You will have seen the videos of Anzac troops murdering Afghan civilians in cold blood. Filming their crimes in confidence that their actions will meet with approval of their senior officers and political masters, just as Brenton Tarrant did.
In about a week's time, the leaders of New Zealand and Australian governments will be celebrating the exploits of these same Anzacs, and, to their shame, so will many supporters of the colonial regime.
Your analysis of Tarrant's actions omits to mention the key truth of the matter, which is that Tarrant manifested the Five Eyes ideology pure and simple and diverged from the Anzac standard only in so far as he ended up with a higher body count than most of his colleagues.
As for the idea that he "flew beneath the SIS radar": even if we were to believe the "lone wolf" theory put out by Ardern's government, no Australian citizen can travel to the DPRK without attracting the attention of ASIO. So the idea that Tarrant was not known to the security services is utter nonsense.

Tom Hunter said...

If the police had done their job properly, he never would have got a firearms license....

Nuts! I'm going to have to agree with Guerilla Surgeon for once. This is exactly right. Having jumped through the multiple Police hoops that exist for people renewing their gun licence - the references to two non-relatives attesting to your sound mind; the interview with what turns out to always be a retired cop; the questions asked to show whether you should own a firearm, the personal inspection of your gun storage areas... It's quite a process.

Some of it has always annoyed me, but I sucked it up as other gun owners did, thinking, "Well, we don't want to be like America". You can imagine how pissed off I was to discover how easily the Police discarded all that for Tarrant - and then decided to implicitly stick it to people like me, even though I've never owned, or wanted to own, a semi-automatic rifle in my life.

Confidence in the cops? Near zero for me nowadays.

Tom Hunter said...

The extreme right is always considered less of a threat than the left for... reasons.

Following the bombing of the Murrah Building in 1995 the FBI and other parts of the US intelligence and security world certainly made a big deal about such "right-wing" terrorists, cleverly played by Bill Clinton as well, in a more subtle manner than the likes of Pelosi and company nowadays.

The result of course was that they missed the 9/11 attackers. Almost everybody did, including the poor bloody airline reservation agent who handed Mohammed Atta and his mate their boarding passes, despite sensing an incredible of hatred and dismissing his own feeling as something he should not have been thinking about Middle Eastern people. Successful programming.

David George said...

The police are not really involved in covert surveillance of extremists (there are legal and logistic obstacles to that) much less "busy chasing daffy pacifists" as GS asserts. A friend of my son was seconded to the SIS for internet surveillance work. Most of their time is spent trying to prevent serious cyber security attacks and such. The local "free the chickens" nutters are, believe me, very definitely not on the radar. That sort of thing only comes to attention (of the police) if they receive a credible tip off or, more likely, if a criminal offence has been committed.

Trying to discover the plans of would be terrorists is a daunting task, significantly increasing surveillance is very expensive and carries high attendant risks to our accepted and expected freedoms. Additionally, there are many paths alternative paths of almost impossible to intercept communication available, encrypted satellite phone and internet for example. How about opening every letter posted?

It's easy to criticise priorities after the event but I agree, this particular one (Tarrant) could only have been prevented by sheer good luck.

John Hurley said...

That Jesse Mulligan interview Chris
Dear John,

1. The MediaWorks Standards Committee is responsible for considering formal complaints about MediaWorks’ online news content, and deciding whether or not it complied with the Principles set out by the New Zealand Media Council.

2. Your complaint relates to a video created by a third-party and published by Youtube. MediaWorks is only required to consider complaints about content published by MediaWorks. Therefore, we are not required to accept your complaint.

3. In any event, we are satisfied that The Project material you referred to in your complaint complied with the Media Council’s Principle of Accuracy, Fairness and Balance.

4. Discussing Canadian right-wing personality Lauren Southern’s attempts to prevent a refugee ship from docking in Sicily, presenter Jesse Mulligan stated:“She says that women and children would be better to die than come into Europe”.

5. The Committee has determined that Mr Mulligan did not quote something Ms Southern had actually said, but rather inferred her views from her actions. Having considered Ms Southern’s actions, we are satisfied that Mr Mulligan's characterisation of her views was accurate.

Kind regards,
Robert Dowd                                   
For the MediaWorks Standards Committee

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Ibrahim Issa, a jovial Syrian taxi-driver who wears a blue robe over an ample belly, has nine children from two wives. He plans to marry a third wife soon.
He says it is up to Allah whether more children arrive, and not for him to interfere, say, by using contraception. Like all Damascus taxi-drivers, he complains about the cost of living and how hard it is to make ends meet on the $300 a month he earns.
Issa, 43, shrugs when asked if all those mouths to feed don’t make life harder for him. “No, I’m delighted,” he grins.

Same story with Rohingya's "Oh it's the camps!"

In his own interpretation of Elton John’s iconic hit, Iranian filmmaker and refugee Majid Adin reimagines “Rocket Man” to tell a new story of adventure, loneliness and hope. The Cut, proudly supported by YouTube, invited filmmakers to create the first official music videos for three of Elton’s most famous songs:

John Hurley said...

What I see going on here is an attempt to wipe out a paradigm held by half the population.

That half would also be skewed by ethnic groups/media/academics.

The paradigm is post ethnic cosmopolitanism.

Can a society operate without a degree of agreement about who belongs and who doesn't?

Anti-racism is anti-white: opposed to a society with a white ethnic base.

The media are the magnifying glass and ethic activists love to coddle up to the Maori Promoted Identity (MPI). They in turn like their MPI with it's symbolic role and mystical bag of tricks.

greywarbler said...

I feel that this post is flying round in tight circles, the right-wing strong and the left-wing sprained.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Chris Morris. That was a pretty stupid statement you said – actually several. The subject of the post was not gangs, so I didn't comment on them. Quite conversant with guns thank you but your advice on how to convert them is noted. The problem is of course that every time you do this through each stage you commit a crime. And there is some small risk of discovery each time you do it. It's a lot easier just to get a license seemingly. And I don't think somehow that – having been through customs numerous times – they are quite so ignorant or stupid as you think.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Early on in “The Looming Tower,” FBI agent Ali Soufan (Tahir Rahim) testifies in front of the 9/11 Joint Inquiry in 2004, a year before he quit the bureau at age 34.

Very calmly, he tells the panel that the CIA withheld intelligence from the bureau that would have prevented the Sept. 11 attacks — adding that he first became aware of the CIA’s withholding of evidence as early as 1998. “There were a lot of mistakes on everybody’s part,” the real-life Soufan tells The Post. “The CIA knew that these people were in the US. They never passed the information.”

On the whole, the intelligence services of the US did not perform well in preventing 911 or various other terrorist acts.30 seconds of googling and you could find out exactly why. One of the reasons was they were concentrating on Muslims and the left rather than those right-wing groups that committed the insurrection at the capital – among others. It's well known that these far right groups have managed to infiltrate local police forces as well. And the capital police seemed to have a certain sympathy with the insurrectionists. As far as New Zealand is concerned, I don't remember too many right-wingers finding SIS agents in their homes trying to bug them.

Chris Morris said...

GS You wrote " he never would have got a firearms license, particularly one for an MSSR" I am pointing out the gangs have MSSRs and they haven't got licenses. They are a lot more of a treat to the population at large than rightwing loonies.
I shouldn't have used the word luggage. They would import the bits mixed in with machinery or concealed inside equipment. Same way the drug smugglers have been caught doing and most of what is found is from prior intelligence, not customs being suspicious and looking further.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Chris. I didn't say he would never have got a firearm. But getting one without a license is harder and you have to expose yourself to possible arrest. Particularly if you have no criminal connections. As it is it was made easy for him. I've never tried to get an MSSR, simply because the conditions were too onerous. But I've had several friends who've done it, and they had to jump through some pretty difficult hoops, some of which seem not to have been applied to him. Even if he had only been confined to a bolt action rifle with a smaller magazine or even a semiautomatic .22 LR, then casualties probably would have been far less.

greywarbler said...

The image for this post shows a young man staring challengingly at the camera. A determined I-am-right look that looks like a closed mind on some poisonous thoughts. In this article on USA cop Chauvin, (killer of George Floyd), halfway down, the photo of Chauvin gives me the same feeling.

And by the way there has been discussion in NZ about adopting degrees of murder, similar to that of the USA. It would seem to be an idea whose time has come, and there needs to be wider thought about this I think.