The Age of Terrorism Meets the Era of the Troll

The New Zealand shooter is an extreme example of an increasingly common disaffected person—mostly young men—whose worldview is shaped largely by an evil online culture.

It is not uncommon for terrorists to release a rambling, barely coherent manifesto. And it is usually wise to ignore them, since they only feed the murderer’s desire for attention. But the document left by the New Zealand shooter (whom I will not name) is worth examining, because it gives us insight into a new type of terrorist—the terrorist as troll.

 

On Friday a man in his late 20s was charged with murdering at least 49 people and seriously injuring 20 more in a terror attack targeting two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch.

During the attack, the man livestreamed a video of his murders on Facebook. He also posted a link to an 87-page white nationalist manifesto online. In the document, under the heading “From where did you receive/research/develop your beliefs?” the murderer responds, “The internet, of course. You will not find the truth anywhere else.”

It is not uncommon for terrorists to release a rambling, barely coherent manifesto. And it is usually wise to ignore them, since they only feed the murderer’s desire for attention. But the document left by the New Zealand shooter (whom I will not name) is worth examining, because it gives us insight into a new type of terrorist—the terrorist as troll.

The New Zealand shooter is an extreme example of an increasingly common disaffected person—mostly young men—whose worldview is shaped largely by an evil online culture. Here are six characteristics of these “trolls.”

1. They are addicted to trolling.

The Oxford Dictionary defines “trolling” as making a deliberately offensive or provocative online post with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response. Trolling is commonly found in almost every area where people congregate online. But for many lost young men—a group that includes more than just white nationalists—trolling has become almost a way of life.

Just as some children crave attention so much they exhibit inappropriate behaviors to gain attention from their parents, thousands of young men spend their days and nights trying to gain some sort of validation by trolling people online. This is why the internet is flooded with works, such as hate-filled memes, that are used not to persuade but to annoy. As the New Zealand shooter says, “Create memes, post memes, and spread memes. Memes have done more for the ethnonationalist movement than any manifesto.”

2. They are committed to transgressivism.

Since the 1960s, a large segment of American culture has embraced transgressivism, a movement that celebrates the violation of socially accepted norms or morally imposed boundaries. The political and cultural left championed transgressivism when it was tearing down norms established by Christianity. But now that we are shifting to a post-Christian era, we are beginning to see the next phase of transgressivism—and it frightens even progressives.

As Angela Nagle writes in Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right“The ease with which this broader alt-right and alt-light milieu can use transgressive styles today shows how superficial and historically accidental it was that it ended up being in any way associated with the socialist left.” As with the left, these new trolls are dogmatically opposed to orthodox Christianity. As Nagle adds, “Today, the appeal of [Nietzschean] anti-moralism is strong on the alt-right because their goals necessitate the repudiation of Christian codes that Nietzsche characterized as slave morality.”

3. They are incoherently trans-political.

The New Zealand shooter has been described as being on the “far right” or the “extreme right.” This is primarily because the media tend to lump all white nationalists as being on the right end of the political spectrum. But the right-left dichotomy doesn’t often fit with online-based extremism. It is more accurate to consider them through the lens of the horseshoe theory, a concept in political science that claims the far left and the far right, rather than being at opposite and opposing ends of a linear political continuum, closely resemble one another, much like the ends of a horseshoe.

Trolls like the New Zealand shooter aren’t thinking systematically or attempting to develop a coherent worldview. Instead, they pick-and-choose whatever political elements fit with their personality or their sub-tribe’s ethos—even if the result is incoherent and contradictory.

For example, the New Zealand shooter says he’s left-wing or right-wing depending on the definition. He says the same about the label “socialist,” though he emphatically states he wants no part of conservatism. He admires President Trump as a “symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose” and yet rejects him as a “policy maker and leader.” The shooter also claims he was formerly a communist, an anarchist, and a libertarian. He says he’s no neo-nazi, but rather an “eco-fascist by nature.” His primary label for himself is “Ethno-Nationalist Eco-Fascist.”

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