That’s it. To examine the document more carefully is about as useful as stirring and examining the killer’s scat. Not all manifestos and ideological documents are this mediocre or written in such a repulsively casual tone. (“Q: You are a bigot, racist, xenophobe, islamophobe, nazi, fascist! A: Compliments will get you nowhere.”) The Islamic State’s statements, for example, were written in a repulsively formal register, often with original poetry and allusion to rich intellectual traditions. The Unabomber, too, displayed erudition and an almost dainty concern for citation and detail. (In his last book, a prison manifesto, he even cited me.) The killer in this case seems to have lacked originality, even cribbing his jokes from fellow sewer-dwellers on the internet. Already the internet is being scrubbed of his manifesto. I predict that within days it will be easy to find again, but that no one will bother reading it, because it is simply stultifying, and not bracing even for the skinheads and tiki-torch marchers who agree with it in principle.
Of course, even a mediocre manifesto will attract interest, both prurient and legitimate. In extremist manifestos, “there is a potency in the combination of words and action,” J. M. Berger wrote here just a few weeks ago, that fascinates people, both analysts and believers. Some of these documents contain wicked brilliance that catalyzes violent acts through sheer force of imagination. Berger counts more than 200 deaths at the hands of fans of The Turner Diaries, a 1978 anti-Semitic and racist thriller. The Islamic State has killed many more, and although it has never published a manifesto, untold numbers of foreign fighters began their journeys by downloading an ISIS-produced document outlining the beliefs that a Muslim must hold, and the actions those beliefs require. These manifestos sometimes matter a great deal.
Read: The shooter’s manifesto was designed to troll
What we should learn as this particular manifesto is forgotten is that even if specific texts prove unmemorable, the potency of ideas is enduring and chronically underestimated. Is there any doubt that the ideology that inspired the Christchurch terrorist is a global pestilence, and that any response that fails to apprehend it as an ideology is inadequate? We already see an understandable curiosity about websites the killer might have visited, the fact that he live-streamed his crimes, and his references to memes and public figures.
I am reminded of early phases of analysis of ISIS, when sympathizers flooded Twitter with jihadist memes and jokes, and in some cases even planted obviously fake claims that they had been radicalized by non-jihadist Muslim public figures in the West. The confusion sown in those early days contributed to a failure to realize that at its core, ISIS had a very non-ironic set of beliefs, accompanied by ironic memes and worldly mechanisms for dissemination. When the Christchurch killer departs from his jocular, message-board tones, he refers to historical figures and events, not always the ones that have engendered Pepe-like memes for the internet’s right wing. (He refers three times to the English Nazi-sympathizer Oswald Mosley, a figure known to every fascist but not to every keyboard warrior on 8chan for the laughs.) This fascist core is attended by a bodyguard of casual irony and disdainful, in-joke humor. The tone is just a style, and a phenomenon of our times. But the core is an enduring enemy of civilization. The killer sees it, rightly, as historically continuous with mid-20th-century fascism. The survival of this ideology in any form should unnerve us all.