Decoding The Racist Memes The New Zealand Shooter Used To Communicate (HBO)

The night before 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant allegedly opened fire on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, he posted a Facebook link where he would broadcast his deadly attack. The title of the post was “Screw Your Optics,” a reference to the words posted on Gab by a Pittsburgh gunman before he killed 11 people at a synagogue in October.

The coded reference to a massacre thousands of miles away is an example of the communication system used by modern white supremacists, who employ a shared language of memes and trolling, and who often lionize acts of hatred by domestic terrorists.

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Decoding The Racist Memes The New Zealand Shooter Used To Communicate (HBO)

That idea that there’s a quiet genocide against white people is at the heart of the manifesto of New Zealand shooter Brenton Tarrant. There is nothing original about it. What’s most striking is his clear desperation to be adored by the people on alt right message boards, where the white genocide conspiracy theory thrives. His manifesto is packed with memes from those boards.

And these memes are important to understand, because they’re central to online radicalization. They make becoming an extremist into a game, a game that rewards following these message boards super closely, and impressing others by making up variations on those memes. Those message boards valorize mass killers who were motivated by racism. From his manifesto, it’s clear Tarrant wanted to be celebrated too.

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