I know we don’t usually use four-letter words around here, but “shitposting” is something that happens, that’s what they call it, and we have to confront unpleasant things sometimes.
I begin with the idea of confronting unpleasant things because it’s not just about a website’s standards for curse words, it’s about the media and the culture and how they view things they don’t want to view, and face facts they don’t want to face. Like the word itself, “shitposting” is an unpleasant thing that happens, and the fact that it doesn’t always confirm narratives, or conform to them, has to be confronted.
Although most major media probably won’t.
In the case of the massacre in New Zealand, the motive of the murderers is going to be the singular story for Americans, far across the globe from the actual consequences of the act and the personal connection to the deaths. New Zealand is literally the other side of the world. That distance will breed the detachment to focus purely on what the killer’s acts mean in the broadest sense, and the myopic self-absorption to make it about our own domestic politics.
And in that, the media, our media, have a willing ally in the killer himself, it seems. Because his manifesto is “a trap” in some ways. At least, that is how it is phrased by journalist Robert Evans in an article that is getting a lot of circulation on social media and on the right, less so on the left and in the mainstream media.
Here is an excerpt.
Shortly after the spree ended, New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush confirmed that several improvised explosive devices had been disarmed by authorities. If those devices were meant as some kind of booby trap, they were not the only trap “Brenton” left behind. Immediately before carrying out his spree, he posted links to a manifesto on Twitter:
He includes a screenshot of the Tweet, which had the links to the “manifesto.”
In “The Great Replacement” repeats a variety of “white genocide” talking points, and claims his murder of several dozen Muslims is because they are “invaders” outbreeding the white race. All the evidence we have suggests these are, more or less, the shooter’s beliefs.
But this manifesto is a trap itself, laid for journalists searching for the meaning behind this horrific crime. There is truth in there, and valuable clues to the shooter’s radicalization, but it is buried beneath a great deal of, for lack of a better word, “shitposting”.
And he goes into shitposting, which is a slippery concept, but is essentially a thing on the internet where people who embrace chaos or have deep hate for basically everything say and do things that they know are upsetting or terrible simply for the sake of the terribleness and not as much for the particular ideology involved. It is people wishing Happy Birthday to Hitler or relentlessly trolling strangers or using memes and codes that they believe will trick journalists into seeing conspiracies where there are none, or missing them when they’re there. In the old days it would just be called the acts of “anonymous”.
As you’ve probably read already today, MAGA activist Candace Owens was named in the manifesto.
“Each time she spoke I was stunned by her insights and her own views helped push me further and further into the belief of violence over meekness. Though I will have to disavow some of her beliefs, the extreme actions she calls for are too much, even for my tastes.”
That’s from the killer, and reads like it was probably meant: as trolling.
More from Robert Evans:
But in the context of the shooter’s online presence, and the rest of his manifesto, this was almost certainly misdirection. Here is what the author wrote immediately below the section crediting Owens for his radicalization. In it, he jokes that “Spyro the Dragon 3”, a video game, taught him “ethno-nationalism”.
Here is that portion of the “manifesto.”
Evans says that while Owens does traffic in anti-immigration, the references to Ownes “in context” were probably “calculated to spark division, and perhaps even violence, between the left and the right.”
Throughout the manifesto, it is a task to sort sarcasm or trolling from the genuine idea that motivated the murderer. Because let’s not forget that this “shitposter” went far beyond merely stirring up trouble. He took a gun and committed a massacre. That act must have a belief behind it, and that belief is in his writing. It is, in fact, even expressed by the ways in which he chose to “shitpost” and sow discontent and chaos. And the murderer says so himself.
“Well lads, it’s time to stop shitposting and time to make a real life effort post, he wrote. “I will carry out and attack against the invaders, and will even live stream the attack via facebook.”
As we know, he did livestream it, to the horror of the world.
Evans goes into a great deal more detail, outlining what portions of the manifesto demonstrate his true beliefs, and you really ought to read the whole thing.
This monster was foremost opposed to immigration of all kinds, he was a white nationalist, a fascist. He claimed to be an “eco-fascist.” He had neo-Nazi sympathies, but did not associate himself with them. He wanted to inspire other murderers, and was inspired by murders who came before him.
On his thread at 8chan, among his fellow “shitposters” and swimming in their hate, the replies to his act were celebratory, cheering the body count, full of racial slurs, religious slurs, and antipathy toward human life.
This was a monster. He operated among monsters. His worldview is a modern one, inextricably meshed with the internet and the anonymity it affords, the radicalization it encourages. His motivations are ancient ones, a hate so deep in his being he cannot recognize it as hate. Nor can his fellow monsters. Because worst of all, what this shows is that he is not alone. Not even close.
It will be tempting, and the press will probably give in to that temptation, to offer a very simple, watered-down version of what drove this act. Tempting to point to Trump in the U.S. or Marine Le Pen in France, to cite people like Candace Owens or those who want a border wall, and to say “this is them. They are all the same.”
But this animal — like his fellow animals — is both more complicated than that, and driven by far more primitive emotions than that. Taking the easy way out and putting it on Trump would be short-sighted and stupid and utterly self-involved of our press. But that’s probably what will happen anyway.
Still, if you want to understand more fully, read more here. It includes screenshots from that vile thread of replies to his announcement of intent, and an explanation of some of the references he made that definitely require explanation.
If we’re to really understand what the danger, we have to try to grasp the online world in which this massacre was born. Even if it’s not easy or doesn’t confirm our biases.