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'White-genocide theory' a core motivation for extreme far-right terrorists

Professor Maura Conway explained the racist “white-genocide” theory being shared online, and how “violence is often held out as the answer”.

Image: Shutterstock/Lincoln Rogers

THE IDEA THAT white people are being intentionally replaced by people of colour is a core talking point of the extreme right-wing terrorists in online forums, and provides the basis for attacks on Jews, Muslims and other groups, including mass shooting incidents. 

That’s according to Professor Maura Conway of the School of Law and Government in DCU, who is involved in the research project VOX-Pol, which looks at violent online political extremism.

In the wake of the New Zealand attack in which 49 people were killed at mosques during Friday prayers, we spoke to academics who have studied areas like alt-right online communities, violent political extremism and the influence the media has when covering these incidents. 

A manifesto was shared to the social media accounts of the man suspected of carrying out the New Zealand attacks, which declares a hatred for Muslim immigrants in Europe and expresses admiration for extremist movements in the US. 

So what result in people carrying out such violent attacks, and how can they be stopped from happening in the future? 

Professor Maura Conway told TheJournal.ie that “a core talking point of the online extreme right”, is the racist “white-genocide theory”:

“[It's] the idea that white people are being intentionally replaced, removed, or even eliminated by people of colour through ‘mass’ immigration and a variety of other methods. Often, in an anti-Semitic twist, responsibility for this is attributed to Jews,” she says.

Regardless of who responsibility is attributed to however, violence is often held out as the answer, this includes everything from ‘real world’ and online calls for genocidal-type violence against out-groups, to calls for targeted violence against named individuals.

Professor Conway says that this narrative is “very widely shared” across social media platforms, online forums, and gaming apps, so it’s “unsurprising” that most of the extreme right-wing terrorist attacks have had “significant online components”.

In the case of far-right mass killings, it comes down to “the fear that people who are different pose a threat to white culture and resources,” says Dr Debbie Ging, an Associate Professor in the School of Communications at DCU.

Her current research addresses issues such as cyberbullying and online misogyny. Dealing with the “loner” tag used frequently in these cases, she told TheJournal.ie

“It might look like these people are acting alone, but they are in fact supported by vast numbers of like-minded people, both online and offline.

And in some cases the people that legitimate their actions are not only from the extreme right or alt-right but are also right-leaning politicians or journalists. Their logic, as they see it, is reinforced daily in the anti-immigrant rhetoric of many newspapers, online commentators and political leaders.

Dr Ging said that these extremely violent reactions based on Islamophobia is “borne of a perceived threat to white power and entitlement, and their response is counter-attack”.

Professor Conway agrees that the extreme right “portray all Muslims as somehow associated with IS, and attacks against them as therefore ‘legitimate’”.

Another way to justify it is by portraying right-wing terrorist attacks such as yesterday’s: as ‘false flag’ events orchestrated by government(s) or, again, ‘shadowy Jewish cabals’.

What are the conditions that make terrorism appealing?

Although there’s still an academic debate on this issue, Dr Ging says some research indicates that those who commit mass shootings, or so-called ‘lone wolf’ terrorist attacks, “tend not to have any sort of unique or identifiable psychological traits”.

Dr Ging adds, however, that a number of mass-killing cases feature the same ideologies, citing the man behind the 2011 Norway attack in which 77 people were killed, Anders Breivik.

There are a number of cases, she says, featuring ”white men who have written extensive manifestos, and these manifestos have a common thread, namely an articulation of outrage that something to which they feel entitled – white male superiority – has been taken away from them.”

The real question is where do these feelings of entitlement start, where do they come from, and how are they being legitimated in mainstream politics and culture?

The media and terrorist attacks

There’s been much debate around how the media covers mass shootings in the Western world, with some media criticised for emphasising a perpetrator’s religion or mental health history in headlines and in framing stories.

Social media companies have also been criticised for allowing extremist images and videos, as well as hateful messages, to be spread. In the case of the New Zealand mosque attacks, the killer live-streamed the incident to Facebook; the video was later removed. 

The New Zealand police asked that the video of the attacker’s live stream not be shared,” Professor Conway said, “but it has been widely replayed on television stations globally, besides also being still available on major social media platforms hours after the attacks.”

The attacker’s manifesto is also being made available for download from television and newspapers’ websites, in addition to a variety of other online spaces. In this respect, mass media are carrying out the attacker’s wishes and amplifying his hate. 

Dr Ging says that there is little research to support the theory that those who carry out so-called ‘lone wolf’ attacks are suffering from a syndrome, as is “commonly perpetuated by the mainstream media”.

“Terrorist killers are depicted as individuals who are (born) mentally unstable, psychotic or deranged, which not only avoids examining socio-political contexts but also unhelpfully links mental illness with violence,” she says.

Comments are closed as a man is due before the courts

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