Geopolitics

New Zealand Terror: The Shared Power Of Online Hate

How messages of hate and violence drive both radical Islamists and white supremacists.

Locals pay respect near site of mosque attack in Christchurch, NZ
Anne Applebaum

-Analysis-

It begins with humor. The alt-right's jokes, a teenage friend assures me, are genuinely funny: They ridicule the pomposities of "mainstream" culture, laugh at political correctness and create ridiculous memes mocking everything, including themselves. And once you've laughed at the jokes, there is a whole amusing, darkly ironic, alternative world out there, only a couple of clicks away.

There are the YouTubers like PewDiePie, the Swedish gamer and vlogger who has shown Nazi videos while metaphorically arching his eyebrows. Viewers are meant to get that it's a joke: "I know my audience understand that and that is why they come to my channel," he has said. There are discussion boards and chat groups. You can start with Reddit or the comment sections of Breitbart, where many of the white supremacist references are coded or disguised. If that begins to seem tame, there is 4chan or 8chan or gab.ai, where the conversation is much more open.

Eventually, you can wind up living in a world in which the vilest forms of racism and hatred seem absolutely normal, in which mass murder is amusing and compassion is for the weak-minded. You can even wind up reading the Daily Stormer, which gets its name from the Nazi Der Sturmer, also once known for its "humorous' caricatures and cartoons. On Friday morning, the Daily Stormer's home page marked the mass murder carried out at a mosque in New Zealand with a long rant making fun of the anticipated "mainstream" reaction: "No one cares about this, and if you are pretending you or other people care about it, you're simply lying."

Unquestionably, the New Zealand shooter had been radicalized by this weird world in which thick layers of irony cover up a brutal reality. He belonged to it; he was speaking to it; he was performing for it. He announced the attack on 8chan and made a video of himself shooting, putting a camera on his head, which was live-streamed to Facebook, so that his supporters could cheer him on in real time, and spread it on YouTube afterward. He also wrote a manifesto, posted to Twitter and Facebook, which seems to have been designed to amuse the denizens of the darkest parts of the online world.

He claimed, for example, that he'd been influenced by Candace Owens, the black "conservative" activist who is probably most notorious for saying that Adolf Hitler was "OK" before he tried to "globalize." "Her own views," he wrote, "helped push me further and further into the belief of violence over meekness." Maybe this is true. Or maybe, as the context seems to indicate, these comments were an elaborate game, designed to send journalists scurrying off to write about Owens. The same may have been true of his references to President Donald Trump and others. "Remember lads," he can be heard saying on the video he made of the massacre, "subscribe to PewDiePie" - meaning subscribe to the Swedish vlogger on YouTube.

The point was to create conflict.

Robert Evans, of bellingcat.com, has written that the shooter may or may not have been sincere about any of these references, but the point was to create conflict. He hopes "his massacre will spark further attempts at gun control in the United States, which he believes will lead to gun confiscation and a civil war" - a war that would end with the destruction of the diverse society he hates.

The shooter was anticipating the reaction and trying to shape it. He was also trying to amuse, enthrall and inspire his community. In this sense, white supremacist radicalism, whether aimed at Muslims in New Zealand or Jews in Pittsburgh, differs very little from jihadi radicalism, much of which also happens online. Participants are lured in slowly, but soon feel part of a strong alternative, international community, one that has its own language, its own symbolism, its own set of grievances. Its members come to hate the "normal" world, with its virtues of democracy and tolerance, and some of them begin plotting to use violence to bring it down.

There is a difference, though, in how they have been treated. Since 2001, governments around the world have approached online jihadi radicalism with grim seriousness, blocking its financial sources, searching out potential terrorists, working with Internet platforms to stop its spread. By contrast, we have yet to treat white supremacism with anything like the same kind of vigor. Many hours after the New Zealand shooting, it was still ridiculously easy to find the video online. There are few special government programs to fight the milder forms of this violent ideology, and relatively little time has been devoted to thinking about it. The U.S. president has not taken a stand against it; an Australian politician, in the wake of the attack, even seemed to endorse it.

Both radicalisms kill. But while we dither, the death toll - in Norway, South Carolina, Britain - continues to rise. And the alternate world continues to tell jokes, make memes - and draw people in.

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Economy

European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


-Analysis-

BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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