If it were not clear already, the Christchurch mosque attacks show that right-wing bigotry, fuelled by racism and delusions of white supremacy, is a serious threat to the peace and security of millions around the world. While many are quick to point out the double-standards employed by the media and leaders around the world when they describe acts of terror perpetrated by radicalised white men as being the actions of ‘lone wolves’ with a catalogue of extenuating factors helping to explain their violence, the terrorism that has been unleashed by these far-right extremists must no longer be swept under the carpet and ignored. The evidence speaks for itself; according to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, 92% of ideologically motivated killings in the United States between 2007 and 2016 were motivated by far-right extremism, and countries as diverse as the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, and Germany have witnessed a spate of attacks by white supremacists on minorities and others.

When attempting to explain the rise of the far-right across Europe, the United States, and other parts of the world, several standard explanations are usually invoked. Some argue that the rise of this toxic ideology, with its attendant hatred for ethnic, racial, and religious minorities, can be explained by broader processes of economic change in which globalisation and neo-liberal capitalism have generated economic insecurity amongst white working and middle classes who blame immigrants and others for their travails. Linked to this is the role played by far-right parties and provocateurs who take advantage of this latent discontent to push an agenda of hatred and bigotry, essentially shaping the political discourse in a way that centres the debate around the emotive issues of culture and identity. Also important is the manner in which mainstream political parties and establishment elites have been associated with these processes of economic and cultural change, leaving them vulnerable to delegitimising attacks from aspirational rivals seeking to encroach upon their political space. Finally, and not least importantly, it is necessary to understand how an atmosphere has been created in which the actions and ideas of the far-right have been permitted to grow and take root in society; defending their hate in the name of free speech, and castigating the ‘political correctness’ allegedly imposed upon them by the establishment in a quest to silence them, far-right parties, leaders, and activists have managed to accomplish the twin tasks of presenting themselves as insurgents against the status quo, while also forcing their mainstream rivals to speak their language in an attempt to stave off the political threat they pose. For every white nationalist rally held in the streets of London or Berlin, and for every inflammatory speech made by a rogue leader or elected official, there are politicians from ostensibly moderate parties enacting legislation targeting minorities and making statements that implicitly endorse the far-right agenda.

There is more to be said about the conditions that have enabled the re-emergence of a brand of fascism that many hoped had died with Hitler in 1944. Indeed, in some respects, contemporary far-right movements do differ from their explicitly fascist forebears in both organisational and ideological terms; often understanding the negative connotations associated with their politics, the far-right now actively seeks to disguise the ugliness that underpins it, couching its criticism of minorities and their beliefs in a terms of a broader defence of libertarian values like freedom and autonomy, and making use of organisational forms that emphasise decentralisation and online engagement over hierarchical, cadre-based parties and mass mobilisation. The far-right today presents itself as young, cool, and edgy, casting itself as no different from the other counter-cultural and radical currents that pepper the political landscape. The very moniker ‘alt-right’, and its embrace by a media that sees it as representing a legitimate form of expression, demonstrates the effectiveness of this strategy.

By looking at the history of the terrorist who attacked the mosques in Christchurch, as well as the deranged scribbling that comprised his ‘manifesto’, the mechanisms through which disaffected young men are radicalised can be discerned. What starts as relatively innocent engagement with anti-establishment politics, usually through participating in online discussions on forums like the popular 4chan or reddit, slowly turn into absorption within a broader online ecosystem of hate and bigotry in which extremist sentiment is freely traded and nurtured by participants actively contributing to each other’s radicalisation. The proliferation of far-right ideology on the internet and social media had made it easier than ever for individuals to gain access to material that rationalises and deepens their hate, and the lack of interest demonstrated by technology companies when it comes to preventing the use of their platforms for such purposes ensures that those who wish to do so are able to continue propagating their pernicious ideas with the ease and accessibility afforded by information technology.

Far-right extremism has not emerged out of nowhere. The movement has been systematically built amidst the failure of established parties to address the structural economic causes that facilitate the emergence of such ideologies, as well as their willingness to either ignore or embrace divisive, hate-filled rhetoric about minority communities as a way to score political points of their own. To suggest that the actions of the Christchurch terrorist are somehow disconnected from the words and deeds of the Trumps of the world would be deeply disingenuous. Added to this is the manner in which the internet has enabled the emergence of global networks of hate in which radicalised white men from around the world congregate online to marinate in their collective intolerance and racism, citing different politicians and ‘intellectuals’ as they plot violence and murder against Muslims, Jews, African Americans, and other marginalized groups in the West and elsewhere. Until this threat is taken more seriously by those in power, and unless active steps are taken to confront and dismantle the ideological and organisational basis for far-right extremism, attacks like the one in Christchurch will continue to take place.