Features Australia

Nihilism nirvana

17 August 2019

9:00 AM

17 August 2019

9:00 AM

If you were to believe some politicians and journalists, the recent mass killings in El Paso, Texas and Christchurch, New Zealand can be boiled down to a very simple, yet melodramatic, narrative.

The killings were conducted by white, male, ultra right-wing, white supremacists; proof of a new wave of fascism that is sweeping the Western world.

The truth, as always, is more complicated. In the mad rush to protect partisan positions, facts don’t seem to matter. For example, violent crime has been plummeting in America for years. Also, only 15 per cent of these mass killings are public and just 49 per cent of those are done by caucasian males, in line with the US population distribution.

And no-one seems to be asking a more profound question : are we witnessing a brand new type of mass killer?’

The available evidence would suggest that this may be the case.

First, consider how these mass killings differ from those conducted by terrorists motivated by political, or religious, ideology.

Ideological terrorists kill for a specific cause. For example, Islamic terrorists kill to establish the caliphate. In the 1970s, the IRA killed to bring about an Irish Republic. The perpetrators are secondary to the cause invoked.

However, in El Paso and Christchurch, the young men made sure that they were the main attraction. The cause was the destruction itself, as well as their starring role in it.

The Christchurch killer live-streamed the event on Facebook. The El Paso killer chose a location that was infested with security cameras. Both wrote strange manifestos with grandiose titles, posted online prior to the event. Their surrenders were public and filmed.

Another difference: did you notice that both killers surrendered alive? That’s unusual. The terrorists we have come to know and hate don’t do this. They want martyrdom for a specific cause, whether it is the Antifa terrorist who attacked US government facilities a few weeks ago, or an Islamic jihadi.

These young men had no apparent desire to die, or for martyrdom. Quite the reverse. They wanted to watch the next chapter of the horror movie they created.

It is all about them.

Back to the manifestos of these two killers. Have you read them? You should. There’s no three word jihadist manifesto of ‘God is Great’. In fact, in each it’s difficult to work out what the driving ideology is. For example, if you are a leftist looking for a narrative of right-wing hatred, each killer made it available. In each manifesto, they argue that New Zealand and the United States are under invasion by immigrants.

But let’s say you are a conservative, searching for a narrative of left-wing hatred. Again, this narrative is made available for you. The killers both express anti-capitalist, pro-environmentalist sentiments. Ditto, if you want to blame Trump — each killer lets you do it. However, if you want to defend Trump, they make sure that you can, too.

See the MO?

These manifestos are written to throw meat out to each side of the partisan divide. They appear to have been written to ‘troll’, provoking partisan cherry-picking and endless fighting. Why? In my view, that is exactly what this new type of terrorist wants to achieve.

They are nihilists, who want to burn the house down while they watch. Their terrorism has no objective, other than the destruction that it creates. In short, they are a new type of mass killer.

The resurgence of nihilism shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been paying attention. Arguably, a fine example of the modern nihilist tendency would be anarchist Julian Assange, who has perfected the ability to cater to partisan interests, while doing everything he can to damage any form of government that he can target, especially the Western democracies.

Take Wikileaks activities in the most recent American presidential election. Assange’s leaks in 2016 are still understood in partisan terms. Leftists claim, with no evidence, that Assange was trying to damage the Clinton campaign, to benefit Trump. Some Trump supporters believe, again with no evidence, that Assange was a warrior for transparency, trying to expose Clinton as a cheat and fraud.

In the partisan tumult, however, everyone seems to be missing the point — Assange wasn’t helping either side. His target, arguably, was simply the American republic.

In 2016, Assange likely assumed Clinton would win. His objective was to pre-emptively damage her, before she was elected and inaugurated, as well as to destroy the credibility of the US election process. After Clinton’s inauguration, he no doubt had other destructive leaks coming. Then Trump won, so in 2017 Assange leaked ‘Vault 7’, some of the CIA’s most classified secrets.

Again this was not just to damage the Trump administration, but to fracture the republic itself.

Less lethal but in some ways similar to the motivation of the El Paso and Christchurch killers, there doesn’t appear to be any genuine, political objective to Wikileaks other than destruction. Wikileaks has never offered, for example, a preferred political model. Rather, destruction itself appears to be the objective. Assange means to burn the joint down, taking money from whatever source gives him information, while also being the star and hero of his perverse reality show.

In April 2019, the United States Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, said that ‘Assange and his ilk… seek personal self-aggrandisement, through the destruction of Western values.’ The United States  Department of Justice is now considering new forms of ‘domestic terrorism’ to ensnare the new killers we have seen in El Paso, who seek the destruction of human beings.

That’s good news, but it will be a long haul. The journey will involve working out how these individuals became unmoored from reality, how to identify rising nihilist killers, as well as working on ways to help them find a safe mooring. The challenge applies in Australia, as much as anywhere else.

Rather than inflaming the situation and falling into partisan traps set by these new terrorists, we would be well advised to stop fighting and start looking for young loners in our midst, who are searching in a digital world for the purpose and agency they’ve lost in the real one.

What we discover may disturb us, but at least we’ll be looking in the right places.

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