Brenton Tarrant is an Australian white supremacist who on March 15, 2019 stormed into two mosques and carried out the worst massacre in New Zealand’s history.“New Zealand PM: Dozens killed in 'terrorist' attack on mosques,” Al Jazeera, March 15, 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/03/shooter-situation-zealand-mosque-attack-190315015927391.html. The two attacks killed over 50 people and wounded 40 others. Tarrant is currently detained at Auckland Prison, New Zealand’s only maximum-security unit. Tarrant is the first person to be charged under New Zealand’s Terrorist Suppression Act.Julia Hollingsworth and Hilary Whiteman, “Accused Christchurch mosque shooter pleads guilty to killing 51 people,” CNN, March 26, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/25/asia/christchurch-shooting-tarrant-plea-intl-hnk/index.html. On March 26, 2020, Tarrant pled guilty to 92 charges including murder, attempted murder, and engaging in a terrorist act.Blair Ensor and Sam Sherwood, “Australian pleads guilty over Christchurch mosque attacks,” Sydney Morning Herald, March 26, 2020, https://www.smh.com.au/world/oceania/christchurch-mosque-attack-australian-pleads-guilty-to-murder-attempted-murder-and-terrorism-20200326-p54e28.html. He was subsequently convicted of all charges and sentenced to life in prison.Charlotte Graham-McLay, “Christchurch Shooting Suspect Drops Bid to Move Trial to Auckland,” New York Times, October 2, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/02/world/australia/christchurch-suspect-trial.html; Emanuel Stoakes, “Suspect in New Zealand mosque shootings unexpectedly pleads guilty to 51 murder charges,” Washington Post, March 26, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/suspect-in-new-zealand-mosque-shootings-unexpectedly-pleads-guilty-to-51-murder-charges/2020/03/26/08b0b6fc-6f01-11ea-a156-0048b62cdb51_story.html; Damien Cave and Amanda Saxton, “New Zealand Gives Christchurch Killer a Record Sentence,” New York Times, last updated August 27, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/26/world/asia/christchurch-brenton-tarrant-sentenced.html.
Tarrant grew up in Grafton, New South Wales, Australia and worked as a personal trainer. Tarrant practiced using firearms at shooting ranges near his home.Nick O'Malley, Tim Barlass and Patrick Begley, “White-bred terrorist: the making of a killer,” Sydney Morning Herald, August 10, 2019, https://www.smh.com.au/national/white-bred-terrorist-the-making-of-a-killer-20190806-p52ee7.html. After the death of his father in 2010, Tarrant became active on white-nationalist message boards.David D. Kirkpatrick, “Massacre Suspect Traveled the World but Lived on the Internet,” New York Times, March 15, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/15/world/asia/new-zealand-shooting-brenton-tarrant.html. He became obsessed with terrorist attacks committed by Islamic extremists in 2016 and 2017 and planned his attack about two years before he chose his targets.Nick O'Malley, Tim Barlass and Patrick Begley, “White-bred terrorist: the making of a killer,” Sydney Morning Herald, August 10, 2019, https://www.smh.com.au/national/white-bred-terrorist-the-making-of-a-killer-20190806-p52ee7.html.
By Tarrant’s own account, he was radicalized during a one-month period during his travels in Europe in spring 2017. On April 7 of that year, an Uzbek asylum seeker drove a truck into a crowd in Stockholm, Sweden, killing five people. On May 7, the anti-immigrant French presidential candidate Marine le Pen was defeated by moderate Emmanuel Macron. In Tarrant’s own words, he found his “emotions swinging between fuming rage and suffocating despair at the indignity of the invasion of France,” referring to the immigrants he saw there.David D. Kirkpatrick, “Massacre Suspect Traveled the World but Lived on the Internet,” New York Times, March 15, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/15/world/asia/new-zealand-shooting-brenton-tarrant.html.
According to reports, Tarrant was financially linked to a number of far-right groups in Europe, including the French and Austrian branches of the Identitarian Movement. The Identitarian Movement is a nationalist movement that promotes the Great Replacement Theory, which states European culture will be overrun and replaced by migrants. Tarrant donated between 1,000 and 1,700 euros to each organization sometime in September 2017 and in early 2018.Emanuel Stoakes, Rick Noack and James McAuley, “Suspect in New Zealand mosque attacks appears in court via video,” Washington Post, April 4, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/suspect-in-new-zealand-mosque-attacks-to-face-full-sweep-of-charges/2019/04/04/9f0e4280-5608-11e9-aa83-504f086bf5d6_story.html.
On March 15, 2019, Tarrant arrived at the Al Noor Mosque and began shooting worshippers while livestreaming the attack on Facebook Live. Tarrant spent several minutes inside the mosque before returning to his vehicle to retrieve another weapon. He returned to the mosque to open fire again. He then returned to his car and fled the scene towards Linwood Islamic Center, a mosque about three miles away from Al Noor. Tarrant was unable to find the front door of the mosque and began shooting people outside and through a window. Despite attempts from a worshipper to distract Tarrant, the attacker entered the mosque and continued to open fire on the worshippers. After Tarrant fled the scene, his vehicle was eventually pursued and he was apprehended by a police unit. According to reports, Tarrant intended to target a third mosque. The total number of casualties in the two attacks numbered 50.Richard Perez-Pena, “Two New Zealand Mosques, a Hate-Filled Massacre Designed for Its Time,” New York Times, March 15, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/15/world/australia/new-zealand-mosque-shooting.html.; Rhiannon Hoyle, Rachel Pannett, Adrien Taylor and Rob Taylor, “Terror Attacks at New Zealand Mosques Leave 50 People Dead,” Wall Street Journal, March 15, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/new-zealand-police-respond-to-active-shooter-at-a-mosque-in-christchurch-11552618459. The video of the attack was first reported by a user 29 minutes after it was initially posted and 12 minutes after the live broadcast ended. The New Zealand police alerted Facebook of the video around 40 minutes after the broadcast ended, to which Facebook took the video down minutes later. The video was viewed over 4,000 times before it was removed.Arjun Kharpal, “Facebook says video of New Zealand mosque shootings was viewed 4,000 times before being removed,” CNBC, March 19, 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/19/facebook-new-zealand-mosque-shootings-video-viewed-4000-times-before-removal.html.; Niharika Mandhana and Rhiannon Hoyle, “Facebook Left Up Video of New Zealand Shootings for an Hour,” Wall Street Journal, March 21, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-our-ai-tools-failed-to-catch-new-zealand-attack-video-11553156141.
Prior to the attacks, Tarrant authored a manifesto entitled, “The Great Replacement.” He disseminated the manifesto to several media outlets and the Prime Minister’s office before carrying out the two attacks.David D. Kirkpatrick, “Massacre Suspect Traveled the World but Lived on the Internet,” New York Times, March 15, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/15/world/asia/new-zealand-shooting-brenton-tarrant.html. Tarrant wrote of his obsessions with racial purity, claiming the attack would “show the invaders that our lands will never be their lands.”Sarah Keoghan and Laura Chung, “From local gym trainer to mosque shooting: Alleged Christchurch shooter's upbringing in Grafton,” Sydney Morning Herald, March 15, 2019, https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/alleged-christchurch-gunman-identified-as-former-grafton-local-20190315-p514nm.html. He also wrote that he began planning the attack “roughly two years in advance,” and chose the final location three months prior to the attack.Sarah Keoghan and Laura Chung, “From local gym trainer to mosque shooting: Alleged Christchurch shooter's upbringing in Grafton,” Sydney Morning Herald, March 15, 2019, https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/alleged-christchurch-gunman-identified-as-former-grafton-local-20190315-p514nm.html. On March 12, 2018, Tarrant posted multiple memes and other images of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh on social media prior to the Christchurch attack.Candace Sutton, “Neighbours, associates of Christchurch mosque gunman Brenton Tarrant say there was something ‘off’ about him,” News.com.au, March 17, 2019, https://www.news.com.au/world/pacific/neighbours-associates-of-brenton-tarrant-say-there-was-something-off-about-him/news-story/e76a6f40a2f21f121546bc469bf7e7b7.
On March 16, 2019, Tarrant appeared at the Christchurch District Court where he was charged with murder.“More Than a Dozen Victims in Critical Condition After New Zealand Shootings,” New York Times, March 16, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/16/world/asia/new-zealand-shooting.html?searchResultPosition=9. The case was later transferred to the Christchurch High Court. Tarrant was detained at Auckland’s Paremoremo Prison, New Zealand’s only maximum-security unit. On April 4, 2009, police announced that the total number of charges against Tarrant reached 89—50 for murder and 39 for attempted murder.Emanuel Stoakes, Rick Noack and James McAuley, “Suspect in New Zealand mosque attacks appears in court via video,” Washington Post, April 4, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/suspect-in-new-zealand-mosque-attacks-to-face-full-sweep-of-charges/2019/04/04/9f0e4280-5608-11e9-aa83-504f086bf5d6_story.html. On April 5, Tarrant was ordered by a judge to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine if he was able to stand trial.“Christchurch attacks: NZ suspect ordered to undergo mental health tests,” BBC News, April 5, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-47822674. On May 21, New Zealand police filed an additional charge of engaging in a terrorist act against Tarrant.“Christchurch mosques attacker Tarrant charged with terrorism,” Al Jazeera, May 21, 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/05/christchurch-mosque-attacker-tarrant-charged-terrorism-190521052529451.html. On June 14, 2019, Tarrant pleaded not guilty to engaging in a terrorist act. Accordingly, mental health assessments determined that Tarrant is mentally competent and that his case will move forward.“Christchurch attack: Brenton Tarrant pleads not guilty to all charges,” BBC News, June 14, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-48631488.
New Zealand has invested significantly in Tarrant’s imprisonment. In August 2020, New Zealand media revealed that the prison system is investing an average of just under $4,932 per day on Tarrant, well above the average cost of $302 per day for a standard prisoner. According to estimates contained in September 2019 government documents obtained by media, two years of incarceration would cost taxpayers $3.6 million because of “increased security measures responding to the different needs and risks posed by the individual.”“Christchurch mosque shootings: Brenton Tarrant prison bill to cost taxpayers $3.6m - Cabinet papers,” New Zealand Herald, August 4, 2020, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12353361.
New Zealand corrections officials have acknowledged that their penal system and incarceration policies were not developed to address the heinous crimes committed by Tarrant. In August 2019, media revealed that Tarrant had been allowed to send letters from prison, despite regulations to limit his influence. One of those letters appeared on the online forum 4chan, popular with white supremacists. The six-page letter was addressed to a Russian admirer named “Alan” and warned of an upcoming “great conflict.”Nick Perry, “Alleged Christchurch gunman sends letter from prison cell,” Associated Press, August 14, 2019, https://apnews.com/6aede98cae6e45baa9417236acf2b0c9. New Zealand law allows prisoners to send and receive letters, but Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis called the letter’s publication a failure of the country’s policies and called for changes to address the caliber of Tarrant’s crimes.Nick Perry, “Alleged Christchurch gunman sends letter from prison cell,” Associated Press, August 14, 2019, https://apnews.com/6aede98cae6e45baa9417236acf2b0c9.
Tarrant’s original trial was set for May 4, 2020, but on September 12, 2019, his trial was pushed to June 2, 2020, in respect of Ramadan, the holy month of prayer and fasting for Muslims.Charlotte Graham-McLay, “Christchurch Shooting Suspect Drops Bid to Move Trial to Auckland,” New York Times, October 2, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/02/world/australia/christchurch-suspect-trial.html.
On March 26, 2020, Tarrant appeared via video-link at the High Court in Christchurch and entered a guilty plea. During the special hearing, which was only scheduled the day before, Tarrant pleaded guilty to 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder, and a charge of engaging in a terrorist act.Blair Ensor and Sam Sherwood, “Australian pleads guilty over Christchurch mosque attacks,” Sydney Morning Herald, March 26, 2020, https://www.smh.com.au/world/oceania/christchurch-mosque-attack-australian-pleads-guilty-to-murder-attempted-murder-and-terrorism-20200326-p54e28.html. On August 27, 2020, Tarrant was sentenced to life in prison without parole.Damien Cave and Amanda Saxton, “New Zealand Gives Christchurch Killer a Record Sentence,” New York Times, last updated August 27, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/26/world/asia/christchurch-brenton-tarrant-sentenced.html.