I wish I’d never watched it.
But before I understood the full horror of the Christchurch terrorist’s disgusting live-streamed footage, I clicked on a Twitter link and saw his murderous rampage unfurl in real time, from his own body-camera, like some gruesomely graphic video war-game.
Only this was real life, with real people being shot dead – men, women, children.
As a journalist it’s what I’m paid to do but it was one of the most appalling, disgusting, gut-wrenching and terrifying things I’ve ever seen.
To witness an act of such sickening depravity is something I sadly cannot now un-see.
But what it did show me is just how dark and dangerous a human mind can be twisted.
I clicked on a Twitter link and saw his murderous rampage unfurl in real time, from his own body-camera, like some gruesomely graphic video war-game. Only this was real life, with real people being shot dead – men, women, children
The motivation for Tarrant’s murderous intent lay in very old-fashioned white supremacist ‘values’. He is seen left in the live stream and right in a picture from social media
I don’t know how someone can calmly walk towards a child lying on the floor riddled with bullets, and then fire more into their tiny bodies.
Yet that is what this monster did.
In doing so, he proved himself to be just as sub-human as the ISIS terrorists he professes to detest, the barbarians who throw gay people off roofs, stone women to death and set fire to enemies in cages so they burn alive.
By the time the Christchurch assassin, an Australian named Brenton Tarrant, was finished shooting up the Al Noor Mosque, at least 41 people were dead and scores more wounded, 20 critically.
At a second location, the Masjid Mosque in Linwood across the other side of city, seven more were killed as part of a carefully planned and co-ordinated attack.
The joint attacks represented one of the bloodiest, most deadly mass shootings in modern history.
And unlike the Las Vegas atrocity a year ago, for which killer Stephen Paddock’s motives remain a mystery, this time we know exactly why Tarrant did it.
He posted an extensive 74-page ‘manifesto’ detailing his reasons.
It was a rambling, incoherent litany of shockingly deluded nonsense that can be edited down to only one significant word: hate.
This was an act of terrorism by a white supremacist that hates people not like him. Especially Muslims.
And he hates them so much he felt compelled to kill them.
Specifically, Tarrant said he had to murder these poor defenceless Muslims because he wanted to ‘ensure the existence of our people, and a future for white children’ and to ‘directly reduce immigration rates to European lands’.
He chose New Zealand because it would show ‘nowhere in the world was safe’.
In its execution, this was a very modern massacre.
Tarrant cited the hugely popular violent video game Fortnite, saying it ‘trained me to be a killer’.
He said he got the idea to target a mosque after watching a video on Facebook.
And he then put cameras on himself so he could live-stream himself killing people.
But the motivation for Tarrant’s murderous intent lay in very old-fashioned white supremacist ‘values’.
His real hope was to spark a race war in America.
That’s why he chose to carry out a mass shooting – believing that using a semi-automatic assault rifle would fire up renewed debate in the U.S. about gun laws.
‘With enough pressure,’ he wrote, ‘the left wing within the United States will seek to abolish the second amendment, and the right wing within the U.S. will see this as an attack on their very freedom and liberty. This attempted abolishment of rights by the left will result in a dramatic polarisation of the people in the United States and eventually a fracturing of the U.S. along cultural and racial lines.’
Tarrant also said he was a supporter of US President Donald Trump who he described as a ‘symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.’
Now let me be very clear: I don’t hold President Trump personally responsible for what happened in Christchurch.
Today, President Trump had another opportunity to firmly and equivocally denounce white supremacists and the far-right ideology they stand for. But he couldn’t do it
This attack happened because a deranged lunatic filled with raging hate perpetrated a wicked act of evil.
But what I do hold President Trump responsible for is his abject failure to properly denounce these kind of white supremacists and make it crystal clear that he holds them in nothing but absolute contempt.
He had a chance to do this after the appalling attack in Charlottesville in 2017 when a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of people, killing civil rights activist Heather Heyer.
But instead, Trump absurdly tried to draw some moral equivalence between the far right marchers and counter-demonstrators.
‘You had people that were very fine people on both sides’ he said, in one of the most tone-deaf statements by any President in US history.
What Trump SHOULD have done that day is denounce all far-right white supremacists as a shameful blight on America.
He should have understood that his words, as the most powerful man on earth, have huge impact around the world, and that every far-right white supremacist will have taken succour from his failure to properly denounce them that day.
As Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal said today: ‘Words do have consequences and we know that at the very pinnacle of power in our own country, people are talking about ‘good people on both sides’.
Trump tweeted after this morning’s attack: ‘My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques. 49 innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured. The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do. God bless all!’
These are perfectly fine words in themselves but nowhere near enough.
President Trump repeatedly insists he’s neither a racist nor someone who courts the support of white supremacists, and as someone who has known him a long time I believe him.
But he IS guilty of allowing racists and white supremacists to think he’s ‘our guy’ with his inflammatory comments about Mexicans or casual ‘good people on both sides’ nonsense after white supremacist attacks.
I was appalled when Trump retweeted a series of provocative and misleading Islamaphobic videos posted by a British far-right group Britain First in 2017.
And despite telling me in an interview for Good Morning Britain that if I wanted an apology for his retweets then he’d give one, he never actually undid the retweets, even when Britain First was banned from Twitter.
What kind of message does that send other than that he doesn’t care enough to stop emboldening these hideous people?
Trump’s often violent rhetoric also disturbs me.
Who knows what effect it has on disturbed, potentially violent minds?
Last night, Trump promoted on Twitter an interview he’d given to Breitbart News in which he boasted how ‘tough’ his supporters could get.
‘I have the support of the police,’ he said, ‘the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump. I have tough people, but they don’t play it tough, until they have go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.’
Today, very unusually, he deleted that tweet, presumably realising how awful it looked in the context of the events in Christchurch.
A wounded man is seen being helped from the scene of the massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand
The joint attacks represented one of the bloodiest, most deadly mass shootings in modern history
But he should never have used those aggressive words in the first place.
They sound like a call to arms, like he’s endorsing violence by his own supporters.
Today, President Trump had another opportunity to firmly and equivocally denounce white supremacists and the far-right ideology they stand for.
But he couldn’t do it.
Instead, he just issued standard lame presidential condolences.
This is not good enough, Mr President.
When a far-right white supremacist names you as one of his inspirations for one of the worst terrorist attacks ever perpetrated, you need to come out and denounce him with the full force of your presidency.
You need to show the world that you want nothing to do with these people or what they represent.
More importantly, you need these people to know that and to hear it loudly and clearly from your lips.
You have been very vocal about ISIS and how important it is to crush such an evil, violent terrorist cult.
Well, far-right white supremacist terrorists like Brendon Tarrant are just as evil and violent and it is just as important to crush them too.
Speak up against them, Mr President, or be rightly damned by your silence.