By Duke Staff
Following another egregious attack carried out by a white supremacist, this time in Christchurch, New Zealand, the world is grieving the loss of 50 innocent lives at the two targeted mosques on March 15.
While New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has received worldwide praise for her handling of the crisis in its aftermath, particularly her immediate move to tighten the country’s gun laws 24 hours after the attack, her approach has also sparked an international debate on how we as a society should regard perpetrators of mass violence.
In an announcement just days after the shooting, Ardern told the public that she would not be using the shooter’s name in any capacity, stating “He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety…He is a terrorist, he is a criminal, he is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless.”
By taking away the infamy the shooter hoped to achieve through his violence, Ardern’s statement proves to be a powerful example of why we must begin to reshape our societal thinking and rhetoric about how to treat these extremists in news coverage. This is not only a debate to have in newsrooms on whether or not journalists should include a shooter’s name in a story, but a conversation we all must start having in the wake of this attack.
In examining the online manifesto posted by the shooter leading up to the attack (an 80-page, rambling document laden with anti-Muslim and xenophobic sentiments, as well as lauding President Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose”), it becomes clear what the motivation behind this attack was – recognition amongst the online white supremacist community that exists in the darkest depths of the Internet, and infamy around the world.
In using this man’s name, he is given exactly what he set out to do in slaughtering innocent worshippers. Not only that, but many recent studies have also showed the dangers of focusing on the shooter and their life in national news stories and conversation surrounding mass shootings.
This phenomenon, known as the “copycat effect,” has been the subject of thorough research throughout the past few years, following the uptick in the number of yearly mass shootings. A 2014 investigative piece from ABC identified 17 attacks and an additional 36 mass shooting plots in which a main motivating factor was inspiration derived from the 1999 Columbine shootings. A 2015 study by PLoS One states that “mass killings involving firea
rms are incented by similar events in the immediate past,” estimating that the likelihood of a copycat shooting increases in the two weeks following a mass shooting.
Additionally, in January 2019, the FBI closed an investigation into the Mandalay Bay shooter’s possible motives, having arrived at the conclusion that there was no true motivation behind the killings; only a desire for infamy.
Based on these studies, Ardern’s approach is one that we must move toward adopting, lest another violent attack like this happen again. Limiting the naming and examination of shooters in news stories is a small price to pay if it could mean preventing future violence. European countries such as Finland already operate on this basis; we in America should seriously consider following that example.
The man who carried out the Christchurch attack is a domestic terrorist, and he deserves no further media attention than that classification. What we should focus on is the victims – lives destroyed by this unwarranted violence – as a reminder of what we need to remedy to prevent these senseless attacks from continuing as has become commonplace in our world.