An Australian white supremacist carried out the deadliest mass shooting in New Zealand history this week when he murdered 49 people in two mosques in Christchurch. Australian media identified the attacker as personal trainer Brenton Tarrant, who broadcast his rampage live on social media, and police confirmed that he left behind a 74-page manifesto in which he wrote about his hatred of immigrants and non-white peoples, using the language of Neo-Nazism and white supremacy. He spoke of “white genocide,” a common theme among the far right, and one we have seen invoked repeatedly in the racist embrace of the Solutrean Hypothesis among white nationalists.
The manifesto contained one passage of note to us because it connects white nationalist ideology to the stew of pseudo-historical conspiracy theories that currently circulate on cable television networks such as the History Channel and the Travel Channel and their global broadcast partners.
Did the groups you support/are aligned with order or promote your attack?
Just to be clear, Tarrant did not refer to cable TV programs or conspiracy theories about the Knights Templar. He did, however, claim to have been radicalized by his consumption of right-wing media on the internet and joked that video games taught him extremism. His social media feed included links to media properties such as RT that spread history-based conspiracy theories similar to those used on cable television alongside anti-immigrant and alt-right propaganda.
According to the New York Times, the “Knights Templar” referred to above are an anti-immigrant group that borrowed the name and imagery of the original Templars to evoke the Crusades. The Southern Poverty Law Center identified the Knights Templar International as an anti-Muslim group organized by Britain First cofounder Jim Dowson, which has offered support to paramilitary activities in Eastern Europe, including a faction dedicated to restoring the Serbian monarchy. The Christchurch shooter, however, was referring to a different group—one that may not exist.
Tarrant identified Norwegian mass shooter Anders Breivik as a “knight justicar” of the Knights Templar, which Breivik claimed had been reestablished in London in 2002 as a shadowy league of secret agent assassins. Breivik claimed to be a knight of the reborn Knights Templar with the justicar rank—a title typically associated with medieval English and Scottish governments, not Knights Templar. He claimed his attack, in which he shot 69 members of a youth league in 2012, was a Templar action in defense of Christianity and European civilization. So far as I know, there is no evidence that this group of Templar terrorists exists outside of Breivik’s mind, and police concluded it was a fantasy resulting from Breivik’s mental illness.
The KTI, as the Knights Templar International organization is known, is a real-life rightwing group claiming to save European civilization. It offers an array of propagandistic hate articles frequently shared among far-right extremists in which news stories are slanted to cast immigrants and Muslims in the worst possible light. KTI mostly operates in Europe in support of far-right politicians, but it has also contributed pro-Trump propaganda, including working with Russian operatives to influence the 2016 presidential election. The organization also advocates against socialism and homosexuality.
KTI uses the symbols of the original Knights Templar in order to associate itself with what it sees as history’s strongest defenders of European cultural values against Islam.
So why would a hate group choose a medieval order of knights for its message? The answer is fairly obvious: The Knights Templar have media cachet because of their pop culture prevalence, particularly on cable television, but also in movies and video games. The Templar fetishism we see in the media has helped to make the Templars symbols of white nationalism for those on the far right. They were far from the only knights to go on the Crusades, nor were they the only group to be associated with a defense of Europe or Christendom. But they have something that other Europeans who defeated Muslim forces, like Charles Martel or the Habsburgs, do not: a huge multimedia apparatus that implicitly and sometimes explicitly links them to white nationalist goals and ideals.
We have seen time and again that cable television has broadcast pseudo-documentaries that associate the Knights Templar with conspiracies that appeal to white nationalist sentiments. We have seen programs that claimed the Knights Templar colonized North America before Columbus and were alleged to be the rightful owners of America. We have seen them claimed to be the protectors of the deepest secrets of Christianity, or even the owners of the only true Gospels, or the possessors of the Ark of the Covenant, whose divine favor they can bestow on governments that embrace their ideals. We have seen them used to support claims that America is the true receptacle of the purest Christianity—but only in its anti-Catholic, Protestant form. These are all claims that were broadcast on the History Channel in the past few years. Other cable channels have repeated and amplified these ideas.
Whether by design or by accident, cable TV’s Templar fetish helps the Knights Templar International and other extremist groups by providing a fake historical precedent for white nationalist ideas and by creating interest in false claims about the Knights Templar that lead viewers to internet research that easily descends into far-right extremism, as several studies over the past few years have demonstrated.
This of course does not mean that cable TV needs to stop discussing the Knights Templar. They are a part of history, albeit a much smaller one than TV pretends. But it does mean that since they know that discussions of the Solutrean hypothesis, Templar conspiracy theories, white colonization of pre-Columbian America, and other such topics are embraced by the violent fringes of the far right, it is incumbent upon them to consider the potential impact of their false claims and restrict their broadcasts to what is true rather than false claims that give aid and comfort to extremists.
And make no mistake: such claims have always been understood to be about white nationalism. The medieval noble Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orkney, may not have been a Templar, but those who believe he colonized America before Columbus claim him as one. His supporter Thomas Sinclair understood the stakes and claimed in 1893 that Sinclair was a key tool in asserting white Protestant supremacy over non-white immigrants, what he called “gigantic Armageddon contest of blood and belief” in which having a heroic symbol of a pure “white” discoverer of America would help suppress ethnic minorities and their efforts to outbreed whites.
Yes, this is the same “white genocide” claim that Brenton Tarrant made more than 125 years later. The notes may change, but the music does not.
The media need to step up and stop pretending that this obvious undercurrent doesn’t exist and doesn’t have an impact on extremists who see their twisted beliefs reflected in cable’s warped priorities. We have had enough of shows that distort the past by foregrounding white history in times and places where white people weren’t in charge or even present.
“Victors write the history and the writers of history control the cultural climate of the present time.”
Brenton Tarrant wrote those words just before killing 49 people in the name of “the ancestors” as well as the future of the “White Race.”
3/16/2019 09:23:06 am
3/16/2019 09:59:01 am
'..a symbol of renewed white nationalism..' ..from the manifesto. Guess who?
3/16/2019 11:04:34 am
"The manifesto also included a single reference to President Donald Trump in which the author asked and answered the question of whether he was a Trump supporter: "As a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose? Sure. As a policy maker and leader? Dear god no."
3/16/2019 11:49:50 am
Yes, correction, 'identity' not 'nationalism', my mistake. Thank you.
3/16/2019 09:27:16 pm
I didn't notice that, I just wanted to include the last part showing that a white racist genocidal lunatic murderer knows better than to vote for Stumpy.
An Anonymous Nerd
3/16/2019 10:35:31 am
The Fringe is not harmless.
Right Wing Extremists and mainstream Christianity
3/16/2019 10:53:10 am
I have heard about this as well
Rosslyn Chapel Templarism is now dead
3/16/2019 10:55:51 am
Dead, dead, dead
3/16/2019 11:15:17 am
A pretty ignorant diatribe above Jason. I mean... putting aside using a tragedy such as this to fuel your crusade against the History Channel and the like. And make no mistake about it, I don't like fake history either, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
3/16/2019 07:53:07 pm
Joe, honey. Why the use of the Knights TEMPLAR brand, then? Why not the Order of St. George? Why not the Peasant Army? Why not the Order of the Holy Sepulcher? Why not the Knights Hospitaller, which actually do have some claim to the "Templar" history by reason of having absorbed dozens of former Templars into their order when the Templars were dissolved? Why not the Teutonic Knights? Why not Antioch? Why is it always, always, ALWAYS "the Knights Templar" in these things?
3/16/2019 08:33:20 pm
Right now V? The Templar inspired group was re-established in 2002. As for other named "knights" and their use by hate groups, I'm sure you could find any number of them not qualified by the "Templar" moniker. Honey.
3/16/2019 10:42:23 pm
If you do a literature search, Knights Templar are not discussed more frequently than other Crusader groups down to about the 1990s, when cable TV and conspiracy theory books suddenly catapulted them into the spotlight. In fact, prior to the 20th century, almost all the references are to the Masonic group from internal Masonic literature that wouldn't have been widely read outside the Masons. Their current popularity isn't due to any great interest on the part of historians relative to other groups, but rather due to media interest, driven by conspiracy theory literature and programming.
3/19/2019 09:32:46 am
"Why the use of the Knights TEMPLAR brand, then? Why not the Order of St. George? Why not the Peasant Army? Why not..." Is this supposed to be an argument ? really ? OK....V, the reason is very simple, the Templar knights became very popular from the 80's (more or less), most of the thanks should be given to pseudo-historians, people like Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, Henry Lincoln,the authors of "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" (which was the inspiration for the The Da Vinci Code). you can also add Jason's old friend Graham Hancock with his book the "Sign and the Seal: The Quest for the Lost Ark of the Covenant", Indiana Jones and the last crusade (and countless books, TV shows and video games that followed ever since) that created a link between the knights template's and mythic artifacts like the ark of the covenant, the holy grail, Solomon's lost treasure, secret knowledge and so on....so at this point you probably thinking "This is pretty much what I am saying, so you agree with me then..." and the answer is, NO, you wrong, dead wrong. All above, true as it may be, is completely IRRELEVANT. because, even if the template's were not elevated to their mythical status that they have today, do you really think that the white supremacist could not find another replacement ? black supremacist took an entire civilization (ancient Egypt) to prove that they are the superior race....and you don't need to go to pseudoscience to do it, how about the Spartans fighting the Persian ? very fitting in this context, most Greeks (that will be associate with Europe elite, the left) did not fight the Persians (associate with Muslims immigrants...aka Muslim invaders), and only a small group of warriors (the white supremacists) protected Greece (Europe)...do you see how easy it is ? to take something from the past and make it symbolically connected to the current politics ? so in conclusion, yes the knights template's are chosen today by the extreme right because of their aura of mystery and mythic status, and no, this is not important, because if not the knights tempters, the extreme right can find a number of replacements as their symbol, its very easy. The elevation of the knights template's was not done because of race wars or political wars (in the 80 this was not even an issue) but for money, entertainment...and more money.
An Anonymous Nerd
3/21/2019 07:41:58 pm
[A pretty ignorant diatribe above Jason]
3/16/2019 02:25:45 pm
Contemporary representations of the Crusades, taken as a whole, tend toward the oversimplified and sanitized. Activities within the Crusades included various massacres of Jews from central Europe to the Holy Land. In fact, I believe that at some points particular Jewish communities felt better off by allying with Muslims. Then there were attacks on Christian Arabs and Eastern Orthodox folks, the latter including the sack of Constantinople by Crusaders. There was warfare between the Crusaders and the various Christian principalities though which they passed on their way to the Holy Land. Can't recall the source but i think that as part of the political intrigue after the establishment of Christian states in the Middle East, there were sometimes alliances between particular Muslim groups and particular European groups. Not really the valiant knight on a white steed kind of stuff that often gets associated with the Crusades.
3/16/2019 02:31:36 pm
Massacring of the Jews by Godfrey of Bouillon in Mainz and Cologne was a mere warm-up
3/19/2019 05:41:08 am
Once the Crusader states (and the plural form does matter) got established they weren't particularly unusual in terms of fitting in to the various alliances between the many different powers in the region. That was fairly normal, some of the Muslim states had been allied with the Byzantines or Armenians to fight other Muslims in the past and this was just another group - one that wasn't without it's own in-fighting.
3/19/2019 12:19:47 pm
Spain was more complicated because the reconquista was a somewhat different process than the crusades. But relative to my point I think that a commonality between the two is for people to hold very romanticized views of them that conflict with the political realities of the time.
An Anonymous Nerd
3/21/2019 07:59:45 pm
[Contemporary representations of the Crusades, taken as a whole, tend toward the oversimplified and sanitized. ]
3/21/2019 10:37:25 pm
Please note that I was referring to oversimplification and sanitization in popular representations that do indeed contrast with serious scholarship that does provide warts and all perspectives on the Crusades and Crusaders. Perhaps I should have been more clear but given the nature of Jason's piece I didn't think it should be necessary.
An Anonymous Nerd
3/21/2019 10:51:59 pm
[You lost me on the part about offering a narrative that favors the crusaders, unless I misunderstand your comments in that regard. ]
3/21/2019 11:28:57 pm
OK, I think that I follow you now. I must have missed out on the hyper-correction that cast the Crusaders purely in an evil light. But I am not particularly well read on the topic and would imagine that there has been quite a bit of it in that vein recently. But if you look at some of the discourse used by groups that some rightwing wackjobs draw inspiration from, or eve some popular writers, then you will get a whole new perspective on simplification and sanitization of the European side of the Crusades.
An Anonymoous Nerd
3/22/2019 08:57:31 am
[ I must have missed out on the hyper-correction that cast the Crusaders purely in an evil light.]
3/18/2019 10:24:33 am
Can the New Zealand shooter really be classified as a "right wing extremist" when he politically aligns himself with China in his own manifesto? These kooks seem to be in awe of Trump for some reason even though their political ideology seems to run more toward the leftish ideals of communism and segregation of the races.
An Anonymous Nerd
3/21/2019 11:08:21 pm
[Can the New Zealand shooter really be classified as a "right wing extremist" when he politically aligns himself with China in his own manifesto?]
3/18/2019 09:12:33 pm
"of course this does not mean cable TV should stop discussing the KT.."
3/19/2019 11:23:11 pm
Take very little of this murderer’s manifesto seriously. Part of the terror he hopes to start is to split the safe and sane among us into groups who hate each other.
3/23/2019 06:46:49 am
I spit on the Southern Poverty Law Center. As do the New York and Los Angeles Times.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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