CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand—The self-described racist who allegedly carried out massacres in two mosques flashed a white power sign during his first court appearance.
Photos from the brief proceeding showed Brenton Harrison Tarrant, flanked by police, using his shackled hand to make an “OK” symbol that has been appropriated by white supremacists and is also used by right-wing internet trolls.
The 28-year-old Australian personal trainer is charged with one count of murder in connection with the back-to-back mass shootings that left 50 people dead and dozens more wounded—but authorities said more charges will be coming. His court-appointed attorney did not apply for bail, and he will be jailed until his next appearance on April 5.
The public was not allowed into the courtroom, which was packed with media. Tarrant wordlessly swayed in the dock, looking back and forth from the gallery to the bench.
Tarrant did not seek a suppression order that would have prevented media from using his name in New Zealand—perhaps not a surprise given his apparent lust for notoriety as evidenced by an online manifesto and a sickening live-stream of the attack.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the symbol Tarrant used was adopted by white nationalists and neo-Nazis “to signal their presence to the like-minded, as well as to identify potentially sympathetic recruits among young trolling artists flashing it.”
The Washington Post reports that new video, now taken offline, shows him in his Subaru Outback moments before he started the deadly rampage. “All right,” he said after starting the car. “Let’s get this party started.”
Tarrant did not have a criminal record in New Zealand or Australia before he turned Friday prayers at two mosques into a bloodbath and “was not known to authorities in connection with far-right violence,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said during a press conference Saturday morning. Ardern is demanding an urgent review into why the attacks weren't prevented and why New Zealand security services didn’t see the signs.
Police say a number of firearms have been retrieved from both mosques. Tarrant began purchasing guns in December 2018, officials said, and allegedly used five legally-purchased guns: two semi-automatic weapons, two shotguns and a lever-action firearm.
Families are starting to make their way to the Christchurch Hospital for a private briefing. They were told there would be a list of victims along with a list of those being treated. Several remain critically injured and authorities do not rule out more deaths from the attack. Tens of thousands of people attended vigils across the country Friday night.
Tarrant was apprehended in a car in southern Christchurch, according to witnesses. His car had been rigged with explosives, which police said they dismantled.
The prime minister confirmed two other people were in custody, though local authorities are still trying to determine if they were actually involved. One was identified as 18-year-old Daniel John Burrough of Christchurch, who was charged with trying to incite racial hatred. No other details were provided and it was unclear if he even knew Tarrant.
A fourth person arrested late Friday night turned out to be just “a member of the public” who was in possession of a firearm and was trying to help police, authorities said. That person was released.
“While the national grapples with a form of anger and grief we have not experienced before, we are seeking answers,” Ardern said on Saturday morning. “We are all grieving together.”
Tarrant allegedly began legally purchasing weapons in December 2018 while “sporadically” traveling in and out of the country, authorities said on Friday in a press conference.
In a press conference Saturday morning, Ardern revealed “the suspect” acquired a category A gun license in December 2018, and began stockpiling firearms shortly after.
“This individual has traveled around the world, with sporadic periods of time spent in New Zealand. They were not a resident of Christchurch, in fact they were currently based in Dunedin at the time of this event,” she said, though she did not identify Tarrant as the suspect.
A Facebook account for a Brenton Tarrant, where the video of the attack was posted, used the nickname Barry Harry Tarry, an apparent play on his full name. The same nickname was used on his Vimeo account.
A Twitter account under the name Brenton Tarrant posted images of black rifles and magazine covered in white writing that matched the weapons seen in the live-streamed video. (The names were of people whose deaths he claimed he was avenging and of racist murderers whom he said inspired him.) And the metadata on the online manifesto listed the author as Brenton Tarrant. An 8chan post linked to both the manifesto and the Facebook page.
The rambling manifesto is titled called “The Great Replacement.” The name is a reference to the 2012 book by right-wing French polemicist Renaud Camus that pushes the conspiracy theory that Muslims are replacing the white European and French Catholic cultures. The entire work is filled with anti-Muslim white supremacist vitriol with the clear intent that it would be widely read. He asks and answers questions he clearly wants quoted, much like his Islamophobic idol Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 69 people on a Norwegian island in 2011.
Tarrant’s Twitter account @brentontarrantprofile, from which he published his rambling manifesto was disabled shortly after his alleged shooting spree started. It was just a month old and had 2,018 followers and 63 mostly anti-immigrant tweets. He retweeted stories about white women’s low fertility rates and crimes carried out by Islamic extremists from underground websites and mainstream outlets like The New York Times and Daily Mail.
Tarrant said in the manifesto that he was traveling and “training” for the massacre for the past two years. He reportedly worked as a personal trainer at the Big River Gym in his hometown of Grafton, New South Wales, Australia. He helped disadvantaged children, according to the woman who once supervised him.
“He worked in our program that offered free training to kids in the community, and he was very passionate about that," Gym manager Tracey Gray told Australia’s ABC news. “I think something must have changed in him during the years he spent traveling overseas.”
His travels took him across Europe and Asia, Gray said. He had worked for cryptocurrency trader Bitconnect and used the money he made to travel to North Korea, where he was photographed visiting the Samjiyon Grand Monument according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
“I honestly can't believe that somebody I have probably had daily dealings with and had shared conversations and interacted with would be capable of something to this extreme,” Gray told the paper.
Tarrant described himself in the manifesto as “just a ordinary White man, 28 years old. Born in Australia to a working class, low income family. My parents are of Scottish, Irish and English stock.” He said his childhood was normal “without any great issues.”
But he goes on to say it wasn’t without problems. “I had little interest in education during my schooling, barely achieving a passing grade,” he wrote. “I did not attend University as I had no great interest in anything offered in the Universities to study.”