Following in the footsteps of NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, 5Why will not name the Christchurch shooter, nor any perpetrators of mass murderer. We encourage all other media organisations to follow suit and deny these criminals the notoriety they seek.
Here we go again. The Christchurch shooter, who gunned down 51 innocent Muslims in their place of worship on Friday 15 March, has entered a plea of not guilty. Despite the fact that he live-streamed the massacre and despite overwhelming evidence of his guilt, his case is going to court.
As shocking as this may seem, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Because this has nothing to do with the shooter’s guilt and everything to do with the platform that a public trial offers him.
Of course, the shooter has the right to a fair trial – that goes without question. But the plea will not result in a more thorough examination of the evidence against him, nor is it likely to lead a jury to acquit him. All it does is present the shooter with an opportunity to stand up in court – and, crucially, in front of the media’s waiting cameras – and preach his manifesto.
The Shooter’s True Intentions
History has taught us that the body count of an act of terrorism is secondary to the fear and hatred that the act stokes. This is why we use the term “terrorism” – the intended outcome is not just death, but fear. The perpetrator of the Christchurch massacre wants to spread his message of hatred to a wider audience, as he did on the day by broadcasting his crimes.
High Court Justice Cameron Mander, who oversaw the plea’s submission, has declared the shooter fit to stand trial. This is important as it indicates the defendant is “of sound mind”. Too often in these situations, shooters are dismissed as deranged “lone wolves“. Not this time. The shooter must therefore be treated in the media as exactly what he is: a white supremacist and a product of his context.
That said, it now falls to the media to do the right thing and turn their backs on this case until it is concluded.
Learning From Our Mistakes
The media (and I’m using the term broadly here) has long made a habit of giving mass murderers a public platform, intentionally or otherwise. For example, Ranker, which produces user-aggregated “ranking” charts, have a page with the links to TEN manifestos by mass shooters that are publicly accessible today. (Pictured above. And no, we’re not hyperlinking that shit.)
It’s easier for most members of the public to recite the names of the Columbine shooters, the Utøya shooter or any number of American mass murderers than it is to name any of their victims, or the heroes who arose in the wake of their attacks. That should not be the case. And the only ones responsible for this trend are those in the media.
Members of the justice system should be studying these people to discern patterns in their behaviour, making it easier to identify potential perpetrators in the future and prevent them from committing such horrific acts. The rest of us need not have their names and faces scratched into our memories. It does us no good. It does our society no good. And it glorifies mass murderers, encouraging more people to join their ranks.
What Happens From Here
Last year, I debuted a play called Monument, which takes place in the aftermath of a live-streamed mass shooting by two young white men. (I wish the subject matter had been less painfully relevant.) A major focus of the story was how the survivors of the shooting dealt with their killers’ digital presence – even though both shooters were killed during the attack, they continue to haunt the space, brought sharply into focus by media figures that won’t leave them buried.
I admit I am no expert on counter-terrorism, but I encourage everyone in the media (and on social media) to take a cue from the characters of Monument. As the Christchurch shooter’s trial begins in March of next year, we should be considering his victims and not what he has to say in court. We should remember those who have died and why they were singled out; we should continue to be vigilant against extremism. As for the perpetrator, his reward should not be notoriety, but total erasure.
We can only hope justice will be served by the New Zealand courts. Until then, it is the responsibility of everyone with a public platform to deny the perpetrator one. His name is now worthless and together we can ensure it is swiftly forgotten.
Images: AlJazeera, YouTube, Ranker, Gom Jabbar.