Brenton Tarrant: The 'ordinary white man' turned mass murderer

Victoria Ward
Brenton Tarrant with his father Rodney

Clutched tightly by his adoring father, the fair-haired blue-eyed toddler was the picture of innocence. It was, by his mother’s own account, one of her fondest memories - the young family all together on holiday in Hawaii where her husband was about to compete in an Iron Man.

The young Brenton Tarrant had just celebrated his birthday.

He would go on to enjoy a normal upbringing in the rural town of Grafton, New South Wales, alongside his parents and sister.

Little, if anything, pointed towards the horror that he would go on to unleash.

Indeed, he describes himself as an “ordinary, white man”, born into a working class, low income family of Scottish, Irish and English decent.

Brenton Tarrant with his father Rodney
Brenton Tarrant 

By all accounts, his life was unremarkable, leaving school to become a fitness instructor at a local gym. He had “no interest” in education or anything that university had to offer.

But in 2010, his father Rodney, an athlete, died of an asbestos-related cancer and shortly afterwards, having acquired some inheritance, Tarrant left the family home to travel the world.

During the years that he was away, his mother, an English teacher, wrote online about how much she missed her “incredible son” although she said she “understood his wanderlust”.

She wrote fondly of her “Brento” and appeared blissfully unaware of how his world had turned.

Tarrant’s travels took him through much of Europe, North Korea, India and Japan.

Last year, he described Pakistan as "an incredible place filled with the most earnest, kind hearted and hospitable people in the world".

An injured person is loaded into an ambulance at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch Credit: Reuters

 

"The beauty of hunza and nagar valley in autumn cannot be beat," he wrote online, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

At some point during this journey, something in Tarrant changed and the roots of his violent rampage began to take hold.

He is thought to have become obsessed with the terrorist attacks that took place in Europe in 2016 and 2017, specifically referencing the death of 11-year-old Ebba Akerlund, one of five people killed in a terror attack in Stockholm in 2017, in a rambling manifesto he published online.

Bloodied bandages on the road following a shooting at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch Credit: REUTERS

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardernsaid her office received that "manifesto"  minutes before Friday's attack.

"I was one of more than 30 recipients of the manifesto that was mailed out nine minutes before the attack took place," Ms Ardern told reporters on Sunday.

"It did not include a location, it did not include specific details," she said, adding that it was sent to security services within two minutes of receipt.

Tarrant’s references to British heritage appear tenuous - both of his parents and his grandparents are thought to have been born in Australia.

However, his sister married a man who hails from Portsmouth.

The 51-year-old's mother, who still lives in the area, did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

Her elder son, who now lives in Christchurch, was quick to offer shelter, food and anything he could do to support the victims of the atrocity as the news broke yesterday.

At the time, he was seemingly unaware of his links to the perpetrator. “The shooter was Australian who came here specifically to undertake this abhorrent act,” he wrote online.

“I know the mosque well... we pass it all the time and it's always such a busy and pleasant place. I'm horrified at this senseless barbarity.”

His mother too, appeared unaware that it was Tarrant, her son’s brother-in-law, who had committed the atrocity. “I cannot believe this has happened in Christchurch ...my thoughts are with you all,” she wrote. 

In his 17,000-word manifesto, Tarrant describes his native country as a lacklustre, apathetic offshoot of Britain.

"The origins of my language is European, my culture is European, my political beliefs are European, my philosophical beliefs are European, my identity is European and, most importantly, my blood is European," he writes.

"What is an Australian but a drunk European? Kidding, but Australia is a European colony, particularly of British stock and thereby an extension of Europe."

Perhaps tellingly, Tarrant’s opens the document with Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, the poem written by Dylan Thomas as an ode to his dying father, imploring him not to die.

He  declares himself to be pro-Brexit and admits to being a fascist, saying he feels an affinity with Oswald Mosley.

Yet he goes on to compare himself to Nelson Mandela and state that he expects the Nobel Peace prize.

He says he is racist but not a xenophobe and declares his support for Donald Trump "as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose".

He cites terror attacks in Europe as the cause of his radicalisation and states that he hopes to “create conflict” in the US over gun ownership.

He also claims to have had "brief contact" with Anders Breivik, the far-right terrorist who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011.

However, Breivik's lawyer, Oeystein Storrvik, told a Norwegian newspaper yesterday that his client, who is in prison, has “very limited contacts with the surrounding world, so it seems very unlikely that he has had contact” with Tarrant.

The hate-filled language could not be further from the apparent beliefs of his own mother, whose Facebook page is awash with calls for equality and posts about spirituality and the importance of love and friendship.

At one point, his mother, who collects healing crystals, denounces the “delusional” people “causing death and destruction on this great globe”.

In 2013, she posted part of a message from her son who had been regaling her with tales from his trip to New Zealand:

“Brenton’s last update in New Zealand was magic,” she wrote, before republishing his email full of detail about his travels in a country he described as “truly paradise.”

There was little to predict that barely three years later, he would be plotting an atrocity of unimaginable magnitude on that very soil.

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