New Zealand mosque suspect Brenton Tarrant 'an ordinary white man' inspired by Anders Breivik

Jonathan Pearlman
Brenton Tarrant posted a video of himself  - SOCIAL MEDIA WEBSITE/via REUTERS

In the eastern Australian riverside town of Grafton, Brenton Tarrant was – until about 1.40pm today in Christchurch - known as a “lovely” fitness-obsessed local from a respected family.

But the 28-year-old, who attended Grafton High School, a state school, before working as a personal  trainer at a local gym, will now be remembered as one of the orchestrators and gunmen behind the horrific shootings in Christchurch.

Tarrant filmed himself attacking a Christchurch mosque in a Facebook Live video and posted a 74-page manifesto in which he claims to be from a “working class, low income family”. He said he was of Scottish, Irish and English stock and moved to New Zealand temporarily to plan and train and then stayed there after deciding to conduct the attack.

Describing himself as an “ordinary white man”, Tarrant said he was inspired by Norway mass killer Anders Behring Breivik and wanted to avenge “thousands of deaths caused by foreign invaders”.

“I have read the writings of Dylan Roof and many others, but only really took true inspiration from Knight Justiciar Breivik,” he wrote.

He said he wanted to avenge the death of Ebba Akerlund, an 11-year-old who was killed in a 2017 terror attack in Stockholm. 

Photos from Brenton Tarrant's social media profile appear to show gun magazine cartridges. 'For Rotherham' is written on one
Tarrent posted a picture of a bullet proof vest on his social media account. He was seen wearing military style camouflage during the attack

Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, confirmed that an Australian-born man participated in the attack but said the man was not previously known to Australian authorities.

“He is an Australian-born citizen,” Mr Morrison said. “That obviously leads to an Australian -based investigation and all of our inquiries here will be absolutely shared and communicated with New Zealand authorities.”

It is not yet clear where, or how, Tarrant transformed into a raving, racist mass murderer. He said on Facebook last year that he had visited the Muslim-majority nation of Pakistan, describing it as "an incredible place filled with the most earnest, kind hearted and hospitable people in the world".

"The beauty of hunza and nagar valley in autumn cannot be beat," he said.

Yet he claimed in his manifesto that he began plotting the attack two years ago and chose the targeted location three months ago.

Police apprehended the suspect by crashing into his car Credit: Reuters

'A lovely little boy'

Until about ten years ago, Tarrant lived in his family’s modest two-storey house in suburban Grafton, a town about 400 miles north of Sydney, with a population of about 10,000 residents. He is believed to have an older sister and mother and his father, a respected local who was also fitness-conscious and competed in triathlons,  who died of cancer in 2010.

He was last seen visiting the house about five years ago and is believed to have been travelling overseas for the past few years. 

In his hometown, former neighbours told the local Daily Examiner newspaper he was “a lovely little boy”.

Tracey Gray, who hired Mr Tarrant to work for her as a personal trainer in 2009 at the local Big River Squash and Fitness Centre,  said he had been a “dedicated” worker. She told ABC News that he worked there for several years and left Grafton in about 2012 to travel in Asia and Europe before settling in New Zealand. He apparently offered free training to local children.

"I think something must have changed in him during the years he spent travelling overseas," she said. 

Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik in court in Oslo in 2012 Credit:  Reuters

"He would train a lot, and some could say quite excessively, but then he was passionate about health and fitness and making those changes in his personal space… 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.”

According to ABC News, Tarrant left his job at the gym and then made some money from Bitconnect, a cryptocurrency, which he used to travel overseas.

In his manifesto, he described himself as European and said Australia was a British colonial “offshoot”.

"Those around [me] were the typical Australians, apathetic and for the most part apolitical, only truly showing motivation in matters of animal rights, environmentalism and taxation,” he said.