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Published 12 March 2020

New special issue of Kōtuitui journal contextualises Christchurch terror attacks

A new special issue of 'Kōtuitui: New Zealand Journal of Social Sciences Online' reviews the deeper issues underlying the Ōtautahi Christchurch terrorist attack.

The date 15 March 2020 marks the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks that occurred at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch. Kōtuitui is publishing a special issue of seven papers reviewing the deeper issues underlying the attacks from a social science perspective.

This issue is edited by Professor Charles Crothers (Auckland University of Technology) and Dr Thomas O'Brien (University of York). 

Five of the seven papers in the special issue have been formally published. The special issue is titled "The contexts of the Christchurch terror attacks: social science perspectives". Details of the articles in the special issue are listed below.

Research articles

  1. Editorial
  2. Comparative study of attitudes to religious groups in New Zealand reveals Muslim-specific prejudice
  3. Security sector practitioner perceptions of the terror threat environment before the Christchurch attacks
  4. Extreme parallels: a corpus-driven analysis of ISIS and far-right discourse
  5. The proximity filter: the effect of distance on media coverage of the Christchurch mosque attacks
  6. Journalists as first responders
  7. Shaved heads and sonnenrads: comparing white supremacist skinheads and the alt-right in New Zealand
  8. News media and the Muslim identity after the Christchurch mosque massacres


The contexts of the Christchurch terror attacks: social science perspectives

Charles Crothersa and Thomas O’Brienb

a School of Social Sciences, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand

b Department of Sociology, University of York, York, United Kingdom


New Zealand was shattered by a brutal massacre at two Christchurch mosques in March 2019. Systematic social science analysis of this event seemed a worthwhile task for Kōtuitui, given considerable national and international interest. The Editorial provides a framework for the seven articles by briefly describing the event and the range of attitudes towards it within New Zealand, mediation by media/social media, and the policies/programmes of police and other State agencies. Brief comments on pertinent literature and data are supplied as well as detailed census data and a bibliography as supplementary material.

The seven contributions to the special issue draw on various discourses (including social media), content analyses, ethnography, interviews, and survey data. They examine right-wing extremists, key media personnel and their strategies, security agency personnel and their strategies, the identities of Muslims in New Zealand and the attitudes of the New Zealand public. Disciplinary approaches include communication studies, social psychology, sociology and security studies.

This special issue is an introduction and we hope further studies will be built on its foundations.

***This manuscript is not currently published. ***


Comparative study of attitudes to religious groups in New Zealand reveals Muslim-specific prejudice

Lara M. Greavesa, Aarif Rasheedb, Stephanie D’Souzac, Nichola Shackletonc, Luke D. Oldfielda, Chris G. Sibleyd, Barry Milnec and Joseph Bulbuliae

a Politics and International Relations, School of Social Sciences, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
b JustCommunity, Auckland, New Zealand
c Centre of Methods and Policy Application in the Social Sciences, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
d School of Psychology, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
e School of Humanities, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand


The March 15th terrorist attack started a national dialogue about prejudice in New Zealand. Previous research has investigated attitudes towards Muslims in comparison to ethnic minorities. However, presently, there are no nationally representative studies in New Zealand systematically comparing attitudes to Muslims with attitudes to other religious groups. Here, we present evidence from the New Zealand edition of the International Social Survey Programme module on religion, a national postal survey (N = 1335) collected between September 2018 and February 2019. We assess perceived threat and negativity towards Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and Atheists. We find substantially greater perceived threat and negativity towards Muslims compared with other groups. In particular, older people, New Zealand Europeans, men, and those with more right-wing attitudes report greater threat and negativity towards Muslims. In line with previous studies, higher religious identification and higher education predict greater acceptance. Taken collectively, these results reveal that the Muslim Acceptance Gap in this country is substantial, and greater challenges for acceptance are evident among lower-educated, right-wing, older, secular, and male populations. The magnitude of this gap reveals a substantial challenge to the future of New Zealand where religious and secular people can live without evoking prejudice.

Keywords: Muslims, ISSP, religion, religious prejudice, threat

DOI: 10.1080/1177083X.2020.1733032

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Security sector practitioner perceptions of the terror threat environment before the Christchurch attacks

John Battersby

Centre for Defence and Security Studies, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand


On 15 March 2019, Brenton Tarrant destroyed New Zealand’s perception of its low threat terrorist risk. Security sector practitioners interviewed for this study before 15 March spoke about the challenges of performing counter terrorism roles in that low threat environment. Their perceptions revealed a fear that terrorist attacks occurring overseas, would sooner or later occur in New Zealand. Their roles were complicated by an overarching sense of social, bureaucratic and political complacency toward the threat of terrorism. They perceived legislative inertia, which fettered the powers and resources agencies had to effectively act against the risks they believed were present. Despite these barriers, security sector agencies continued to look for possible emerging threats across a spectrum of risk, but relied on improvised use of existing legislation to manage it. This was more effective against those motivated by militant jihadism, and as Tarrant demonstrated, less so against other threats. Community engagement was needed and successfully achieved, although difficulties were observed which need to be addressed, and the media was perceived as having an undue influence over New Zealand’s security priorities, highlighting the need for a national counter terrorism strategy.

Keywords: New Zealand, security sector, militant jihadism, Right Wing extremism, counter terrorism

DOI: 10.1080/1177083X.2019.1701049

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Extreme parallels: a corpus-driven analysis of ISIS and far-right discourse

Louisa Buckingham & Nusiebah Alali

School of Cultures, Languages and Linguistics, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand


In this study, we examine key psychological dimensions in the manifestos authored by the perpetrators of the Christchurch and Utøya massacres, the right-wing extremists Brenton Tarrant and Anders Breivik, and the ISIS propaganda magazine Rumiyah. All texts were authored and disseminated virtually with the purpose of attracting or consolidating support, and justifying violent, discriminatory actions. While right-wing supremacist and extremist Islamist discourses are ostensibly ideologically opposed, previous research has posited the existence of ideational and emotive commonalities. We approach this from a corpus-linguistic perspective, and employ the software LIWC2015 and Wmatrix to explore the dominant psychological dimensions, semantic categories and keywords in these texts. We identify elements that contribute to the construction of a narrative of hate, peril and urgency, and discuss differences in the imagery used to construct these meanings and to appeal to different audiences. Whilst our analysis supports the existence of commonalities in ideological content and discursive strategies, our results identify differences in the target of hate in right-wing supremacist discourse and we differentiate between primarily Islamophobic and racist motives. Finally, we also discuss the limitations inherent in employing these software tools to analyse discourse in the Web 2.0 era.

Keywords: Extremist discourse, right-wing supremacy, ISIS, corpus linguistics, psychological dimensions

DOI: 10.1080/1177083X.2019.1698623

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The proximity filter: the effect of distance on media coverage of the Christchurch mosque attacks

Gavin Ellisa and Denis Mullerb

a Independent Researcher, Auckland, New Zealand

b Centre for Advancing Journalism, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia


The intense media coverage in New Zealand and Australia of the Christchurch mosque attacks exhibited significant disparity in editorial decision-making between the two countries. This research interrogates the different approaches taken in newsrooms and how these differences were manifested in broadcasts and publications. New Zealand media were focused largely on empathetic coverage of victims and resisted the alleged gunman's attempts to publicise his cause while their Australian counterparts showed no such reluctance and ran extended coverage of the alleged perpetrator, along with material ruled objectionable in New Zealand. It finds the editorial focus in each case exhibits the effect of proximity, identified in literature on empirical ethical decision-making as a factor in applied ethicality. The authors conclude that a proximity filter was used by New Zealand media who identified the victims as part of their own community, but the events of 15 March 2019 were seen as ‘foreign’ by Australian journalists who used perceived distance as justification for extremely graphic content.

Keywords: Christchurch, terrorism, media ethics, broadcasting regulation, proximity

DOI: 10.1080/1177083X.2019.1705358

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Journalists as first responders

Verica Rupar

School of Communication Studies, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand


Covering terrorist attacks has posed numerous challenges to mainstream media across the world. Bringing information to the public quickly remains a primary goal for news media, but the journalistic duty to tell the truth comes with an increased responsibility for the accuracy of reports. When news is broken by civilian eyewitnesses and is posted by social media before it has even gone through the barest of verification checks, news media editors struggle to fulfil the task of informing the public while reporting on stories that hold the potential to alarm the audience.

This paper offers some insights into the ways the New Zealand news media organized reporting on the March 15th terrorist attack in Christchurch. Based on face-to-face interviews with selected editors of major news organizations in New Zealand, it investigates the ways they operated in this situation. It explores key moments in editorial decision making on March 15, 2019, the first day of coverage of the terrorist attack. It focuses on the ‘first responder’ elements of news media work – speed and accuracy in providing information about the mosque attacks  - to identify how journalistic norms are adapted and changed to report this breaking news.

Keywords: Journalism, terrorist attack, first responders, Christchurch, editorial decisions

DOI: 10.1080/1177083X.2020.1741405

***Manuscript publication is pending.***


Shaved heads and sonnenrads: comparing white supremacist skinheads and the alt-right in New Zealand

Jarrod Gilberta and Ben Elleyb

aCriminal Justice, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand

bSociology, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand


This article looks at two periods in the history of white supremacy in New Zealand: the short-lived explosion of skinhead groups in the 1990s, and the contemporary rise of the internet-driven alt-right. It looks at the similarities and differences between the two groups, looking at style, symbols, ideology, and behaviour. It looks at the history of these two movements in New Zealand and compares the economic and social factors that contributed to their rise, in particular how the different social class of members produced groups with near-identical ideology but radically different presentation and modes of action.

Keywords: word; gangs; white supremacy; skinheads; alt-right; New Zealand

DOI: 10.1080/1177083X.2020.1730415

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News Media and the Muslim Identity after the Christchurch Mosque Massacres

Khairiah A Rahman

School of Communication Studies, AUT University


This work discusses news about Muslims via one researcher's social media news feeds after the Christchurch tragedy. Using intercultural and Islamic communication theories, the contents of several news stories are analysed for their contribution to the Muslim person's identity. Findings reveal four main categories: Muslim women and hijab; religion and terrorism; media, government, democracy and the politics of oppression; and representation of the Muslim voice. Substantial news content also depicts peace, love and forgiveness in its presentation of the human angle in New Zealand media. There is a significant shift from the negative othering rhetoric of international media to an inclusive national approach in the tone of the New Zealand press. However, Muslim narratives reveal that structural discrimination and systemic oppression do exist and pose safety and identity challenges.  While news continues to divide and unite people depending on the press agenda, their depictions of Islam and Muslims have potentially major influences and serious consequences on the Muslim person's identity within the local and global Muslim communities.

Key words: Muslim identity, media representations, Islamophobia, white supremacy, terrorism, structural discrimination, systemic oppression

***This manuscript is not currently published.***

Source: Royal Society Te Apārangi