Break the Chain: Manifestos, Lone Wolf Terrorism, and the Nashville Shooting

Introduction.

The focal points of news reports were the unknown person responsible for the attack and an undisclosed ‘declaration’ discovered by authorities at the shooter’s home following the incident. Law enforcement officers fatally apprehended the culprit, who possessed three guns. Among the casualties, three were minors, and a total of six individuals lost their lives during a shooting incident at an elementary school in Nashville in March 2023.

Comparisons of the Nashville assailant with other solitary assailants, such as the Buffalo and Christchurch culprits, immediately sparked the utilization of the term declaration. However, the depiction appears to have been reiterated by the assailant in a private message exchange on Instagram shortly before the assault – and as being a part of a more extensive assortment of materials, including school maps and elaborate action plans. While the precise content of the document remains undisclosed, subsequent journalists referred to it as a farewell letter. Media reports suggested that the assailant had left behind a document, potentially a manifesto, for authorities to discover.

The court and police still oppose the formal release of the documents responsible for the fate of the writings. However, the request for ownership of the document, which was seen by the shooter’s parents during a court hearing on June 8, appears paradoxical if it is counterproductive to actively counter extremism. This decision may further harm uninvolved groups and perpetrate the chance of harm by possibly containing harmful material within the document. Considering the internal review process that the manifesto written by the shooter, announced by Governor Bill Lee of Tennessee on April 28, is undergoing, it is expected to be released “soon.”

The underground network known as “Antifa” and “trans-terrorism” launched an unidentified attack on prominent Republican figures, including Congresswoman Marjorie Greene and Taylor. The shooter, who identified as transgender, caused a significant backlash in both digital and traditional media due to their sharp increase in transphobic rhetoric. Authorities in Tennessee quickly disclosed that the shooter was a 28-year-old former transgender student of the school where the shooting occurred.

Insight provides an overview of the importance of manifestos in single-actor attacks and highlights the risk to the LGBTQ community if the attacker’s gender identity and potential for targeted violence are revealed in the released manifesto. Additionally, it emphasizes the associated risks of publishing any material written by the Nashville shooter.

Manifestos and the Significance of Lone Wolf Terrorists.

Manifestos have become increasingly common in cases of lone-attacker terrorism, with perpetrators from widely different political persuasions – often white supremacists and incels – using social media to share them with a broad, decentralized audience. They provide various symbols and transmissible templates together, which need to be decoded as the intended message covers the injection of irony. Nevertheless, understanding it from outsiders (normies) prevents the irony from being decoded, as it works in the same way as memes do, almost formulaic in its language and often pasted and copied in its content from the medium of the manifesto. Moreover, the manifestos shift between different registers, superimposing layers of serious material and irony, in order to flatten violence and render it manageable for both the wider public and members of the network and sympathizers who share its purposes.

The manifesto of the Buffalo shooter, which reviews and catalogs hundreds of items ranging from combat equipment and military ammunition to miscellaneous visual elements and gloves, may include a set of logistical instructions directed at possible copycats. Other elements that may be included are themes of dehumanization and martyrdom, specific to an enemy, along with a possible assessment of the socio-political consequences of their actions. Essentially, the manifesto explains the shooter’s assessment of the possible consequences of their violent actions, including a theory of ‘teleology’ or even a political element of radicalization. Broadly speaking, the manifesto may also contain an autobiographical profile of the attacker, providing an overview of their self-radicalization process and ideological justification for the attack.

Many previous terrorists have embraced the concept of accelerationism, a far-right ideology, which derives from extremist networks on the messaging app Telegram. In his manifesto, the attacker from Bratislava expressed his desire to directly insert himself into the role previously occupied by other terrorists, viewing them as ‘beatified’ and praised figures. He chose to write his manifesto in his native language rather than English, and even included visual elements and symbols to share a common aesthetic with other online subcultures. These manifestos often target a predominantly young, English-speaking audience, who are internet-literate and based in Western countries.

The manifesto quoted in his writings serves as an inspiration for the Christchurch shooter, who launched attacks on a mosque only one month after the shooting at the Poway Synagogue in 2019. According to reports from ICCT, the Buffalo shooter plagiarized multiple points directly from the Christchurch manifesto, deriving its structure from Q&A format. The manifesto compiled by the Christchurch mosque shooter can be considered a kind of model, similar to the writings of the Unabomber, among other notable examples of pre-2019 terrorist manifestos that exist.

Foundational Papers and Mosaics: Declarations and Aggressive Societies.

The actions of lone actors often manifest as a mosaic-like mix of complex symbols, imbued with irony and cultural material. These symbols, generated through tweets, videos, or attack-style manifestos, represent the rationale behind their violence and serve as fundamental and integral parts of the meaning-confering nature of the media created by these actors, as I wrote in my last Insight GNET.

The media adopts the role of an accomplice, carrying the specific audio-visual artifacts into the future, crystallizing the violence. Unlike traditional terrorist organizations, lone-actor terrorists become combatants only at the moment of their attacks. This compensates for their lack of a meaningful strategic outlook and apparatus. The use of mediated violence reproduction, powered by algorithms and social media, endlessly multiplies and amplifies its reality, aiding attackers in reproducing and potentially comprehending violence. These mosaics are not just ironic, but also engage with the endless repetition of violence.

Manifestos, along with other radical writings, function as sacred texts for the communities that embrace them and their beliefs. Radical slogans, often infiltrating mainstream culture, have transformed into a few concise statements originating from terrorists. The initial sentence of the Unabomber’s manifesto, “The industrial revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race,” has evolved into a viral phenomenon detached from its original context. Meanwhile, certain extremists were depicted as ‘Saints’ and ‘preachers’ within the Terrorgram network. For instance, one of the images circulated on the network portrayed the Christchurch shooter as a Saint, clutching his manifesto as though it held religious significance.

The Nashville Declaration Should Not Be Released.

The likelihood of future solitary assailant assaults, instead of diminishing, is expected to rise with the dissemination of the manuscript. This potential consequence, driven by influences from the GOP and conservative associations, poses a range of hazards for both ordinary citizens and vulnerable minority groups. It is probable that the document authored by the perpetrator in Nashville will be accessible to the general public. A tweet from the Nashville Police Department, citing “pending legal action,” suggests a delay in the release procedure, and a definitive date for the publication of the shooter’s declaration in Nashville has not yet been established.

The publication of such a document might increase the risk of individuals being targeted for online abuse, physical violence, and doxing, as well as experiencing adverse financial impacts. In addition, it could lead to the harm of the perpetrator’s family members, who may be seen as associated with the shooter’s private life and could be vulnerable to radicalization. It is likely that the release of this document, if it resembles a suicide note, would unnecessarily publicize sensitive episodes and elements, causing additional harm.

The attack suggested that the deliberate act of anti-Christian harm was likely caused by people who wrote a manifesto resembling the ones written by the shooters in Oslo, Vista, Isla Buffalo. If the document presents an alternative view that even presents more problems, it lends credibility to the police’s finding that the note found at the shooter’s home, instead of being released online, is a single copy left as a ‘suicide note’.

The LGBTQ community is facing an escalating wave of abuse both online and offline, with trans individuals being particularly targeted. This mistreatment frequently originates from dispersed, extremist networks that operate primarily on the internet, intensifying the discussions surrounding these marginalized groups. Decision-makers should exercise caution and refrain from making reckless choices that could fuel violence. Numerous news organizations have already documented a surge in violence against trans individuals and the dissemination of transphobic, homophobic, and misogynistic content online, predominantly by far-right factions following the assault. In the most severe scenario, this progression could heighten the probability of retaliatory attacks against the LGBTQ community.

The release of the document might turn the Nashville attacker into a future extremist, posing a decreased risk of further violence. Instead, the publication of the manifesto is more likely to increase the risks of copycat attacks, as previously observed in other attacks, thus highlighting its significant role in inspiring such acts.

Making highly disturbing and upsetting material accessible to the public allows for the potential benefits to outweigh any negligible negative effects. However, it is crucial to stop the endless reproduction of this chain of violence and ensure that the words of lone attackers are not released through online media. If authorities are confronted with extremist material and the nature of its authorship, they should take actions to prevent its spread and halt the repetition of these types of attacks. By directly addressing the linked nature of extremist material and the cycles of stochastic violence, authorities can hinder the further encouragement of violence and terrorism. Instead, efforts should be made to contribute to the fight against lone wolf terrorism and not increase the risks of violence towards unrelated individuals.