This section of the report contains material that may be confronting, particularly to those affected by the 15 March 2019 terrorist attack.
In his manifesto, the individual suggested that his original intention was to train in New Zealand for an attack elsewhere. However, we consider that his intention from the outset was to carry out a terrorist attack in New Zealand. This was certainly his intention by 9 February 2018 as is established by the first of his planning documents.
By the time of writing his first planning document in February 2018 he had already obtained a firearms licence. In addition, in December 2017 he had acquired a number of semi-automatic rifles, and large capacity magazines as well as other material (including body armour) that he used in the terrorist attack. His training and preparation presupposed the use of semi-automatic firearms with large capacity magazines. He could not take such weapons to Australia and likewise could not lawfully acquire them there.
From his point of view, New Zealand was an ideal place for him to prepare, plan and carry out a terrorist attack. As an Australian he was able to fit in well enough with those he engaged with. New Zealand’s permissive firearms laws, particularly the regulation of semi‑automatic firearms, which we discuss in more detail in Part 5: The firearms licence, were also a likely influence on his decision to carry out an attack in New Zealand. In addition, he did not have close connections in New Zealand and so there was no-one likely to raise an alarm about the way he was living and how he was acting. His mother and sister were worried about him, but they were not in regular face-to-face contact with him. Although his way of life was distinctly odd, living alone in a sparsely furnished flat, not working, not engaging closely with anyone and spending large amounts of time online, at rifle clubs and the gym, there was no one who could see the complete picture until perhaps the visit of his mother in December 2018 and January 2019.
By personality, the individual was well equipped to prepare, plan and carry out a terrorist attack. He has limited and perhaps no empathy for those he has been able to “other”, most particularly Muslim migrants in Western countries. This meant he was able to contemplate with equanimity large scale murder of people he had never met. He is reasonably intelligent and was thus able to undertake the necessary preparation and develop a complex but actionable plan for his terrorist attack. He has no apparent emotional need for close engagement with others, largely eliminating the likelihood of “leakage”, that is the disclosure of his intentions to others who might inform counter-terrorism agencies. He also was or became technically proficient across a range of skills. In terms of computers and the internet he is very much a digital native and he was well able to modify firearms he acquired to best suit his purposes.
The individual’s behaviour prior to the terrorist attack was consistent with his extreme right-wing views. The language of his online posts – explicitly rejecting the use of violence to resolve immigration issues, but offering no democratic solution – was consistent with that often employed by those on the extreme right-wing. He used memes and irony familiar to those on the far right to disclaim a real commitment to extreme right-wing ideas, while still espousing them. In addition, the individual’s familiarity with trolling influenced his preparation for the terrorist attack. For example, the false trail in relation to the “reborn Knights Templar” and a number of the sections in his manifesto were just trolling exercises.
We see the terrorist attack as resulting very much from an unhappy conjunction of his personality (affected as it may have been by his upbringing), his financial circumstances resulting from the money his father gave him, his underlying political views (particularly his ethno-nationalist views and his belief in the Great Replacement theory) and his way of life (funded with his father’s money), which limited the likelihood of his views being tempered by ordinary interactions with others.
The individual was in no hurry to carry out his terrorist attack. We have seen no evidence to suggest that he ever intended to work to earn money and we have no doubt that the eventual timing of the terrorist attack was significantly driven by his financial circumstances. He was cautious in his preparation and generally tried to avoid attracting attention. In this he may have been assisted by his personality, which enabled him to operate without a need for regular or deep engagement with others. He generally attempted to maintain operational security with only limited lapses. His preparation was methodical, and his planning detailed and elaborate.
Many of those we have spoken to have expressed the view (or at least suspicion) that others must have played a role in the planning, preparation and execution of the terrorist attack.
It is true that following his arrest, the individual told New Zealand Police, both when he was stopped and later that afternoon while being interviewed, that up to nine other people were actively involved in the terrorist attack. At one stage he referred to “nine more shooters”. He also said that there are “like-minded” people in Dunedin, Invercargill and Ashburton. As we have explained, he further claimed to have been in touch with the Oslo terrorist’s “organisation” which he called the “reborn Knights Templar” and which he said had given a “blessing” for the terrorist attack. He also referred to other people in other jurisdictions and also to training. Aspects of what he told New Zealand Police were reported to the public on the afternoon of 15 March 2019, in particular that there were thought to be other shooters who were active. This has contributed to community perceptions that others may have been involved.
When we interviewed the individual, he said that he had acted alone and that what he had said in his manifesto and to New Zealand Police to the contrary was untrue. We accept that this is so. Just as the claim of an association with the Oslo terrorist and “reborn Knights Templar” was a false trail, so too were his claims that other shooters were involved in the terrorist attack. There are a number of reasons for this conclusion that he acted alone.
The first place to start is the interview with New Zealand Police on the evening of 15 March 2019. The narrative of events that he gave was all about himself and did not leave room for participation by others. The “nine more shooters” did not materialise. So, from a very early stage New Zealand Police were satisfied that he had acted alone.
He had his own money and did not require outside funding. We know what equipment he used and how he paid for it. No one else was involved. He trained for the terrorist attack by gaining proficiency with firearms, attaining a high level of fitness and bulking up on his own, albeit with the assistance of drugs. We know the broad details of his reconnaissance at Masjid an-Nur and in Dunedin and Ashburton. He also told us of limited reconnaissance of the Linwood Islamic Centre on the late afternoon of 8 January 2019. There is no evidence of anyone else being involved. Indeed, given the nature of his reconnaissance, he did not need assistance from anyone else. He was able to obtain any additional information he needed from the internet.
The planning documents that are discussed in chapter 6 were either emails to himself or located on the SD card of the drone or external hard drive. None of those documents indicate involvement of other people. The individual did not intend these to be seen after the terrorist attack as he had deleted them. We have set out earlier in this Part extracts of those documents that are relevant to his planning, despite the distressing nature of some of what was said. The overwhelming impression of this material in its totality is that the individual’s planning for his terrorist attack was a solo effort.
We have reviewed the GoPro footage that the individual recorded, along with CCTV footage from Masjid an-Nur. This material gives no indication of anyone else participating in the terrorist attack. During the terrorist attack he was heard talking to others but this was only to his online audience. It was a one-way conversation.
Engaging others in the planning or execution of the terrorist attack would have been inconsistent with his introverted personality. More generally his approach was influenced by that of the Oslo terrorist who was also a lone actor.
We acknowledge a view is held in the community that, while the individual may have acted alone on 15 March 2019, he formed part of a network of people holding similar views to him and therefore was not, in that sense, a “lone actor”.
We have no doubt that the individual’s internet activity was considerably greater than we have been able to reconstruct. The style in which his manifesto was written indicates fluency in the language customarily used on extreme right-wing websites and associated memes and in-jokes. The individual confirmed to us that he visited 4chan and 8chan and it is likely that he contributed comments (although we have no direct evidence of this). He also visited other sites and discussion boards where there was discussion promoting extreme right-wing and ethno-nationalist views similar to his own and sometimes supporting violence. He also spent much time accessing broadly similar material on YouTube. His exposure to such content may have contributed to his actions on 15 March 2019 - indeed, it is plausible to conclude that it did. We have, however, seen no evidence to suggest anything along the lines of personalised encouragement or the like.
For these reasons we conclude that the individual is appropriately labelled a lone actor.