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The Bratislava Attacks: Insights from the Shooter’s Manifesto

The Bratislava Attacks: Insights from the Shooter’s Manifesto
14th October 2022 Hannah Rose
In Insights

On Wednesday 12 October 2022, two people were killed by a gunman outside an LGBT+ bar in Bratislava, Slovakia. The shooter, who was found to have died by suicide the next morning, had posted a manifesto online revealing violent white supremacist ideology, with a particular focus on anti-Jewish and anti-LGBT+ hatred. The attacker’s ideology and, to some extent modus operandi, was heavily inspired by the May 2022 shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and the shooter references terrorist attacks in Christchurch, Poway and El Paso as providing inspiration, as well as influence from Eastern Europe and Japanese ultranationalists. This Insight presents an initial analysis of the shooter’s manifesto and Twitter footprint and highlights how this attack is situated in the current terrorism landscape. It seeks to outline what is currently known about the shooter’s radicalisation pathway and ideological positions. Firstly, this Insight will identify the shooter’s extreme antisemitism, and the pervasion of his homophobia and transphobia, which join together under conspiracy theories which are repeatedly outlined in his manifesto. Secondly, the young age of the shooter will be discussed, as well as his radicalisation pathway as a teenager, following a trend of the increasing capabilities and agency of the young extreme right, independent of their older counterparts.

This Insight is built from the information currently publicly available from the shooter’s social media profiles and the manifesto that was also published online. The shooter’s 65-page manifesto mimics the format of other recent extremists, including the Buffalo and Christchurch manifestos. Namely, the manifesto is structured around a question-and-answer format, intended to allow the reader to comprehensively determine the shooter’s ideological motivations, radicalisation pathways and attack operationalisation. Written in English, the manifesto is largely coherent, situating the individual firmly within extreme-right online ecosystems and ‘shitposters’. The manifesto features a significant crossover from the shooter’s Twitter account in the months before the attack. As a consequence of the detail and online nature of the manifesto, we can assume that it was the attacker’s intent to gain traction among other extreme-right actors to ensure that it would be widely shared.

Antisemitism, Transphobia, and the ‘ZOG’ Umbrella

While self-promoted ideologies in manifestos should not always be taken at face value, they provide insight into their overarching worldview. The author went to great lengths to lay out what he wanted the reader to understand his ideology to be. The shooter situates himself within the historical violent white supremacist landscape, describing his inspirations as Harold Covington, William Luther Pierce, previous extreme-right terrorists and the Terrorgram environment, among others. The manifesto uses common mantras such as the ‘14 words’ and “it’s the birthrates, it’s the birthrates, it’s the birthrates”, copied from the manifesto of the shooter who killed 51 Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand, going even further to call for the killing of all “invaders”.

A significant proportion of the shooter’s digital footprint is dedicated to racial nationalist antisemitism, beginning his manifesto with “it’s the Jews; it’s the Jews; it’s the Jews”. The manifesto continues by comprehensively detailing deeply antisemitic conspiracy theories about perceived Jewish control of governments, judicial systems, the entertainment industry, the political Left, health services, policing, the capitalist system, critical national infrastructure, and the list goes on. The manifesto carries a central theme of the “Zionist Occupation Government” (ZOG), a conspiracy theory which alleges that Jewish people are in control of every major institution, thereby corrupting and influencing them. White supremacists theorise that every perceived evil is the fault of the institution, and therefore the institution must be run by the ultimate evil: the Jewish people. The extent of the Bratislava shooter’s emphatically violent and genocidal antisemitism cannot be overstated.

White nationalist homophobia and transphobia is often situated in the context of panic over perceived falling white birth rates, and the wider corruption of the nuclear family unit. Ninian Frenguelli identifies that the Buffalo shooter’s manifesto offers a particular ideological emphasis on transphobic sentiments, departing from the Christchurch manifesto. This transphobia was replicated in the Bratislava shooter’s manifesto, a page of which is dedicated to mocking and invalidating transgender individuals’ experiences. The shooter also shared these views on his Twitter feed in the lead-up to the attack.

The ideological positions within the manifesto and on social media mirror the wider white nationalist sphere. Specifically, the attacker demonises two groups; Jewish people and the LGBT+ community. In the white supremacist conspiratorial worldview, these two hatreds are intrinsically linked. Antisemitism is not just an anti-Jewish hatred, but a conspiratorial framing through which the rest of the world is viewed. Jewish people, the attacker writes, “organize and spearhead everything related to ‘LGBT rights’, pushing degenerate propaganda onto our Race. For this, you must die.” Blyth Crawford details this link between antisemitism and transphobia in the neo-fascist militant accelerationist movement, commenting that such ideology “imagines Jewish people as influencing sexual politics in ways that are regarded as being ‘anti‑family’ and therefore constitute a threat to the white race.” Homophobia and transphobia are thereby encompassed in the catch-all ZOG conspiracy theory, and as transphobia rises on the extreme-right and throughout society more broadly, so too will antisemitism.

This framing helps us understand why an individual whose primary concern appears to be Jewish people targeted an LGBT+ bar. Jewish people are not the only victims of antisemitism; in the shooter’s worldview, attacking an LGBT+ bar is a means of attacking Jewish people. With the merging of smaller conspiracy theories into “big tent’” conspiracy theories, individual hatreds are no longer inter-distinguishable.

Teenage Radicalisation

Describing his own radicalisation journey, the shooter first references his support for Donald Trump and the alt-right movement, anti-Muslim attitudes, and appreciation for the “men’s rights movement”. What is notable about the shooter’s radicalisation pathway is how young he was when he first adopted far-right attitudes. Then only 12 or 13 years old, the shooter claims to have already been engaging with extremist and far-right material online, although comments that in hindsight, he imagines that he was “too young to understand a lot of it”.

According to the manifesto, the turning point in his radicalisation pathway was from May 2019 onwards. Moving forward, the shooter wrote that “it all changed in May of 2019” when he read manifestos by the perpetrators of the Christchurch and Poway attacks, whom the shooter describes as his “main two inspirations to carry out an operation, and the main reason I even opened my eyes”. In particular, the shooter outlines his admiration for the Christchurch livestream, which “felt different”, and credits this event with introducing him to 8chan. Demonstrating the impact of online subcultures on his radicalisation pathway, the shooter reflected that after accessing 8chan, he was “never the same again”.

By the age of 15, the attacker appears to already be heavily radicalised to extreme-right, accelerationist, pro-violence positions. He pinpoints the start of his attack plan in May 2022, following the terrorist shooting in Buffalo, New York, which gave him a “new impulse” and the “final nudge”. From August onwards, his Twitter feed begins to hint at his attack planning, first implicitly and later very explicitly. In the final days and hours before his attack, he mirrors similar sign-off messages by other attacks, and reverts from English to Slovak, posting in some of his last tweets “see you on the other side” and “it will be done”.

The attacker’s youth is striking; while he committed the attack at age 19, his radicalisation pathways began as a pre-teen. This mirrors trends across the West, where in the UK, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick warned of a “new generation of extremists” after the number of minors arrested for terrorism offences tripled from June 2020 to June 2021. Recent research by myself and a researcher at the Community Security Trust warned that “young people – politicised, active and highly connected – are no longer just passive consumers of online terrorist content by adult groomers but are themselves propaganda creators, group organisers, peer recruiters, extremist financiers and terrorist convicts.” This has certainly been realised in Bratislava, where the attacker comments that in the Buffalo shooter he “saw myself – a young man with his whole life ahead”. For the Bratislava teenager, the Buffalo teenager’s youth, only 18 at the time of his attack, was a source of inspiration, encouragement, and comfort. Pointing also to the increasing transnationalism of young extreme-right connectivity, this trend is unlikely to cease in the near future.

Conclusions

While the intricacies of the Bratislava shooter’s online footprint remain to be uncovered and analysed, initial analysis points towards the continuation of three main trends: the entrenchment of transphobic attitudes, the fusion of hatreds under an antisemitic ‘big tent’ conspiracy theory, and the decreasing age of terrorist actors.

With clues littered over the shooter’s social media platforms, including on Twitter, questions will once again be raised about why this individual was not identified as a credible threat prior to the attack. While the shooter used some codes to evade content moderation, much of his online antisemitism and transphobia was explicit, and in the run-up to the attack, the language mirrored previous attackers. As Community Security Trust’s OSINT Manager Daniel Orelowitz comments, much of his online language falls under “legal but harmful” classifications, raising the question of the efficacy of platform policies.

The killing of two individuals in Bratislava is the latest event in a chain of shootings inspired by extreme-right attack manifestos and videos, all sharing similar modus operandi and ideological motivations. We must urgently seek to understand this attack and put in place countermeasures to disrupt any potential future attacks inspired by the Bratislava shooter and his online presence.

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With thanks to Nicola Mathieson, Maddie Cannon, and Marc-André Argentino for editing and reviewing, and to Marc-André for access to the archived documents.