This section of the report contains material that may be confronting, particularly to those affected by the 15 March 2019 terrorist attack.
Our Terms of Reference directed us to inquire into:
- the individual’s activities before the terrorist attack, including—
- relevant information from his time in Australia; and
- his arrival and residence in New Zealand; and
- his travel within New Zealand, and internationally; and
- how he obtained a gun licence, weapons, and ammunition; and
- his use of social media and other online media; and
- his connections with others, whether in New Zealand or internationally.
We address each of these issues in this Part, although we go into how the individual obtained a firearms licence in much greater detail in Part 5: The firearms licence.
We interviewed family and associates of the individual, members of New Zealand Police and other officials. We examined, tested and analysed thousands of pages of evidence. Also, after the individual pleaded guilty to the charges against him and it was clear that there would be no trial, we interviewed him.
When we interviewed the individual, his responses to some questions were limited and, on occasion, non-existent. We have distinct reservations about, and in some instances do not believe, aspects of what he told us. That said, much of what he said was credible, for instance his explanations of certain documents he created. More generally the interview provided insights into his activities and thinking, sometimes in ways he did not intend.
It may be helpful at this stage to outline some points that provide a little context ahead of the detailed discussion about the individual that follows.
The individual was born in October 1990 in Grafton, New South Wales in Australia, which is where he went to primary and secondary school. His mother is Sharon Tarrant and he has one older sister, Lauren Tarrant. His father, Rodney Tarrant, is deceased.
His upbringing in Australia was marked by a number of stressors, including his parents’ separation and his mother’s subsequent relationship with an abusive partner. His father developed a form of cancer (mesothelioma) caused by exposure to asbestos and later died by suicide in April 2010.
Before he died, Rodney Tarrant settled a claim for damages relating to his exposure to asbestos. With money that largely came from this settlement, he gave AU$457,000 to each of his two children.
The individual expressed racist ideas from an early age. He was also an avid internet user and online gamer. He had few childhood friends.
After leaving school, the individual worked as a personal trainer at a local gym until 2012 when he suffered an injury. He never again worked in paid employment. Instead, he lived off the money that he had received from his father and income from investments made with it. Although in his manifesto the individual claimed to have made money dealing in cryptocurrency, he told us that he generally used cryptocurrency only for transactions (that is, as currency). His banking records indicate only limited relevant transactions that total less than AU$6,000. We have seen no evidence that he made any significant profits through cryptocurrency.
With the money from his father, the individual travelled extensively. First in 2013, he explored New Zealand and Australia and then between 2014 and 2017 he travelled extensively around the world.
The individual has a close relationship with his sister Lauren Tarrant, and to a lesser extent with his mother Sharon Tarrant, but his relationships with others have been limited and superficial. He describes himself as an introvert. He told us that he had suffered from social anxiety since childhood and found socialising with others stressful. Without a job, he had no need to associate with people in workplaces and his frequent and usually solitary travel meant he did not form enduring relationships with others. This meant that his self-described introversion was not mitigated by the usual daily interactions that most people experience in their regular lives. Accordingly, there was limited opportunity for the hard edges of his political thinking to be softened by regular and lasting connections with people with different views. In fact, his limited personal engagement with others left considerable scope for influence from extreme right-wing material, which he found on the internet and in books.
By January 2017, he was planning to move to New Zealand later that year and to take up shooting. We know this because in January that year he emailed the Bruce Rifle Club (which is near Dunedin) inquiring whether it was still operating. He indicated an intention to move to Dunedin in August that year. In February 2017 he booked flights to New Zealand to arrive in Auckland on 17 August 2017 and then on to Dunedin on 20 August 2017. We see these activities as the first manifestations of his terrorist intent.
We are satisfied that by January 2017 the individual had a terrorist attack in mind. We are also satisfied that when the individual came to live in New Zealand on 17 August 2017, it was with a fully-developed terrorist ideology based on his adoption of the Great Replacement theory and his associated beliefs that immigration, particularly by Muslim migrants, into Western countries is an existential threat to Western society and that the appropriate response (at least for him) was violence.
As foreshadowed in his January 2017 emails to the Bruce Rifle Club, the individual moved to Dunedin, and on 1 September 2017 – just 15 days after arriving in New Zealand – he took the first step towards obtaining a firearms licence. From that time on, his primary focus in life was planning and preparing for his terrorist attack.
The individual is capable of pursuing an idea or plan of action with considerable determination and with no assistance from others. Indeed, he can be single-minded to the point of obsession. This is evidenced by his ability to pursue fitness aims, the development and persistence of his racist and extreme right-wing patterns of thinking, his remarkably extensive travel and, most particularly, the preparation and planning for the terrorist attack he carried out on 15 March 2019. For the more than 18 months he lived in New Zealand preparing for the terrorist attack, he remained resolutely focused, attempting to maintain operational security from which there were only limited lapses.
In this Part we explain the individual’s trajectory from childhood in Australia through to the terrorist attack in New Zealand. In doing so, we draw on some of the concepts and ideas outlined in Part 2, chapter 5 on right-wing extremism. We have also tried to identify aspects of his behaviour, particularly those relevant to his terrorist ideology and preparation for the terrorist attack, which might have brought him to the attention of Public sector agencies, and specifically counter-terrorism agencies. This is something we deal with in various other Parts of this report but in this Part we discuss all the aspects of his conduct that are relevant to this phase of our inquiry.