Al­leged Christchur­ch gun­man sends let­ter from prison cell

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By Nick Perry

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand of­fi­cials ad­mit­ted Wed­nes­day that they made a mis­take by al­low­ing the man ac­cused of killing 51 peo­ple at two Christchur­ch mosques to send a hand­writ­ten let­ter from his prison cell.

The six-page let­ter from Bren­ton Tar­rant was posted this week on the website 4chan, which has be­come no­to­ri­ous as a place for white su­prem­a­cists to post their views. And it comes at a sen­si­tive time, with other al­leged killers from El Paso, Texas, to Nor­way cit­ing Tar­rant as an in­spi­ra­tion.

The let­ter ap­pears to be writ­ten in pen­cil on a small notepad and is ad­dressed to “Alan” in Rus­sia. Much of it ap­pears to be rel­a­tively in­nocu­ous, dis­cussing a one-month trip Tar­rant says he took to Rus­sia in 2015. But the let­ter also warns that a “great con­flict” is com­ing and uses lan­guage that could be con­strued as a call to arms.

Cor­rec­tions Min­is­ter Kelvin Davis said in state­ment that he didn’t be­lieve the prison sys­tem should have al­lowed Tar­rant to send the let­ter.

“I have made my­self clear that this can­not hap­pen again,” Davis said.

But Davis also said that all New Zealand pris­on­ers have rights that in­clude the abil­ity to send and re­ceive mail. He said the prison sys­tem can with­hold cor­re­spon­dence and with­held some other let­ters Tar­rant had at­tempted to send or re­ceive.

“We have never had to man­age a pris­oner like this be­fore — and I have asked ques­tions around whether our laws are now fit for pur­pose and asked for ad­vice on what changes we may now need to make,” Davis said.

In the let­ter, dated July 4, Tar­rant thanks “Alan” for postage stamps he ap­par­ently sent, say­ing they’re the only two pieces of color in an oth­er­wise gray cell and adds that he’ll have to hide them from the guards.

Tar­rant cites Plato and other philoso­phers and writ­ers as in­spi­ra­tion for his views, and says he “can­not go into any great de­tail about re­grets or feel­ings as the guards will con­fis­cate my let­ter if I do” and use it as ev­i­dence.

Op­po­si­tion spokesman David Ben­nett said Davis needed to de­mand im­me­di­ate an­swers as to how an in­flam­ma­tory let­ter could be sent from in­side a max­i­mum-se­cu­rity prison.

“This man is ac­cused of car­ry­ing out one of the most heinous crimes in New Zealand his­tory,” Ben­nett said in a state­ment. “New Zealan­ders will be hor­ri­fied that Cor­rec­tions al­lowed him to send a let­ter which in­cludes a call to ac­tion and has sub­se­quently been posted on­line.”

The Cor­rec­tions De­part­ment, which over­sees pris­ons, said the law only al­lows a prison di­rec­tor to with­hold a pris­oner’s mail in a “very lim­ited” range of cir­cum­stances.

“On re­view, we ac­knowl­edge that this let­ter should have been with­held,” the de­part­ment said in a state­ment. “We have made changes to the man­age­ment of this pris­oner’s mail to en­sure that our ro­bust pro­cesses are as ef­fec­tive as we need them to be.”

Be­fore the March 15 shoot­ings, Tar­rant, a 28-year-old Aus­tralian white su­prem­a­cist, posted a 74-page man­i­festo on the website 8chan in which he out­lined his racist views and his be­liefs that im­mi­grants were in­vaders who would re­place the white race.

8chan, seen as a more rad­i­cal off­shoot of 4chan, was ef­fec­tively knocked off­line this month af­ter two com­pa­nies cut off vi­tal tech­ni­cal ser­vices in re­sponse to claims that the gun­man who killed 22 peo­ple at a Wal­mart in El Paso posted a racist anti-Latino screed on the site just be­fore the Aug. 3 killings.

Like the Texas gun­man, a Nor­we­gian man sus­pected of killing his step­sis­ter and then storm­ing an Oslo mosque with guns this month is also be­lieved to have found in­spi­ra­tion in Tar­rant’s ac­tions.

New Zealand Prime Min­is­ter Jacinda Ardern has vowed never to ut­ter Tar­rant’s name in or­der to deny him the pub­lic­ity she says he craves, mak­ing Tar­rant’s let­ter even more of an em­bar­rass­ment for the gov­ern­ment.

STEPHANIE MCEWIN/AP

Bren­ton Tar­rant, the man ac­cused of killing 51 peo­ple March 15, is de­picted in a court­room draw­ing in June.

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