Since Donald Trump has adamantly refused to take the lead—claiming that white nationalism is just “a small group of people” after the Christchurch massacre—Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand is showing the rest of the world what it looks like to confront the new tide of far-right terrorism.
Traveling to Paris yesterday, Ardern promoted what she calls the “Christchurch Call,” an international initiative to reel in the growth of violent extremism, both among white nationalists and radical Islamists, that has been engendered by online radicalization. French President Emmanuel Macron joined Ardern in announcing the appeal.
“Our objective was simple: that what happened … never happens again,” Macron, standing alongside Ardern, told reporters at the Elysée Palace.
“The social media dimension of this attack was unprecedented and our response today … is unprecedented, never before have countries and tech companies come together and committed to an action plan to develop new technologies to make our communities safer,” Ardern said.
Unsurprisingly, not only did Donald Trump not attend, the United States did not send any representatives to participate. According to the Washington Post, the administration feared that the initiative might run afoul of the First Amendment.
The Christchurch Call insists that any action “must be consistent with principles of a free, open and secure internet, without compromising human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression. It must also recognize the internet’s ability to act as a force for good, including by promoting innovation and economic development and fostering inclusive societies.”
For governments signing onto the agreement, the Call proposes to focus its efforts on civil society “to promote community-led efforts,” to develop effective interventions, accelerate research into and development of technical solutions to blunt the spread of extremist content, to support research into countering the growth of such content, to ensure appropriate cooperation with and among law enforcement agencies, to support smaller platforms as they build capacity, and to establish a rapid response to remove such content. It also affirms “our willingness to continue to work together.”
Ardern, in interviews before the summit, also questioned the American response not just to the Christchurch attack but to horrifying gun-violence events in its own country. “Australia experienced a massacre and changed its laws,” she said. “New Zealand has had its experience and changed its laws. To be honest with you, I don’t understand the United States.”
Ardern pointed out that New Zealand is a nation of gun owners too. “We will continue to be a food-producing nation that deals with animal welfare issues and so on, and has a practical purpose and use for guns, but you can draw a line and say that that does not mean that you need access to military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles. You do not. And New Zealanders, by and large, absolutely agreed with that position,” Ardern said.
Afterward, the White House issued an anodyne statement on the summit. “While the United States is not currently in a position to join the endorsement, we continue to support the overall goals reflected in the Call,” the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy said in a press release. “We will continue to engage governments, industry, and civil society to counter terrorist content on the internet.”