They never saw the killer next door.

While the other neighbours on the shared driveway would pass each other each morning on the way to work, and on the evening return home, Brenton Tarrant almost always remained out of sight.

He kept his own hours. He didn't have a job. He went to the gym, to the remote gun club south of town. Sometimes he travelled overseas.

For more than a year he lived quietly at the weatherboard duplex on Somerville St in Dunedin's east, alone.


Following two attacks on mosques in Christchurch 10 days ago, when he allegedly killed 50 people in New Zealand's worst act of terrorism, his life has been picked apart, scoured for clues about what led him to this. There are few.

His real life was on the internet.

"It makes me sick," one neighbour says. "Now every time I look out the kitchen window I think, how many guns? How many bombs did he have in there?"

The neighbours feel so guilty, she says.

Why we chose to publish this story

"We just wish we'd seen something. But there was nothing. It's not like he had a Nazi flag waving at the door."

Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28. From Grafton, in New South Wales, born to a working-class family and an "ordinary" life.

Young, white, male. A loner. Uneducated, but not stupid.

The forest access road to the Bruce Rifle Club near Milton. The alleged gunman was a member. Photo / Dean Purcell
The forest access road to the Bruce Rifle Club near Milton. The alleged gunman was a member. Photo / Dean Purcell

In his rambling manifesto, published online, he said there was no special reason he chose Dunedin, other than he needed somewhere temporary to live and train. He joined a local rifle club, exploiting New Zealand's permissive gun laws to purchase the weapons he'd use in the attack. He planned generally for two years, he said, and specifically for three months.

The accused gunman's apparant interest in white supremacy seems to have begun sometime after his father Rodney died in 2010, and he began to travel the world. He bragged online about a $500,000 inheritance, invested in cryptocurrency, which allowed him to live without work. It was while he was in Europe that he says his political beliefs became personal.

He indicated that his views may have been influenced by three specific events - the death of an 11-year old girl in a terrorist attack in Sweden, the outcome of the 2017 French elections, and finally, he wrote of being overwhelmed by the sight of cemeteries from the world wars in a country increasingly home to immigrants.

The countries he visited ranged widely - North Korea, Pakistan, Turkey, Greece. Most recently, he travelled to Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary. Initially, photos from his travels featured monkeys and turtles, and scuba diving shots. Later, the pictures are dominated by images of historic sites from Christian-Muslim wars.

According to reports, one of the last places he visited was Montenegro, where he travelled to a monastery attacked in the 1860s by the Ottoman army. The name of the Serbian general who defended the site was was later emblazoned on a gun allegedly used in the Christchurch attacks.

The rental property on Somerville Street, Dunedin where Christchurch mosque shootings gunman Brenton Tarrant lived. Photo / Dean Purcell.
The rental property on Somerville Street, Dunedin where Christchurch mosque shootings gunman Brenton Tarrant lived. Photo / Dean Purcell.

The accused gunman's manifesto, and his Facebook feed, refer to previous mass killers, such as the Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Breivik, and from historical fascists such as Oswald Mosley. Having barely finished school he shunned university to work as a personal trainer. He sourced material online. "You will not find the truth anywhere else," he wrote.

Devon Polaschek, joint director of the NZ Institute of Security and Crime Science, told media after analysing the manifesto: "The problem is that he is self-educated, and he is self-selecting the information that he is consuming. Reinforcing what he already thinks in a circular process."

The accused gunman appears to have held dear a kind of Nordic, Aryan ideal. His posts are full of blonde-haired women and children, and strong-looking men, often on horseback. At first - like much of the manifesto and the message boards it's aimed it - the imagery seems a joke. But Ben Elley, who is completing a PhD on the alt-right and online radicalisation, says some people truly believe in it.

"They idolise that Nordic stuff, it's a cult of history, like ancestor worship. In the same way some people treat 1950s America as an ideal, they like vikings, and Ancient Rome, societies that were powerful and imperialistic," says Elley.

A senior researcher at Independent Research Solutions, Elley says strength is at the centre of this belief system, and typically that's masculine strength.

In seeking to achieve that ideal, it also pushes a strong self-improvement component - the type of values system right-wing celebrity pop psychologist Jordan Peterson advocates - eating well, exercising, keeping tidy. The accused gunman, for example, was noted for his cleanliness by his landlords. He was fastidious about the gym.

The Anytime Fitness gym in Dunedin where the alleged gunman was a member. Photo / Dean Purcell.
The Anytime Fitness gym in Dunedin where the alleged gunman was a member. Photo / Dean Purcell.

After the attacks, experts and journalists have sought to analyse the gunman's views, to place them in the context of history. The accused gunman has said he is an "eco-fascist", and that the nation with the values most similar to his own is China.

Sociologist Scott Hamilton, an expert on white supremacy, says in the rush of the aftermath and the search for meaning, he thinks many people have possibly mis-interpreted that part of the tedious, 74-page rant.

"But the crossover between fascism and a bastardised sort of environmentalism is not necessarily new," says Hamilton.

Minutes before he allegedly arrived at the Al Noor mosque with his Go-Pro and his cache of weapons, the accused gunman paused to post to his friends on 8chan, an online message board. His profile picture was a cartoon of an knockabout Australian character in a hat, holding a Victoria Bitter beer bottle.

"Well lads, it's time to stop s***posting and time to make a real life effort post," he said, referring to the sites usual habit of only speaking in memes or jokes.

"You are all top blokes and the best bunch of cobbers a man could ask for...If I don't survive the attack, goodbye, godbless and I will see you all in Valhalla!"

He then posted a link to his manifesto and the livestream of the video - since declared objectionable content, making it illegal to share.

The immediate reaction on the board was mixed. Most users wished him luck. Some refused to watch the link because it was on Facebook. Many panicked, and urged the moderator to delete the thread, fearing their forum would be taken away from them.

And then the deaths started. Users rushed to save the video, to seed it elsewhere. According to YouTube and Facebook, it was posted thousands of times, faster than the sites could remove it. Internet providers began almost immediately to block anywhere playing the footage.

The accused gunman is not the first alleged killer to plan how his message would be spread to exploit the media. As far back as the 1960s, the Zodiac killer was persuading newspapers to publish his cryptic messages.

After the attacks, parents reported their children saving the video to their phones and sharing it, at school, like a Pokemon card. On gaming forums, users counted the number of "kills", as if they weren't real, living beings.

On the livestream he can be heard talking to himself, berating the way he dropped a clip, and referring to the slaughter as a "firefight", seemingly forgetting he was the only one with a weapon.

Days later, the online community was unrepentant. The Herald contacted one 8chan user, who watched the livestream in real-time, and posted on the accused gunman's Facebook page. He said he didn't agree with what the accused gunman had done, but that access to the message boards shouldn't be taken away.

"The people here shouldn't be tarred with the same brush that [the accused gunman] is being tarred with," he said.

"It's incredibly destructive to start limiting people's freedom of speech and rights to make jokes about situations like this, humour is a coping mechanism that a lot of people share in the modern age."

The user reported traffic on the boards since the shootings had increased 350 per cent.

The accused gunman is now locked away, and will face trial. He wants to represent himself, assumedly so he can attempt to further spread his views. In court, at his first appearance, he appeared smug, appearing to make a white supremacist signal from the dock.

When he was arrested, the blame game began, with some fingers pointing squarely at his former gun club, and its members, who were accused of being a "breeding ground" for extremism.

Vice president Scott Williams say they have now closed the range where the accused practiced, for the foreseeable future.

Flowers and tributes at the Al Huda Mosque in Dunedin. Photo / Dean Purcell
Flowers and tributes at the Al Huda Mosque in Dunedin. Photo / Dean Purcell

"There is guilt," he said. Williams said since the tragedies he has been scanning his brain, checking for signs. But when the accused gunman arrived he wasn't a novice, he said. He could already handle a gun.

"Looking back at it now… he hid it so well. Everyone was fooled."

Politicians and intelligence agencies, too, have been blamed for doing too little, for looking in the wrong places.

Andrew Little, minister for the NZ Security Intelligence Agency, revealed last week while there was work being done on far-right extremism, a plan had yet to be finalised.

Former race relations commissioner Susan Devoy said it had argued for years that hate crimes should be measured. The answer was no.

Anjum Rahman, a spokesperson of the Islamic Women's Council, said her council has been asking for support from government for several years, but nothing.

"We have made them aware of our fears around something like this happening and we need to be heard on this. We need to be taken seriously and we want firm action taken," she said.

Some experts have said the questioning needs to go further, that there's a brief window to have a good look at who we are as a society.

Psychologist Rachel Liebert, who researches ways to challenge white supremacy, says part of that is accepting our history and our culture of colonialism - and how frequently we perpetuate racist attitudes in daily life.

"I think it's beautiful in lots of ways how the country is responding - but my concern is that we are still trying to portray this New Zealand exceptionalism, that we are a perfect country and this is an exception," she said. "We should think about how we are going to rise up and face our own demons."

The accused gunman's neighbours say they were shocked to hear that despite his regular, racist, Facebook posts, he was able to get a gun licence and go undetected by authorities.

They can't shake the disconcerting feeling that he was there, planning, in plain sight.

"I hope to learn more about him, so I know what to look out for. It's made me realise it's important to know your neighbours," the neighbour said. "I still can't believe he was living just down the driveway from us."