[4/1/19] – Christchurch Mosque Terrorist Attacks

On March 15, 2019, 50 people died and 50 other people were injured in the largest mass shooting terrorist attack in New Zealand history. The attacks took place at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The 28-year old suspect who entered the first mosque killed 42 people before moving to the second mosque and killing 7 people; another subsequently died at the hospital. During the entirety of this event, the suspect streamed his terrorist attack using Facebook live. Some 1.5 million videos were copied, created and shared through the social medial platform, and have since been removed. New Zealand took a decidedly different approach to responding to this terrorist attack, and swiftly moved to amend the gun laws in the country. Officials are also refusing to release a photo of the attacker—often blurring it in media coverage of the attack—to prevent him from gaining fame. However, the attacker’s name and age have been released, and much is known about his history of supporting white supremacist ideology. Additionally, there continues to be an outpouring of solidarity and support with the victims.

Instructors, click on the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom. The deck contains a writing prompt, a debate question, as well as other assessment questions.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for Christchurch Mosque Terrorist Attacks

Learning Objectives

LO1: Explain the power of culture in determining the social construction of mass shootings and acts of terrorism in the United States and New Zealand.

LO2: Apply multiple sociological theories to understand and explain acts of terrorism involving mass shootings.

LO3: Identify social factors that contribute to the radicalization of individuals and potentially also motivate them to commit acts of violence.






  1. Why has the New Zealand government worked so quickly to change gun laws in their country in the aftermath of the Christchurch terror attack? Why has the United States government not worked to change its gun laws following the various terror attacks on civilians? Why does it appear that American politicians are more tolerant of gun violence?
  2. Using a symbolic-interactionist perspective, why might the New Zealand government try to suppress the identity of the terrorist responsible for the Christchurch attack? How might the lack of information about this individual influence infamy experienced after the attack?
  3. Using a conflict perspective, who benefits and who suffers the most from the continued lack of federal legislation addressing gun violence in the United States? How might Karl Marx view this issue as related to capitalism? Recognizing this is an issue driven by social inequality, what can and needs to be done to stop this trend from continuing?
  4. Why might the terrorist have decided to livestream the attacks using Facebook? How might viewing an attack like this influence future attacks? How might watching this footage harm people? What is the culpability of Facebook in this terror attack? Should they be liable for damages incurred by people as a result of viewing the attack on their platform?
  5. What social factors might contribute to the radicalization of a terrorist? How might the friendship networks they belong to support or reject these narratives? How might the media they follow and believe contribute to the process? Why is it important to recognize how social forces influence terrorist radicalization? How can this knowledge be used to prevent future attacks?

Current Events Quiz

A _______ theorist might argue the role of government is to respond to terror attacks that cause dysfunction in society with policies and laws intended to stabilize society in the aftermath of such events.

  1. functionalist
  2. conflict
  3. rational-choice
  4. labeling

Which of the following aspects of a terror attack would a sociologist be most interested in investigating?

  1. Social factors that contributed to New Zealanders passing sweeping gun reform in a matter of weeks.
  2. Social cohesion that developed in the New Zealand community in response to the terror attack.
  3. Agents of socialization that contributed to the radicalization of the terrorist.
  4. All of the above

Which of the following sociological theories would assume the terrorist involved in the Christchurch mosque attacks was able to identify the potential costs and benefits of committing this terrorist act and ultimately chose the option that was most beneficial for him?

  1. Functionalist
  2. Symbolic-Interactionist
  3. Conflict
  4. Rational-Choice




Photo by Natecull.

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