Christchurch mosque attacks: Gunman pleads guilty to murder, attempted murder and terrorism | Stuff.co.nz

The man accused of the Christchurch mosque attacks has entered shock guilty pleas, bringing relief to survivors and victims’ families.

Amid extraordinary coronavirus lockdown restrictions, Brenton Tarrant, 29, appeared via video-link in the High Court at Christchurch on Thursday morning and admitted 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and a charge of engaging in a terrorist act.

He’d previously pleaded not guilty to all the charges and was scheduled to stand trial on June 2.

GEORGE HEARD/STUFF
Fifty-one people died as a result of the March 15, 2019 attack.

Tarrant, who wore a grey prisoner sweater, was largely silent and emotionless throughout the hearing. He sat alone in a white room with a grey door at Auckland Prison, Paremoremo, where he’s held in maximum security.

The terrorist’s lawyers, Shane Tait and Jonathan Hudson, appeared via video-link from another court room.

Brenton Tarrant pleads guilty to murder, attempted murder and terrorism via AVL in the Christchurch High Court.

The names of all 51 people killed were read to Tarrant, before he was asked how he pleaded to the murder charges.

He replied: “Yes, guilty.”

The same process was followed for the attempted murder charges.

JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/STUFF
Terrorist Brenton Tarrant pictured at his first court appearance, the day after the mosque shootings.

Justice Cameron Mander remanded Tarrant in custody, but has not yet set a date for sentencing, when the summary of facts would be made public.

Few people knew of the special hearing, which was only scheduled late Wednesday, on the eve of an unprecedented nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Six New Zealand journalists attended. Also in court were the imams from both targeted mosques. An-nur (Al Noor) imam Gamal Fouda was visibly upset as the guilty pleas were entered.

JOSEPH JOHNSON/STUFF
Mustafa Boztas still has a fragment of a bullet inside him.

The hearing concluded at 10.30am, but the judge suppressed the outcome for an hour to allow victims, who were unaware of the hearing, to be notified.

The decision to hold the hearing amid the national state of emergency was not made lightly.

Earlier in the week Tarrant indicated to counsel that he might change his pleas. A formal request was made on Wednesday that the matter be brought before the court.

DAVID WALKER/STUFF
Omar Abdel-Ghany, whose father Ahmed Gamal Eldin Abdel-Ghany was killed at Masjid An-Nur.

Mander said both the Crown and defence asked to have the hearing expedited, despite the severe health restrictions.

The courts were considered an essential public service that was able to deal with “priority proceedings without compromising people’s health”.

The judge said he felt the court had the capacity to safely hear the matter by limiting the number of people in court. In total, 17 people were present.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reflects on the last year following the Christchurch mosque shootings.

It was regrettable the Covid-19 restrictions prevented victims from attending, he said, but the imams had been asked to be present to bear witness to the proceedings.

“It was my assessment that taking the defendant’s pleas at this time was the appropriate course in the circumstances,” Mander said.

“The entry of guilty pleas represents a very significant step towards bringing finality to this criminal proceeding, and I considered the need to take the opportunity to progress the matter was particularly acute coming as it has at a time when the risk of further delay as a result of Covid-19 was looming as realistic possibility.”

Mander said the defendant would not be sentenced before the court returned to normal operations.

The defendant had been remanded to a nominal date of May 1. It was hoped a sentencing date would be confirmed in the interim.

“It is fully anticipated that all who wish to attend court for the sentencing hearing will be able to do so in person.”  

On March 15 last year, Tarrant drove from his Dunedin home to Christchurch with an arsenal of guns and ammunition he’d amassed since moving from Australia to New Zealand in 2017.

The white supremacist entered Masjid An-nur (also known as the Al Noor Mosque) on Deans Ave as Friday prayers were beginning, about 1.40pm, and opened fire – killing and wounding dozens of people.

He then drove across town to the Linwood Mosque where he continued his shooting spree.

Tarrant was arrested a short time later after his car, a gold Subaru Outback, was rammed off the road by two police officers on Brougham St as he tried to make his way to a third target, though to be a mosque in Ashburton, where he planned to carry out another attack.

When police searched the vehicle they found several guns and petrol bombs.

NZ’S WORST MASS SHOOTING

In total, 51 people were killed in the terrorist attack, the worst mass shooting by an individual in New Zealand history.

Tarrant was the first person to be charged under NZ’s Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.

Omar Abdel-Ghany, whose father Ahmed Gamal Eldin Abdel-Ghany was killed at Masjid An-Nur, said he could not understand what caused Tarrant to change his plea.

“I’m both shocked and relieved. Shocked at the sudden change in plea, relieved that my family and I, along with other victims won’t have to relive it all through the courts.”

Muslim Association of Canterbury spokesman Tony Green said his immediate reaction was one of enormous relief and great gratitude.

“I think the victims will feel a huge weight has been lifted from their shoulders. Our position has always been to let justice take its course, but a trial would have put a lot of pressure on our families. If you look at the anguish caused by the trial of Grace Millane’s killer you can see how bad it would be for 51 families.”

Mustafa Boztas, who lay on the ground inside the Masjid An-nur with a bullet in his leg, pretending to be dead, said from Turkey he always knew Tarrant would be found guilty. 

“I feel he basically played with our minds and emotionally upset us more for no reason.”

Boztas said he would have stayed in the country instead of going overseas if he’d known Tarrant was going to plead guilty. 

“While it can’t undo the damage it has brought upon our community and country, it gives me hope that this help bring not only justice but some closure to those touched by this event.

“To the families, I hope this brings you peace, and a sense that love can conquer hate. While this closes the criminal proceedings for the shootings, please know there is still a long way to go in recovery for some of us, so thank you for your continued support.”

Yasir Amin, whose father 67-year-old Muhammad Amin Nasir was shot in the back by the gunman shooting from his car, said the guilty pleas were good news.

“It’s good to avoid a trial because we would be reminded of everything, every day of the six week trial. We’ve avoided that mental torture and we’re not in a situation where the outcome is not 100 per cent sure.”

Nasir was to undergo another operation on Monday but the operation was postponed due to Covid-19 measures. He had spent two months in hospital after the shootings and had another 20-day stay in December.

“He is now doing well. He goes for walks and eats well.”

Just about every organ in his father’s body except his heart had been damaged by the shotgun pellets, Amin said.

Nasir was shot about 200 metres from the mosque on Deans Ave. The gunman drove past Amin and his father, who were walking to the mosque along the footpath, when he aimed a shotgun at them from his car. Both ran for their lives but Nasir was shot. Their plight was captured by a motel CCTV camera. 

‘HE’S GOT TO PAY THE TIME’

Tarrant’s grandmother, Marie Fitzgerald, had no idea about the plea until called by Stuff.

“I feel sorry he did the crime, but he’s got to pay the time now.”

She declined to comment further.

Victim Support chief executive Kevin Tso said support was ongoing for hundreds of victims who still need help coping with the trauma of the event and rebuilding their lives.

“We’re pleased victims no longer have to face the trauma of the trial.”

The victims had shown remarkable courage and resilience in the face of a heart-breaking, shocking and senseless tragedy, Tso said.

“They have our utmost respect and promise that we will be here for them for as long as they need us.”

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said the pleas were a “significant milestone in respect of one of our darkest days”.

“I want to acknowledge the victims, their families and the community of Christchurch – the many lives that were changed forever. They have inspired all of us to be a kind and more tolerant community.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it would provide some relief to the many people whose lives were “shattered” on March 15.

“These guilty pleas and conviction bring accountability for what happened and also save the families who lost loved ones, those who were injured, and other witnesses, the ordeal of a trial,” she said.

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Female Victims Of Sex Trafficking Relieve Heart-rending Experiences Of Their Near-death Journey To Get Greener Pastures Overseas – Motherhood In-Style Magazine

person chair

Every year, thousands of women and children become victims of sex trafficking in their own countries and abroad.

Nigeria is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children subjected to trafficking in persons including forced labor and forced prostitution.

Trafficked Nigerian women and children are recruited from rural areas within the country’s borders – women and girls for involuntary domestic servitude and sexual exploitation.

The quest to make it big in life coupled with the harsh living condition in the country forced these women to jump into the prospects of travelling abroad at any single opportunity not minding the consequences.

Many of these distraught and sometimes desperate Nigerians believe that the streets overseas are paved with gold, pounds and dollars that once you step into those countries it will be bye-bye to poverty and hardship.

Unfortunately, as it is said, not all that glitters is gold. To escape the hardship at home, many take great risks to travel abroad only to enter into a more harrowing experience.

Some die in the process while others escape with scars that may haunt them for the rest of their lives. While some were victims of circumstances, having been tricked and deceived into such journey, others take the risk of opting to travel abroad by land and sea routes knowing that they cannot afford the normal process of getting visas and honouring several embassy appointments. Some of the girls deceived into this route end up as sex slaves with so much regret and consequences.

reporter encountered two young women in Anambra, Amarachi Ojene, 23, and Tobechukwu Igboeri, who shared the chilling experiences of their near-death journey to get greener pastures overseas. Years after such ‘journey to hell’, their lives have never been the same again.

Amarachi, from Nibo, Awka South Local Government Area of Anambra State was an SS2 student in 2012 when she encountered a devil in human skin who not only took advantage of her naivety and innocence, but also exploited her poor parental background to trick her into a sex slavery trip abroad.

Having lost her dad when she was seven years, Amarachi relied on her mother who eked out a living by hawking cooked Okpa (a local delicacy) around the Awka metropolis. They also augmented the proceeds by engaging in manual labour in local farms for people at a fee.

So, she was so excited when she met her friends who told her that their aunt was looking for a house help that would live with her overseas. She reasoned that going abroad with the woman would ease a lot of load for her suffering mother as she would be paid in dollars, which she would send home to alleviate the family sufferings.

Hear Amarachi’s gory story:

“I vividly remember the day that two girls in my town, Chioma and Miracle, met me at the Eke Awka market, where I had gone to buy palm fruits for my mum’s Okpa business. They asked if I would like to travel abroad; they said their relation living in a foreign land was looking for a house-help to take along.

I was excited as I thought that a bright prospect for higher education and escape from poverty had come not knowing that I was walking into a death trap. They told me that the same relation was also taking them with her, so that they could be fixed into money-yielding ventures over there.

When I went home, I didn’t tell my mum immediately because I was afraid of her reaction, but when I eventually told her, she was also excited more so when she heard that the woman taking me abroad is from Awka. One week later, they came back and told me that we would leave in a few days.

They never told me the main thing we were going to do there and it was later that I realized that those girls were her agents who recruit unsuspecting ladies for her in the organized sex pimp business she does.

They took me to the woman called Aunty Ebube and I was surprised when I got there and saw many young girls there too. She asked me probing questions, wanting to know if I was aware of the business I had come to do and said no. We slept that night and the next morning she took us to a shrine at Umubelu Awka to take oath of allegiance and commitment.

The native doctor welcomed us saying that the expected guests had arrived. We were 19 girls in all and I was the youngest and the most immature among them, barely 16 years old then. Everything started happening in a jiffy as the man gave us white cloth to tie on our body.

The native doctor warned Ebube when we got there that I was going to spoil things for her, but I didn’t understand what was going on. I fainted there and they sprinkled water on me, but that didn’t deter them from administering the oath of secrecy.

Ebube said that we were going to pay her N450,000 each when we get to our destination and the native doctor warned us of the dire consequences of reneging in the deal as he told us that the deity of the shrine would strike any defaulter dead.

With a shaking body yet lacking the requisite courage to extricate myself from their grip, we got initiated there. We drank and chewed some substances there and were given a small calabash each. We danced round the shrine to complete the ritual.

The next day, we moved to Onitsha and boarded a luxury bus travelling to the North. She told us to tell any policeman we see on the road that we were going on holidays in the North to see our parents based there.  She told us never to accept that we were together in the journey and that if we implicate ourselves, she would not hesitate to disown us.”

Hijab for all of us

“When we reached the northern part of the country, she told us to change into hijab and pretend that we are northern Muslim girls. A vehicle, which she had pre-arranged, was already waiting for us by the time we arrived. We were squeezed into the vehicle.

She kept picking more people on the road, which showed that a syndicate was involved. We slept in Zendel and by 3:00a.m we left for another route until we got to a place they called Agadez. She told us to stay there for the meantime and find our destiny pending when those who will take us overseas arrive.”

‘Business’ begins

“When she told us that we should stay and test our destiny briefly, I never knew that it was a kick off for the prostitution business until I was handed over to some clients in a hotel. She forced us to wear skimpy dresses and singled me out having seen my demeanour.

She told me that I’m now in a no-man’s land and I should cooperate if I still wanted to remain alive. I was crying knowing that I had walked into a trap that would take divine intervention for me to wriggle out of it. I was deep in thought when she landed me a deafening slap.  She told me to be ready to die if I won’t allow men to sleep with me.

My first time was a man old enough to be my father. The man was given option to make a choice among the bevy of girls quartered there and he picked me knowing that I was a fresh virgin. I told him that it was over my dead body that he would sleep with me. I stubbornly refused to succumb to their threats.

Short time sex there goes for 5,000 CFAs while full time is 10,000 CFA. We kept on arguing and she told me that I should not join issues with her. I was made to know that our batch of girls was the fourth trip for her while the final destination is Libya.  Usually she would just sell the girls at Agadez and return to the Southeast to recruit more for the same purpose.”

How my Igbo dialect saved me

“On that fateful night, two men came to look for female companions. She spoke with them in the local language, which I did not understand. As I was about to be handed over to them, I exclaimed in Igbo language, ‘Ewooh, o kam si jee (Is this how I have ended up)?’  When the supposed sex customers heard my exclamation, they became more interested in taking me to their home at all costs that night. They offered Madam Ebube 15,000CFA and took me.

On our way, they started asking me probing questions and I opened up and told them my predicament and identity. They were shocked and also told me they were from Enugu State. Instead of taking advantage of me that night, they treated me like a sister.

One of the boys, Anayo, told me that perhaps God made them come to the brothel that night for my sake because they had already retired after the day’s business, but on a second thought decided to stroll to a happening joint.

The two boys kept me safe, took pity on me, refused to sleep with me and offered me a mattress where I slept in the sitting room and they retired to the bedroom. They took me back to the hotel the next morning and Madam asked me whether I enjoyed my night with those boys and I said yes.

I told her that I want to go home and she started another round of threats. She told me that I could go if I repay her N450, 000. She sold one girl there and told me that I would be the next; she also reminded us that the oath we took spelt out death or madness on anyone who attempted to leave the place secretly.”

At the crossroads

“At this point, my heart was pounding and I excused her and ran back in the direction to Anayo’s house, but he was not in. I wrote a notice on their gate telling him that if he doesn’t come to rescue me immediately, I would be either dead or sold off into slavery the next day.

As God would have it, I was apprehensive that night knowing that time was ticking away for me when suddenly Anayo showed up and told our madam that he needs me for another night again. Madam thought I treated him well and handed me to him, but he took me to the house of one of the villagers and hid me there.

I was hidden for three days and madam had to suspend her trip and kept searching for me. Anayo gave me a phone and was relating all that was happening to me until the fourth day that he took me to the park. If not that he hid me, I would have died in the desert en route Libya.

Of all the 19 girls, I was the only one who returned home. I have not set eyes again on Ifunanya, who she sold first. (Begins to sob). I don’t know their fate till today. Whether they eventually reached Libya, died of hunger or were devoured by wild beasts.

“Anayo and his brother bought a ticket for me, took me by 3:00 a.m from Zendel and landed in Kano.  I boarded a vehicle to Abuja, but I didn’t know anybody there.”

Ran into kidnapper’s vehicle

“In Abuja, I entered a cab that promised to take me to Kuje where some of our brothers resided, but I never knew I had boarded the wrong vehicle. The man took me on a wrong route and headed towards a thick bush. I raised the alarm, but nobody could answer me.

The man showed me his undies and I saw all manner of weapons, guns, knife and other things he had on him. He told me to say my last prayer because he would kill me and take my body parts. He used the short knife to slash my clothes to pieces and I was stark naked.

He raped me and wanted to take my body parts fresh and I ran and he gave me a hot chase. I saw a vehicle laden with tomatoes and lay flat for the vehicle to crush me. The driver stopped abruptly, picked me naked like that and I passed out. When I regained consciousness, I saw myself in the military barracks, Abuja.”

She never knew I was still alive

Under the custody of the military, Amarachi was taken to the scene where she boarded the evil man’s cab, but the man could not be traced. The army later handed her to NAPTIP who documented her case and made efforts to rehabilitate her and also seek ways of punishing her trafficker.  She was later sent home in Anambra where she reunited with her family. She later saw her trafficker and got her arrested.

“The day I saw her at Eke Awka, she was shocked because she thought I was dead. Because we reported to DSS and NAPTIP when I came home, they gave me a number to call them any day I sight her and that was what I did. When I called the phone line, she was picked up. They raided her home, detained her and the native doctor (he is dead now) and were also charged to court.”

Picking up the pieces of her life

Settling down to a normal life after the harrowing experience for Amarachi has not been easy. Though she managed to go back to school and finally wrote her senior school certificate exams, Amarachi’s problems are far from being over. Her mother suddenly collapsed and died from high blood pressure leaving her and the siblings as orphans.

She also fell in love with a man who is not financially buoyant. The uncle who now acts as her father insisted that all the traditional rites of marriage would be completed before she is pronounced married. Along the line, she got pregnant for the fiancé and had to give birth in her home. Now nursing a 10-month-old baby boy, life has remained tough and harsh for her.

“My uncle refused to allow the man take me home because he couldn’t fulfill the long list of requirements presented to him. My mother died heartbroken for all these shocks and now without both parents, we find it even difficult to feed,” she lamented.

Appeal and words of advice

“I still thank God I’m alive today.  My advice is that people should not allow anybody deceiving them with fairy tale promises about travelling abroad.  I need urgent help presently. Helpless without mum or dad and also nursing a baby, I desire to go back to school and upgrade my life, but now even to feed is a serious problem. Government and public-spirited individuals should help me,” she pleaded.

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Neeson, Branagh and Rea narrate Troubles ‘requiem’

BBC Image copyright DoubleBand Films
Image caption The film, Lost Lives, is a requiem for those killed in the Troubles

In 1991, four men sat down in Belfast to write a book of the dead.

They resolved to put on record the stories of what happened to every man, woman and child killed during Northern Ireland’s Troubles.

Their testament to suffering would take eight years of painstaking research. They detailed 3,700 lives shattered. Their book was Lost Lives.

Now, two film makers and a host of Irish actors have followed in those writers’ footsteps.

news Image copyright DoubleBand Films
Image caption Actor Stephen Rea was one of the narrators for the film, Lost Lives

Taking Lost Lives as their inspiration, they have created a requiem for the Troubles dead.

Liam Neeson, Ciarán Hinds, Kenneth Branagh, Adrian Dunbar and Bronagh Waugh are among a long list of acting talent from Northern Ireland who have given their voices to the film.

The book was written by veteran NI journalist David McKittrick, BBC journalists Chris Thornton and the late Seamus Kelters, and political commentator Brian Feeney. At a later stage, David McVea joined in.

BBC
Image caption Lost Lives authors Seamus Kelters and David McKittrick pictured at the book launch in 1999

First published in 1999, it was an act of remembrance, lest a single life be forgotten.

It is considered the go-to reference book and an authority on the Troubles.

In the Irish Times in 2006, journalist Susan McKay wrote: “A Tyrone man bought five copies. Five members of his family, all in the security forces, had been killed.

“A Donegal man found out from the book that it was the UVF, and not the IRA, that had killed his brother – as his family had supposed for 30 years.

“It has been read out in churches, Protestant and Catholic. A woman wept so much over the book in a shop she left mascara stains on the page at which she’d opened it.”

‘War is Hell’

The new film, which has its premiere in London later on Thursday, tells individual stories from the book, using archive footage, music and the book’s words spoken by actors to bring them to life.

news Image copyright DoubleBand Films
Image caption A still from the film which combines beautiful imagery with the horrors of footage from the Troubles

Dermot Lavery and Michael Hewitt of DoubleBand film say theirs is not a documentary, but rather a “creative response” to the book.

They found their inspiration between the pages of the stout volume where each victim’s name and age are listed along with the date and the details of their death.

Their film melds strikingly beautiful images with the crackle of gunfire and the ugly thud of bombs.

“It is a reminder that war is Hell,” said Lavery.

“For us, it is a cinematic event that addresses the past, but looks to the future.”

BBC

Wrap my country up in cotton wool

Bronagh Waugh, actress

news Image copyright DoubleBand Films
Image caption Actress Bronagh Waugh narrating her part in Lost Lives

I felt deeply honoured to take part. I was born in Coleraine in 1982 and I knew friends whose parents had been killed in the Troubles.

I didn’t know that the book, Lost Lives, existed. When I held it in my hands, what struck me was the sheer volume of it. I wanted to read all of it.

How personal the stories were. People can become statistics. But here were the stories of real people. There were so many ordinary lives and what would those lives have been, if they had not been killed?

At the recording, I was reading the story of a mother and my voice kept breaking. It was so visceral and real.

What Lost Lives shows is how fragile peace is and how we must never take it for granted.

I want to wrap my country up in cotton wool.

BBC

Lost Lives – a production commissioned by BBC Northern Ireland with funding from NI Screen – is a film about humanity and inhumanity, about innocence and experience during the Troubles – a local story that played out for more than 30 years on a worldwide stage.

It marries the beauty of the natural world with old footage from past atrocities.

The camera holds the face of a toddler in a knitted bonnet sitting in her pram at a street corner, watching her world collapse.

A woman stares out from behind lace curtains as violence unfolds on her street.

A man is filmed abandoning his home, loading his worldly possessions on to a trailer with an air of resignation, lumping a huge statue of the Virgin Mary on the top.

The film is an elegy that flicks from children playing with toy guns to the crackle of real gunfire.

The viewer is brought back again and again to the fluttering pages of the Lost Lives book and to story after story of heartbreak.

We hear about the parents who left Belfast after their child was shot dead… but they had to come back.

“I wasn’t content knowing that Patrick was buried here, I wanted to be near him,” said Patrick Rooney’s mother.

news Image copyright DoubleBand Films
Image caption The authors of the book wanted to communicate the human cost of the Troubles

We hear the words of Mary Isobel Thompson’s widower: “She was a happy wee woman, the world’s best.

“There was just the two of us, we had no family, so we always went everywhere together. Now I am by myself. Sometimes I do not realise, I think I hear her calling for me…”

And there is Philip Rafferty, just 14, abducted, hooded and shot dead. He had been on his way to a music lesson.

His Jewish uncle wrote a letter to a newspaper. He said he had lost a cousin to Hitler’s gas chambers and now, more than 30 years later, another child had died needlessly.

He said Philip was a small frail boy who suffered from asthma. He was his parents pride and joy. He was barely 14.

“That’s all the years Philip Rafferty had… Why did he die?”

BBC

‘Nobody needed persuading’

Michael Hewitt, film maker

news Image copyright DoubleBand Films
Image caption Michael Hewitt and Dermot Lavery ensured that every name in the book Lost Lives appears in the film

We started making the film three years ago, but we were having conversations about it long before that.

Lost Lives is a reference book, but it represents much more than that. The challenge was how do you make a film from a book like that?

We made a commitment that every name in the book should be listed in the film.

Then we found extracts where there was a quote from a family member that reflected the hurt felt by those left behind. We were very much drawn to that.

The actors all came on board so readily. There was something of real value in the fact that they were lending their support and their voices to the film.

We felt enormously honoured. Nobody needed persuading or to be asked a second time.

We are very clear that we are living in troubled times. We need to remember the cost when things are settled through violence.

When you hold that book in your hand, you can feel the weight of all that was lost, all the lives.

You have to ask why.

BBC

Lost Lives, the film, is being released to mark 50 years since the Troubles began.

It receives its world premiere at the BFI London Film Festival on Thursday 10 October, followed by a question-and-answer session with the film makers and narrators which will feature at UK screenings on 23 October.

Actors Stephen Rea, Brid Brennan, Roma Downey, Michelle Fairley, Brendan Gleeson, Dan Gordon, James Nesbitt, Conleth Hill, Susan Lynch, Emer O’Connor, Stephen Rea, Judith Roddy, Michael Smiley, Bronagh Waugh Des McAleer, Martin McCann, Ian McElhinney and Sean McGinley also lend their voices.

The film is also being shown at Belfast’s QFT cinema from Friday 11 October. It will be shown on BBC television later this year.

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Beto O’Rourke is back in the mix. Will voters give him another look?

America

(CNN)Beto O’Rourke is fighting with Pete Buttigieg. He’s angering Democrats in Washington. He’s cussing, and being warned about his language. He’s being called “dummy Beto” by President Donald Trump.

After five months of struggling to find his place in the crowded Democratic field, a campaign reboot following the early August shooting that left 22 dead in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, has moved O’Rourke into a position where he appears more comfortable than he was in the first five months of the race: An outsider attempting to lead a movement.
His message, in campaign stops, emails to supporters and social media posts, has shifted in a way that shows his campaign has found an animating cause. His language has changed, with O’Rourke — an at-times profane campaigner in Texas who early in the race promised he’d stop dropping f-bombs — now back to cursing regularly, a decision being heard by supporters as plainly communicating the urgency of the issue and by critics as an attention-grabbing gimmick.
    So has his travel schedule: O’Rourke is setting aside the traditional path through the early voting states in favor of a new emphasis on those that vote on Super Tuesday. He’s campaigning with down-ballot candidates, visiting downtrodden Democratic Party organizations and stopping in cities and towns facing tumult.
    Mayor
    It’s tough to tell whether Democratic voters are giving O’Rourke a fresh look in light of his new approach: A recent CNN poll found him with 5% support, which his backers hoped was a sign O’Rourke was beginning to climb out of the low single digits. But an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll this week showed him with just 1% support. Given the margin of error, it’s possible O’Rourke hasn’t moved much at all.

    Battling with Buttigieg

    O’Rourke has drawn headlines since Democrats’ third primary debate in Houston last week — the one his aides said he prepared for the least, with zero sessions behind a podium and the one day that had been devoted to readying him for the showdown scrapped in favor of a last-minute trip to Midland, Texas, after a shooting there.
    Days before the debate, the Democratic National Committee passed on a warning to campaigns that ABC would be broadcasting the debate with no delay — which meant no chance to bleep out curse words. The warning didn’t name O’Rourke directly, but there was little doubt why it had been issued.
    On stage, O’Rourke delivered one of the night’s most memorable moments when he advocated for mandatory buy-backs of assault-style rifles, telling a cheering audience: “Hell yes, we are going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. We are not going to allow it to be used against fellow Americans anymore.”
    Republican Party
    The comment led to criticism from Republicans and Democrats — and it gave O’Rourke an opportunity to brawl with the foe his supporters have been angry at since he mocked O’Rourke’s habit of “standing on things” in New Hampshire in early April: Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
    The blowback began the morning after the debate, when Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, a Joe Biden supporter, said O’Rourke had given Republicans an opening to characterize Democrats as gun-grabbers, endangering a push for other reforms.
    Coons’ prediction proved accurate on Wednesday, when Trump did just what he’d warned of, tweeting: “Dummy Beto made it much harder to make a deal. Convinced many that Dems just want to take your guns away. Will continue forward!”
    The fallout with more potential to affect the 2020 Democratic race, though, came when Buttigieg was asked on CNN on Sunday whether Coons was right that O’Rourke’s push for mandatory buy-backs was playing into the GOP’s hands.
    Mayor
    Republican Party
    Texas
    travel schedule
    America
    Mayor
    Republican Party
    Texas
    travel schedule
    America
    Mayor
    Republican Party
    Texas
    travel schedule
    America
    Mayor
    Republican Party
    Texas
    travel schedule
    America
    Mayor
    Republican Party
    Texas
    travel schedule
    America
    As Buttigieg built establishment support and fundraising might, O’Rourke’s camp has seethed. His aides and backers note Buttigieg’s private flights and point out that O’Rourke often drives himself around the campaign trail (and recently took the Bolt Bus from New York to Boston). They see — and want voters to see — a clash that’s geographical, with Buttigieg representing the industrial Midwest where Democratic support has slipped and O’Rourke from the Sun Belt, a more diverse region where the party is gaining strength.
    Even as O’Rourke supporters relish the fight with Buttigieg, the bigger picture of the race shows the steep hill O’Rourke must climb. Buttigieg a week ago released his first television advertisement in Iowa — a luxury O’Rourke likely cannot afford, since Buttigieg raised $25 million in 2019’s second quarter to O’Rourke’s $3.6 million.
    O’Rourke’s campaign sees evidence this new approach is working. Aides said the three days following the debate were O’Rourke’s best fundraising days since April, the month after he launched his presidential bid.

    A moment of doubt

    While O’Rourke has become a more critical player in the Democratic race in the seven weeks since the El Paso, Texas, shooting, there was a point in the immediate aftermath when he wasn’t sure he would remain a candidate at all.
    The day after a gunman who police say had posted online a racist screed warning of a “Hispanic invasion” killed 22 people in an El Paso Walmart, O’Rourke had a moment he worried might have ended his chances of winning the Democratic presidential nomination.
    He was on his way to his van after a vigil outside Las Americas, an immigration advocacy center in El Paso — already emotional and unable to find his wife, who had been there, too — when he found himself boxed in between two cars and a handful of reporters behind the building. One asked him whether there was anything Trump could do to make things better.
    “Members of the press, what the f—?” O’Rourke said, chastising reporters for failing to draw what he saw as obvious connections between the violence and Trump’s racist rhetoric and policies that target immigrants.
    Everyone there knew they had seen a significant moment. Two O’Rourke aides nervously approached this reporter, asking about what had happened. Soon afterward, on Twitter, O’Rourke’s comment went viral.
    O’Rourke, meanwhile, was on his way to another vigil. He looked at his wife and said, “Look, I f—ed up,” he told The Atlantic’s Edward-Isaac Dovere in a podcast interview this month.
    In the moment, O’Rourke said, it felt “like maybe this is over.”
    Mayor
    “Nobody spoke in the van. I didn’t speak. I was pissed. I was pissed at myself, I was pissed at the world, I was pissed at that question. I was pissed that we were even having this conversation — like, how in the world could we be asking ourselves these questions as civilized, intelligent human beings, who report the news, make the news, you know, report on the policy, make the policy? Why are we even asking, is Donald Trump racist? Did he have something to do with this? Could he make this better?” O’Rourke said.
    “I think I was mostly mad at myself: Why have I not been able to figure this out? And why have I not been able to make these connections more clear? Why have we not been able to change this?”
    O’Rourke said he didn’t consciously work through what he might do other than run for president. Instead, he said, his thought after the shooting was, “What am I doing, at all?”
    Did he consider dropping out? What had happened in his hometown, he said, “just down in my bones or my essence, made me question myself. And so to some degree, yes.”
    There were also decisions to be made — such as whether O’Rourke would join the rest of the Democratic field and visit the Iowa State Fair, one of the rituals of the presidential campaign trail.
    “I was like, f— no, uh-uh,” he said. “I can’t pretend. I would be pretending.”
    “And to some degree, you’re performing when you’re running for office, right?” O’Rourke said. “You’re never fully, wholly, truly yourself, warts and all. You are on a stage and you’re projecting and you’re acting in a way that you want people to read and form their picture of you. No one can help that. … We’re all actors on that stage, and no one more so than perhaps someone running for president. But I couldn’t go do that.”
    His decision to skip Iowa forced O’Rourke and his aides to have bigger-picture conversations about where he would go and what kind of campaign he would run moving forward.
    At the same time, Trump’s administration had targeted undocumented workers in Mississippi in an immigration raid.
    Republican Party
    “The two seemed very connected to me in a very obvious way — this manner of terrorizing people and trying to terrify the country about immigrants and Hispanics and people who are really the most vulnerable and the most defenseless in America,” O’Rourke said. “And I said, I want to be there. I want to go there. And I want to go anywhere where people are being kept down or made to be afraid.”
    His return to the campaign trailnearly two weeks later started with a speech in El Paso in which O’Rourke for the first time called for mandatory buy-backs of assault-style rifles, and said he would take a new route — with fewer performative stops in the early states and more visits to vulnerable or forgotten places across the country.
    Since then, he has spent less time in the first four states to vote in the presidential primary process — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — and more in the Super Tuesday states.
    Texas
    Among those Super Tuesday state stops: O’Rourke has campaigned with down-ballot candidates in Virginia. He visited Skid Row in Los Angeles. He delivered a speech that drew a large online audience in front of Democrats in Arkansas. And he visited the Oklahoma City bombing memorial in Oklahoma.
    The changes suggest O’Rourke’s strategy is merely to survive the first month ofprimary season and then begin racking up delegates in March, with Super Tuesday including his home state of Texas. In May, he tapped Jeff Berman, a delegate strategy veteran of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns, as a senior adviser.
      The new approach to his schedule, the gun control advocacy and the more direct — and sometimes foul — language are all part of his reaction to the shooting that he told The Atlantic “just, at a really deep, fundamental level, made me wonder what I’m doing or what I’ve ever been doing or what we are doing.”
      “And all of the, you know, performance, the ritual, and the — you know, I don’t know, all the editing, that goes into speaking when you’re running for office,” he said, “just really evaporated or didn’t seem as important, or I didn’t even really know that I cared at that point.”

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