Violent incidents, perpetrated by the opponents of a tyrannical regime, tend to enable such regimes to become openly terrorist. They may have been on a brutal trajectory all along, but their enemies’ acts of desperate defiance (or plain insanity) often facilitate their transition to the level of oppression which had been desired all along.
Charlotte Corday’s assassination of Jacobin leader Jean-Paul Marat in July 1793 greatly intensified the Terror. An additional 10,000 heads rolled from the guillotine, and some 50,000 civilians were massacred in the Vendée, before the nightmare ended with Robespierre’s execution a year later.
Fanny Kaplan’s almost-successful attempt on Lenin’s life in August 1918 unleashed the brazenly murderous phase of the Bolshevik Revolution. While recovering from his wounds, Lenin ordered his minions “secretly and urgently to prepare the terror.” It took over a million bourgeois and kulak lives over the ensuing two years.
The Reichstag fire on the night of February 27, 1933, led to the Enabling Act less than four weeks later. The Nazis likely did not stage-manage the incident, but they were quick to exploit the results.
Brenton Tarrant’s killing of 50 Muslims in Christchurch on March 15 falls into the same category. It has produced an instant orgy of cultural, civilizational, and racial...