Wieambilla shooting: analysis of perpetrator’s online footprint

By Elise Thomas

On Monday 13 December, two police officers and a neighbour were murdered in a horrific ambush attack at a property in rural Queensland, Australia. The shooters were identified as brothers Gareth and Nathaniel Train. A woman, Stacey Train, was also at the property. Gareth, Nathaniel and Stacey Train were subsequently shot dead by police following a siege.

Many of the details of this attack remain unknown, and investigations are ongoing. The motives of the shooters remains unclear. However, it does appear that Gareth Train was a frequent poster on a number of fringe and conspiracy blogs and that he held a range of extreme anti-government and conspiratorial views.

Wieambilla shooter’s conspiratorial worldview

An initial analysis of Train’s online footprint on these sites (he claims in one comment that he is not active on social media platforms, although it is unclear whether this extends to Telegram) suggests that he, like many who are now subsumed into the world of conspiracy theories, had taken on a conspiratorial worldview.

This is to say that rather than believing in a single conspiracy theory, he appears to have subscribed to a multitude of conspiracy theories and to have interpreted almost everything in the context of these theories. Conspiracy theories referenced in his comments include anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown narratives, climate engineering and Sovereign Citizen conspiracies, conspiracies about microchips, the New World Order and Great Reset, the Illuminati, antisemitic conspiracy theories and more. Gun control conspiracy theories appear to feature heavily, as will be discussed further below. It does not appear that he was a believer in QAnon, however, referring to it as a ‘psyop’ in a post in January 2021.

Figure 1: Screenshot of comment on fringe blog, January 12th 2021.

Conspiracy theorising that predated the COVID-19 pandemic

The earliest posts ISD have so far identified on the fringe and conspiracy blogs where Train was a frequent commenter (one even congratulated him as being in the Top 3 commenters in 2021) date back only as far as 2020. In one post in September 2020,  Train claimed that he had “been trying to reach people as individuals for the past 25 years and convince them of the WWO, UN, WHO, Reset, 1%ers plans and the use of silent weapons for quiet wars.” This suggests that Train’s descent into conspiracy theories far predated the pandemic in 2020.

It does seem clear, however, that the pandemic and the associated government restrictions and vaccination campaigns played a significant role in radicalising him further into conspiratorial beliefs, and perhaps in spurring extreme action. In a comment in December 2020 he wrote that “military intervention” was “the aim” and that politics was nothing but a diversion.

Figure 2: Screenshot of comment on fringe blog, December 21st 2020.

In February 2021, in response to a blog post about anti-lockdown protests in Melbourne, he repeated this sentiment, writing:

“What is the theatre of organised protest really about? What is really accomplished? Why do so many people insist on peaceful demonstrations while being assaulted and taken prisoner by corporate soldiers aka police? Why do protesters stand by and film their compatriots, family and friends mistreated and humiliated? Why do protesters run away from a fight they will have to have at some point?

What will you choose when the wolf is at your door?

There is no political or legal way out of what is upon us, it is down to the individual and the choices they make in everything they do going forward. Be aware of those who promise a political or legal way out only offering distraction, while enslaving you through false hope.” (emphasis added)

Figure 3: Screenshot of comment made on fringe blog, February 21st 2021.

This sort of language, claiming that there is no political solution, is a common feature in the manifestoes and online footprints of mass shooters and other perpetrators of extremist violence.

Australian gun control, 26 years after Port Arthur

Train’s comments appear to reflect a particular fixation on conspiracy theories about the Port Arthur massacre and gun control in Australia. In 1996 a gunman named Martin Bryant attacked a tourist site at Port Arthur, a town in Tasmania, killing 35 people and wounding 23. Bryant’s attack remains Australia’s worst mass shooting in modern history.

The attack, which followed several mass shootings in previous years, was the catalyst for Australia’s conservative government to pass sweeping gun control legislation. In the 26 years since, Australia has had only three mass shootings (defined as the death of four or more people, excluding the perpetrator). For comparison, the US has reportedly had 611 mass shootings in 2022 alone, as of November 25 (though the US definition includes those injured as well as killed).

There is a very high level of public support for gun control in Australia. A poll in 2018 found that 87% of Australians think the current gun control legislation is either about right or should be strengthened, with just 7% saying the laws were too strict.

This widespread popular support has not prevented the spread of conspiracy theories about the Port Arthur massacre through the decades, however. A quarter of a century later, Port Arthur ‘truthers’ are using social media to reach new audiences. During the pandemic, they made common cause with other conspiracy theorists including anti-vax and anti-lockdown groups.

In comments in November 2020 on a fringe blog, Train laid out his beliefs about the Port Arthur attack. He claimed that Bryant had been “the perfect patsy” and that the attack was a “Government Psychological Operation to disarm the Australian population,” a “Joint operation CIA, MI6, Mossad, ASIO and the Australian SASR.”

He made references to “MK shooters” (based on his other postings, this may have been a reference to MK Ultra) who committed the massacre, and then claimed that they had all been killed by the SAS to keep it secret. In comments in 2021, he expounded on this theory, claiming that the false flag attacks had never stopped and listing a number of other violent attacks which were supposedly implicated.

Figure 4: Screenshot of comment on fringe blog, June 22nd 2021

It is, as noted before, still extremely early in the investigation of this horrific crime. Much more remains to be learned about the motivations of Gareth Train and his brother and what role, if any, conspiratorial beliefs played in their actions.

If it does prove that Train’s conspiracy theories were a significant factor behind this fatal ambush on police officers, along with the killing of an innocent bystander, however, this would underscore that Australia is not immune from the risks of extremist conspiracy theorists radicalising to violence. The legacy of the mass radicalisation during the pandemic remains with us, and must be reckoned with.