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31 Jul 2011 08:04
At 9:31pm on 16 October 2008 a message appeared on the virulently anti-Muslim website Gates of Vienna. Under the user name Year2183, a reference to a manifesto he was writing, Anders Behring Breivik appears exasperated that his fellow far-right bloggers are too accommodating to Europe’s Muslims.
For Breivik it was a defining moment, the point at which he moved to an ultra-radical position.
Less than a year after his frustrated response to Fjordman, Breivik had begun preparing his devastating double attack of nine days ago: the bombing of the Oslo headquarters of Norway’s centre-left government and the massacre of its youth wing on Utøya island.
To chart the evolution of Breivik from a child born to middle-class parents in the west of Oslo to perpetrator of the country’s worst attack since World War II, most experts recommend an initial look at mainstream politics. Last Wednesday Himanshu Gulati of the right-wing Progress Party was explaining its position as “not anti-immigration, but strict immigration”.
Yet as the interview progressed, in an office a minute’s walk from where rescuers were still searching for bodies from the bomb Breivik had detonated, familiar themes emerged. Immigrants, he said, were linked to “drugs and crime”; rejected asylum seekers from Somalia and Afghanistan were not being deported; tens of thousands of illegal immigrants were on the streets of Oslo and could not be “reintegrated” into society.
The interview became more focused. Gulati (23) cited three major concerns: female genital mutilation, forced marriages and radicalisation. Although Gulati—whose Indian parents arrived in Oslo 30 years ago—never mentioned it directly, it was obvious that the Muslim community was a principal area of concern. Progress, Norway’s second-largest party, commanded 23% of the vote in the last elections. A recent poll revealed that half of all Norwegians favour restricting immigration. Some experts on the far-right believe Breivik is an extreme manifestation of the conservative mindset.
Breivik’s teenage sympathy with the mainstream right wing is widely shared. “Many people were saying that immigration had gone too far—there is a group of people who think a bit like him,” said factory worker Trygve Graff (23) from Bergen.
The fact that Breivik chose the internet to disseminate his ideology is important. His journey to terrorism was forged within a network of blogs where violence is glorified and multiculturalism despised, along with those who embrace it.
One expert in European right-wing extremism, Andrea Mammone of Kingston University London, says the content of Breivik’s hate was not new, only the manner in which it was fostered.
“The internet is extremely effective at formulating extremist ideals; killing for him was not so strange, it was about killing people who were not like him, who shared different values. He considered himself a new type of elite warrior.”
A bleak scenario is that Breivik—one of thousands who regularly visit such sites—is merely the debutant warrior from a generation that is the first to witness the sociological upheaval caused by the arrival of mass immigration into Scandinavia’s tightly-knit, homogeneous communities. Equally crucially, it is the first generation that is internet-savvy.
Matthew Goodwin, right-wing extremism expert at the University of Nottingham, adds that Breivik was radicalised by the same online process as many of the jihadists he so loathed.
The same month Breivik responded to Fjordman, he also surfaces on another hardline blog, Stormfront, a white supremacist forum run by a former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and popular among neo-Nazis across the world. Britain, Breivik warns, will be among the first western countries to face a “civil war due to Muslim immigration”.
At the time, Breivik was living in Sweden, a country whose far right was rapidly gaining votes on a ticket that invited accusations of anti-Islamism and xenophobia and wanted immigration reduced by as much as 90%. It is now known that he had online contact with extremists in Sweden, whose far-right faction, perhaps more than any other country’s, appears to have steered Breivik’s hate-centered ideology towards his position now.
The next turning point in his journey to mass murderer can be traced to early 2009 when he registered as a member of Nordisk (Nordic), which has more than 22 000 members. The Nordisk forum was established in 2007 by the Nordiska Förbundet (Nordic League) organisation, which itself was founded in 2004 by the Nazi Swedish Resistance Movement.
Members of Norsdisk openly incite violence. In March 2010 an anonymous poster delivered a seemingly eerie premonition of Breivik’s Oslo attack. “Cars parked next to large buildings with fertiliser + diesel give a nice blast. Skyscrapers go down like the World Trade Centre towers.”
Gradually the target of Breivik’s fury moved from Muslims to the political establishment which, by promoting multiculturalism, had allowed Islam communities to flourish in western society.
But what of the now infamous reconstituted Knights Templar movement mentioned in the manifesto, which held its inaugural meeting in London in 2002, and of which Breivik said he was a founding member.
Many experts, including Nick Lowles of Hope Not Hate, are sceptical a meeting ever took place. Nonetheless, the Knights Templar, with its Christian fundamentalist overtones, is described by Breivik as having a pan-European constituency. Of nine founders, two were English, one was French, one a German, one a Dutchman, one a Greek, one a Russian, one a Norwegian and a Serb. The main initiator was apparently the Serb, whom Breivik claims to have visited in Liberia.
Breivik’s “mentor” was “Richard Lionheart”. In reality, this might be Briton Paul Ray (35) who lives in Malta and is author of the anti-Muslim Richard the Lionhearted blog. Ray was also an English Defence League activist and it is clear that Breivik viewed the EDL’s anti-Islamic, often violent demonstrations as inspirational. He boasted of “regular contact” with many of its members, recommending strategies for its growth. Ray even suggested that Breivik’s chief mentor was Alan Lake, widely described as the EDL’s chief financier, a claim fiercely denied by Lake who did, in October 2009, travel to Malmö, Sweden, for a conference on Islamisation.
What is known is that Breivik emailed his manifesto to 250 British contacts shortly before beginning his attacks, among them BNP and EDL figures along with many connected to Stop Islamification of Europe .
Another fiercely anti-Muslim figure who impressed Breivik, name-checked throughout his manifesto, is Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders, who wants the Constitution rewritten to outlaw the “fascist” Qur’an in theNetherlands.
Following the devastation wreaked by Breivik, it was a week of intensive damage limitation for the anti-Islam populists of Europe. Alarmed they might be tarred by association with the Utøya massacre, the New Populists, usually if inaccurately dubbed neo-fascist or extreme right, have been in a hurry to disavow the Norwegian mass murderer and condemn the violence.
Among the extreme parties in Italy, France, Sweden and the Netherlands, politicians have been fired, suspended, disciplined or rebuked by their leaders for voicing sympathy with Breivik’s worldview—nostalgia for a conservative, traditionalist, whites-only Europe of a bygone age combined with blind fury at its dissolution in a globalised world.
‘This was caused by multiculturalism’
If Breivik’s anger erupted in mass murder, the populist politicians use words as their weapons, posters and images for their witch hunts and scapegoating.
“In a Norwegian Norway this tragedy would never have happened,” blogged Erik Hellsborn of the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats party. “This was caused by multiculturalism.” He was in trouble with the leadership of a party that campaigns to “keep Sweden Swedish” in the country that is the most open to immigrants in Europe.
Wilders, leader of the Dutch Freedom party, who has been tried and acquitted on hate speech charges for his calculated provocations, is a favourite of Breivik, notching up 30 references in the manifesto. Wilders said he was appalled by Breivik, fearing that such actions could damage his campaign. “This is a slap in the face for the worldwide anti-Islam movement,” he said.
In Austria, Heinz-Christian Strache, the Freedom party leader who associated with neo-Nazis in his youth and who is now neck-and-neck with the governing social democrats at the top of opinion polls, fired a party official who responded to the atrocities by declaring that the real danger was Islam rather than Breivik. The same party used a computer game as a campaign tool last year. In Mosque Bye-bye, the players zapped Muslim prayer houses, only to be told that the southern Styria region of Austria is “full of mosques and minarets”.
The idea for the game was imported from neighbouring Switzerland where the rightwing Swiss People’s party has powered its anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant referendum campaigns with potent, inflammatory posters almost always in stark red, white, and black, recalling Third Reich propaganda—grasping black hands scooping up red-and-white Swiss passports, three white sheep kicking a black sheep off a red-and-white Swiss flag.
As outlined in Breivik’s rambling manifesto, they largely dovetail with the views of the New Populists who combine a far-right outlook. Liberals and the left have been eager to seize on this, seeking to score political points by blaming figures such as Wilders or Strache for fostering a climate of hate, fear and prejudice which may not condone but nonetheless tacitly encourage violence.
A 10-minute walk from Oslo’s city centre lies the Islamic Cultural Centre, built in 1974, eight months after the formation of the Progress party. Deputy imam Tayyib Mian (40) from Pakistan, says the congregation is growing rapidly, including 1 500 indigenous Norwegians who have converted to Islam over the past decade: “Norway is a peaceful, open country; we do not want problems, only to be part of the community.”
Outside, hope remains that Breivik’s atrocities will unite a nation against intolerance, steering it away from the far-right politics that have fractured Sweden. Student Katerina Slettness (27) from Oslo, said: “We are hoping the country will be stronger against racism as a result.”
Experts, meanwhile, say Breivik be considered neither insane nor a lone wolf. They warn that thousands throughout Europe are ingesting the same propaganda that galvanised him.
Lowles said: “Somewhere, in a front room or bedroom, other young men are probably dreaming up fantasies about saving Western civilisation from the evils of communism and Islam. We ignore what motivated Breivik at our peril.” - guardian.co.uk
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