Anders Behring Breivik walked into the Norwegian courtroom dressed in a dark suit, appearing calm, he smiled and then raised his fist in a far right salute. Monday April 16th marked the beginning of what many are referring to as “Norway’s trial of the century,” the long-awaited trial of the man who killed 77 people in Norway last July. Though he has admitted carrying out the bombing and the shooting rampage, which left 77 people dead, primarily minors, he refuses to accept criminal responsibility saying that he acted in self-defense.
For those who are unfamiliar with the case, on Friday July 22, 2011 a large car bomb rocked the center of Oslo, causing significant damage to the Prime Minister’s office and killing eight people. Approximately an hour later, a man dressed as a police officer took a small boat to the island of Utoeya, which every summer serves as the venue for a political youth camp of Norway’s Labor Party. The man, armed with a pistol and a semi-automatic rifle, was Anders Behring Breivik. After telling security officials at the camp that he was sent there as part of an investigation in connection with the bomb blasts, he began firing indiscriminately.
It was at this point that the trial reached its most chilling emotional climax so far, as Breivik recalled in emotionless detail how he shot victims who were begging for their lives and others who were pretending to be dead. He then went on to describe how he used his police uniform to lure youths out of their hiding places, and opened fire on them as they emerged, “I shot towards many of them aiming at their heads.” The emotional shock felt by those who are following the trial stems not just from the nonchalant way in which he describes the atrocities committed, but even more so the complete lack of remorse he shows. Breivik has stated that he would do it all again and claimed that his actions were necessary to protect Norway and Europe from immigration and multi-culturalism. It is at this juncture that the central debate of the trial arises, that being whether Breivik is merely psychotic or an individual with a well defined political agenda. Though the disattachment he displays towards his crimes give him the appearance of being psychotic, the survivors of Utoeya argue otherwise, “Most of them do not believe he is insane – they were there, they looked him in the eye, they watched him calmly walk around the island shooting.”
“Most of them do not believe he is insane – they were there, they looked him in the eye, they watched him calmly walk around the island shooting.”
Breivik himself argues that to be declared criminally insane would be “a fate worse than death,” as a report from the BBC sums up, “Breivik sees himself as a political activist and a soldier on a mission to save Norway and Europe from being taken over by Islam. Being declared insane would be a blow to his perceived credibility. That is why Breivik wants a prison sentence rather than a compulsory mental health care order.” Though it is hard to believe that a sane person could resort to such violence, the meticulous preparations Breivik made leading up to the attack and the 1,500 page manifesto he wrote are reflective of clearly established political and ideological goals, that surprisingly have deep roots in the United States.
Throughout his manifesto he draws extensively from prominent American conservative pundits such as Robert Spencer, Pam Geller and Richard Lowry, ultimately depicting himself as a “right wing nationalist fueled by hatred of Muslims, Marxists and multi culturalists.” He repeatedly expresses admiration and respect for the United States because of the degree to which it has allegedly managed to preserve its Christian identity. The document is framed in a biblical narrative of good versus evil, in which he repeatedly alludes to the impending civil war between “patriotic nationalists and multi-culturalists” who are allegedly destroying European civilization. Breivik writes, “Once you decide to strike, it is better to kill too many than not enough, or you risk reducing the desired ideological impact of the strike. Explain what you have done (in an announcement distributed prior to operation) and make certain that everyone understands that we, the free peoples of Europe, are going to strike again and again.” Although even the most committed right wing pundits would not show sympathy towards Breivik’s actions, some such as Pat Buchanan have shown an understanding towards his political values “As for a climactic conflict between a once-Christian West and an Islamic world that is growing in numbers and advancing inexorably into Europe for the third time in 14 centuries, on this one, Breivik may be right,”
“Once you decide to strike, it is better to kill too many than not enough, or you risk reducing the desired ideological impact of the strike.”
It is therefore important for those concerned with the rise of right wing extremism and the preservation of peace in general to not dismiss individuals such as Breivik as psychopaths or “lone wolves.” The reality of the situation is that throughout Europe and the United States, the spread of far-right ideologies and their sympathizers are once again on the rise. This can be seen on both grassroots and institutional levels. A report released by the Department of Homeland Security in 2009 states that, “the economic and political climate bears important similarities to the conditions of the early 1990s when right-wing extremism experienced a dramatic resurgence. These conditions, including the public debate around hot-button issues such as immigration, gun control, and abortion, along with the election of the first African-American president, present “unique drivers for right-wing radicalization and recruitment.”
This can also be witnessed by the increasing popularity of far-right parties throughout the European political spectrum. Just yesterday Marine Le Pen’s National Front Party won 20% of the vote in France, and others such as the controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilder’s Freedom Party, Austria’s FPÖ, the True Finns, the Danish People’s Party, and the far-right Sweden Democrats are gaining increasing popular support at the polls. These parties, among others throughout Europe, are using the dire economic situation to their advantage by appealing to a sense of lost national identity, and blaming Europe’s economic plight on increasing immigration, “islamization,” and multi-culturalism. Even mainstream European politicians such as Nicholas Sarkozy, David Cameron and Angela Merkel have declared an end to multiculturalism, or as the latter said, “Multiculturalism has failed, utterly failed.”
Though there is a big difference between holding extremist beliefs and acting on them, it is safe to say that the “far-right milieu creates an atmosphere that can lead such people down that path of violence.” The internet has proven to be the most useful communication and marketing tool for far right extremists, and provides a medium for hate speech to proliferate among an international audience. Individuals no longer have to go to meetings or subscribe to literature, but can simply go online and derive inspiration from words and actions on the other side on the world. Though classifying someone as a lone wolf seems to make sense as an initial reaction, the case of Breivik makes clear that such individuals are inspired by the ideas of others. They are dependent on a wider network of support, which legitimize their extremism, and advocate violent solutions. Not only are they motivated by a more populist cause, but they believe that they are acting for the benefit of a greater community. As a report by Searchlight Magazine states, “the casual use of lone wolf fails to understand both the particular context from which lone wolf ideology comes and the community of support that backs up such solo actor terorrism.”
As the trial of Breivik continues, we must remember that many of the sentiments he expresses are derived from a larger dialogue going on in Europe, which is rooted in the notion of a threatened identity. With increasing concerns about immigration and unemployment, debates about national identity have once again taken center stage and therefore nationalist parties have made gains throughout Europe. Because of Breivik’s clearly articulated political intentions and alleged connections to other extremists movements throughout Europe, it would be a mistake to classify him as a “lone wolf.”
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