Breivik: Right-wing Violence and Ideology

 Cassandra Rossi

On July 23, Oslo was rocked first by a bomb attack in the centre of the city and the horrific massacre at Utøya Island. There is a strong probability that the attacks in the centre of the city were merely a distraction for the later attacks on the Labour Youth camp in which so many young leaders of the Norwegian Labour youth were massacred.

In  early reports of the attacks, accusations were laid by the Press that a Muslim group was behind the attacks; supposedly because a Muslim group had claimed responsibility [1] (this story has front page shots of several newspapers and articles demonstrating the immediate Al Qaeda responsibility for attacks).

This was despite the lack of logic for this accusation: Norway has played a minimal role in the “war on terror;” and has a strong multicultural society in spite of a rather homogeneous population. When Anders Behring Breivik was captured on Utøya Island, it became evident that this terrorist attack was committed by a member of the Norwegian far-right. Perhaps the only light from which comfort could be derived in this catastrophe was the response by the Norwegian Prime Minister who insisted that the only answer to this atrocity was greater democracy and more freedom.

For the Left, several things must be considered in our discussions of the horrific terrorist attacks by Breivik in Norway. One thing that is essential to consider is whether this is the beginning of a new organised violent right-wing in Europe and the US? An essential part of this question is the relationship between the linkage of the centre-right mainstream, the hard right, and certain portions of the media (specifically the Murdoch media empire in the States).

A second thing is the fact that violence by the right is often dismissed as the act of a mad person by the media, rather than treating these attacks as politically-based terrorism especially when they are conducted by white right-wing members of the dominant community.

A third thing that is relevant is consolidation of the trend that we have seen since September 11 that the Muslims are automatically blamed whenever a terrorist act occurs; “blame the Muslims” has become the new cry of the “blame the Jews” that traditionally has held sway. The linkage between Christian fundamentalists, nationalism, racism and xenophobia, and the rabid defence of capitalism and defence of white “culture” forms the basis of current right-wing ideology.

The additional consideration is the fact that this right-wing also clearly (and often confusedly) tends to link Marxists, the left, multiculturalism and “Islamofascism” thereby arguing that the left (the Labour party in Norway in this case) is as such a target of these “defenders of white Christian culture.”

I. The rise of a new Barbarism?

A. Responses by the Right

Breivik’s manifesto thanked the EDL for their work against both “Islamofascism” and Cultural Marxism and it became evident that there were links between the EDL and Breivik [2] [3] [4]

Watching the EDL [5]  deny any relationship to Breivik would be humorous, if not for the fear that this was evidence that fascist groups were working across borders in Europe in terms of recruitment, development of ideology and preparation for action. While a founding member of the EDL (Paul Ray) and a member of the “Knights Templar” has realised he may have inspired Breivik [6] [7] as of yet he does not repudiate his arguments, merely the result of Breivik’s actions.

However, the EDL’s arguments bear a strong similarity to the comments by American right-wing pundits. The EDL say: “The Sunday Mirror says that Breivik’s views were vile. All of them? For example, he argued that ‘Muslim gangs in Norway are free to do what they want’. What’s vile about saying that? Indeed, from many accounts, what he says about Muslim gangs in Norway is absolutely the case and there is much evidence which shows it to be the case. He also told the truth about Norway’s ‘Islam-blocks’ in Oslo. That is, blocks of ‘subsidised and low-cost’ housing especially created for Muslims. How on earth is multiculturalism served by creating subsidised Muslim ghettos? That’s the exact opposite of multiculturalism. It is, in fact, Muslim hegemony and supremacism – funded by the state itself. It’s a massive case of Leftist social engineering [8] .”

Equally frightening (and along a similar vein) is the response from the US right where we have agreement with Breivik’s positions from both Bryan Fischer (American Family Association) and Pat Buchanan while distancing themselves from his tactics [9] [10] [11]

Pat Buchanan (right-wing commentator and former GOP presidential candidate) said: “[A]wful as this atrocity was, native-born and homegrown terrorism is not the macro-threat to the continent. That threat comes from a burgeoning Muslim presence in a Europe that has never known mass immigration, its failure to assimilate, its growing alienation, and its sometime sympathy for Islamic militants and terrorists.” [12] 

While much of his blog post is concerned with Breivik’s Christianity rather than his racism, Bryan Fischer [13] of the American Family Association argued that: “Much of his analysis of cultural trends in Europe and the danger created by Islamic immigration and infiltration is accurate. But clear thinking Westerners and every Christian I know believes these problems can be solved through public policy rather than mass murder.  Breivik’s angst was caused by the presence of so many Muslims in Norway and Europe, which he correctly observes is leading to “cultural annihilation.’ But he blames their presence not on the Muslims themselves but on the “cultural Marxists” and their obsession with diversity and unrestricted Islamic immigration. So he went after the Marxists rather than the Muslims.”

 We then have an attempt to distract us from the similarity of their argument to Breivik’s by Glenn Beck where he compares the Norwegian Labour Youth Camps to the Hitler Youth [14] (; the irony is that he himself has set up camps of tea-party youth [15] [16]

The fact that he tries to paint “conservative” media as victims following the attack is a classic pattern of how he operates; responsibility for the actions influenced by their views is never taken and they are persecuted for their beliefs by the “liberal media.”

B. The Hard-Right, the Centre-Right, the Media

What binds all of the centre-right and the right (in US and Europe) is the agreement (in varying strengths and responses) of an anti-immigrant and nationalist agenda; in many senses, the use of xenophobia by the centre-right for the purposes of divide/rule provides the legitimate face of the hard-right’s nationalism and anti-Islamic agenda. The attack on multicultural by Cameron [17] provided legitimacy to the calls of the hard-right of the danger posed to British values by Muslim immigrants. While links between Breivik and the EDL were clearly demonstrated; Breivik seems to have a lot in common ideologically with the American right and was rather sympathetic to the Tea Party and many Fox Commentators.

The perspective that they are conservatives rather than fascists (and tend to use the term fascists to describe fundamentalist Muslims), the confusion that Liberals and Social Democrats are actually Marxists (along with classic anti-Communist ideology), there is the Christian fundamentalist connection (which appears to be absent in the EDL and other European fascist organisations (with the exception of some strains found in central and eastern europe); in fact see the article from the SPLC above where there were criticisms against the EDL for its “Jewish division” by the leaders of the group “Stop Islamization of America”: “America’s most prominent anti-Muslim activists, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, co-leaders of the SPLC-designated hate group Stop Islamization of America, had considered themselves stalwart allies of the EDL until June, when the pair had a falling out with the British group over the dismissal of the leader of its “Jewish division,” and Geller’s belated concerns about the presence of neo-Nazi elements in the organization.

Previously, Geller extolled the virtues of the EDL, once calling them “courageous English patriots.” She invited EDL officials including Lennon, who also is known by the name Tommy Robinson, to New York in September 2010 to take part in a protest of the Park51 project – which Geller dubbed the “Ground Zero Mega-mosque.” Tipped off by British authorities, U.S. officials refused to allow Lennon to enter the country because of his EDL ties [18]

The additional final linkage that characterises many of the newer fascist parties and which breaks from traditional fascist parties is their economic agenda. Traditional fascism advocated strong state and corporatist linkages; this was probably due to the fact that initially they were initially tied to socialist ideology (both the case for Mussolini and Hitler) and the power of Keynesian economic proposals following the great depression as unregulated capitalism clearly was crisis prone.

Many of the modern right-wing fascist groups (especially in the US) have a clear neoliberal economic agenda; some of which actually are based in such thinkers as Ayn Rand and Friedrich von Hayek and his modern version (Milton Friedman). While the Tea Party [19]  has been presented as a source of humour in the UK, there is no question that this is at least a proto-fascist movement. Financed by the Koch Brothers [20] [21] its leaders and political pundits granted open access to the so-called “mainstream media” on Fox (they appear(ed) regularly as commentators and have their own programmes on this Rupert Murdoch owned channel), and based in a mainstream Republican political party, it is in many senses a nightmare for the centre and the left.

It is a proto-fascist movement and to describe it as conservative as its supporters maintain is to misunderstand the nature of this group. Jingoistic, racist, xenophobic, anti-feminist, obviously anti-Marxist/Socialist/Communist (which they often use to describe the mainstream of the Democratic Party) and with a large number of Christian fundamentalist supporters (see Hagee below), they often use violent imagery in their advertisements, blogs and comments. Sarah Palin’s use of crosshairs on democratic seats that they deemed vulnerable and wanted Tea Party members to take during the election is a classic example of these images [22]  

So, should we now be worried about an upsurge in right-wing violence against the Left and Muslims or is this the action of one deranged person? There is no question that there are increased numbers of people identifying or agreeing with fascist arguments in the advanced capitalist world. However, a large number of these people are more concerned with electoral victory rather than outright violence at this point. This does not mean that we should take our eyes off them; they are extremely dangerous.

Moreover, while they would prefer a ballot box for coming to power that will not stop followers that think that change is happening too slowly from taking matters into their own hands (as in the case of Breivik and Timothy McVeigh). The use of violent rhetoric only serves to encourage these people.

While right-wing electoral challenges in the US and Europe are meeting with some success, they are not as complete as many of their supporters would want which also could lead to further dangerous situations. Finally, there are groups of this ilk that do not try to run for political office and they will always be dangerous as some of them are actually armed in the US.

An additional problem is the attempt to insist upon a false equivalence between right-wing and left-wing arguments articulated by mainstream politicians. Only a few days prior to the attacks in Norway (24th of July 2011), both Sebastian Coe and Boris Johnson had stated that the primary security danger to the 2012 London Olympics was not to be found in Muslim terrorism but rather in problems caused by British Anarchists [23]. Interestingly enough, the thought of a violent protest by the right was never even raised.

Somehow, fears of Anarchist violence against property is seen as equivalent to right-wing violence and advocacy of violence against people. Violent imagery by the right is often dismissed as equivalent to that argued by the left; this is a common argument in the US used by both the right-wing as well as mainstream politicians and can also been seen in the EDL’s statement on the Norwegian terrorist attack cited above.

II. Madness and/or Political Violence

Almost immediately following the attack in Norway, questions arose as to whether Breivik was insane. This line was initially advanced by his lawyer, Geir Lippestad, who clearly wanted to go with the insanity defence for his actions [24] ; the most positive interpretation is that perhaps he describes Breivik’s arguments and actions as mad as he is completely unable to understand them. However, this was picked up by the media as a potential explanation for his actions.

The obvious question that arises is why is the insanity argument only used for white terrorists and never raised in the context of a terrorist attack by Muslims? An inherent racism against Muslim cultures as though they are inherently violent as opposed to white people that commit acts like this must mean that they are mad rather than being ideologically driven.

Parallels to the case of Jared Lee Loughner are obvious. Following his attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson Arizona in January 2011, discussion shifted from political motivations to the insanity accusation in a short period [25] from the early pieces where his motivation is unclear: [26]  to his demand to end forced medication which was upheld [27]

Representative Giffords (a moderate blue dog democrat who opposed gun control) was on the targeted list of seats that the Tea Party thought that they could win that were highlighted by cross-hairs on Palin’s page. Represented by Judy Clarke an attorney with experience in defending those accused of terrorism having represented the Unabomber and the Atlanta Olympics bomber, he has been declared unfit to stand trial and has been medicated using psychtropic drugs  [28] 

The discussion as to his motivations for the attack were essentially ended following a series of criticisms against Tea Party leaders who claimed that they were being unfairly accused of being accessories to murder (see Palin’s blood libel comment and her defence [29] . The claims of persecution by the right-wing in the US when attempts to hold them accountable for their statements and imagery can also be seen in their response to Loughner’s terrorist action.

There are several things that are relevant in this discussion beyond the obvious fact that Breivik’s lawyer is not a psychiatrist and hence is incapable of determining the sanity of his client. There is no doubt that Breivik has a political agenda and that is what lay behind his actions.

While people that have mental illness do have political beliefs, mentally ill people are more in danger of being the victims of violence rather than perpetrating violence themselves. Unquestionably living in a society that glorifies violence and objectifies those that are different breaks down the ability of members to empathise with others and probably leads to the ease with which violence is perpetrated against those that are seen as different (e.g. [30] ).

However, it is questionable whether this holds for Norway given Breivik’s targets, i.e., young Norwegian members and leaders of the Labour Youth movement; this was not an attack on Muslims or on those that could be considered “outsiders” of a society.

While there were people of colour at Utøya Island there is no evidence that they rather than white people were preferred targets at this point; that is the victims were killed for their political beliefs rather than whether they were immigrants or Muslims.

To be able to systematically murder young people to achieve a political end requires not only a lack of moral development and social connection (e.g., sociopathic or psychopathic personality types), but a strong political belief that can justify these murders in the hope that they will bring about a desired end. Whether the perceived end derives from madness or political belief or both is still awaiting a psychiatric evaluation.

 Moreover, these terrorist acts were organised and planned (the purchase of a farm enabling access to fertiliser used in the bombs in the city demonstrates long-term planning) and it is still unclear whether this was the act of an individual or a group of people as insisted upon by Breivik in his later statements.

III. Victimisation of Muslims

One common thing that we are seeing is the consolidation of the victimisation of Muslims and Islam by the hard right. The notion that Islam is a religion that condones violence (and/or whose precepts lead to violence) is a consistent meme of the hard right and some mainstream politicians in both Europe and the US in their propaganda and statements.

Islam is viewed by many of these people as inherently inimical to the culture and historical traditions of Christian (or Judeo-Christian) Europe. Islam and Muslims are treated as an “other” that is attempting to subvert western and white ideals and which are trying to substitute Islamic law and traditions for Christian (or Judeo-Christian) ones.

In many ways, anti-Islamic perspectives are substituting for the older traditions of anti-Semitic intolerance that characterised Europe while at the same time anti-Semitism is still an existent and active ideology among the Christian Right although often disguised by their support for Israel.

Some of this is due to the rise of Christian Zionism which has a decidedly anti-Semitic basis; support for Israel is predicated upon the view that they are a “civilised” European alternative to Muslims in the Middle East. “”Israel is the canary in the coal mine,” said Beck. “If Israel goes away, so does our Western way of life. We have to stand up for Israel. This is a test of our lives and of our civilization. We must do it not because it will bring in the Messiah, or give us more baptisms, but because we love our fellow man and because it defends our way of life [31] 

 In the more Christian Millenarian fundamentalist version of the story (see John Hagee and Christians United for Israel, for example, [31] [32] ; the Jews need to be in the Holy Land for Armageddon to actually occur where the Jews are needed to be the shock troops to fight against Satan and redeem themselves for their disobedience to god. CUFI has very close links to the Tea Party Movement and is considered to be the “soul of the tea party” by its executive director David Brog.

If this victimisation of Muslims and demonisation of Islam remained the province of the hard-right, there would be less cause to be concerned. The fact is that both directly and indirectly, mainstream politicians have taken up an agenda that is discriminatory against Muslims.

This is not confined to the view that terrorist attacks are the sole province of Muslims; it is a view of Muslims as other, perhaps most clearly expressed by Jack Straw’s discomfort while meeting a constituent wearing a Niqab. Laws passed in France trying to force Muslim women to remove Hijabs and Niqabs, demands on the building of mosques and the number of minarets that they can have in Switzerland, protests in the UK against mosques being built all serve to create a perspective of otherness around Muslims in Europe.


 There is a distinct probability that the attacks by Breivik will cause increased caution and crack-down by various governments on right-wing hate groups. There is an additional likelihood that they will use it as an excuse to increase watchfulness on the hard left as well due to the false equivalence being advocated by both the right and the mainstream.

The additional question that we need to address is actually how dangerous these right-wing fascist groups are in terms of a threat to the Left itself. The willingness to attack perceived Marxists rather than the direct perceived threat of Muslims to European culture and the linkage between the dangers of multiculturalism, Marxism, and Islam is not something that we can easily dismiss as we watch increasing percentages of votes going to hard-right fascist groups.

 Attempts by the Republican Party to co-opt a fascist movement that exists at its heart may prove successful; democracy is not a prerequisite for a capitalist economic system to function as we have seen historically. Dismissing these people and this movement as uneducated clowns whether or not it is an actual grass-roots movement (as its leaders claim) will be at our peril.

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