Thursday, July 28, 2011

Anders Behring Breivik: Rightwing Christian Terrorist?

Anders Behring Breivik
(Image from Wikipedia)

The Marmot's Hole blog had a discussion going on as to whether or not Anders Behring Breivik, the Norway shooter, was an insane spree killer or a rightwing terrorist. My initial assumption was that he was a crazed killer, but I soon began to re-evaluate that, and noted why in a comment:
He might be insane, but the sole reason that I would have for thinking so would be that he did something most of us would think is crazy.

But so did the Unabomber, the Oklahoma Bomber, and the 9/11 terrorists. They all did things that I would at first judge as crazy. But I don't think any of them were insane.

What currently makes me lean toward judging this recent killer sane is that he spent nearly ten years planning this atrocity and that he has written a manifesto to explain his actions. The ideas come from the right, the violence from the extreme right. I'm pretty sure of this because I've been reading since 9/11 on Islamism, the Left, and the Right in an attempt to get a handle on what's happening and where we're headed, and I recognize many of his expressions.

I suppose that he could be a political terrorist and insane, but "evil" [rather than "insane"] might be a better designation.

We'll see for sure as we learn more from his writings.
After posting that comment, I learned a bit more, so I posted another comment:
Time Magazine has a short article on the motives of Anders Behring Breivik. Two terrorism experts are cited concerning Breivik's manifesto: 2083: A European Declaration of Independence.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at the Swedish National Defense College calls the manifesto "a complete mirroring of al-Qaeda, a cut-and-paste image of a jihadist manifesto."

Thomas Hegghammer, a terrorism expert at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, agrees: "The document mirrors al-Qaeda ideology in a few important ways. The principal aim is to expel Muslims from Europe, just as al-Qaeda wants to expel Westerners from the holy lands."

I've read articles by Ranstorp and Hegghammer, and I've always found them levelheaded on terrorism.

None of this would mean that Breivik suffers no psychological problems. He might indeed have problems, but these wouldn't necessarily preclude his being a terrorist. Mohamed Atta had weird views about sexual purity, but that doesn't exclude him from the ranks of terrorist.

Breivik is quoted elsewhere as saying that killing too many is better than killing too few. He chose his target with the aim of generating as much horror as possible, much as the 9/11 terrorist chose their target and method.

From what I've seen of Breivik's writings by now, I don't see how I can do other than conclude that he draws upon the right, including the extreme right, for his political ideology. But he's wrong to believe that his action will galvanize the right in the way that 9/11 galvanized Islamists.

Most of those on the right whom he cited in his manifesto have expressed revulsion at what he did. He'll find little support for political violence except among the extreme right, i.e., people like him.
I'm still waiting for easy access to Breivik's manifesto. I won't have time to read all 1500 pages, but if I can search for key words, I know what to look for. Breivik has been called a "Christian Fundamentalist." I don't think he's quite that, but the question of his connection to Christianity does arise. Here's a quote, courtesy of Time Magazine, from his interview with himself:
Around 2000, I realized that the democratic struggle against the Islamization of Europe, and European multiculturalism, was lost. It is simply not possible to compete with democratic regimes that import millions of voters. Forty years of dialogue with the cultural Marxists/multiculturalists had ended up as a disaster. It would now only take 50 to 70 years before we, Europeans, were the minority. So I decided to explore alternative forms of opposition. But the biggest problem then was that there were no options for me at all. There was no known armed culturally conservative, or Christian, anti-jihad movement.
Note that Breivik's wording uses "Christian" and "culturally conservative" interchangeably. This doesn't sound like personal Christian piety, but rather an identification with Europe's Christian identity, focused on a time when European Christians were fighting holy wars against Islam, the time of the Crusades. In the Time Magazine article "Killer's Manifesto: The Politics Behind the Norway Slaughter" (July 24, 2011), William Boston tells us more about Breivik's fascination with the Crusades:
The secret society Breivik describes aims to re-create the Knights Templar. Known by their trademark white mantles bearing a red cross, the Knights Templar were skilled fighters during the Crusades who wielded enormous political and economic influence during the Middle Ages. Breivik wrote that there was a secret meeting in London in April 2002 to rebuild the order and that nine people representing eight European countries attended.
Breivik's Christianity looks to be militant and political, not especially pious, but there is this, one of the recent entries in his journal, courtesy of The Telegraph, from the article "Norway shooting: Anders Breivik's diary of terror":
Saturday June 11 I prayed for the first time in a very long time today. I explained to God that unless he wanted the Marxist-Islamic alliance and the certain Islamic takeover of Europe to completely annihilate European Christendom within the next hundred years he must ensure that the warriors fighting for the preservation of European Christendom prevail.
This isn't the manner in which pious Christians usually pray to God -- pious Christians don't presume to explain things to an omniscient God -- and Breivik admits that he hasn't prayed "in a very long time," but he sounds sincere. Six weeks later, he bombed Norway's Labor Party government in Oslo and shot dozens of the Labor Party's youth on Ut√łya Island. Some might wonder why Breivik didn't target Muslims if his aim was to expel Islam from Europe. I think that I can answer that question. Many on the right have noted the far Left's alliance of convenience with Islamism, but some have gone further and denounced the entire Left as composed of traitors to European civilization. The step from calling Leftists traitors to the conclusion that they deserve execution is not a very large one since the traditional penalty for treason has been death. I've not seen bloggers themselves calling for death to Leftists (though I don't doubt that such bloggers exist), but I have occasionally encountered comments that come close to demanding such extreme measures.

Counterterrorism will need to take such folk more seriously from now on . . .

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At 3:47 AM, Blogger dhr said...

unless he wanted the Marxist-Islamic alliance

As many, er, hyper-sensitive persons (see Poe's characters!), he anyway detected a problem that "normal" politicians tend / try to deny. In Italy, e.g., the weakness and blindness of the leftist parties in dealing with the muslim issue IS a problem, and it especially might become a problem in near future.

Once again, daresay that a working pattern (i.e. as a general pattern, not in detail) was provided by the Middle Ages, when BOTH religions-civilizations did value their own own identity; and BECAUSE of that they could honor each other, and learn from each other, as they did.

In fact, right on the opposite side as Breivik the Viking, a Jew cyber-friend of mine often denounces "islam-biased" policies which are likely to create big troubles in Europe.

At 4:05 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, Breivik noticed real problems. Lots of Europeans these days do notice them. Breivik's own real problem was in attempting to realize an unreal solution. I hope that others don't try to follow his example.

His actions, based on the reaction that he expected, constitute evidence that he is, to some degree, mentally unstable, but no more so than Muhamed Atta.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:39 PM, Anonymous Scott A. said...

I haven't read through this, but this blog is supposed to be giving extensive quotes from the killer and looking into the Christian and conservative labels.


At 6:42 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, I'll take a look.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:04 PM, Anonymous Sperwer said...

Unless it turns out that Breivik meets the legal definition of insanity: the inability to understand the difference between "right" and "wrong" and incapability to conform his behaviour to legal standards, his "mental stability" simply shouldn't be an issue. The sloppy talk about it so far is just a sort of reactionary impulse - both against the horror of his crimes and the shock of the recognition that the issues he cites to rationalize his actions may have some more weight than the proponents of "multi-culturalism" are willing to acknowledge

At 7:24 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

From everything that I've seen so far, Sperwer, the man looks sane but evil. He recognizes the horror of his actions but considers them necessary to his goal.

I've also just looked at Scott's link. Breivik had mixed feeling about Christianity, partly drawing on Nietzsche's critique of its 'slave morality' -- its favoring of the weak over the strong -- but he identifies with the militant Christianity of men like Charles Martel, the grandfather on Charlemagne, who stopped the first Islamic invasion of Europe.

He admires the Christianity of the Crusaders, too, but he expresses little personal piety.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:25 AM, Blogger dhr said...

He admires the Christianity of the Crusaders

This is 'useful ignorance,' nothing else. The true Crusaders - unlike impromptu warriors - would never kill dozens of harmless people. See the very poem which glorified the First Crusade, Torquato Tasso's "Gerusalemme Liberata" (Jerusalem Delivered): knights only fought against knights. And, if a Christian knight saw an unsaddled Muslim knight, he got off, and they both fought on foot.

At 1:31 AM, Blogger dhr said...


Again from Tasso: The best way to 'skip' the attack of a knight was to be unarmed, and flee. That's right the opposite of what Breivik did.

At 5:49 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, Breivik's view of knights is distorted. He certainly didn't follow any high code of chivalry.

But he could probably find a few precedents for mass slaughter in some of the stories of the Crusades.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:26 PM, Blogger dhr said...

Tasso honestly wrote that, after the conquest of Jerusalem, slaughters, rapes etc. were made. But they were described as the sad side effects of war, due to man's congenital violence, and against the general orders; not as "the goal" of the Crusade, far less as its ideal.

Then, quite surprisingly, the poet did even glorify Saladin, the Muslim winner of the Second Crusade, who achieved the reconquest of the Holy Land.

THAT marks the difference.

At 2:40 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, I agree. Breivik distorted Christian teachings as well as any chivalric code.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:33 PM, Anonymous Sperwer said...

I wonder how well actual crusaders honored the chivalric code?

At 5:55 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

My question as well, and the answer is . . . probably not always very well.

The telling difference, however, would be the existence of a code of honor. One might fail to measure up, but in falling short, one is implicitly judged.

Breivik seems to have had no such code.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:12 PM, Blogger dhr said...

I wonder how well actual crusaders honored the chivalric code?

A good question. We probably will never know exactly. Medieval sources, both those "pro" (e.g. St Bernard of Clairvaux) and those "against" (e.g. the French king Philip IV), were heavily biased. I think that Tasso, who was a genius and read the sources which were available, tried to convey an idealized-but-realistic picture of the phenomenon.

Anyway, since dudes like Breivik refer to "crusaders" as they are depicted in poetry, myth and legend--- they should follow the chivalric code.

At 7:41 PM, Anonymous Sperwer said...


I think it's a little tendentious to say Breivik doesn't have a code, even a code of honor. He just doesn't have one of which we approve. It's very easy to imagine someone like Breivik himself being honored by a society that he retrospectively is made to seem to have changed in some way that subsequently is deemed to be desirable, e.g., the now honored Korean nationalist terrorists Kim Ku and Ahn Jung Gun (neither of whom admittedly murdered as many people as Breivik).

At 10:47 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sperwer, I was thinking of the chivalric code, but I could have been more clear.

But that aside, I suppose the more general point depends on what one considers honorable.

As for a code, I can't yet see what it was. He seems to have acknowledged that his actions were reprehensible (or some such term), but necessary.

Necessary why? Necessary to break a moral code to get attention?

I'll have to see what he says to find out if he has a code that he doesn't break.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:32 AM, Blogger dhr said...

Hot news: A politician in Italy, a member of the Lega Nord (North League, the separatist party, currently in the government) has just been suspended after saying that he agrees with most of Breivik's ideas.

At 5:06 AM, Anonymous erdal said...

I think the media is full of misreadings about all this, because they operate in a world with questions of ideology, discourse and (in-)consistency thereof, conviction and political maneuvre that is outdated.

Breivik is young - he formed his world view in his twenties, in the 21. century. This (and a bit younger for students starting out) was the generation I was last in close contact with before retirement, and I found them to be unlike any generation before.

Their demeanour is usually decried as they indeed do function in a quite unfamiliar way: They put forward conclusions (if pressed), while their process of reasoning appears opaque and unorderly. People usually mistake this for a lack of method, knowledge and discipline (I remember a post of yours that argued roughly in the same direction).

I've come to think this view is entirely backwards and that this generation is way better informed, much stronger in its convictions, and has independently thought a great deal more and deeply that any of their predecessors. They appear passive because their convictions are not the result of open discourse -- a discipline they are indeed not good at -- but that is just beacuse most older educators (and indeed most media personnel) are just bad at spotting their interaction, which is way more subtle than it was in their day.

The period of shared and prepackaged static ideology that you aquirde along a canon of public, organized and bookish learning, to defend with discursive methods as you progress, is past. The young activist people you find that still adhere to this traditional method are usually just eager to please the elders.

But most, the rest, have instead a very rigorous intuition, formed by much data, strategic playfulness, experience and inner struggle, and they can very eloquently communicate the results of their thought processes with cultural markers that are simply overlooked or considered inadequate by the old paradigm.

Breviks text is instructive because is very much like that, because it is -- its size excepted -- so very typical. It signals its convictions as markers that draw from shared cultural core material of his generation: Tolkiens LOTR, WOW, "levels", autodidactic progression from an unstructured, fluid, episodical mass of information and solopsistic reasoning, a sense of mission and rootedness in themselves and an idealized heritage that they aquire with great gusto like forbidden fruit.

When Breivik speaks of his knights templar and traces his steps through levels mastered, of insights with tokens aquired, of his tactics and strategies, he fully inhabits this metaphorical world of his generation - and does not suffer some weird reactionary infatuation with medieval militias. His phantasy uniform designs are neither a sign of madness or self-aggranzizement, nor an article of clothing ever to be worn in real life gatherings, but just a metaphorical currency of his own otherwise intangible progression. He is not political in a way that has sytematic public organization at its core but in a way schooled by his generation's experience that you can contribute on very sizable and ambitious projects without any formal organization to lead you, just by establishing a code that you renegotiate permanently by signalling with markers shared or rejected, but always at least unconciously understood by the participants that you need to never know. You know they exist, because you know the signals don't arise spontaneously. You don't argue because you expect it to be futile: The infrastructure isn't built for it, there's too much noise along with the signals. You don't go looking for agreement, because you can expect it to be there, based on the general nature of signals you receive.


At 5:07 AM, Anonymous erdal said...

[....--->>>] He grasps quite correctly -- and apparently without prior knowledge of the common name of the effect -- that ultraviolent extremism will indeed inevitably shift those that share his outlook, but not necessarily his method, further into the ageing mainsteam and give their position more weight. (It's called the anchor effect, btw.) I think the defensive whining in the established antijihadist quarters, that their cause has been harmed, just shows the complainants naivety and old-school upbringing.

This guy acted alone, but in the certain, and probably correct, conviction that there are many others like him. He has no need to know them, he knows they are there and that they are very many among his age cohort, because he can read their signals. They were many even in the humanities, a bastion of tradition organized politics, in technical fields his type is the male default. They may decide to emulate him or not, on their own terms, along the lines of their own assessment of the situation, in permanent caontact with the general vibe. This is not illness, not misunderstanding of ideology, not being a victim of demagoguerie, just rational extremism, a logical extension of widesptread self-perception and world view.

I think the ageing media and policymakers have no idea of the potential trouble they're in, because they're deaf to this generation, ignorant of a huge discourse they assume doesn't exist because the channels it manifests itself in are not their channels.

They think their march through the institutions was the greatest achivement ever, and that they are safely on the steering wheel. They are very wrong. Their categories no longer apply.

Types of Breviks generation and general worldview are a pan-european phenomenon, well educated, well travelled, with shared experiences, without nationalistic precjudices, without fixed ideology, without sacred beliefs, without class attitude, without the need for visible organization, without illusions. And now they are grown up, nurtured by jihad, Tolkien and WOW, patient to progress stubbornly along the levels, certain of the significance of myth and quick on the trigger, and they will start rocking the boat. I can't see them not winning.

At 5:10 AM, Anonymous erdal said...

Oh, the order of the two posts above is reversed! Damn technology.

At 5:51 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Dario, that politician sounds extraordinarily foolish.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:58 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Erdal, I think the order of your comments is okay now. My blog has a spam folder, and some of your comments got put there. I've retrieved them, deleted repeats, and got the order right, I think.

Your remarks are very interesting, and I'll have to think about them. They're a little scary if correct.

I hope that those who think like Breivik don't also turn to the murder of innocents.

But if you're correct, we might see more 'anti-jihadists' who engage in terrorism against the Left and against Muslims -- 'anti-jihadists' who have learned from the 'jihadists'!

That would be a scary world . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:14 PM, Blogger dhr said...

that politician sounds extraordinarily foolish

He is.

The interesting thing is that he reacted by saying, "All right, but the rank and file are with me." That leads us back to Erdal's reflections.

[ "Rank and file" are literally, and meaningfully, called "the basis" in Italian ]


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