Whenever some human-instigated evil of historic proportions occurs, like the recent Oslo massacres in Norway, I always try to read any writing the perpetrator may have produced. Some have felt that my desire to read this often extremely disturbing material is odd. I remember my mom, in college, being concerned by my fascination with Hitler’s writings and other essays by Nazi ideologues and propagandists, wondering out loud why I would want to subject myself to that kind of garbage.
That’s a reasonable question. Why would any reasonable person want to wade into a sea of madness, even in written form? Doesn’t reading this stuff have a corrosive effect on one’s own psyche and mood? It’s true that some percentage of these guys are just crackers (like Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner), and there’s little rational thought to be sifted out of their convoluted rambling. They’re simply compelled to murder people for no systematic reason, and there is little profit in trying to understand why.
However, it’s more often the case that some political subtext is identifiable; and when you read Charles Manson, Jim Jones, Timothy McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski, and Osama Bin Laden, to name a few of the more notable cases, it’s more than a subtext–it’s the main event. Gaining some insight into those politics may allow us to gain a better understanding of the environments that produced them.
Anders Breivik, the 32-year-old Norwegian “patriotic European” responsible for the Oslo tragedy, is the latest notable manifesto author to get the treatment. As such documents go, Breivik’s 1500+ page screed is readable, even though English is his second language; rich with historical, political, and ideological content; and disarmingly lucid, at least until the final several hundred pages, where his habitual stimulant and steroid usage clearly started to catch up with him.
According to Breivik, the attacks were mounted primarily to disseminate and popularize the manifesto, and only secondarily to kill those he had targeted as “cultural Marxist and multiculturalist traitors.” He discusses his prior efforts to raise several million dollars through various IT startup businesses and use the money to finance distribution; he claims to have gotten fairly far along this path before suffering reverses in the market and deciding to murder people instead. In this respect he is not unlike Kaczynski, who famously (and successfully) demanded that his manifesto be published in the Washington Post and the New York times.
Breivik is proud of his business accomplishments and his intellectual abilities, going so far as to include a CV towards the end of his work. He doesn’t have much formal education past the secondary level–maybe the equivalent of a few years of college in the US system–but he is obviously intelligent. He has read considerably in his areas of interest, namely European politics, Islam, and social/ideological history, and offers up a self-designed syllabus of readings he considers important, from Herbert Marcuse and other thinkers from the Frankfurt School to ibn Battuta.
He is far from the ideal autodidact, being neither widely read nor broadly educated. The conclusions he draws from his readings are obviously logically flawed, as well as highly inflected by preexisting biases against Muslims and liberals. He leans especially heavily on writers like Bat Ye’or, who coined the term “Eurabia” and appears to have degenerated from a respected academic expert on religious minorities in Muslim lands to a conspiracy theorist.
Breivik focuses in particular on Ye’or’s concept of “Dhimmitude,” which denotes the relegation of Christians and Jews in lands conquered by Islam to second-class citizenship. The motto of Breivik’s (possibly imaginary) terrorist organization, the Knights Templar, is “Martyrdom before Dhimmitude.” He writes that his negative attitude towards the Muslim immigrant community was catalyzed by many encounters with Pakistani street gangs in Oslo, who are purportedly expanding their territories into “native” Norwegian areas. He asserts repeatedly that this is happening in cities all over Europe.
In the areas that they control, Breivik says, Muslim immigrants victimize whites with impunity, and he explicitly equates their expansion with Islam’s thrusts into Spain and Southeastern Europe during the Middle Ages. He further places himself on a level with the great military heroes of Christendom, such Charles Martel, Richard the Lionhearted and John III Sobieski, who did battle with the “Moors” and defended Christian territories from invasion.
And that is what Breivik believes he is fighting for: “Christendom” as a political and cultural entity, or Christian “civilization” in Samuel Huntington’s sense of the word. Although he has been characterized in the media as a Christian fundamentalist, Breivik displays a surprising level of indifference to the Christian religion, even while he adopts its cultural trappings and terminology.
He notes that when he visited a church to pray a few days before executing his “martyrdom operation,” it was the first time he had done anything of the sort in his adult life, since he has no “personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God.” As such, he recognizes non-Christian cultural conservatives, “Christian atheists,” and even members of other religions, such as Hindus, as potential allies in his “armed anti-Jihad” movement. “It is essential,” Breivik writes, “to understand the difference between a ‘Christian fundamentalist theocracy’ (everything we DO NOT want) and a secular European society based on our Christian cultural heritage (what we DO want).'”
Accordingly, he does not devote much time to addressing typical hot-button social issues among Christian fundamentalists, other than to decry the corrosive influence of “political correctness” on society. He is most interested in “Christian self-defense”, remarking that “the Bible couldn’t be clearer on the right, even the duty we have as Christians to self-defense.”
Thus, Breivik comes across in his writings as a quintessential product of liberal Northern European society. He had a comfortable childhood, during which he enjoyed the fruits of the “Cultural Marxist welfare state” he so abhors. He is multilingual, cosmopolitan, functionally areligious, and well-versed in the ways of the internet (“if you are a European patriot and not on Facebook you need to shape up and adapt”). His meditative rituals of choice are World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, and “vocal trance music” (shudder), and the tail end of his manifesto is filled with smiley faces and other emoticons.
In this and in many other ways, Breivik strikes me as a Norwegian manifestation of Osama Bin Laden, another favored son who turned on and attempted to destroy the society that produced him. Like Bin Laden, he professes his own special interpretation of his religion’s means, but willfully ignores or misinterprets its ends. Like Bin Laden, he distinguishes between a “near enemy” and a “far enemy”. In Breivik’s case, the far enemy is dar al-Islam, which has adopted a policy of “demographic jihad” against Christendom and is bent on world domination. The near enemy is the cultural Marxist and multiculturalist elite of Europe, who are ensconced in the governing structures of the anti-democratic “EUSSR” and have treasonously thrown open Europe’s doors to the Islamic horde for the sake of a permanent voting majority (yes, that logic is more than a little paradoxical).
Like Bin Laden, Breivik is 100% certain that his political vision will become reality, and he is equally willing to wait for results. He lays out a three-phase plan for the Knights Templar and its allies to overthrow the multiculturalist governments of Europe, graduating from terrorism to guerrilla warfare to total civil war. He anticipates that the task will be complete by September 11th, 2083–exactly four hundred years after the Ottomans were repulsed at the gates of Vienna (yes, that date is more than a little chilling).
Like Bin Laden, he considers civilian casualties among the enemy to be justified and necessary. Bin Laden reserved the right to kill several million Americans in revenge for casualties among Muslims in Iraq, Bosnia, and the Caucasus, among other places. Breivik writes that under “the principle of proportionality,” the armed struggle should not produce more than 45,000 dead and 1 million wounded among the enemy, in revenge for depredations inflicted against Christians in European cities, Serbian deaths caused by NATO, and so on.
Like Bin Laden, who famously wrote that the acquisition of nuclear weapons was a “religious duty” for Muslims, Breivik notes that “in order for the attack to gain an influential effect… the use of weapons of mass destruction must be embraced.”
Finally, like Bin Laden, Breivik has maximalist goals. He is thinking big. Initially, he wants to see the governments of Europe fall to a wave of revolutions; the replacement of multiculturalist elite regimes with Putin-style “administered democracies”; the destruction of the European Union; and the expulsion of Europe’s entire Muslim population (those that are unwilling to “fully assimilate” via conversion, anyway) to Muslim countries.
After that happens, he dreams of Christian repossession of large parts of Anatolia and the Levant to recreate the old Crusader states. The ultimate goal is to implement a policy of “separation and containment of Islam” until such a policy is no longer necessary. As Breivik does not believe that Islam can be reformed, this is another way of saying that he wishes to extirpate it entirely, making him the antithesis of the radical Jihadi who wishes the entire world to convert.
How is Breivik NOT like Bin Laden? For one thing, his organizational ideas are very different. He is not out to build a Christian Al Qaeda, with an advanced fundraising apparatus, a central command, and hundreds of operatives stashed all over the world. “Obviously, you are immune to informants/treason if you work alone,” he notes in a criticism of Al Qaeda’s hierarchical cell structure.
Breivik conducted his operation as a solitary merchant of violence–he raised the funds, planned the strike, obtained the weapons, mixed the explosives, and then executed the plan all by himself.
On one level, it is extremely troubling that he was able to kill so many people without any help at all. Ted Kaczynski was also a lone wolf, but he didn’t manage to kill many people. Even McVeigh needed co-conspirator Terry Nichols to attack Oklahoma City. Breivik, on the other hand, was able to leverage his familiarity with the internet to learn how to produce highly sophisticated homemade explosives; his social capital as an upper middle-class Norwegian to remain undetected; his entrepreneurial abilities to raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars required; and his intelligence and education to put all these deadly ingredients together.
On the other hand, it is comforting to learn that Breivik is such an exceptional case. It seems unlikely that many other right-wing extremists share the unique blend of poisonous ethnic hatred, guile, skill, brains, money, and antisocial tendencies necessary to bring a plot like this to fruition. Furthermore, many people who might otherwise become lone wolf terrorists lack the psychological fortitude to remain solitary. Research indicates that peer pressure and group membership/socialization/indoctrination play a large role in terrorist networks. Indeed, Breivik essentially had to drug himself into oblivion in the weeks leading up to July 22nd to keep himself moving forward.
What lessons should we take away from all of this? In retrospect, it seems somewhat surprising that a right-wing, “Christian” terrorist response to Jihadism took this long to appear in the West, but the threat has been real all along. Breivik self-consciously notes that he and others like him can operate without the undue scrutiny from law enforcement ethnic minorities endure as a matter of course; his access to social resources and proximity to the levers of political power are what makes him exceptionally dangerous.
All of that said, murdering dozens of “cultural Marxist” children and young adults in cold blood will prove highly unproductive for Breivik’s cause. This one of the grand paradoxes of terrorism at work. Breivik could not popularize his political agenda without murdering people, mostly because there is little real market for most of its content to begin with. Unfortunately for him, the horror produced by those same murders will prevent that market from expanding, because the heinous nature of the act will surely overwhelm any sympathy a reader might have had for Breivik’s ideas.
Neither the Oslo massacres nor “2083” are likely to inspire future “Knights Templar” to labor in secret and sacrifice themselves for what Breivik believes to be the greater European good. It is far more likely to inspire dialogue and debate in European politics, while redoubling efforts to integrate immigrants into European society.