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July 24, 2011 7:00 pm
Experts and Norwegian politicians say Anders Behring Breivik in many respects typifies a new breed of conservative extremists who have risen in prominence in recent years, in Norway and across Europe, supplanting longer-established but often withering groups of mostly white supremacists.
“He’s representative of a new type of rightwing extremism. Rather than the old neo-Nazis they are pro-Israel and driven by radical anti-Islam,” says a senior Norwegian Conservative politician. “This is a clear trend across Europe, which has been gaining ground and becoming more mainstream in many countries.”
In addition to Norway’s Progress party – of which Mr Breivik was a member – the anti-immigrant Danish Peoples’ party, the rehabilitated neo-Nazi Sweden Democrats, the True Finns, Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom in the Netherlands and France’s National Front have become electoral forces in recent years.
Norway and the Nordic countries have in the past had relatively large neo-Nazi movements. While the Sweden Democrats have been able to enter national politics, most other groups have faded over time.
The most infamous far-right group in Norway was Nasjonal Samling, Vidkun Quisling’s party that ruled Norway during the German occupation in the second world war. The party disappeared after liberation – and overtly neo-Nazi groups have often struggled to gain mass support due to an association with the occupation – but several similar homegrown movements have since sprung up.
Chief among these is Vigrid, a white supremacist group that venerated Norse gods, and White Choice Alliance, which unsuccessfully contested parliamentary elections in 1997. Vigrid was closed down in 2009 after the retirement of chief ideologue Tore Tvedt, and White Choice faded in the late 1990s, to be replaced by smaller groups.
While Mr Breivik dismisses the larger anti-immigration parties’ prospects for change through democratic means – and neo-Nazi parties, which he groups in communists and Muslims – he frequently lauds fringe groups in his manifesto.
These groups include Stop Islamisation of America and Stop Islamisation of Europe, websites such as JihadWatch and Gates of Vienna, and the True Finns, some of whose members were sent the manifesto shortly before his killing spree started.
Mr Breivik also talks of his links to and friendship with members of the UK’s English Defence League. But he chides the EDL for being “dangerously naive” in pursuing a democratic path, and instead advises it to attack a nuclear plant to “cripple the British economy, contributing to creating an optimal climate for significant political change”.
Groups cited in Mr Breivik’s screed rushed to condemn the attacks and disavow any links to him.
Experts are uncertain if the attacks are part of, or could trigger, a wider phenomenon of rightwing violence in Europe. “The nationalist, anti-immigration movement has first and foremost been an internet phenomenon,” says Tore Bjorgo, an expert on rightwing extremism and professor at the Norwegian Police University College. “It was pretty unexpected that the movement would breed terrorism of this kind.”
Mr Breivik is thought to have operated alone, and experts say allusions to a larger pan-European organisation may be a figment of his imagination. But it is much harder to detect radicalisation among the new strain of conservative extremists because of the movement’s lack of cohesion and its online nature, Mr Bjorgo warns.
Hans-Peter Friedrich, Germany’s interior minister, called for an early warning system for European security services to alert each other to potential threats, including from extreme rightwing radicals.
He said the German security services were already watching far-right political activists “intensively”, but the “dreadful” events in Norway proved the dangers that still existed from the acts of fanatical individuals.
“Security precautions in Germany are already at a very high level,” he told Bild am Sonntag newspaper. “They are constantly reviewed. Current developments and events are always taken into account.”
Meanwhile Europol, the European police agency based in The Hague, announced it was setting up a task force of more than 50 experts to help investigate non-Islamist threats in Scandinavian countries.
Soeren Pedersen, an agency spokesman, said “there have actually been warnings that [rightwing groups] are getting more professional, more aggressive in the way they attract others to their cause”.
It is clear from Mr Breivik’s manifesto – for which the bloody attacks were partially a marketing ploy – that he fully expects to have fired the first shots in a civilisational conflict.
“The first raindrop marks the coming of a great and unstoppable cultural conservative tidal wave. This tidal wave will release western Europe of cultural Marxism and will result in the banishment of Islam for the third time,” he wrote. “Celebrate us, the martyrs of the conservative revolution, for we will soon dine in the kingdom of heaven.”
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