Various media are currently reporting that a 'lone wolf' perpetrator of terrorism in Norway, who has so far killed upwards of 90 people (mainly youths), MAY be linked to far right/neo-Nazi/fundamentalist Christian groups, and hold anti-Muslim views. The attacks have left more casualties than 7/7.
I've just published an alleged list of internet posts by the shooter, Anders Behring Breivik. These reveal he was particularly concerned about the impact of immigration, multiculturalism and Muslims/Islam. They also suggest he held a high view of the anti-Islam English Defence League (EDL) and was influenced by a broader narrative across Europe that has been adopted by the far right. Rather than focus on the importance of race and ethnicity, this narrative frames opposition to minority groups such as Muslims along the lines of culture.
Seen from one perspective, the attacks by alone wolf are surprising. In recent years, the attention of security services across Europe has focused heavily on preventing al-Qaeda (or 'AQ') inspired acts of terrorism. In fact, I was told only recently by a member of the security services in Britain that the threat of violence from ultra right-wing groups is only minor when set against their AQ and Northern Irish counterparts. Perhaps for these reasons, many early commentators were quick to associate the Oslo attacks with this form of extremism.
Seen from another perspective, however, for several reasons the attacks in Oslo are not that surprising. First, both Norway and Sweden have had a relatively active neo-Nazi scene for years. Indeed, this is not the first example of right-wing violence in Oslo. Second, recent years have seen growing support across Scandinavia for right-wing movements and their ideas, most noticeably in Sweden where the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim Sweden Democrats (SD) recently entered the national parliament. Third, this trend of rising support for the right-wing has been taking place across the continent more generally, arguably producing a more receptive climate for right-wing ideas and activists. And fourth, with much attention focusing on alternative forms of extremism, it might well be the case that increased space was created for the lesser studied and understood right-wing groups.
In fact, analysts have long predicted that members of more ultra-violent right-wing groups may resort to 'direct action' methods. In our study of extremism that was published last year, we warned of the dangers of 'cumulative extremism', namely when one form of extremism (e.g. far right) responds violently to the rise of another form of extremism (e.g. violent Islamism). An example might include an activist bombing a Mosque in response to the 'threat' posed by growing Muslim populations, and then AQ-inspired groups retaliating. In Britain, we have not seen this process since Northern Ireland.
I also only recently finished reviewing an academic study of al-Qaeda (AQ) inspired terrorism that predicted how the 'next wave' of terrorism in Europe will come not from Islamists but ultra-violent far right groups, partly as a backlash against immigration, rising ethno-cultural diversity and AQ-inspired terrorism. The attacks in Oslo have a clear political motivation, being directed toward youth representatives of the political mainstream. It may turn out to be the case that the perpetrator did not feel that the main parties were responding adequately to broader threats.
Nor is the threat from lone wolves restricted to Norway and Scandinavia. Two years ago, anti-terrorism officers in Britain warned of the growing threat from lone wolf activists. This was underscored by the case of Robert Cottage who was convicted after being found stockpiling chemical explosives. And before him the attack by David Copeland - 'the London Nailbomber' - who sought to trigger race war by targeting members of Bengali and homosexual communities. The broader threat of lone wolf terror is also underscored by the fact that, prior to 9/11, the most destructive attack on American soil was perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh, a right-wing activist, not Islamists.
What potential motives might be at work?
I spent almost four years interviewing activists on the far right, many of whom had no direct association with violence. However, within the far right there is unquestionably a culture of violence that is reflected in several core narratives: the belief that members of the in-group are embroiled in a 'survivalist struggle' and that their ethnic or religious group is facing threat of extinction because of immigration and rising diversity; the belief in the need to take urgent and radical action to defend the group from these wider threats; and a sense of moral obligation to take this action on behalf of their children and grandchildren. These motives provide followers with compelling reasons not only to join fundamentalist groups, but also to take direct action on their behalf.
Based on this research, I suspect that when Breivik's motivations become clear we will be hearing a lot about threats in Norwegian society: the threat of multiculturalism, the threat posed by the presence and growth of Muslim communities, and the need to take radical action against the inefficacious mainstream parties (particularly the Labour Party). Like the activists who I interviewed, the posts left by Breivik also reveal an obsession with demographic statistics: the growth of minority communities and differential birth rates across different groups. This is often used as a justification for taking urgent, and radical action.
Clearly, other motives might be at work, for example a conspiratorial outlook that traces changes like immigration or the emergence of Islamist terror to mysterious elite groups or 'corrupt' mainstream parties. This might lead perpetrators to target mainstream parties (or their youth wings) and international organizations like the United Nations. Foremost, however, it is a belief that the wider community (whether ethnic, religious, etc.) is under threat that leads some individuals toward the far right. The source of this perceived threat may vary: AQ terror, settled Muslim communities, immigration or supranational organizations (e.g. the EU).
Many thanks to Matthew Goodwin for permission to republish this article