By Matthew N. Lyons
Anders Behring Breivik has been called a neonazi and a Christian fundamentalist. Both of these labels are misleading, although both contain elements of truth. Breivik is an Islamophobe and a right-wing conspiracy monger, but he does not promote Nazi-style Jew-hatred or call for imposing Biblical doctrines on society. His strongest political influences appear to be pro-Zionist, largely secular "counter-jihadists" who disavow traditional racism and maintain significant ties with political elites.
Understanding Breivik's politics not only helps us understand the July 22 massacre in Norway for which he has accepted responsibility, but also highlights important trends and interconnections in right-wing politics in Europe, the U.S., and beyond. This is a difficult task given the size and complexity of Breivik's 1,500-page manifesto/compilation 2083 - A European Declaration of Independence, not to mention his other writings. His work draws on many different political sources, which do not always agree with each other. For these reasons, any summation of Breivik's politics at this point needs to be tentative. So far I have only read bits and pieces of Breivik's writings and am relying here primarily on others' excerpts and interpretations. I hope that my efforts to pull the pieces together are useful.
The forces from which Breivik primarily draws inspiration include Geert Wilders's Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, the English Defence League (EDL), and the Gates of Vienna blog; in the United States they also include neoconservative-oriented Islamophobes such as Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, co-founders of Stop Islamization of America (SIOA). These and similar groups form a loosely affiliated "counter-jihad" movement. They are deeply hostile to Islam, Muslim immigration, multiculturalism, Marxism, and feminism, but they also endorse Israel, disavow traditional far right biological racism, and to varying degrees distance themselves from more anti-establishment (and often explicitly antisemitic) white nationalists, paleoconservatives, and neonazis.
Broadly speaking, these forces promote a harsher version of mainstream conservatism's Islamophobia and nativism, although their relationships with established elites vary significantly. Spencer and Geller, for example, have close ties with David Horowitz, who is a longtime fixture in the elite-sponsored network of neocon think tanks and publications. In contrast, the EDL is much more rooted in a "football hooligan" subculture of right-wing street violence. The EDL is a split-off from the fascist British National Party (BNP) but has defined itself as anti-racist and anti-Nazi, supports Zionism, and recruits Jews and people of color.
A counter-jihadist political orientation is evident in the compendium of Breivik's online comments about Islam and multiculturalism that was posted the day after the massacres. These are Google translations of Breivik's original comments in Norwegian. His references to the "Vienna School of Thought" apparently refer to the Gates of Vienna blog and to the defeat of Turkish (i.e., Muslim) forces in the 1683 Battle of Vienna:
"Ethnocentric movements that BNP [British National Party], National Front [in France] is not successful and will never be able to get over 10% support... One can not fight racism (multikulti) with racism. Ethnocentrism is therefore the complete opposite of what we want to achieve.
"We have selected the Vienna School of Thought as the ideological basis. This implies opposition to multiculturalism and Islamization (on cultural grounds). All ideological arguments based on anti-racism."
"To sums up the Vienna school of thought:
-Cultural Conservatism (anti-multiculturalism)
-Anti-authoritarian (resistance to all authoritarian ideologies of hate)
-Pro-Israel/forsvarer of non-Muslim minorities in Muslim countries
-Defender of the cultural aspects of Christianity
-To reveal the Eurabia project and the Frankfurt School (ny-marxisme/kulturmarxisme/multikulturalisme)
-Is not an economic policy and can collect everything from socialists to capitalists"
"Many kulturmarxister look at Israel as a 'racist' state. Cultural conservatives disagree when they believe the conflict is based on Islamic imperialism, that Islam is a political ideology and not a race. Cultural conservatives believe Israel has a right to protect themselves against the Jihad."
Breivik's profession of "anti-racism" is consistent with other counter-jihadists' efforts to distance themselves from the traditional far right. Despite this strategic orientation that defines the clash with Islam in cultural and political terms, Breivik also promotes more traditional racist ideology. As Sara Posner notes, he devotes several pages of his manifesto (pp. 1151-65 – all page references are to the pdf version of 2083 cited above) to denouncing "race-mixing" and discussing how to "prevent the extinction of the Nordic tribes" – passages that make him sound like a true white nationalist. Helen Highwater points out that (on p. 847) he also praises the Swedish Nazi singer Saga, who he claims (falsely) has moved away from Nazism. On the other hand, Breivik's manifesto repeatedly draws parallels between Nazism and Islam.
In the same section where he discusses race-mixing, Breivik denounces Hitler as "a traitor to the Nordic-Germanic tribes":
"Thanks to his insane campaign and the subsequent genocide of the 6 million Jews, multiculturalism, the anti-European hate ideology was created. Multiculturalism would never have been implemented in Europe if it hadn't been for the NSDAP's [Nazi Party's] reckless and unforgivable actions."
Apparently forgetting that Palestine was then under British control, Breivik continues, "Hitler had the military capabilities necessary to liberate Jerusalem and the nearby provinces from Islamic occupation. He could have easily worked out an agreement with the UK and France to liberate the ancient Jewish Christian lands with the purpose of giving the Jews back their ancestral lands…. The deportation of the Jews from Germany wouldn't be popular but eventually, the Jewish people would regard Hitler as a hero because he returned the Holy land to them (p. 1163)."
Unlike the Nazis (or neonazis today), Breivik supports Zionism (in hard-line form including the expulsion of all Muslim Palestinians from Israel) and does not demonize all Jews as a group:
"Jews that support multiculturalism today are as much of a threat to Israel and Zionism (Israeli nationalism) as they are to us. So let us fight together with Israel, with our Zionist brothers against all anti-Zionists, against all cultural Marxists/multiculturalists. Conservative Jews were loyal to Europe and should have been rewarded. Instead, [Hitler] just targeted them all… So, are the current Jews in Europe and US disloyal? The multiculturalist (nation-wrecking) Jews ARE while the conservative Jews ARE NOT. Aprox. 75% of European/US Jews support multiculturalism while aprox. 50% of Israeli Jews does the same. This shows very clearly that we must embrace the remaining loyal Jews as brothers rather than repeating the mistake of the NSDAP. Whenever I discuss the Middle East issue with a national socialist he presents the anti-Israeli and pro-Palestine argument. He always seem unaware of the fact that his propaganda is hurting Israeli nationalists (who want to deport the Muslims from Israel) and that he is in fact helping the Israeli cultural Marxists/multiculturalists with his argumentation (p. 1163)."
What about the description of Breivik as a Christian fundamentalist? Apparently this originated partly with comments by the Norwegian police shortly after the killings, and was picked up by many commentators. Breivik's writings include many references to defending Christianity as part of his cultural conservative program, and some of his ideas are certainly shared by Christian rightists, such as fears of a "demographic winter" among European Christians. Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates (with whom I co-wrote the book Right-Wing Populism in America) argues that Breivik's core conspiracy theory (that cultural Marxists have promoted multiculturalism in order to undermine western Civilization) is largely derived from Christian right sources – specifically the work of Paul Weyrich and William Lind of the Free Congress Foundation. Weyrich was a prime strategist of the U.S. "New Right" and Christian right in the 1970s and 1980s.
But it is misleading to say that Breivik is himself a Christian rightist or fundamentalist. Unlike Christian rightists, he places little priority on banning abortion or homosexuality, and he does not support any form of dominion theology, the belief that Christian men are called by God to take control of society. Posner quotes Breivik's manifesto: It is "essential 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)" (p. 1361). This statement closely matches historian Nikki Keddie's distinction between "religious fundamentalism" and "religious nationalism." Religious fundamentalism, as a political movement, is about doctrinal purity and imposing a specific set of religious practices on society. Religious nationalism places little or no emphasis on doctrinal purity, but rather uses religious identity as a marker to exclude and vilify non-members. In these terms, the U.S. Christian right is a religious fundamentalist movement, but Breivik is a Christian nationalist -- not a fundamentalist.
Michael Altman also points out that Breivik's political vision is not exclusively Christian in focus. His manifesto describes "a utopia where the right wings of the world's religions defend one another against Islam and Marxism." In Breivik's vision for a new Europe, for example, a "Multi-Cultural Force Medal" would be awarded "for military cooperation with nationalist Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, and/or atheist forces (non-European) on Hindu, Buddhist or Jewish territory. These efforts must be directed against Jihadi or cultural Marxist forces, personnel or interests" (p. 1086). Breivik pays particular attention to India, including in 2083 an essay by Hindu nationalist Shrinandan Vyas about Muslim "genocides" against Hindus. "It is essential," Breivik writes, "that the European and Indian resistance movements learn from each other and cooperate as much as possible. Our goals are more or less identical" (p. 1475). This sentiment resonates with Hindu nationalists' efforts in recent years to build alliances with western Islamophobes, especially right-wing Zionists.
Efforts by left-leaning commentators to report on Breivik's politics have been mixed. The online magazine Religion Dispatches has done a particularly good job of presenting a rounded, complex picture of Breivik's writings. The pieces by Sarah Posner and Michael Altman cited above appeared on Religion Dispatches.
Many commentators on the right have responded to Breivik with defensiveness and denial. This has been particularly true among neocon counter-jihadists such as Geller and Spencer. More substantive analysis comes from a few rightist critics of neoconservatism and Zionism, such as Justin Raimondo. Editor of AntiWar.com, Raimondo is a paleocon-leaning libertarian who supported Pat Buchanan's presidential campaigns. Raimondo notes Breivik's debt to Weyrich but emphasizes his ties with the pro-Zionist Islamophobes of SIOA, David Horowitz's Frontpagemag.com, and the EDL. Breivik's video account of the Islamic threat, Raimondo writes, "is neoconservatism, of the old cold war variety, with the only difference being that International Islam has taken the place of International Communism as our unsleeping foe." Raimondo's criticism of Islamophobia is to be applauded, but unfortunately he doesn't mention that paleocons such as his old friend Pat Buchanan have been just as complicit as neocons in promoting Islamophobia. (Indeed, Buchanan's own commentary on the Norwegian massacre denounces Breivik as "evil" but maintains that "a burgeoning Muslim presence" is still the greater threat facing Europe.)
Kevin MacDonald, editor of the white nationalist and antisemitic Occidental Observer, also pinpoints Breivik's main orientation: "a Geert Wilders-type of cultural conservative, very opposed to ethnocentrism as a strategy, very positive about the Vienna School, pro-Israel, and also very hostile toward Muslims." As Leah Nelson writes on the Southern Poverty Law Center's blog, MacDonald applauds many elements of Breivik's analysis yet "is obviously perplexed by Breivik's professed support for Israel" and by his general failure to target Jewish elites. MacDonald speculates that this may be a tactical maneuver by Breivik.
Anders Behring Breivik doesn't fit the standard expectations for a right-wing terrorist. He is not a Timothy McVeigh or a Paul Hill – not a neonazi or a hardline Christian rightist. Although strongly influenced by white nationalism and Christian rightist conspiracy theories, his primary orientation is to a political network that is closer to mainstream conservatism and, at least in the United States, closer to established political elites. This doesn't mean that the line has disappeared between mainstream right and far right, but the interplay between them has become even uglier and more violent than before.