WASHINGTON –– The man responsible for the July 22 Norway terror attacks, Anders Behring Breivik, is not only against Muslims but also anti-Jewish and anti-Christian, according to a longtime observer of Norwegian hate groups.
Breivik is at least philosophically allied with a loosely organized underground subculture of Norwegians who consider themselves “Odinists and neo-pagans,” said Jeffrey Podoshen, an associate professor of marketing at Franklin & Marshall College, a liberal arts school in Lancaster, Pa. He teaches classes in business, organizations and society, and Judaic studies.
Odin is an ancient Norse god sometimes better know these days as the father of another Norse god, Thor, but in Norse mythology is associated with war, battle, victory, death, wisdom, magic, poetry, prophecy, and the hunt.
This subculture, Podoshen told Catholic News Service in a July 26 telephone interview, is “looking at Christianity as Breivik looks at Islam.”
After confessing to the shooting massacre of youths at an island retreat and the bombing in Oslo, the Norwegian capital, which together took 76 lives, Breivik in an initial court hearing July 25 pleaded not guilty to terrorism charges. He said he was acting to save Europe from what he described as “Muslim colonization.”
Terror activities associated with the neo-pagan subculture “has been going on in Norway for 20 years,” Podoshen said, largely in the form of church burnings. The neo-pagans’ assertion was that “the churches were deliberately built on pagan holy sites, they (church builders) had put a cross on top of the pagan holy site,” which then warranted its destruction, he added.
“Their version of Christianity is a lot different than everybody else’s definition of Christianity,” according to Podoshen. “It’s not the type of Christianity that you and I are going to be accustomed to. This is Christianity that has been twisted for their purposes.”
These groups also hate American imperialism as they define it, but “they certainly hate Islam more than anything else,” Podoshen said.
Podoshen said he stumbled onto Norwegian hate groups from his love of heavy-metal rock music. Norway’s brand of heavy metal is often referred to as “death metal” or “black metal,” with soundscapes on disc that made the listener feel it was “the end of the world,” he said.
Many of the performers, and some of their fans, subscribed to the neo-pagan thinking. “They just did not like the modern Norwegian way of life,” Podoshen said. For them, he added, “McDonald’s is American imperialism. For them, ‘building the new’ is actually going back to the old.”
“The scary thing is that Anders Breivik was influenced by anti-Muslim ideologues in the United States,” said Heidi Beirich, research director at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., which tracks hate groups of all stripes operating in the United States.
Breivik’s 1,500-page manifesto was peppered with items pulled from several U.S. blogs, including those of Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller.
“We list their websites as hate sites because of their Muslim-bashing,” Beirich said. It’s not that the bloggers intend to incite violence, she added, but when bloggers repeatedly say “‘Muslims are coming here to destroy our country, Muslims are coming here to destroy our culture, Muslims are inspired by an ideology to kill you,’ someone makes them out to be the enemy – and then they want to take the enemy out.”
Similar organizations monitor hate groups exist throughout Europe, Beirich told CNS. The problem takes on a different dimension in Europe as anti-immigrant political parties have sprung up and captured a significant minority of the vote in elections, she said. “Anti-immigrant parties in Europe tend to be anti-Islam,” according to Beirich. “Most of the (U.S.) immigrant bashing is anti-Latino bashing.”
Randall Rogan, a professor of communication at Wake Forest University who over the past eight years has examined the language and discourse of terrorism, said that while Breivik “does his best to distance himself from neo-Nazism due to the political correctness of the issue … he seems to be coming from that school of thought, which is pro-nationalism or pan-European Christian identify, but the entire anti-Marxist, anti-cultural imperialism, anti-jihadism thing.”
Norway was “very, very low” on terrorism observers’ watch lists, Rogan said, “because of the nature, the culture, the peace-loving tolerance, the elements characteristic of Norway … simply because it’s the location of the Nobel Prize.”
Terror acts can change a nation’s psyche and alter its political culture.
In Israel, a radical right-winger in 1995 assassinated then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, for having signed a peace deal the year before with the Palestinians – ironically, in Oslo – yet Israel today seems no closer to peace with the still-stateless Palestinians as it did then. But Rogan doesn’t see that kind of change happening in Norway.
“Conditions are completely different. (Israel is) responding to the daily threat of potential annihilation or bombings, not knowing if you’re going to get hit by a rocket from the north or the south,” Rogan said. “Norway is such a completely different culture and has not experienced the same kind of existential threat as Israel has.”
Still, Rogan asks about Breivik, “Did he win? Well, he’s winning to the extent that he gets recognition and coverage, which I think he seeks as part of his desire for acknowledges of his belief system. He’s got what he’s wanted. People are talking about him. Will there by copycats? Will there be others who buy into his ideology? Possibly.”
Beirich is worried about copycats, noting the sharp rise in anti-Muslim sentiment from the controversy last year over the Park 51 project, an Islamic cultural center that became known in shorthand as the “ground zero mosque.”
“We’re very fearful about what the 9/11 anniversary is going to bring,” Beirich said. “We don’t want an Anders Breivik situation here as well.”