The Roots of Breivik's Rage

Is he a right-wing Christian fanatic? To what group will he be assigned?

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In a closed court hearing today in Oslo, the man suspected of killing 76 people (by the latest count) in Norway on Friday said he targeted his country's Labor Party because the "price of their treason is what they had to pay." The suspect, 32-year-old Anders Breivik, had requested the hearing be open so he could use the tragic killing spree as a "marketing" opportunity for his anti-immigration, nativist philosophy. But while the court denied his request, his writings have been painstakingly translated and re-published by the media in an effort better understand Breivik and, in some cases, assign blame to his intellectual forebears. Often times, when Islam-inspired attacks lead to bloodshed, much is made of whether moderate Muslims have condemned such actions. Do Christians and the political right owe the world a similar round of denunciations? Here's what bloggers and reporters are finding out about the  roots of Breivik's rage and who, if any, share some blame.

He was inspired by Americans, writes Scott Shane in The New York Times. Examing his 1,500-page manifesto, the Times reporter discovers that Breivik was "deeply influenced by a small group of American bloggers" including Jihad Watch blogger Robert Spencer, Atlas Shrugs blogger Pamela Gellar and the pseudonymously-written blog Gates of Vienna.

In the document he posted online, Anders Behring Breivik... showed that he had closely followed the acrimonious American debate over Islam. His manifesto, which denounced Norwegian politicians as failing to defend the country from Islamic influence, quoted Robert Spencer, who operates the Jihad Watch Web site, 64 times, and cited other Western writers who shared his view that Muslim immigrants pose a grave danger to Western culture.

Breivik's manifesto also plagiarized the work of infamous unabomber Ted Kaczynski, who killed three people and injured two dozen through letter bombs sent between 1978 and 1995. In a series of quotations, Breivik merely replaces Kaczynksi's use of the word "Leftists" or "left" with "cultural Marxism" or "multi-culturalism." Both expressed a deep mistrust of socialist government and a pluralistic society in general (for a side-by-side of their writings, see here).

Make no mistake, he was inspired by the right, writes Roger Cohen at The New York Times: "Breivik is no loner. His violence was brewed in a specific European environment that shares characteristics with the specific American environment of Loughner: relative economic decline, a jobless recovery, middle-class anxiety and high levels of immigration serving as the backdrop for racist Islamophobia and use of the spurious specter of a “Muslim takeover” as a wedge political issue to channel frustrations rightward."

He's a right-winger but he's no Christian, writes Ross Douthat at The New York Times: "Despite what the Norwegian authorities suggested over the weekend, [his] beliefs probably aren’t a form of Christian fundamentalism. Breivik’s writings bear no resemblance to the theology of a Jerry Falwell or an Oral Roberts, and his nominal Christianity ('I guess I’m not an excessively religious man,' he writes at one point) seems to be more of an expression of European identity politics and anti-Islamic chauvinism than any genuine religious fervor. But it’s fair to call Breivik a right-winger."

Linking Breivik's philosophy to the right is foolish, writes Joshua Foust at The Atlantic:

In reality, no one really understands why they or anyone else behaves the way they do. Lots and lots of people -- not just on the Internet but in Europe, and even within Norway -- think and write things very similar to what Breivik thought and wrote. Across the continent, a pretty explicitly racist backlash against not just immigrants but Muslims immigrants is growing, and Breivik was active in that ideological community. Very few of them ever become violent in any way. Breivik may have come from the European anti-Muslim right wing, but he certainly does not represent it.

it requires an especially deranged mind already far outside the mainstream to decide to slaughter children at summer camp just because it is run by a left-wing political party. Associating that sort of mentality with the mainstream is not just wrong and lazy, it is hypocritical.

Breivik is an Old Testament kind of guy, writes Washington Post religion contributor Matthew Schmalz:

The Christian history that Breivik seeks to reenact is not the passion of Jesus Christ, but the narrative of the Crusades. Breivik rhapsodizes about battles and lists the indulgences promises to Crusaders by Popes Urban II and Innocent III. Although he wishes that Benedict XVI would call Christendom to crusade, Breivik argues that the Roman Pontiff has been too accommodating to Islam and has thus betrayed the Church and Europe as a whole. The new Crusade will thus have to be initiated outside the authority of decadent institutional churches. Breivik’s description of how this Crusade will transpire has exaggerated contours of a computer game-it’s Valhalla via Warcraft.

Hastily labeling him a right-winger is unfair  Brian Kilmeade on this morning's Fox & Friends brought on contributor Walid Phares who's also digested Breivik's writings and finds that his behavior is more indicative of a crazed loner more than an unhinged right-winger. Phares also notes that Breivik loathes all immigration, not just Muslim immigration. In a pointed question, Kilmeade asks “are you surprised somewhat that western newspapers, in this case The New York Times seem to be jumping on the fact that they are trying to equate Christian extremists with Muslim extremists, the headline today for example “The Killings In Norway Spotlight Anti-Muslim Thought In U.S. What does one thing have to do with the other?”

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