The Breivik Verdict and Europe’s Far Right
LONDON — The smirk on Anders Behring Breivik’s face was an indication that the Norwegian mass murderer got the verdict he wanted. By sentencing him to 21 years in jail, an Oslo court judged he was sane when he killed 77 people in a bomb and gun rampage a year ago.
It raises the alarming question of how many other sane people might be out there, prepared to murder and maim in pursuit of their far-right extremist beliefs.
Far-right groups and individuals in Europe, including those cited as sources of inspiration in Mr. Breivik’s manifesto, ran for cover in the wake of the Norway killings, distancing themselves from his murderous response to multiculturalism, if not from his ideas.
But the shock felt in Norway and elsewhere when Mr. Breivik struck appears to have done little to reverse the growth of the far-right groups in Europe, where their activities are seen as posing an enduring threat to the Continent’s democratic societies.
A day before the Norwegian verdict, the German police launched raids across the state of North Rhine-Westphalia that were aimed at breaking up a network of far-right extremists, as my colleague Melissa Eddy reported from Berlin.
“These groups are dangerous,” Burkhard Freier, the head of the state’s domestic intelligence agency, said. “We have noticed they are attracting ever more young people to their ideals.”
The rise of the far right has been variously linked to Europe’s harsh economic climate and to an Islamophobic response to fundamentalist Islamist terrorism that post-dates the Al Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Matthew Goodwin, a British expert on the far right, challenged those assumptions in an academic paper last September that noted populist extremist parties continued to rally large and durable levels of support and had even joined coalition governments.
“They emerged before the terrorist attacks on 11 Sept. 2001 and the recent financial crisis,” Dr. Goodwin wrote. “They have rallied support in some of the most economically secure and highly educated regions of Europe.”
He said supporters of all these groups shared one core feature: their profound hostility towards immigration, multiculturalism and rising cultural and ethnic diversity. “Contrary to the conventional wisdom that these citizens are motivated by feelings of economic competition from immigrants and minority groups, feelings of cultural threat are the most important driver of their support.”
In Greece, where austerity is forcing many below the poverty line, the anti-immigrant Golden Dawn does appear to have turned economic concerns and hostility to foreigners into votes, although it remains a small presence in the Greek Parliament.
Golden Dawn has all the outward trappings of a neo-Nazi party, a label it rejects. Elsewhere, far right groups have sought to cast off an earlier Angry White Man image to appeal to a wider electorate, toning down their rhetoric in the process.
The leader of France’s far-right National Front is a woman, Marine Le Pen, who has tempered some of the party’s previous extremist language, all the while denouncing the Muslim “occupation” of France. Like other European far-rightists seeking votes, the Front does not espouse violence.
One aspect of the far-right phenomenon that is worrying European authorities is the increasingly sophisticated use of social media to peddle their ideas, turning to Facebook, Twitter and other “friends” networks to serve as a megaphone for extremist views.
The far right, it emerges, has embraced the new technology with a vengeance. Right-wing extremists are “increasingly active in online social networking, to reach out to a younger generation. The internet is a cheap and effective way of communicating with targeted audiences. This is adding a new dimension to the threat right-wing extremism may present in the future.”
That was from the annual report of Europol, the agency set up to help the European Union’s 27 states fight serious crime and terrorism, published just a few months before Mr. Breivik put out his his rambling 1,500-page online manifesto.
According to the Europol analysis potentially violent groups have successfully shrugged off their old beer hall image and embraced youth culture in order to lure the next generation of supporters. White Power Music concerts that attract hundreds of fans from across Europe are announced only on the internet and staged at secret locations in order to avoid police surveillance.
After the killings in Norway, the Netherlands-based agency announced it was setting up a 50-strong task force to focus on the threat of far right extremism.
The reaction of the European authorities is an indication the threat is real, although it would be inaccurate to portray modern European societies as ripe for the picking by far-right extremists. Global Post, an American human rights Web site recently spotlighted concerns about five European countries, including Greece and France.
In electoral terms, however, voters continue overwhelmingly to choose parties that reject the language of hatred.
At a “counter-jihad” rally in Stockholm this month by European and U.S. far-right groups fewer than 200 people turned up and they were outnumbered by anti-racist protesters.
From The International Herald Tribune. 24.08.12. Report by Harvey Morris