The roots of Breivik's ideology: where does the romantic male warrior ideal come from today?

Breivik should be understood as an ideologue driven by reasons and not just as a psychological case. A careful reading of his 2083 manifesto reveals four distinct influences we need to understand: contemporary Islamophobic ideologies, cultural conservative/neo-Confederate traditions, elements of modern White Power thinking, and anti-feminist thought

“As a Justiciar Knight you are operating as a jury, judge and executioner on behalf of all free Europeans. It is better to kill too many than not enough ... the time for dialogue is over ... the time for armed resistance has come”. Anders Behring Breivik, "2083".

The terrorist attacks in Oslo were not an outburst of irrational madness, but a calculated act of political violence. The carnage was a manifestation of a certain logic that can and should be explained, if we want to avoid a repetition. “Our shock attacks are theatre and theatre is always performed for an audience”, writes Breivik.

The self-appointed knight gave himself the stage name Sigurd – the Crusader, and had in preparation distributed his manifesto to thousands of recipients in the far-right Islamophobic milieu, posted a summary of its content on YouTube, and provided the world’s journalists with promotional pictures of himself in captivating poses, sporting formal uniform or designed combat gear with the insignia “Marxist Hunter”.

When Breivik was brought to the pre-trial hearings, he was remarkably contented. Newspapers and television channels had eagerly published his promo photos, the YouTube film had been downloaded thousands of times, the manifesto had already been translated to various languages, including Dutch, Finish, French, German, Polish, Russian, and Serbian, and hundreds of anti-Muslim websites and Internet users look to spread it further. Hence, the attacks were carried out by a man with a faith that he shares with the political milieu he is a product of, a milieu that he is intent to guide into an even more violent path. 

Let’s enter Breivik’s world of ideas by reviewing his extensive manifesto 2083, named after the year by which the assailant imagines that his ultimate goal should eventually have been achieved: a mono-cultural Christian Europe without Muslims and traitors. It has been pointed out that the work is largely a hotchpotch of texts, whose original authors are not always acknowledged, which is true. It does not make 2083 less interesting, as it gives us an opportunity to track his library. By reading what Breivik read, we get an entry into his thinking.

The day after the attacks, Hans Rustad - initiator of the Norwegian anti-Muslim Forum document.no where Breivik had been a frequent participant – revealed that "large parts" of 2083 was plagiarized from the Unabomber Manifesto, published in 1995 by anti-modernist and technology critic Ted Kaczynski, who conducted a series of 16 bomb attacks on universities and airline companies. As the “exposure” was cabled around in the mediascape, the parliamentary wing of the anti-Muslim scene that still value its democratic veneer let out a sigh of relief.

But is it true? Well, not really. Three (3) of the 1516 pages of Breivik’s 2083 are taken from the Unabomber Manifesto, from a section where Kaczynski attacks the "left". The rest comes from elsewhere. Looking at Breivik’s main influences, four influential thought currents may be identified: contemporary Islamophobic ideologies, cultural conservative/neo-Confederate traditions, elements of modern White Power thinking, and anti-feminist thought, all framed by a distinctly romantic male warrior ideal. 

The leitmotif is Islamophobic. Here, Breivik draws extensively on material produced by American anti-Muslim writers Robert Spencer, Gregory M. Davis, Andrew Bostom, and Daniel Pipes, British conspiracy theorist Bat Ye'or (Gisèle Littman), Dutch far right politician Geert Wilders, Flemish ultra-nationalist Koenraad Elst and the productive Norwegian anti-Muslim author who writes under the pseudonym Fjordman, all of whom have contributed significantly to the return of restyled brown parties to Western European parliaments.

Evoking a Manichean struggle between the forces of light and darkness, Breivik alleges that the Western world for 1300 years has been locked in an apocalyptic conflict with “Islam”, depicted as an animated being with a sinister agency, who tirelessly seeks the eradication of Christian Europe, hailed as the outpost of freedom in the world. Muslims, construed as an imagined collective bestowed with inherent, timeless and malevolent features, have gradually begun to colonize the West. Through continuous childbearing, they have engaged in a demographic warfare that will be militarized as soon as Muslims become sufficiently numerous. The masterminds of the Islamic world conspiracy have contracted specific categories of Westerners: politicians, scholars, corporate CEO's, and journalists who deceive the good-hearted European folk with their talk about dialogue, multiculturalism, and equality and label those who dare to speak the truth "racists" and "Islamophobes." 

To make resistance possible, the spell cast by the intellectual traitors needs to be broken. Here, Breivik mobilizes texts from cultural and radical conservative ranks. In line with the main current of anti-intellectual populism, Breivik lambasts "political correctness", "multiculturalism" and "cultural Marxism" and its supposed hegemony in the universities.

Without indicating that he has ever read or understood the theories of those attacked, Breivik plagiarize William S. Lind, director of the Centre of Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation to decry the works of a series of seminal thinkers, including Freud, Marx, Gramsci, Adorno, Reich, Marcuse, Foucault and Derrida, and has a special grievance against Edward Said, postcolonial studies, poststructuralism and queer theory. The perceived antidote is to banish them all from the universities, and by restricting the syllabus to conservative thinkers restoring the value of European culture and its achievements, including the benefits of colonialism. This is easier said than done, though, as the imagined power of the intellectual traitors is held to be omniscient and omnipotent. 

The underdog position that enables Breivik to engage in a “resistance” is construed by adopting two groundbreaking conclusions drawn by activists within the modern white power milieu. In the late 1970s, early 1980s, American white racist champions began to realize that they had lost the battle for constitutional power. Enemies of the white race had overtaken Congress and eradicated the race laws that previously had ensured white American defined privileges. Hence, the 100% American patriotism of the first thee waves of the Ku Klux Klan was definitely outdated. Violence should no longer be primarily directed against blacks or new immigrants, but aimed at the race traitors in power. When police authorities and intelligence agencies transformed from friend to enemy, resistance could no longer follow the classical model, with member-based organizations that could be infiltrated and monitored. Instead, the strategy of “leaderless resistance” developed, with a propaganda oriented public branch that remained within the legal framework, and an armed underground of clandestine cells and lone wolf assassins, who were themselves responsible for financing and executing operations.

Seminal to this development were former Klan leader Louis Beam, Odinist David Lane of the Silent Brotherhood and Wotansvolk, and William Pierce, author of the white racist bestsellers Turner Diaries and Hunter. The perspective spread throughout the globalized white power milieu, including to Sweden where it inspired (among others) the Laser Man, the racist serial killer who haunted Stockholm in the early 1990’s and his copy cat Laser Man 2, who shot a series of Muslim or Muslim-looking immigrants in Malmoe in 2009 and 2010.  

The sections of 2083 which deals with organizational issues, military strategy and gives advice on how to get weapons, make bombs, and plan attacks are fully in line with the leaderless resistance perspective. 

 

On other key points, Breivik is at odds with the white power milieu. He is noticeably ambivalent on the race issue, and 2083 both takes exception to and yet simultaneously embraces racism. Breivik writes that he initially “hesitated to including the word race, white or ethnicity” as I “convinced myself originally that I was first and foremost against Islam, and that writing about skin colour… would only complicate this fight”.

Yet, by the end of the day, Breivik decided to include long excerpts from the British National Party publication From Titans to Lemmings - The Suicide of the White Race.  On one issue, the break with the white power milieu is definite. Breivik has no sympathy for anti-Semitism, and urges the pockets of Nazi storm-troopers out there to reserve their hatred for Muslims. In this, Breivik embraces the pro-Israeli right wing perspective of the English Defence League and Sweden Democrats, seeing Israeli far right politicians Avigdor Lieberman and Benjamin Netanyahu as natural allies in the war against Islam.

Feminism, as a movement for equality and emancipation, infuriated Breivik greatly. Citing standardized cultural conservative notions, Breivik decries feminism as an ideology contrary to nature that has undermined family values and contributed to Western decadence. Born in 1979, Breivik nostalgically envision an imaginary world of the 1950s, when men were men, women were housewives, children were well behaved, and when there were neither criminality nor Muslims in our countries.

Feminists favour multiculturalism, care for refugees, and have feminized Western men who thus have lost their ability to fight. This facilitates the Muslim effort to Islamize Europe, which Breivik like conservative authors Phyllis Chesler and Melanie Phillips believes will lead to a real (rather than imaginary) female subordination. This opens the door to the male warrior-hero's entrance. 

Animated by heroic tales of the crusaders, movie epics such as 300, Lord of the Rings, Passion Of The Christ, Serbian ultranationalist narratives of Radovan Karadzic's bloody actions during the Bosnian civil war, and the exploits he performed in World of Warcraft, Breivik felt equipped for battle.

Coming from a privileged family, his father being a diplomat stationed in London and Paris, and his stepfather a military officer, Breivik grew up in Skøyen, a wealthy district in western Oslo. He went to the same primary school as the royal children, continued to a prestigious school of economics, and claims to have becoming a millionaire by successful stock trading and e-business.

As a white, Christian, heterosexual man from an upper middleclass family, Breivik believes that he has certain birth right privileges that are now threatened by all sorts of minorities, delusions of social equality, and the general decay of Western culture that has opened the gates of Europe to the troops of its alleged arch-enemy, Islam. Much like the radical conservative philosophers Julius Evola and the young Ernst Jünger, Breivik is convinced that Western decay can only be cured by cleansing violence.

2083 contains two ultimatums. Before 2020, Muslims should convert to Christianity, adopt Christian names, abandon non-European languages, and get rid of foreign customs, or prepare for expulsion and death. The Armed Forces in every European country need to seize political control by coup d’états, declare martial law, suspend the constitution, execute all traitors, expel all Muslims and permanently ban Islam. Otherwise, the Knights Templar “will have no choice but to take matters into our own hands”. Spectacular attacks against traitors and Muslims – such as the ones Breivik carried out in downtown Oslo and the youth camp at Utøya Island – will lead to a civil war. “Innocent people will die, in the thousands”, but “the needs of the many will always surpass the needs of the few”.

About the author

Mattias Gardell holds the Nathan Söderblom Chair in Comparative Religion at Uppsala University, Sweden. His research focuses on the instersections of religion, politics, and racism.