Can Europe Make It?

Lone actors with shared ideas

The Christchurch mass murderer acted alone, but the core ideas in his manifesto are widely shared by Islamophobic actors in Europe and beyond.

Cathrine Thorleifsson
25 March 2019
The Utoya massacre by Anders Behring Breivik took place on 5 August 2015.
The Utoya massacre by Anders Behring Breivik took place on 5 August 2015.
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Britta Pedersen/PA. All rights reserved.

Almost eight years since the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, killed 77 people on July 22, 2011, his ideas and methods inspire right wing extremists in Europe and beyond. Despite the difference in length, there are several similar themes and ideas that run through the manifestos of Christchurch terrorist Tarrant and Behring Brevik.

“The Great Replacement”

Tarrant, a self-declared eco-fascist and white nationalist shares a similar core diagnosis of the world with Behring Breivik. In their narrative, Europe is already in the midst of a cultural and race war, with liberal authorities unwilling to protect racially pure citizens from dangerous non-white others. Liberal asylum, immigration and ¨melting pot¨ policies have led to the rapid mass arrival of Muslim migrants that threaten national identity, security and the European white race. The present societal order is furthermore decadent and corrupt and a violent civil war is needed in order to reinstall a racial order of things.

Propagating the Eurabia conspiracy theory of the Islamisation of Europe, they believe that Europe is already in the midst of a Muslim invasion. Migrants, in particular Muslim migrants, are framed as posing an existential threat to the survival of white populations, cultural heritage, security and western Christian civilization as a whole. National traitors are objects of blame for the takeover of Europe, and these categories can be filled with Muslim migrants, symbolically identified ‘politicians’, the ‘establishment’ or ordinary citizens who do not oppose these developments.

Fusing time periods

Tarrant´s world view and atrocities are enabled by globalization and social media. Although he like Breivik appears to have self-radicalized online, he claims he was radicalised during a one-month period while travelling Europe in spring 2017. He was like Bhering Breivik, a lone actor who was not lonely. At darker corners of the web such as 8chan he discussed ideas with white nationalists, found inspiration and later praise for the atrocities.

Like Behring Breivik, Tarrant was eclectically synthesizing elements from different ideologies and time periods in his self-declared heroic resistance to the Muslim “invasion” of Europe. Just like Behring Breivik’s 1,500-page manifesto, Tarrant’s considerable shorter 74-page manifesto promotes Islamophobic and fascist ideas that are drawn from various time periods. Tarrant and Breivik leap from one moment to another, over decades and centuries to build a myth of heroic white defence against a barbaric Islam. Both terrorists place themselves in a longer historical linage of defending Christian Europe against Islam, invoking crusader rhetoric and the alleged existence of a “Knights Templar Europe”. Tarrant couples references to historical time periods with well-known internet memes of Islamophobia and white supremacy. Fusing together threats from the past with threats in the present, Tarrant references jihadi terrorist attacks carried out in recent years in the UK, the US, Italy, Sweden and Norway and places himself in a circle of heroic defence.

The Islamophobic ideas propagated by these two terrorists are not unique. Across European contexts and beyond, various far right actors, from radical right parties to fringe movements are mobilizing the civilizational trope of a Muslim invasion of Europe. Critical events such as jihadi terrorist attacks in Europe, and largescale forced displacement of refugees from Muslim majority lands have all created opportunity structures for various anti-Muslim actors to dramatize a sense of crisis (Brubaker 2017), inflame anxieties about diversity and Islam and present themselves as protectors of endangered nations and civilisations.

Tarrant´s manifesto reflects themes familiar from far right discussions I have followed in the US, Scandinavia and Hungary. Interviewing neo-nazi supporters face to face in Hungary in October 2015, several informants invoked the notion of a ‘great replacement´, the title of Tarrant’s manifesto. They believed that in particular Sweden´s and Germanys’ decision to allow large numbers of immigrants to settle in these countries in recent years would lead to an imminent demographic extinction.

Conceiving a nation or civilization as endangered can stoke emotions of fear, suspicion or anger. Far right Islamophobic discourses that contain violent imaginaries seem mainly designed as an awareness-raising type of warning aimed at providing a base for political action. The action will be to fight against the alleged Islamification of Europe. Most would do that by voting for a political party that promises to “Stop Islam”. Protection for a nation in danger must come from a strong authoritarian leader who will protect ‘our’ women and children from Islam. However, for a small radicalized minority, tropes like a “Muslim invasion” and the actuality of jihadi terrorist attacks can mobilize fear and aggressor responses and the endorsement of physical violence.

Some far right supporters I interviewed not only expressed support for Islamophobic ideas, but also recommended violent action. On 23 October 2015, at the height of the so-called ´refugee crisis´ I attended a political commemoration event with the far right party Jobbik where I entered into a conversation with two young men. They were puzzled by my presence as a foreigner, but accept me as empathetic to Jobbik’s cause. One of the young men asks what I think of the event in Sweden the proceeding day, referring to the 21- year- old Swede who had killed two schoolchildren and a teacher and seriously injured several others with a sword before being shot dead by police in Trollhättan. ‘Sweden gets what it deserves’, was the view of the young men, openly expressing support for the atrocities.

The liberal leadership of Sweden claim to be human but it is actually the opposite. They are bringing suffering upon its people. This young man gave his life. There is a race war. The future wars will be bloodier. The victims of terror in Paris have been unable to defend themselves against the illegal migrants.

Later that night I go through the comment section on the racist and conspiratorial far-right news portal kuruck.info with the help of a Hungarian-speaking friend and it is rife with sympathies for the terrorist. One post read:

I feel so sorry for the white guy. He was in his early twenties and should have lived longer. He should have bought a machine gun. It is the liberals that are the guilty ones; they admitted the exotic people to Sweden and Europe! With Sweden filling up with Syrians and Somalis it is on the way to becoming a security danger for all of us. The liberal heads of the EU just stand still and watch it happen. When we identify Islam as a violent religion, we are called racist, xenophobes or Islamophobic. When courageous politicians like Viktor Orbán tell the truth the liberals call it a hate crime. But there is nothing racist about telling the truth. Yes, Sweden is being destroyed by the liberal establishment.

Another comment compares him to Behring Breivik who on July 22, 2011 committed a mass murder on Norwegian Labour Party youth he blamed for generating a multicultural Norway:

They are both white patriots. The liberal establishment supports the elimination of the white man through their filthy, liberal, multicultural, tolerant system. Sweden brought it upon themselves. Swedes voted for the liberals and deserves everything that is coming to them. The ethnic Swedes are so naïve. The end of Sweden started the very minute they opened their border. They just open the doors and thought everything would be OK. Secular liberals think that it is a virtue not to identify Islam as a violent religion. They are turning Sweden and Europe into an Islamic hellhole! They ruined the life of this white guy (in Sweden) like a lot of white people have had their lives ruined. Clueless liberals should never be allowed to make decisions that advance the killing of innocent people. When society is brainwashed by the liberal elite, these brave men come. Without liberalism this young man would still be alive. Dirty liberals. But fear not, we will pay back with interest. Down with multiculturalism!

The narratives demonstrate a central trope in far-right discourse: that the liberal establishment are traitors responsible for the rapid decay of the nation. The narrative strategies and practices of the two white nationalists rely upon and reinforce the fantasy that Hungary and Europe has always been and must remain a white nation. The liberal elites in Sweden or EU have sacrificed the purity and innocence of Sweden on the altar of multiculturalism and an ideology of antiracism. In response, brave citizens willing to sacrifice their lives must protect the ever-endangered nation.

Tarrant claimed he was carrying out the terrorist attack to defend Eruope against the ongoing cultural and “ethnic genocide”. When Tarrant committed mass murder in Christchurch he had the names of white terrorists inscribed on the weapons, including the name of the terrorist my informants praised: Anton-Lundin Petterson. In the explicit endorsement of terror committed by white men, Tarrant creates and places himself in a network of terrorists commemorated as heroes. Acts of evil are thus transformed by lone actors and their supporters into acts of heroic sacrifice. Far right extremist terrorists might operate alone, but unfortunately their supporters ensure that they are not lonely.

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