Breivik's massacre inspires squabbling far-right heirs a decade on

July 22 will mark 10 years since white supremacist killed 77 people in Norway terror attack

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A decade on from the far-right massacre carried out by Norwegian gunman Anders Behring Breivik, his rampage continues to inspire extremists even as they squabble over his beliefs.

Friday will mark 10 years since Breivik killed 77 people in a car bomb and shooting attack in one of Europe’s worst atrocities of modern times.

Breivik intended for the 1,518-page manifesto in which he set out his extremist worldview to become a foundational text in the far-right catalogue.

The threat of far-right terrorism has grown in prominence over the past decade with attacks such as Christchurch and the 2019 Halle shooting in Germany following in the wake of the Norwegian atrocity.

The hate-filled document inspired the New Zealand mosque shooter Brenton Tarrant and frequently crops up in the possession of terrorist plotters.

Breivik’s portrayal of a war between Islam and the West even found support among Islamists who agree that a civilisational clash is looming.

Other nationalist groups shunned Breivik on the grounds that he had slaughtered white children and discredited the ideology of the far right.

Many of those killed were teenagers who were shot dead at a Labour Party youth camp on the island of Utoya, where mourners will mark the anniversary next week.

Extremist groups are divided over whether Breivik’s focus on Islam rather than white supremacy or anti-Semitism is the correct far-right orthodoxy.

But despite these ideological differences, Breivik’s tactics, his use of propaganda and the death toll he inflicted have all been praised or adopted by extremists.

“There’s a lionisation, a kind of glorification of lone attackers, not exclusively Breivik, but he’s sort of in the pantheon of saints,” said Jakob Guhl, an expert on extremism at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.

Mr Guhl told The National that Breivik had helped to popularise the far-right manifesto after previous attackers such as Germany’s National Socialist Underground had never taken credit for their atrocities.

“It has definitely kicked off a wave of these attackers taking credit for what they’re doing and providing propagandistic material that can then be amplified online,” Mr Guhl said.

Support for Breivik can be found in fringe online communities such as the controversial website 4chan.

Known for its provocative tone and popularity among online gamers, 4chan has seen posts admiring the high death toll of Breivik’s attacks.

In Germany, intelligence services believe the death toll inflicted by Breivik has become a benchmark to which other extremists aspire.

“It’s about beating the ‘high score’ of deaths,” said Thomas Haldenwang, the head of Germany’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution, last year.

Breivik’s most notorious heir was Tarrant, the Australian gunman who murdered 51 people in the 2019 mosque shootings in Christchurch.

Tarrant openly named Breivik as an inspiration and claimed to have received a “blessing” from the Norwegian gunman after contacting his “brother knights”.

He mirrored Breivik in the planning of his attack by joining a shooting club to acquire firearms expertise.

Authorities in New Zealand said Breivik’s manifesto gave “considerable guidance for would-be extreme right-wing terrorists” in addition to ideological inspiration.

Tarrant’s attack gave rise to the Christchurch Call, a push led by New Zealand and France to purge extremist content from the web.

But Breivik’s manifesto is easily accessible online and has been linked repeatedly to other extremists.

In Britain, a former police officer jailed for his far-right activities in April was found to have a copy of Breivik’s writings on a USB stick.

A US coastguard officer who was jailed for firearms offences was said to have emailed Breivik’s manifesto to his military computer.

“What Breivik sort of represented was one of the first examples of this internationally-inspired, far-right figure,” said Milo Comerford, the head of counter-extremism research at the ISD.

“I think this idea of a lone actor is a little bit of a red herring because they were very much inspired by a very lively, active online ecosystem.”

The far-right world does not speak with one voice and some of Breivik’s beliefs run contrary to certain strands of extremist thought.

Lars Erik Berntzen, an expert on the far right at the University of Bergen in Norway, said the anti-Islam movement in Europe had not embraced Breivik’s call to violence.

This contrasts with the support for Breivik from right-wing extremists in Russia, who within months of the attacks were chanting “Glory to Breivik” in Moscow.

“I think there is also just a celebration of violence and people taking inspiration that maybe don’t fit in any of these buckets all that neatly,” Mr Guhlv said.

The fact that Breivik’s beliefs overlapped with Islamist extremists was made explicit in the manifesto, in which he said he was open to working with Al-Qaeda.

Breivik promoted the idea that “there’s an inevitable clash between Muslims and non-Muslims," Mr Guhl said.

This idea was taken on by Islamist extremists as well as the far right, he said.

“They mirrored each other even though they were taking different sides in the conflict, there were parallels in propaganda in the perception that a civilisational clash was coming up.”

There are concerns that the pandemic may have provided fuel for extremist narratives and allowed terrorists to prey on isolated young people.

Governments in Britain, France and Germany tout their bans on far-right groups such as the neo-Nazi National Action as means of foiling extremists.

But experts fear they are missing the point that Breivik’s would-be heirs do not need the formal structure of a terrorist group to carry out atrocities.

Moves such as Britain’s ban on National Action would have done little to stop Breivik’s attack, said Mr Comerford.

“A lot of the challenges are not related to specific hierarchical group structures, like you would see with ISIS or Al Qaeda, but rather these much broader spheres of influence,” he said.

“They’re still fighting the Islamist paradigm and trying to transplant that on to the far-right threat, which is very different in nature.”

Updated: July 17, 2021, 7:05 AM