Breivik was a member of Norway’s conservative Progress Party, which is the second-largest political party in Norway, with lower taxes and anti-immigration policies its main issues. A former “youth member,” Breivik had criticized the party for turning to embrace “multiculturalism” and “political correctness” and straying from its “idealistic stand.” He was described as “calm and quiet” by those who knew him in the Progress party. A self-described “Nationalist” and bodybuilder, hunter and Freemason, Breivik had criticized both immigrants and politicians who supported them frequently on online fora. He also boasted of links to the far right in the UK including the English Defence League and other anti-Islamic European organizations.
Breivik listed Kafka and George Orwell’s 1984 as among his favorite books on a Facebook page that was only set up on July 17 and listed no “friends.” According to the Guardian, while the pictures that have so far emerged of Breivik suggest a clean-shaven “young entrepreneur,” the reality was that his business ventures were failures. In 2009, Breivik established a farm business in Rena in eastern Norway through which, say authorities, he was able in May to order six tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which can be used in making explosives.
On the BBC, journalist Liss Goril Anda says the attacks were “squarely aimed at the values Norwegians treasure most (…) openness, freedom of expression and feeling of safety.” Norwegians are asking if the country has been focusing too much on countering Islamist terrorists over and above native right-wing extremists and the anti-Islamist right. Says the New York Times:
“This is the Norwegian equivalent to Timothy McVeigh,” the right-wing American who blew up a government building in Oklahoma City in 1995, said Marcus Buck, a political scientist at the University of Tromso in northern Norway. “This is right-wing domestic terrorism, and the big question is to what extent Norwegian agencies have diverted their attention from what they knew decades ago was the biggest threat” and instead focused on threats from militant Islamist groups.
The authorities recognized in terrorism reports as recently as March that threats could come from tiny right-wing groups that numbered no more than 50 people, Mr. Buck said. But the unclassified versions of the last three reports assessing the threats to the country by the Norwegian Police Security Service, the national security and counter terrorism organization under the Ministry of Justice, all played down the threat posed by right-wing and nationalist extremists.
Instead, the reports emphasized the dangers of radical Islam, groups opposed to Norway’s participation in NATO operations in Afghanistan and now Libya, economic espionage against the country’s resources and technology assets and potential threats to Norwegian dignitaries.
As Knut Olav Åmås, culture and op-ed editor at Aftenposten, Norway’s leading newspaper, writes in the Guardian:
The events of this weekend have given many Norwegians a sense of alienation towards their country. We have lost that feeling of safe and secure normality that Norwegians are so predisposed to take for granted. As the prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, remarked in a speech yesterday, the island – which he had visited every summer since 1974, hosting the summer camps – had suddenly changed from paradise to hell. And so many of us are afraid that the events of Friday could change Norway forever, characterised as it is by a high degree of openness and egalitarianism.
It is not unusual to meet cabinet ministers accidentally on the street, or our foremost celebrities in grocery stores. A sort of charming naivety has been our hallmark, combined with a considerable degree of homogeneity.
The terrorist loner (if he was acting alone) has shown Norway the immense costs of being a touchingly open society. The Labour party’s youth organisation has already decided to return to the island and win back the future that a terrorist intended to turn into past.
But I can’t get rid of the sense that the cracking of machine-gun fire that ended almost 100 young and political lives was also the sound of fundamental change.
As a resident of New Jersey — and with the tenth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11 in a few months — I understand what Åmås means.
We will continue to post updates about the twin attacks in Norway and we send all thoughts to those who died and their families.
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