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The Norwegian attacks: five things we know

Based on my expertise on the far-right in Britain and continental Europe it is safe to conclude the following:

1. The distinction between actions and attitudes is an important one. Large majorities of citizens in Europe reject violence, but large numbers are also concerned about the same issues that feature in the ‘Breivik manifesto’: concern over Islam, anxiety over immigration and rising diversity, and dissatisfaction with the mainstream parties. This does not equal a mass of would-be bombers, but it does mean that there is a pool of potential around the European far right.

2. We need to ask ourselves whether we have focused too heavily on one form of religiously-motivated extremism, at the expense of other (in this case political) forms of extremism. For example, in Britain we have spent much of our time talking about how best to counter radicalisation within Muslim communities, and prevent violent extremism. But what about other communities and forms of political action that might not be openly violent, but certainly contain a culture of violence?

3. This is a game-changer in how we approach the far right. This movement was often dismissed as the dog which doesn’t bark. Sadly, over the weekend, it barked. We need to get past the conventional wisdom that says  that far right groups and their followers are only a marginal, disorganized and weaker cousin to their al-Qaeda (or AQ) counterparts.

4. We need far more evidence on the far right. It has become pan-European in scope, developing new networks, both online and offline. This is not a problem only for Norway, for Scandinavia or Britain. This is a challenge for Europe and the responses from security services and policy-makers should reflect that.

5. Breivik will almost certainly become a heroic figure among some sections of the ultra right-wing in Europe, much in the same way that Timothy McVeigh was held up by sections of the American militia movement, or David Copeland was praised by British neo-Nazis. These are figures who cross the line that separates ideas from action. In this case, they have also left a detailed blueprint for how to act to any would-be copycat attacker. It is not alarmist or sensationalist to worry about this threat. Both American and British security services have warned about it for some time.

Matthew Goodwin

Published inEuropean PoliticsNorwayThe Far-Right & Extremism


  1. Tal Tal

    Interesting points, thanks for sharing, Matthew.

    No.2 is a good point, but I think that focus has not come about solely from a cultural tendency to question the Other, it is borne of a global trend of Islamic extremism, evidenced by several violent attacks and on-going conflicts around the globe. And that’s why we are paying it more attention. Let’s not shy away from tackling a serious and growing problem just because it might irritate a particular group.

    No.3 is also true, and although they have different perspectives, let’s not overlook the possibility of a coalition between them, like the Red-Green Alliance

    On a side note, I’m a Notts graduate (Sociology ’08) but am now working in Social Media Comms. Nice to see the School of Politics using this medium to share the wealth of knowledge!

  2. I think what is most interesting (and probably worrying) about the far-right movement is just how networked it has become; it’s not the Fascism/Nazism of former years, in the sense that the political objective is not simply the nation-state they eventually hope to come into power of, but the cleansing of the whole of Europe of those deemed un-European.The growth of the EU, and globalised communications and transportation have certainly contributed to this, allowing would be members to link with others on the extreme-right fringe with relative mobility and ease through contacts established in the far-right street movement, all without necessarily discussing operational developments. The network appears to have high degrees of redundancy built in; there’s plenty of scope for nodes – cells, or individuals – to drop off the network, whether to the work of security operations, or in Breivik’s case, to his own planning.

    This essentially allows the wider street, or even political movements to keep their distance. The EDL has made sure to distance itself, claiming no official contact with Breivik was ever made; naturally, official contact would likely never be on his agenda. I think it is a fair speculation that he had plenty of unofficial contact however.

    Ultimately, this seems to come together to suggest the far-right has learned a lot from new-left terror in the 70s/80s, which built up highly networked trans-European, even global ties to organisations in numerous other countries. And they’ve *certainly* learned a lot from Islamist terrorism, in terms of networked organisation, actually appearing to have adopted it to an even greater degree (in the sense that Al Qaeda for a long time did rely on instruction from the top links in the network). The rise of the EDL too demonstrates a ferocious capacity for waging a complex war of position, and demonstrating how effective social media can be for recruiting when left unchecked, compared with the use of it by Islamists.

  3. Erica Blair Erica Blair

    I see you link to normblog. Don’t you know that Norman Geras used to link to the Gates of Vienna blog that inspired Breivik?

    He has removed the link (I wonder why) but still hosts a friendly interview with Dymphna, co-founder of the Gates of Vienna blog.

    To think you were just two clicks away.

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