The rise of the far-right
The events in Norway yesterday are truly shocking in their wickedness. Our thoughts are with the victims' families and the people of Norway. It now appears that the killer was a 32-year old Norwegian man, a Christian fundamentalist with anti-Islam views and links to the far-right. The fact that the perpetrator was Norwegian has come as a surprise to some, expecting to see the hand of al-Qaeda. But this is mistaken. The far-right has been in the ascendancy in Europe, and in Scandinavia, for the past ten years. Many of these groups, while not directly advocating violence, use extreme rhetoric that can facilitate a turn to violence.
The attack comes especially as a shock for me, as just this week I was in another Scandanavian capital – Copenhagen – researching far-right groups in Denmark. The trip was part of a much larger piece of research that Demos is currently doing into the rise of far-right street-based movements across Europe. While still in the early phases, what we’ve seen so far in Denmark combined with some of our previous research under the Violence and Extremism Programme at Demos does provide some insight into the situation in Norway.
The impetus for our research has been the rise of anti-immigration and anti-Islam sentiment in Europe, expressed through street-based movements like the EDL and formal far-right parties like the Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti), the National Front in France, the Swedish Democrats in Sweden and Geert Wilders’ party in the Netherlands. Of course, aside from some violent neo-nazi groups, all of these groups and political parties are explicitly non-violent and will no doubt condemn the attacks in Norway as horrific and inhuman. However, as I saw in Denmark earlier this week, many of these groups use a form of apocalyptic rhetoric that can clearly influence some individuals to believe that violence is necessary to avert what they see and describe as an existential crisis.
Many of these groups and individuals adopt a conspiratorial mindset in their view of the world. In The Power of Unreason, we explored the role of conspiracy theories in both non-violent and violent extremist groups across the political spectrum. In that research we found that conspiracy theories can act as a ‘radicalising multiplier’ facilitating the turn to violence. We found that conspiracy theories ‘can encourage a group to turn to violence, acting as rhetorical devices to portray violence, both to the group itself and their wider supporters, as necessary to "awaken" the people from their acquiescent slumber’.
During our Denmark trip, in interviews with individuals on the far-right, the rhetoric was stark and the stakes were perceived to be extremely high. These individuals spoke about ‘Danes becoming a minority in their own country’, the country being ruled by ‘sharia law’, the ‘death of European enlightenment and our way of life’ and ‘the end of Europe’. This was combined with a feeling of impotence to effect the change that they felt was needed. One claimed it was ‘already too late’. Politicians – even those in formal far-right parties – were viewed as sell-outs more concerned about maintaining their own position of power. Society as a whole, and young people in particular, were too busy in their ‘comfortable’ day-to-day lives to be concerned about ‘these threats to their very existence’. They also revealed a black and white view of the world, and Islam. One individual claimed that he did not believe in ‘moderate Islam’ saying that ‘the moderate Muslim was the one who holds your hand while the radical Muslim slits your throat’.
It is still unclear the extent to which the attacks in Norway were those of an isolated psychopath, or were planned in conjunction with other far-right activists. However, it is clear that this kind of rhetoric – emphasising existential crisis and demise unless something is done immediately – can lead some to senseless and inhuman violence.