Extreme Desperation: Why Oslo Killer Targeted Young Labor Leaders

Last Friday, Anders Behring Breivik allegedly detonated a car bomb in Oslo’s government quarter before disguising himself as a policeman and carrying out a deadly shooting spree on the island of Utøya. The mass shooting claimed 68 additional lives, an act of violence apparently motivated by the shooter’s hatred of immigration and multiculturalism. Witnesses describe him as methodical, relishing his short-lived power as he shot teenagers who averaged16 years of age.

Breivik’s decision to target a conference for progressive youth, not the immigrants he hated, was no mistake. And if there is a silver lining to the tragedy, it is that it was an act of desperation.

The island of Utøya, which is accessible only by boat, is owned by the Workers’ Youth League, the youth wing of the Norwegian Labour Party, which hosts an annual summer camp for young people as well as renting out the facilities to other organizations. The camp, according to Workers’ Youth League material, is an educational and social opportunity for young progressive and democratic socialist leaders. This year, the retreat was scheduled to focus on inclusion, gender equality, environmental conservation, educational policy and international affairs—as well lighthearted activities including dancing, speed-dating and concerts.

In a YouTube video Breivik posted before the rampage, he blamed rising European multiculturalism on “cultural Marxists,” a perceived elite which he believed to threaten traditionalism in Norway. Anti-multiculturalism is a common ideology in the far right on both sides of the Atlantic, which motivates groups like Youth for Western Civilization and Alternative Right—groups which resist overt racism in favor of extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric, online and on college campuses.

Breivik also posted a 1,500 page “manifesto” (which, perhaps fitting for our age of Internet cut-and-paste, isplagiarized in part from Ted Kaczynski’s work) detailing his fantasy of serving as a modern, anti-Muslim Knight Templar who would inspire followers to take up his cause, domino-style. Other media he prepared include photographs of the carefully-coiffed killer posing in a wet suit, military garb and what looks like hazmat protection. It’s the play-acting of a desperately lonely extremist—although there are individuals in the far-right blogosphere willing to defend the massacre, even if they won’t follow suit.

As little comfort as it may be to the students who lay still among the bodies of their dead friends to avoid being gunned down, Breivik’s isolation demonstrates how fractured the anti-multiculturalism camp is. Offline, they’re nearly invisible without ground activists; it’s hard to maintain righteous indignation when all their foes are specters (who, after all, is forcing anybody outside their cultural comfort zone?) and that impotence enrages the right.

Most don’t channel their rage into violence. And when they do, apparently, it is in an act of cowardice, of literally trapping unarmed kids on an island and murdering them, one after another.

It’s hard to see where else they could turn. Anti-multiculturalism is less a political position than a small conception of what a human can be. Young activists have chosen the larger idea, and that enrages people like Breivik. Groups and individuals on the left often disagree about ends and means, from the economic to the cultural, but they share a key value to which the far right has no analog: the worth and dignity of human life

by Jon Christian,  a journalism intern at Campus Progress. Centre for American Progress

Edited by Hugh McDermott