As the world thirsts for information on the details surrounding the bombing and mass shooting in Oslo, Norway, the narrative has turned to gunman Anders Behring Breivik and his political affiliations. Quickly, he has been labeled "extreme right wing," but is that really the fairest designation given what we know thus far?
According to several outlets, Breivik identified with some conservative causes. But the more one digs, the more one finds that Anders Behring Breivik holds the views of a racist, bigoted, zealot that really can't be fit into a neat box.
The Atlantic has pulled together the overarching mainstream narrative thus far on Breivik: he's a Christian conservative who didn't like Muslims. Here's how they write it:
Religious views: According to the BBC, Breivik has a Facebook and Twitter account that he set up a mere few days ago on July 17, where he identifies himself as a Christian and a conservative. There are several reports of his anti-Muslim views. In a post in Norwegian in an online forum on December 2009, a user named Anders Behring Breivik claims there is not one country where Muslims have peacefully lived with non-Muslims, stating that instead it has had "catastrophic consequences" for non-Muslims.
Political views: The Daily Mail reports that National police chief Sveinung Sponheim told public broadcaster NRK that the suspected gunman's internet postings "suggest that he has some political traits directed toward the right, and anti-Muslim views, but if that was a motivation for the actual act remains to be seen." Furthermore, the Norwegian daily Verdens Gang quoted a friend as saying Breivik became a rightwing extremist in his late 20s.
But is that an oversimplified explanation?
Consider this: The Daily Mail opens its profile on Breivik with some information that would seem to shake up any simple explanation of who he is or what he believed:
The man responsible for the massacre in Norway was a member of a Swedish nazi forum which encourages attacks on government buildings.
It was also revealed by local police that he had extreme right wing views who hated Muslims.
According to Swedish website Expo Anders Behring Breivik is a member of 'Nordisk' which has 22,000 members and focuses on political terrorism.
[His Facebook profile] also listed interests such as body-building and freemasonry. [Emphasis added]
That's certainly a mixed bag. And some of that information would seem to hint at a possible extreme leftist position, perhaps anarchism, would it not? It certainly doesn't reflect the views of a conservative Christian, as he claimed to be.
It's also important to note that the terms of American politics are not easily transferable to European politics. Often, the extremes in Europe are communists on the left and fascists on the right. In America, "extreme right wing" has been hijacked to label conservatives who adhere strictly to the Constitution, or who fight for legal immigration. (Some on the American left have even succeeded in making "extreme right wing" synonymous with the Tea Party.) In Europe, however, the term could mean zealous nationalists and militant fascists.
So, an "extreme right wing" individual in Europe is not always an "extreme right wing" individual in America. That's important to note, as the designation will undoubtedly make the rounds in the attack's aftermath.
Considering what we know about Breivik, then, could it be that the term "extreme right wing" is a misnomer? Especially considering that when you start dealing with extremist groups and individuals who fall well beyond the fringe, their beliefs often blur -- they handpick a tenant from the right and bastardize it, grab an ideology from the left and skew it, and then create their own belief system.
Breivik's beliefs -- and the actions he implemented -- may show he and his ideology are as fuzzy as they come.
Author's note: consider this a starting point as we continue to investigate Breivik. The questions raised here are important to start asking, and we'll continue trying to answer them as we go forward. Also, since the situation is fluid, stay tuned for additional information on his background.