In 2011, Sindre Lysø was 15 years old and it was the second time she had attended the famous summer camp of the League of Workers’ Youth (AUF), affiliated with the Norwegian Labor Party, organized on the island of Utoya. On July 22, while at a briefing, the kids learned that there had been an explosion in Oslo. “I remember telling ourselves that we were probably in the safest place on Earth,” he tells elDiario.es. “Minutes later, we started hearing gunshots.”
“I was in the upper part of the tent area and survived by running with many others into the forest,” he recalls. They made it to shore and some jumped into the water, but Lysø hid in the bushes, from where she could see Anders Breivik committing the worst attack on Norway since World War II.
That day, Breivik disguised himself as a policeman, parked a van loaded with explosives outside the main government building in Oslo and drove off in a car that was parked nearby. Minutes later, the bomb exploded and killed eight people. Meanwhile, the terrorist was already on his way to the island of Utoya, 40 kilometers away, where the youth organization held its annual camp. He said that he had been sent by the authorities to protect the island and subsequently began his massacre for one hour and thirteen minutes. He killed everyone he came across. At that time there were 564 people on the island and he murdered 69, 33 of them minors.
Ten years after that attack, Lysø is 25 and is now AUF general secretary. He assures that what he suffered on the island reinforced his commitment to politics. “It was not a random attack, but we were attacked for our values. It was important to do politics before the attack, but afterwards it is even more important because we will never let those forces win,” he says. “For many it was very difficult to return to politics and they have suffered or continue to suffer a lot to recover their lives, but for me, personally, it has been very good to have the AUF and make this common journey with other colleagues.”
“Many people thought that from the July 22 attack we would learn how dangerous extremism is, but 10 years later, I think we have not done that learning. In fact, what we see is that extremist environments are growing and strengthening.” says Lysø. “I think the situation in terms of the far right has worsened compared to 10 years ago. It is scary. We tend to see Norway and Europe as functioning democracies, but now we have these groups willing to use violence to achieve political goals and it is a great threat to democracy “.
The threat and far-right parties
“The threat of far-right terrorism has increased more than notably over the past decade and especially in recent years,” says Fernando Reinares, director of the Program on Violent Radicalization and Global Terrorism at the Elcano Royal Institute. “Furthermore, it is an increasingly internationalized and even globalized phenomenon, since individual and collective actors, even with marked national agendas, largely share the same ideology and have developed transnational networks.”
Matthew Feldman, Director of the Center for Analysis of the Radical Right, points out that the attack and the dissemination of the 1,521-page manifesto that its author drew up have not provoked an entry of that radical ideology into the bulk of society, but that this was already beginning to occur before the massacre. What has changed, he says, is that in these 10 years “the moral justification of terrorism has become much more common, as happened in the New Zealand, El Paso or the Poway synagogue bombings,” in the that the attackers also published manifestos or some kind of statement about their motivations.
“Access to jihadist terrorist propaganda is very complex if you are not Muslim and you do not read Arabic. It is material aimed at a very small group of people in non-Muslim countries. However, it is much easier to come across ideas from the far right on cultural Marxism, Islamophobia and racism, “says Feldman. “The far right, unlike other types of extremism, sits alongside and borders on ‘mainstream’ ideas in majority white countries and that is a challenge that our societies will have to face forever.” Feldman is not convinced that there has been an increase in extremism, but has increased its visibility, he says. “Social networks have given the extreme right what they did not have before and have been a fundamental and transformative element.”
“It is important to differentiate far-right radicals willing to use violence from far-right political parties that are in many European parliaments,” says Lysø. “10 years after the attack, I think the most important thing we have to do is hold those far-right parties accountable for what they say and not spread conspiracy theories. The best example we have seen is the assault on the Congress of The US, in which we had a right-wing radical encouraging people without distancing themselves from what they did. We have seen how dangerous it is to use only words without being aware of the influence they have on some communities. ”
Feldman notes that “it is essential to disclose the relationship [entre las formaciones políticas de extrema derecha y el terrorismo]”.” That relationship exists although it is not explicit and this is due to the way the extreme right parties operate. One way to think about it is that they have a visible part and a more hidden part. In the case of Vox in Spain, for example, they will not openly call for violence because it would make them lose support. However, there is a much tougher and more extreme hidden part. The dynamic between the visible part for general consumption and the hidden part for fascist revolutionaries is substantial and works with euphemism and innuendo. “In this sense, Feldam indicates that depending on the country and society, this hidden part has more or less weight versus the visible, giving an example of the difference between the Golden Dawn in Greece and the Progress Party in Norway.
Breivik, “a model for other terrorists”
“At a time when concern about the terrorist threat in Western societies was focused on jihadism, the July 2011 attacks in Norway revealed the latent potential for violence from the extreme right, which in large numbers of countries had not disappeared “, explains Reinares.
“As the threat of extreme terrorism grew over the last decade, Anders Breivik became a role model for individuals of the same ideological orientation in Western societies, where far-right terrorism stands out for the attacks or attempted attacks carried out by lone actors, “he adds.
Breivik wanted to become a great figure in his circle and inspire other violent radicals like him. Before the attack, he published a manifesto, in much plagiarized from other authors, and during his trial he claimed that the massacre was only a strategy to promote it. In these 10 years, Breivik – who was sentenced to 21 years in prison, although could be lengthened indefinitely– has inspired dozens of violent radicals, including Brenton Tarrant, the perpetrator of the 2019 attack on two New Zealand mosques that killed 51 people while broadcasting it on Facebook. Tarrant had Breivik’s name written on the rifle he used in the massacre.
Three years before the attack in Christchurch, just on the fifth anniversary of what happened in Utoya, an 18-year-old man killed nine people in a shopping center in Munich. Police then said the link to Breivik was “obvious”. On the other hand, the person who killed British MP Jo Cox in 2016 shouting “Britain First” was also attracted to the figure of the Norwegian terrorist.
A research by scholars Graham Macklin and Tore Bjørgo has identified thirty cases in which the mention of Breivik appears. “All of these cases show that the attacker or potential attacker had some level of inspiration in the Breivik atrocity, but at the same time few of these attacks or plans were intended to emulate what happened in July 2011 in terms of scale or tactics,” the authors maintain. The investigation concludes that the Christchurch bombing – inspired by the one committed by Breivik – had a greater impact in terms of copycat, with several attacks committed under his influence in the months after the massacre: El Paso, Texas (23 dead); the attack on a synagogue in Poway, California (one dead); and the attack on another Jewish temple in Halle, Germany (two dead).
The actions of the authorities in Norway have prevented Breivik from becoming the reference figure he wanted to become after the attack. Breivik viewed his trial as a global platform. A propaganda speech had been prepared, but unlike the rest of the trial, that statement was not televised and was made behind closed doors.
In another clear example, for 2017, the authorities reviewed around 4,000 letters received or sent by Breivik, censoring 600 of them, which prevented the Norwegian terrorist from communicating with potential acolytes, building networks or expanding his influence. In 2012, for example, Breivik wrote a letter to Beate Zschäpe of the ultra-German group National Socialist Underground. Zschäpe was accused of nine racist murders and in the letter Breivik advised her to use the trial to spread her ideas and declare herself a “militant nationalist”. The terrorist never received the letter and was sentenced to life in prison in 2018.