The Breivik verdict and Europe’s far right

Harvey Morris writes: The smirk on Anders Behring Breivik’s face was an indication that the Norwegian mass murderer got the verdict he wanted. By sentencing him to 21 years in jail, an Oslo court judged he was sane when he killed 77 people in a bomb and gun rampage a year ago.

It raises the alarming question of how many other sane people might be out there, prepared to murder and maim in pursuit of their far-right extremist beliefs.

Far-right groups and individuals in Europe, including those cited as sources of inspiration in Mr. Breivik’s manifesto, ran for cover in the wake of the Norway killings, distancing themselves from his murderous response to multiculturalism, if not from his ideas.

But the shock felt in Norway and elsewhere when Mr. Breivik struck appears to have done little to reverse the growth of the far-right groups in Europe, where their activities are seen as posing an enduring threat to the Continent’s democratic societies.

A day before the Norwegian verdict, the German police launched raids across the state of North Rhine-Westphalia that were aimed at breaking up a network of far-right extremists, as my colleague Melissa Eddy reported from Berlin.

“These groups are dangerous,” Burkhard Freier, the head of the state’s domestic intelligence agency, said. “We have noticed they are attracting ever more young people to their ideals.”

The rise of the far right has been variously cited to explain Europe’s harsh economic climate and on an Islamophobic response to fundamentalist Islamist terrorism that post-dates the Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Matthew Goodwin, a British expert on the far right, challenged those assumptions in an academic paper last September that noted populist extremist parties continued to rally large and durable levels of support and had even joined coalition governments.

“They emerged before the terrorist attacks on 11 Sept. 2001 and the recent financial crisis,” Dr. Goodwin wrote. “They have rallied support in some of the most economically secure and highly educated regions of Europe.”

He said supporters of all these groups shared one core feature: their profound hostility towards immigration, multiculturalism and rising cultural and ethnic diversity. “Contrary to the conventional wisdom that these citizens are motivated by feelings of economic competition from immigrants and minority groups, feelings of cultural threat are the most important driver of their support.” [Continue reading…]

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