Blogging for freedom: the radical blogosphere post Breivik
By Jamie Bartlett and Hedda Bjorge Soremshaugen, Demos, United Kingdom
The online world and social media have become a focus for the proliferation of hateful material. This essay examines the way counter-jihad Scandinavian bloggers responded to the Breivik attacks. The authors’ contention is that, after an initial dip in rhetoric in the immediate aftermath, this movement is as angry and polemic as ever – and turning on new targets, in particular the mainstream media and political establishment.
Populist parties have been growing all over Europe for the last decade. In many countries, parties defined by their opposition to immigration (especially Muslim) and multiculturalism, as well as concerns for protecting national and European culture, have been increasingly successful. Often called ‘populist extremist parties’ or ‘the new right’, these parties do not fit easily into the traditional political divides – partly because on economic and social policies they are often liberal or support traditionally left wing policies.
Social media has provided a new and significant outlet for these ideas to flourish, often in more aggressive and angry tones. Anders Breivik drew much inspiration and impetus from his interactions online, surrounding himself with historical crusader symbolism, convincing himself about the impending Islamisation of Europe, and fantasizing about his role as a heroic defender of Western civilisation. (Switch historical Christian symbolism with Jihadist and the same pattern forms). Analysts are increasingly aware of the way the Internet – for all its benefits – can suck people into a virtual world of digital escapism, where they become anonymous, uncompromising, disenchanted and deluded - stalking closed forums, wailing at the tragedy of the world without ever really engaging in it. This new environment is becoming more important in the way that several extremist groups operate.
Maintaining the internet as a space for free expression – while mindful of the risks – is a problem every Western European country is now grappling with.
The underlying problem is understanding the extent to which terrorists draw on a broader body of ideas and rhetoric that inspire them to act. The online world, with the proliferation of hateful material, closed forums, echo-chambers, and unchallenged views, further complicates this question. Maintaining the internet as a space for free expression – while mindful of the risks –is a problem every Western European country is now grappling with.
In this essay, we review one very specific case: the way the ‘new right’ and counter-jihad bloggers in Scandinavia responded to the Breivik attacks. It is not a comprehensive review, but a useful illustrative case, because there is a growing and quite vibrant counter-jihad, and often radical, new-right blogosphere in Scandinavia. This includes the blogger Fjordman, an ideological inspiration for Breivik, and a number of new-right blogs whose criticism of Islam are often presented through the prism of freedom of expression, such as Danish Modstand, Swedish Avpixlat, Norwegian blogs Human Rights Service and Document.no, as well as Danish Lars Hedegaard and Swedish Ingrid Carlqvist of the Free Press Society and Dispatch international. It is from these sources that we quote.
But our contention is that, after an initial dip in rhetoric in the immediate aftermath, this movement is as angry and polemic as ever – and turning on new targets, in particular the mainstream media and political establishment. The extent to which this is a uniquely Norwegian or Scandinavian trend is not considered in detail – although we suspect it is a much broader trend.
Although some tried to blame the media and government for the attacks, in days following the event, these blogs all denounced Breivik. In general, it was argued that Breivik was a lone madman, who did not even share the same broad ideology. The day after the killings, Fjordman (probably the best known blogger, whom Breivik was known to admire) wrote that:
‘Whoever committed those unspeakable atrocities is a monster... His total lack of respect for human life is not, however, something he can have picked up from me, or from any of the other Islam-critical writers I know’.
Fjordman went on to state that:
‘Ideology is very much secondary for the mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik… One could argue that it is therefore an abuse to discuss Breivik’s “ideology”, in the courtroom or anywhere else, since he doesn’t have any.’
‘Demokratene’ (the Democrats), is a nationalistic right-wing radical party in Norway, based on Christian cultural ideals, Euroscepticism and hostility towards immigration and Islam. It is led by Elisabeth Rue Strencbo and has been linked to the anti-Islam website Stop the Islamisation of Norway.  Terje Haugom from the party stated similarly:
‘The catastrophe our country experienced 22 July 2011 was solely one insane man’s work. No political direction, neither right nor left, wants anything to do with these horrible thoughts, plans and actions’
Poul Vinther Jensen from the Danish blog Modstand.nu claimed that:
‘A mad loner has now chosen to lead his own armed battle – and the result is horrific’
A small number, however, appeared to recognise that they might have – indirectly – contributed to Breivik’s radicalisation through allowing hate-filled sentiment to populate their sites. Nina Hjerpset-Østlie from Document.no (Breivik was an active commentator on the site) issued something of a mea culpa:
‘Nobody could see what he was hiding inside. On the other hand, could we have seen how fanatical he was, if the debate had not already been filled with exaggerated and agitated rhetoric?’
Despite not sticking to his promise, even Peder Jensen swore never to blog under the name ‘Fjordman’ again, knowing whom his name was associated with.
However, in the following weeks and months, attention turned toward the mainstream media and politicians who many believed were ‘using’ the attack to pursue their own left-wing ideology and clamp down on dissenting voices.
Hege Storhaug, for example, on the Human Rights Service blog argued that ‘even before the victims were named, the media called out to blame scapegoats.’ Fjordman claimed in June 2012 that the media was pushing the debate in favour of left-wing supporters. Similarly, Jan-Ove Fromreide of the Demokratene accused the Labour Party of using the terrorist attack as a smearing campaign against people critical of immigration – especially the NPP:
‘…leading AP politicians try to strangle any resistance against the government’s failed immigration policies, by cynically linking it to the 22 July tragedy’.
By claiming that the media and government’s response to the attack was to clamp down on legitimate protest, the counter-Jihad sites turned their ire against the liberal elite, and ramped up the sabre-rattling rhetoric. For example, in his speech at the Brussels International Conference on Free Speech and Human Rights in July, Lars Hedegaard argued that:
‘I have no doubt that the main prophet behind this mess is the media… They constitute a threat to the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They have become a part of the ruling elite.’
While in August 2012, Mats Dagerlind, wrote in the blog Avpixlat, that in Sweden:
‘we already live with institutionalised repression of opinion, the media working in the favour of the political power holders, and various other phenomena that we would normally associate with totalitarian dictatorships.’
The theme of a lying media in cahoots with a liberal, left-wing elite, has become an increasingly important theme on these sites (and certainly speaks to a wider set of concerns than just Islam). For many, it seems that the perception of a clamping down on dissenting voices has merely added to their sense of injustice and desire to expose the truth. Also speaking at the Brussels Conference, Ingrid Carlqvist stated that:
‘We will write about all those things that mainstream media have been hiding for so many years now... We will let the facts talk, the facts that mainstream journalists hide from people.’
Fjordman himself appears to have gained a sense of positivity, a belief that more people are aware, and increasingly suspicious, of the so-called untruthfulness of the liberal media and authorities:
‘People are fed-up with being told lies about the alleged wonders of mass immigration and multiculturalism when our cities are sinking beyond the control of our laws and numerous suburbs no longer form a part of European civilization.’
From this (admittedly superficial) review it appears to us that many of these sites have returned to full vigour, this time with increased attention on the liberal elites they believe control the media and government. In some ways, broadening out of the enemy, from immigrants and Islam to the political establishment is worrying.
It is hard to be certain what the consequences of this will be. However, it certainly suggests that the far-right / counter-Jihad online community remains forceful, angry and mobilised. By shifting the focus away from Islam and toward a broader attack on out of touch elitist politicians, these movements might be able to broaden their appeal. Certainly, across the continent, trust in political institutions, political parties, and the mainstream media is falling – especially among those that might vote for radical movements. The 2011 Eurobarometer reportshows a wider decline in trust in national governments and European institutions, and the latest Eurobarometer report from spring 2012 suggests that the European public’s trust in the European Union is at its lowest point ever. Certainly, the NPP, who suffered a fall in support immediately after the terror, has climbed back to pre-22 July popularity, with 22.8 per cent of the public’s support, according to a July 2012 poll.
There might be a more dangerous side too. As we argued in the Power of Unreason, a belief in ruling elites suppressing the truth can be powerful fuel for the smaller number of people that get involved in very extremist movements. Indeed, the 2010 UK Citizenship Survey states that people distrusting the parliament are more likely to be supportive of violent extremism.
Norway has responded to Breivik with remarkable poise and confidence: a lesson to other countries. It is important that critical voices can continue to be heard without being tarred by the Breivik brush. Indeed, some work suggests the newspapers are more open to criticism of Islam than before the attacks, acting on the assumption that confronting far-right activists is an effective strategy to combat extremism.
By shifting the focus away from Islam and toward a broader attack on out of touch elitist politicians, these movements might be able to broaden their appeal.
Breivik stated openly during the trial that he wanted to unleash a “witch-hunt” on moderate voices and non-violent critics of Islam and immigration. Hoping, no doubt, that it would push more people into a corner where they felt they had no alternative but to act. This is to be avoided. The liberal idea of clashing ideas in a free and open space may be harder than ever online, but it is not impossible. Allowing dissenting voices the space, and educating people to become critical consumers of online material – must be part of the continued response.
Glossary of the blogs and bloggers used:
Avpixlat is a Swedish blog that claims to give readers an ‘un-edited’ view of reality– a contrast to what the blog’s editors see as authorities and media, painted by cultural relativism and censorship, preventing the airing of the truth about immigration policies and the consequences of multiculturalism in Sweden.
Demokratene (‘The Democrats’), led by Elisabeth Rue Strencbo, is a nationalistic right-wing radical party in Norway, based on Christian cultural ideals, Euroscepticism and hostility towards immigration - especially of Islam during the last decade. Over the past years they have been joined by radical offshoots from the NPP, as well as from less successful Norwegian parties such as ‘Stopp Innvandringen’ (Stop Immigration) and ‘Nasjonaldemokratene’ (The National Democrats). The party is said to have links with what was earlier known as ‘Forum Against Islamisation (FOMI)’, now Stop the Islamisation of Norway, of which former Democrats leader, Vidar Kleppe, admitted to be a passive member . Kleppe, who led the party until April 2012, was originally called in as a witness in the Breivik court case by Breivik’s defence lawyers, but ended up not having to testify.
Document.no is a far-right Norwegian website run by Hans Rustad. Although the site attempts to keep their published posts based on academic work, the Islam critical aspect of the articles is never well hidden. Both Fjordman and Anders Breivik were active in its commenting sections, which at times have contained both radical and extreme rhetoric. According to ‘Vepsen’ (the Wasp), a watchdog organisation, Document.no is quite popular, with around 50,000 readers every month .
Fjordman: After the discovery of being referred to 111 times in Breivik’s manifesto, as well as the revealing of his true identity, Peder Nøstvold Jensen, Fjordman has become somewhat of a centre point in the counter-Jihad universe. For years, Fjordman had been blogging about multiculturalism, and the inevitable civil war between the ethnic European civilisation and Islam this will lead to. Øyvind Strømmen has defined Fjordman as a fascist . Several of his past essays have touched upon ideas of physical removal of Muslims from the Western world together with the promoters of multiculturalism, called for a full withdrawal from the EU, as well as urging of people to arm themselves against the threats of Islam. Although leaving Norway and laying low in the aftermath of the terrorist’s atrocities, Fjordman is now back to blogging frequently through Gates of Vienna, Brussels Journal, Front Page Magazine, Jihad Watch, Snaphanen.dk and Europe news, among others.
Gates of Vienna, run by Edward May (under the name Baron Bodissey), is a US based blog, with strong focus on the dangers of Islamisation. It has contributors from all over the world, especially from Europe. Fjordman is a highly valued contributor to the site. The blog is linked with to the ICLA (International Civil Liberties Alliance), and a wide variety of counter-Islamists throughout the world.
Human Rights Service (HRS) is a blog run by Rita Karlsen and Hege Storhaug. Storhaug is a promoter of human rights, especially of women’s rights, in relation to Islam. However, this does not successfully cover the often counter-Jihadist tone and message of the website. Both Storhaug and Karlsen have met with Fjordman, and in 2006 Storhaug took part in a symposium called ‘The death of multiculturalism?’, hosted by the blog Front Page Magazine, which also included Bat Ye’or, Fjordman, Lars Hedegaard, Bruce Bawer, Leon de Winter and Claire Berlinski. HRS has cited various Fjordman essays, and links to Eurabia literature as well as directly to the works of Bat Ye’or.
Ingrid Carlqvist: Running the newly launched Dispatch International, Ingrid Hedegaard is a Swedish writer, journalist and blogger. In July Carlqvist gave a speech at the ICLA sponsored, International Conference for Free Speech and Human Rights in Brussels, where she described Sweden as ‘Absurdistan.’
Lars Hedegaard is the leader of the Danish Free Press Society, the International Free Press Society and co-editor of Dispatch International. He is a writer, journalist and historian, a well-known and popular figure within the Islam-critical spheres in Scandinavia, and also internationally. Hedegaard also spoke at the Brussels Conference, where he received the ‘Defender of Freedom Award’, presented to him by Mark Steyn. In April, Hedegaard was acquitted of hate speech charges in Denmark.
Modstand.nu (‘Resistance’), also known as Vederfølner, is a Danish blog claiming to ‘keep an eye on Denmark.’ It is a nationalistic and Islam-critical blog, taking the stand that the Danish immigration policies over the last years have been a failure, and are thus ‘fighting against the Islamisation of Denmark’. The blog promotes civil liberties, and the preservation of the Danish culture.
 Ø Strømmen, The Dark Net, Cappelen Damm, 2011.