The tragic events in Norway should serve as a reminder to our politicians and pundits (as well as voices in the blogosphere) of the dangers of ignoring far-right movements and individuals. Our obsession with the 'Islamist' peril has meant taking the eye off the ball on domestic terrorism - and has even driven it. The bombs and shootings of many dozens of teenagers in Norway should shatter that complacency.
It was summer 2002. I was nearing the end of an exhausting journey. My nerves were hanging on a thread and my bank balance was running on empty. Through many countries in Europe, down into the Middle East, Australia and then over much of the eastern and southern parts of the USA, I had spent six long years meeting, in some cases living with, the men and women of the extreme Right. Some of them were boy-next-door-killers just like the Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik.
I put these recollections into my book, HOMELAND: Into a World of Hate (Mainstream/Routledge) and much of the research ended up in a BBC One drama called England Expects (written by Frank Deasy, and for which I was creative producer) shown in 2004.
In Denmark and Sweden, I tracked a Danish-American neo-Nazi by the name of Thomas Nakaba, working on behalf of a renegade faction of the British neo-Nazi gang, Combat 18 (C18). He tried to send letter bombs to targets both in the UK and Scandinavia, but was caught during a sting operation. Another C18 sympathiser in Sweden also sent a letter bomb to the Swedish Justice Minister. I then watched as C18 itself dissolved into murder. I followed the case of the baby-face killer David Copeland, the London nailbomber, who killed three (including a pregnant woman) and wounded 165 others across Brixton, Brick Lane, and Soho in 1999 as he sought to ignite a race war. Like Breivik belonging to the populist anti-immigrant Progress Party in Norway, Copeland had once belonged to the British National Party (BNP) in the UK. Both had become impatient with the slow path of democracy. (The man who had sought to inspire Copeland - a former monk, Islamic convert and die-hard Nazi called David Myatt - later threatened me to a duel to the death for revealing his links to the case.)
A few years later on the grey plains of Illinois, I sat on the porch of Matt Hale's house. Hale was a third-class lawyer who ran an operation worthy of a Louis Theroux documentary: the World Church of the Creator ('our race is our nation'). Hale wore a cheap suit and spoke in earnest terms of the white revolution to come. Laughably surreal. Yet two years earlier Hale's chief lieutenant, Ben Smith, another law graduate, had gone on a shooting spree across Illinois and killed two, whilst injuring many more: all were people of colour. As we sipped our drinks and chatted, one of Hale's followers recorded us. I didn't know that he was an undercover FBI informant. Hale was later arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for trying to get this follower to assassinate a federal judge.
Like Anders Behring Breivik, many of these men would garb themselves in different names - ultra-nationalist, white nationalist, patriot, paleo-conservative, or in some cases merely anti-EU or anti-immigration (itself clouded with lots of sub-terms) - but what they all had in common was a deep-seated obsession with race and nation, obsession with homosexuality, fear of the 'Other', rose-tinted glasses about the glorious past, sense that things were on the state of perilous collapse, and strong anti-Semitic roots. Today, add 'anti-Muslim' to that mix and blend anti-Semitic views with (in some cases) strong pro-Israeli sentiments instead. Strange, and disturbing times.
I had met these lone wolf killers, entered the illegal music scene dominated by networks such as Blood and Honour, talked with the ideologues who inspired bombers and random shooters, was invited to Holocaust denial conferences in Washington DC and Beirut, and met politicians of every ultra-conservative hue: from US Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, to Jörg Haider's Freedom Party in Austria (Haider later died in a car crash after leaving a gay bar, intoxicated). I met a former Baader-Meinhoff leader who has since become a lawyer for a neo-Nazi party in Germany. One of the people who aided me in my task was the now-dead multi-million bestselling Swedish author, Stieg Larsson. Another was Nick Griffin of the BNP who allowed me deep access into his international networks, perhaps hoping to use a liberal journalist to unknowingly promote his movement.
If there was one thing my journeys for HOMELAND revealed, it was the deep ideological, physical and internet links and friendships that united much of the Far Right. I lived with Nick Griffin's man in America, Mark Cotterill, who ran the American Friends of the British National Party and had infiltrated Pat Buchanan's presidential campaign. Cotterill's associates took me to the national meeting of the white-supremacist supporting Council of Conservative Citizens; to meet the leadership of David Duke's organisation in Virginia; and to Ku Klux Klan BBQs in the deep south. I attended polite dinner evenings with gentlemen sporting bow ties and discussing racial eugenics (one attendee was a reporter who had witnessed Timothy McVeigh's execution). In the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas (scene for the film 'Deliverance'), I spent three disturbing days and nights with one of the leading proponents of Christian Identity, a heretical sect of Christianity that holds that Jews are Satan's children and race slaying is permitted on Biblical grounds. Strong Christian, as well as pagan views, are common among the Far Right - as again with the Norwegian killer, Anders Behring Breivik.
Ironically, it was at the end of my six years of journeying that the populist gay Dutch politician, Pim Fortuyn, was gunned down by an animal rights extremist. Fortuyn was very much the herald for the equally-controversial anti-Islamic politician Geert Wilders dominating Dutch politics today. Then I received notice that William Pierce had died: Pierce was a former physics professor who established his own neo-Nazi movement, the National Alliance, which had inspired race slayers and Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh in carrying out acts of violence. I had met many who worked with, or knew, Pierce. His writings (in The Turner Diaries, among others) on 'leaderless resistance' (inspiring lone wolves to carry out race attacks, thus provoking minorities to respond, and in turn then provoking mainstream society to retaliate) are still widely read among extremists of the Right and I suspect Breivik might have seen them, too.
Both men - Fortuyn and Pierce - were heralds of the future in Oslo and the terrible events which unfurled on the idyllic island of Utoeya last week, in which over 90 people have now died. Anders Behring Breivik admired them.
When my book was first published in 2003, editors still thought the Far Right was a joke. A planned serialisation in The Daily Mail (ironic, given that paper's stance on Muslims and immigration) was cancelled because the editor felt "the Far Right are irrelevant". Yet soon the landscape was changing. Political parties of the extreme Right were marching across the European dream, reflecting fears and tensions about rapid change, economic uncertainty, rising immigration and shortage of housing. Only the BNP's shambolic organisation, dodgy accounting and Nick Griffin's dictatorial tendencies have hampered its rise. The popular narrative has changed, however. Anti-immigrant sentiments are strong, almost mainstream. Multiculturalism is dead: undoubtedly some got it wrong on the Left by not understanding the dynamics of separation and isolation within certain minority communities. Then after 9/11, and 7/7, everyone it seemed was talking about Muslims. Not just violent Al-Qaeda but quite clearly 'Islam' itself - as if everyone who followed a religion was somehow swept up into an ideology which transformed their brain and would ultimately lead them to attempt world domination (or return of the 'Khilafah', the Islamic Caliphate). The rise of the violent thugs from the English Defence League (EDL) showed a new form of protest growing: violent, anti-Muslim, with echoes of Combat 18 a decade before it. It was a movement much admired by the Norwegian killer Breivik, who remained in contact with its followers via the internet.
As I watched and listened to the self-appointed pundits and commentators on the TV, radio and web confidently speculating that the Norwegian massacre was most likely Al-Qaeda inspired, I shook my head. Angst about 'Islamism' has blinded us. Now these same commentators are shamefacedly backtracking; security 'experts' who are more schooled in talking about so-called 'Islamist terror' are now urgently trying to sound knowledgable about a far more dangerous threat lurking in their own backyard. Charlie Brooker in The Guardian wrote of his reaction to these self-same wafflers on the mainstream networks.Ahmed Moor writing on Al-Jazeera got it right, too:
"Anders Behring Breivik, Mohammed Atta and Baruch Goldstein are all cut from the same rotten cloth. Anwar Al-Awlaki and Glenn Beck - the peddlers of the faith - all share the same core afflictions."
"These men are insecure, violently inclined, and illiberal. The outside world scares them. They hate homosexuals and strong women. For them, difference is a source of insecurity. Their values are militarism, conformism, chauvinism and jingoism. Worst of all they seek to pressure us into compliance while they work frantically to destroy themselves - and the rest of us with them."
We are facing an identity crisis, a shift in the way we associate, where online identities are sometimes stronger than those we feel to those around us. In this time of great change it is easy to be inspired by hate-filled ideologies and conspiracy theories. That Breivik was a keen internet user (he even played a popular fantasy game online called World of Warcraft, which I know well) is no surprise. Online forums are swamped by those with axes to grind. Some authors and documentary makers have made a good living lampooning these 'bedsit weirdoes' - but they are the boy-next-door-killers. Those of us who wrote or spoke of their threat in the past have mostly been ignored.
Certain national newspaper columnists, right-wing think tanks and allied blogs should be ashamed they have spent so long attacking only Islamists and not been focused on the dangers of their rhetoric. I have witnessed this myself, researching a book involving many different Muslims (though when called, I too have exposed the hypocrisy and radicalism of Muslim groups). Frequently I have seen how facts are twisted to represent a better story. The world is shades of grey, yet we like our leaders to tell us it is black and white.
Even today, the neo-Nazi forum Stormfront (whose leader I met in 2001), is still going on about a ludicrously sexed-up Daily Mail report into Tower Hamlets and other inner city boroughs of Britain becoming mini-Islamic Caliphates. Utter rubbish yet dangerous. It is true that the Far Right and elements of the Islamic world have found common cause: I saw this in Holocaust denial circles first hand, or when talking to elements of Hezbollah in the southern suburbs of Beirut. Yet there is not one Muslim community or takeover: there are many communities. The idea they all want the same thing is as laughable (they spend much of their time fighting each other) as it is reminiscent of the simplistic 'Red Scare' anti-Communist feelings of the 1950s.
If we are to face down the threat of future Norway massacres, we must grow up, confront the hate-filled discourse on both Muslims and the extreme Right, and entertain less conspiracy theories and twisted media accounts. Only by seeing the truth can it set us free.