The Irish Times view on the Utoya massacre anniversary: lessons on the far-right

Ten years after the murders that devastated Norway, right-wing extremism continues to pose a real and immediate threat

Oslo’s mayor Raymond Johansen,  trade unionist Peggy Hessen,  politician Thorbjorn Jagland , Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Labour party leader Jonas Gahr Store, Crown Prince Haakon of Norway  and Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway lay flowers during a memorial service at the memorial reading the names of the slaughtered Norwegian Labour party youth (AUF) on July 22nd 2011, on Utoya, Norway, ten years after a right-wing extremist killed 77 people in twin attacks. Photograph: Beate Oma Dahle / NTB / AFP via Getty Images

Oslo’s mayor Raymond Johansen, trade unionist Peggy Hessen, politician Thorbjorn Jagland , Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Labour party leader Jonas Gahr Store, Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway lay flowers during a memorial service at the memorial reading the names of the slaughtered Norwegian Labour party youth (AUF) on July 22nd 2011, on Utoya, Norway, ten years after a right-wing extremist killed 77 people in twin attacks. Photograph: Beate Oma Dahle / NTB / AFP via Getty Images

 

Ten years ago, on July 22nd 2011, Anders Behring Breivik set off a homemade bomb in central Oslo, killing eight people. He then drove 40km north-west of the Norwegian capital to the island of Utoya, in Tryfjorden lake, where the youth branch of the ruling Labour Party was hosting a summer camp. Dressed as a police officer, he used a pistol and a rifle to shoot his victims one by one. By the time police brought an end to the massacre, 69 people, most of them teenagers, had been murdered on the island.

While subsequent inquiries highlighted failures in the emergency response of the police in particular, on the whole Norway responded admirably to the horror of “22 juli”, a day seared into national memory every bit as much as 9/11 is in the United States. Breivik was jailed for 21 years, with the possibility of indefinite extensions, and the country suffered real trauma, but for the most part Norway refused to allow itself be changed. “Our response is more democracy, more openness and more humanity,” then prime minister Jens Stoltenberg said in the wake of the murders.

For Norway and for Europe, the 10th anniversary of Utoya is a reminder that, while so much attention has focused on radical Islamist terrorism, far-right violence is a real and immediate threat that requires constant attention. Last month Europol highlighted how right-wing extremists are seeking to widen their impact by infiltrating communities that do not share the full set of core right-wing radical views, including some protest groups opposed to Covid-19 restrictions. Suspects are increasingly younger, Europol noted. The propaganda they consume is disseminated online and via gaming platforms, creating the sort of transnational communities to which the perpetrator of the 2019 attack on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, belonged.

While monitoring these communities and enforcing anti-terror laws is one prong of the response, the other involves addressing the rise in hateful, racist or hostile language peddled by mainstream politicians. Their words help to create a favourable climate for violent extremists.

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