- Jeff Sharlet
author of the bestseller The Family and contributing editor for Harper’s Magazine and Rolling Stone. He is also the author of C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy and, most recently, Sweet Heaven When I Die: Faith, Faithlessness, and the Country in Between. Sharlet is an assistant professor of English at Dartmouth College.
Before the deadly attack in Norway that killed 76 people, suspect Anders Behring Breivik left a long trail of material meticulously outlining his political beliefs. His 1,500-page political manifesto, titled “A European Declaration of Independence,” seeks common cause with xenophobic right-wing groups around the world, particularly in the United States. It draws heavily on the writing of prominent anti-Islam American bloggers, as well as Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. His writing reveals he is a right-wing nationalist fueled by a combined hatred of Muslims, Marxists, multiculturalists and feminist women. Even after the massacre in Norway, some right-wing pundits in the United States have come out in defense of Breivik’s analysis. We speak with Jeff Sharlet, an author who has written extensively about right-wing movements in the United States, who has read much of Breivik’s 1,500-page manifesto. “What struck me most about this document is just how American it is in every way. I mean, a huge amount of it is from American sources,” Sharlet says. “He’s a great admirer of America, because he says United States, unlike Europe, has maintained its 'Christian identity.'” [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Norwegians gathered in front of a cathedral in the center of Oslo Tuesday to mourn the 76 victims of the killer who stunned the nation with a deadly bomb and gun attack. Thousands of flowers and candles have been laid in front of the cathedral as people pay their respects to the victims. Crown Prince Haakon Magnus was among the prominent visitors also invited to an Oslo mosque in a sign of national unity.
CROWN PRINCE HAAKON MAGNUS: [translated] We have taken this initiative because of the incident on Friday. The people of the nation are in mourning. It is a difficult time, and we wish to distribute a message of hope, warmth, generosity and peace.
AMY GOODMAN: The suspect in the Norwegian attacks, Anders Behring Breivik, allegedly set off a bomb outside government buildings in Oslo Friday and then opened fire on a Labour Party summer camp for youth activists on a nearby island. During a court hearing Monday, he accepted responsibility for the killings but denied charges of terrorism. He says he belonged to an anti-Islam network that has two cells in Norway and more abroad. But Norwegian police and researchers have cast doubt on whether such an organization exists.
Breivik faces terror-related charges that carry a maximum 21-year sentence. His defense lawyer, Geir Lippestad, told reporters yesterday his client appears to be insane and that he would quit if Breivik did not agree to psychological tests.
GEIR LIPPESTAD: This whole case has indicated he’s insane. He said it was necessary to start a war here in Europe and throughout the Western world. So, he’s sorry that it was necessary, but it was necessary, he says.
AMY GOODMAN: But the suggestion that Anders Breivik is insane has been rejected by scholars following the rise of right-wing extremism. Instead, they see him as the extension of a virulently xenophobic narrative with deep roots in the United States.
Breivik left a long trail of online comments, a YouTube video, and a manifesto meticulously outlining his political beliefs. His 1,500-page manifesto, titled “A European Declaration of Independence,” seeks common cause with xenophobic, right-wing groups around the world, particularly here in the U.S. It draws heavily on the writings of prominent anti-Islam American bloggers, as well as Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. His writing reveals him as a right-wing nationalist fueled by a combined hatred of Muslims, Marxists and multiculturalists. In his video and manifesto, he identifies himself with the figures of the Crusades, in particular the early figures that actually fought a Muslim invasion of Europe. Breivik calls for a “conservative revolution” and “pre-emptive declaration of war.”
Even after the massacre in Norway, right-wing pundits in the U.S. have come out in defense of Breivik’s analysis, if not actions. On Monday, Pat Buchanan wrote at The American Conservative, quote, “As for a climactic conflict between a once-Christian West and an Islamic world that is growing in numbers and advancing inexorably into Europe for the third time in 14 centuries, on this one, Breivik may be right,” unquote.
For more, we’re joined by someone who’s made his way through much of the 1,500-page manifesto. Jeff Sharlet is author of the bestselling book The Family, contributing editor for Harper’s Magazine and Rolling Stone, author of C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy and, most recently, Sweet Heaven When I Die: Faith, Faithlessness, and the Country In Between. Professor Sharlet joins us from Dartmouth College, where he teaches English.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Jeff. Well, how far have you gotten into Breivik’s manifesto?
JEFF SHARLET: I’ve been reading it slowly over the week, and one of the things that got me started was that, you know, almost immediately, a lot of conservative pundits and even sort of mainstream journalists were declaring—summarizing this 1,500-page document. And, you know, sort of startled: how did they read this in a few hours like that? So I’ve made my way through most of it, but it’s a massive document, and it requires a lot of work, because sometimes—he says he’s lifting from a lot of sources, many of them American. Sometimes he identifies them, as with Robert Spencer, a popular anti-Islamic blogger. Sometimes he doesn’t, as with William Lind, a prominent conservative critic whose attack on what he sees as political correctness as a sign of Western decadence he lifts kind of whole cloth without attribution. So, you really have to kind of read the text and then really double-check and see where it’s coming from. I mean, even some of the most extreme things, you’re then stunned to see—for instance, his Bible battle verses that he uses as he’s preparing for combat. You know, you think this is really fringe, and in fact it comes from Joseph Farah and WorldNetDaily, a very popular conservative website in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: What were you most shocked by, Jeff Sharlet, as you tweet your way through this manifesto, sharing what you are learning? For example, talk about Spencer. He mentions him, what, more than 150 times throughout the pages.
JEFF SHARLET: Yeah, and already—”apologists” seems like too strong a word, but these conservatives are going and saying, “Oh, that’s not fair to draw a connection”—will say, “Oh, he doesn’t mention Spencer. People he’s quoting mention Spencer,” particular, another popular anti-Islamic blogger named Fjordman, who he quotes extensively. But that’s the nature of this text, and that’s—and Breivik is not a stupid man, and he talks about that, how he’s collaging this text, so he’s constantly coming back to Spencer as his sort of dominant authority on what Islam is. And, you know, if you depend on—if you believe Spencer’s understanding of Islam, other people might be taking up arms, too. It’s a little bit like reading Leviticus and then saying, “Oh, well, I know what Christians are all about, and all Christians are off hunting for witches, literally, and killing people.” I mean, it’s—the irony of Robert Spencer is he takes an absolute literalist and kind of ahistorical examination of Islam and then builds up this great monster, and that’s what Breivik goes to for his authority. And not just Spencer, but Pamela Geller, Rich Lowry from the National Review.
He’s really—what struck me most about this document is just how American it is in every way. I mean, a huge amount of it is from American sources. The ideology, he himself will sometimes describe as American. He’s a great admirer of America, because he says United States, unlike Europe, has retained its Christian identity, and that’s why he’s going to these sources. He says America has the kind of Christian identity he would like for Norway to have.
AMY GOODMAN: The manifesto also provides detailed instructions for preparing physically and mentally for what Breivik describes as a coming “civil war” between patriotic nationalists and “multiculturalists” who are, wittingly or not, destroying European civilization. He writes, “Once you decide to strike, it is better to kill too many than not enough, or you risk reducing the desired ideological impact of the strike. Explain what you have done (in an announcement distributed prior to operation) and make certain that everyone understands that we, the free peoples of Europe, are going to strike again and again.”
He also says, “This is the big day you have been looking forward to for so long. Countless hours and perhaps years of preparation have rewarded you with this opportunity. Equip yourself and arm up, for today you will become immortal.”
One more quote: “For the last three years I have been working full time on a cultural conservative work which will help to develop and market these political ideas.”
And finally, “The time for dialogue is over. We gave peace a chance. The time for armed resistance has come.”
Jeff Sharlet, comment on these.
JEFF SHARLET: You know, you mentioned that marketing line, and there’s another line, and he says, “I’m not only a one-man army, I’m a one-man marketing agency.” That’s how he describes himself. And what’s interesting is he analyzes what he thinks the media reaction is going to be. And so, he predicts correctly that, you know, a lot of mainstream media is just going to dismiss him as a madman, as insane. “You can use that to your advantage,” he says, “because they’re not going to take you very seriously.” And he says, but the other thing is, he says, a lot of cultural conservatives, like Pat Buchanan, he said, they will be forced to condemn what I’ve done. They may, in fact, genuinely condemn what he’s done, he says, but they’re going to read my manifesto, and they’re going to find in it this great document, this wake-up call, as Pat Buchanan has described it, “wholly accurate,” as American Christian right leader Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association has described it.
So when you look at—you know, one of the things that comes out of that, all that sort of rhetoric about preparing for battle is terrifying, but even more terrifying is his really sort of correct assessment of how conservatives would use it. And so far, they’ve been playing pretty close to the script and condemning the violence but saying, “Hey everybody, this is—you know, we really do need to fight the Muslim menace,” and so on, which sort of starts to lead you in this kind of circular logic where you get back to, ultimately, atrocities like the one Breivik has committed.
AMY GOODMAN: Throughout his manifesto, Breivik blames the feminist revolution for Europe’s downfall. He says he even tried to measure the relative decadence of each European country by determining how willing women were in each country to have one-night stands. In one part of Breivik’s manifesto, he writes, “Fact: 60-70% of all cultural Marxists/multiculturalists are women. This partly explains why the gradual feminist revolution is directly linked to the implementation of multiculturalist doctrines. These feminist cultural Marxists do not only want more benefits and rights for themselves. They want it all, and have more or less been awarded with everything they could ever dream of achieving. They now have complete matriarchal supremacy domestically and exercise substantial influence in politics.”
He also writes, “Females have a significantly higher proportion of erotic capital than males due to biological differences (men have significantly more prevalent sexual urges than females and are thus easily manipulated).”
Jeff Sharlet, how does this fit into his overall ideology?
JEFF SHARLET: It’s really—I mean, this has been one of the things that hasn’t been commented on enough: how central his critique of feminism is to the whole manifesto. You know, you get into long sections where he’s really picking up all these sort of talking points of the American Christian right. And he goes a little further. He goes as far as sort of the far edges of the American Christian right, saying that women should not pursue advanced degrees. And he really gets into this kind of—this sort of breeding frenzy, described by my friend Kathryn Joyce in her book, Quiverfull, which is a great source on this, this American Christian right movement that sees Christian women as somehow—and American and European women—as somehow not doing their job by having enough babies to compete with the Muslims. And, you know, as crazy as that seems—as, you know, I’ve written in another book—there’s plenty of U.S. congressmen who endorse this idea. He reproduces a long article by an American named Phillip Longman on this idea of restoring the patriarchy, that this is what’s necessary to fight Islam.
And, of course, it gets into, as with so many of these kinds of texts, this constant sort of description of women’s sexual morality. He says you can measure the weakness of Western countries’ ability to fight Islam, as you said, by counting one-night stands, which he claims to have done with his group of buddies by traveling around Europe and seeing, you know, how many people they could sleep with. So there’s, I mean, this sort of very—that sounds crazy, but then you start looking at the sources he has. And right from the very beginning, he’s constantly returning to this idea that feminism, that women’s rights, are at the heart of the kind of sort of fifth column attack on Western strength in response to Islam.
AMY GOODMAN: Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly lambasted the press for referring to Anders Breivik as a “Christian terrorist,” on the grounds that Breivik was not actually practicing Christianity. O’Reilly said no true Christian can be a terrorist and insisted Christian fundamentalists are essentially different from Muslim fundamentalists.
BILL O’REILLY: On Sunday, the New York Times headline, “As Horrors Emerged: Norway Charges Christian Extremist.” Number of other news organizations, like the L.A. Times and Reuters, also played up the Christian angle. But Breivik is not a Christian. That’s impossible. No one believing in Jesus commits mass murder. The man might have called himself a Christian on the net, but he is certainly not of that faith. Also, Breivik is not attached to any church and in fact has criticized the Protestant belief system in general. The Christian angle came from a Norwegian policeman, not from any fact finding. Once again, we can find no evidence—none—that this killer practiced Christianity in any way.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Fox’s Bill O’Reilly. Jeff Sharlet, your response?
JEFF SHARLET: You know, Bill O’Reilly, investigative journalist, once again, he can find no evidence. Try reading the manifesto. You know, this has become a popular idea, that he can’t be a Christian. Well, he’s certainly not a good Christian. I think we can agree with that, all agree on that. It’s worth remembering, for Bill O’Reilly, that there’s quite a few American evangelicals who would also say he’s not a Christian, because he’s a Catholic. You can’t be a—you know, so that kind of thing, like, “Well, you’re not doing my kind of Christianity.”
The reality is, there’s a story that emerges when you read the entire manifesto. In the beginning, he says, you know, “I wasn’t particularly religious. Then I sort of glommed onto Christianity, and I realized I had to have a Christian identity.” And by the end, he says he is religious. And, you know, as I said, he’s citing a lot of scripture, Bible verses. Bill O’Reilly says he’s not even Protestant. He agrees. He sees himself as being called back to Rome, to Catholicism. He described having high hopes for Pope Benedict early on, when Benedict said some very extreme anti-Islamic things, but he’s been disappointed. He doesn’t think Benedict is the right guy. But again and again, he says, “Look, I’m doing this for Christ.” He even, at one point in the manifesto, talks about—he says, you know, “Some people have a personal relationship with Jesus. I don’t.” So that’s being used to say, “Well, then, clearly he’s not a Christian.” It’s worth noting that, by the end, he gets that personal relationship.
But it’s also worth thinking about the tradition he’s in. He’s not in the kind of American emotional evangelical tradition of Protestantism. He’s, in fact, very critical of that. And again, he goes to American sources. He cites a priest, Father Dwight Longenecker, a Bob Jones University alumnus who converted, and writes a very long critique of what he sees as “sentimental Christianity.” He prefers what he describes as “Crusader Christianity.” And in that, he’s not alone on the American Christian right.
AMY GOODMAN: In your book, Jeff Sharlet, your book C Street, you talk about Chuck Colson. Can you talk about Chuck Colson and evangelical Christians here?
JEFF SHARLET: Yeah. He doesn’t—he doesn’t mention Colson. But, you know, ideologically, I think that’s really the kind of closest match. Colson, in a lot of ways, might be seen as advocating a Crusader Christianity, as well. He shares a lot of sort of ideas with Breivik—first of all, very militant anti-Islam. As Chuck Colson, who’s the head of something called Prison Fellowship, Christianity in prisons, told me at one point, he says, “You know, at this point, mainly we’re doing this to fight a war with Islam in prisons.” Breivik actually proposes the exact same thing for Norway. He says we need to fight Islam in prisons by sort of this kind of aggressive conversion campaign.
But they also share a kind of a medieval fetish, a kind of idealization of knighthood and manliness, and an explicit and open antagonism toward the Enlightenment. And that’s what puts Colson in this sort of more interesting place than a lot of other Christian right leaders. He says—he comes out quite plainly and says the problem is the Enlightenment, as does Breivik.
And it really even comes down to their vision for what kind of society they see. So, for instance, these folks who are saying that Breivik is not a Christian aren’t reading the portions in the manifesto in which he describes the ideal society. They want to believe will be Christian government. He sort of goes back and forth and engages the arguments within the Christian right: should we call it “theocracy,” or should we call it something else? But really, they’re sort of borrowing from a kind of a Colson idea of merging these things and giving Christianity dominion over all of society. But he says, with great generosity, that you don’t have to convert, you just have to allow schools, courts, government to be ruled according to the Bible.
AMY GOODMAN: Interestingly, Colson talks about—
JEFF SHARLET: So that kind of vision really comes—
AMY GOODMAN: Interestingly, Colson talks about Christian conservatism and the culture war in Norway, is that right? And talk about the connection of, what you write about, the Family to Norway.
JEFF SHARLET: Yeah. Norway is unusual, actually, in having had—several years ago, their prime minister was a very active member of the Family. And the Norwegian press did a much better job than the American press, and putting this on the front page for weeks, in a sort of minor scandal, when they discovered all these sort of connections of this—of the previous Conservative Norwegian government to this American Christian right group. And around that same time—
AMY GOODMAN: And the Family is…?
JEFF SHARLET: Oh, I’m sorry. The Family is a prominent—another one of these—another prominent American Christian right organization, headquartered in Washington, really dedicated more to this kind of—certainly not this Breivik kind of stuff, but more to the idea of a kind of Christian government. Colson converted to Christianity through this organization, was long identified with it, and at one point was looking at Norway and said he was greatly heartened by the rise of a new Christian conservatism in Norway, and talked about the Viking spirit that was rising. The founder of the Family was a Norwegian, who’s in fact named his autobiography Modern Viking. And you sort of see that same sensibility in Breivik, who sees himself as a Viking rising again to fight—to fight, you know, what he sees as a Muslim horde.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, this in no way is to link any of the people you’ve just talked about to the violence that has just taken place, this massacre that has—
JEFF SHARLET: Absolutely not. And I think that—
AMY GOODMAN: —just taken place in Norway.
JEFF SHARLET: No, absolutely not. And I think that’s incredibly important for us to remember, you know, anyone who cares about free speech, and also anyone who has ever written anything and seen it interpreted in a way that they didn’t like. You know, Breivik pulled the trigger. Robert Spencer didn’t shoot anybody. Chuck Colson didn’t shoot anybody. And they didn’t call for shooting anybody.
They do produce a rhetoric that kind of walks right up to the edge of things. I mean, if you are out there, like Robert Spencer or some of these other American conservatives, and saying, “Islam is a religion of violence. There can be no accommodation with it. They are trying to destroy us,” you know, and then you sort of say, “And what to do about it? I don’t know. You decide.” Well, Breivik decided. Breivik took a kind of logical next step from that rhetoric. And that’s part of why I think it’s troubling when people sort of attempt to dismiss him as a madman and not deal with the politics that are very much a part of our, unfortunately, mainstream political discourse, that walk right up to the edge of violence.
Or, you know, in the case of U.S. war in the Middle East—you know, I’ve reported on this in the past, and we talked about this on the show here before—a number of senior American officers, Lieutenant General Bruce Fister, described the war in Iraq and Afghanistan as “a spiritual war of the greatest magnitude.” There was video of the top American Army chaplain in Afghanistan saying that we’re there fighting in Afghanistan for Christianity.
So, it’s important to recognize that none of these writers are responsible for this, but they are engaging in a rhetoric that sort of walks right up to that step of violence, and Breivik took the step. And it’s a little disingenuous for them to say, “Well, we never imagined anyone would do that.”
AMY GOODMAN: Of course, his lawyer now is talking about pleading insanity for Breivik.
JEFF SHARLET: Yeah, and, I mean, that’s what—you know, it’s a lawyer’s job to find the best defense. There’s not a whole other—you know, a lot of angles on which to defend this guy, especially because he—you know, he surrendered and openly admits doing it, all of which he describes in the manifesto. He describes exactly what he was going to do. He says, here are statements that you can read at your trial hearing. It’s important to try and get a trial, he says.
And, you know, there’s something very reminiscent there of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, who’s another American source who he quotes from. Ted Kaczynski was furious because his lawyers insisted on using an insanity defense. A very troubled man, but he knew what he was doing, and he wanted to talk about it. He wanted to share his violent rhetoric. And he correctly, I think, identified that desire by the press and others to call him insane as a refusal to recognize the political critique he was making. I think we need to recognize it, if we’re going to refute it. If we kind of plug our ears and say “inexplicable evil,” then we’re not going to learn anything about it, and we’re going to be surprised the next time it happens.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us, Jeff Sharlet, author of the bestseller The Family, contributing editor for Harper’s Magazine and Rolling Stone, also author of C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Jeff Sharlet was speaking to us from Dartmouth College, where he is an assistant professor of English. We’ll be back in 30 seconds in Stockholm, Sweden. Stay with us.