12 Years Since Right-Wing Terror in Norway

Remembering the Utøya terror attacks on 22 July 2011

Erik Engheim
17 min readJul 22, 2023

The Utøya terror attacks that happened 12 years ago on this day (22 July) affected me in a lot of ways for several reasons:

  • I am a Norwegian living in Oslo, who also lived there when it Breivik blew up the government building downtown.
  • I am a social democrat and was earlier part of the youth wing, AUF, of the Social Democratic Party. The very organization that got attacked on Utøya.
  • I was at summer camp on Utøya as a young social democrat. I knew all the places where people got killed. It could have been me if I were younger.

For many years, I wanted to write about this attack but struggled hard to find the words. Should I describe the feelings pushing my young son threw a stroller the day after through downtown Oslo with shards of glass everywhere? The explosion had created pressure waves which had blown through several building, , knocking out their glass windows on both ends. Much of downtown was boarded up for a long time after the event.

It is about ideology not the person

Many people are really focused on Anders Behring Breivik. The supposed evil and vile terrorist. The mad man. In foreign media, people fret about him getting too humane treatment. Why do I say “supposed evil”? Because I absolutely hate the propensity to reduce terror to simply being about somebody being evil or not. It absolves too many of responsibility for what happened. The terror attack wasn’t the work of one single man. He may have carried it out. He may have been the finger on the trigger, but nobody wakes up a morning and goes, “I think I want to be evil today!”

If we are to believe Breivik himself, he actually found it hard to kill people. He had to take drugs, psych himself up and do all sort of preparations. In other words, he had normal human emotions. It is normal for humans to not want to kill other humans. So why do humans kill, then? One of the primary drivers is ideology. You dehumanize those you kill. I have seen interviews with former gangsters who hurt or killed people. It is something they described as well. To do what they did, they had to learn to stop thinking about the ones they hurt as humans. It is no accident that extreme ideology has killed so many people. People have for centuries been killed in the name of religion. The Nazis killed people they deemed racially inferior, the mentally handicapped, gays, Jews, communists and socialists.

Thinking somebody is inferior is rarely enough reason to kill them. Central to ideologies that lead to mass murder is that there is some kind of grievance. Those you want to kill are somehow responsible for the ills of society. Conspiracy theories are central to rationalizing the hatred. Jews didn’t merely get killed because Nazis though they had lower IQ, were worse at sports or something. No Nazis killed Jews because there was a whole conspiracy theory built up that Germany was in such a bad state. Or why Europe in general was in a bad state.

Germany loosing WW1 was blamed on Jews and socialism and communism was blamed on Jews. Hitler blamed Russia for turning into a communist country on Jews. He blamed the spread of globalist ideas, liberal ideas and socialist ideas on Jews. In other words, what Hitler actually hated was liberal and socialist ideas. But his belief was these ideas had spread in German and elsewhere because of Jews.

Utøya was a targeted attack on social democrats

Why do I mention this while talking about Anders Behring Breivik? Because if there is anything that really angers me, it is the failure to describe the Utøya attack as a form of hate crime against social democrats. He didn’t pick a random group of teenagers to kill or a random building to blow up. Anders Behring Breivik hated social democrats like me with a passion. He wanted to kill all of us. With the bomb, he sought to kill the grownup social democrats. With Utøya, he sought to kill the next generation of social democrats.

One should know that in Norway, most politicians have a history within the political youth organizations. That is where you learn politics, debate etc. I should remark that I, personally, left the part after being at Utøya. I was long a liberal, rather than a social democrat. In Norway, liberalism belongs to the moderate political right.

Thus, by killing teenagers at Utøya, Breivik hoped to completely decapitate the Social Democratic Party. This fact got lost afterward because the Social Democratic Party didn’t want to victimize themselves. They wanted to present this attack as an attack on all of Norway and not them in particular. That was an honorable thing, but in retrospect it is clear that that strategy utterly backfired. The threat of growing right-wing extremism and ideology has not been challenged at all. In fact, I see the ideas of Anders Behring Breivik today more mainstream than ever. I daily interact with people on social media, sharing many of his ideas. Even using much the same rhetoric as him. And here it is important to not that this is to a significant degree an American phenomenon. Breivik was not born out of a radical right-wing subculture within Norway. He was radicalized by social media online using primarily English texts. His whole political manifesto is written in English, not Norwegian.

Social media, cultural marxism and Jews

You got people such as James A. Lindsay who will go on about cultural marxism and the Frankfurter schools just like Anders Behring Breivik. Lindsay is a strange fellow, as he got a PhD in mathematics from the University of Tennessee, and yet ended up working as a massage therapist afterward. To both, the Frankfurter school is seemingly the source of all evil. It feeds into the classic Nazi conspiracy tale of how all evil things come from the Jews:

From there, as historian Peter Gordon argues, “nearly all the core members of the Frankfurt School were Jewish by heritage if not by conviction or practice.” Anti-semitic perspectives on Cultural Marxism as a Jewish conspiracy have convoluted and propounded this same observation.

You can see at the beginning of Breivik’s manifesto, A European Declaration of Independence, where he rails against cultural Marxism and feminism (page 35):

Perhaps no aspect of Political Correctness is more prominent in Western European life today than feminist ideology. Is feminism, like the rest of Political Correctness, based on the cultural Marxism imported from Germany in the 1930s? While feminism’s history in Western Europe certainly extends longer than sixty years, its flowering in recent decades has been interwoven with the unfolding social revolution carried forward by cultural Marxists.

If you have spent much of any time listening to American right-wing media with characters such as Tucker Carlson, you know very well who they blame for all the ills of society. Anders Breivik blames all the same usual suspects in his manifesto

(page 20):

Cultural Marxism defines all minorities, what they see as the victims; Muslims, Feminist women, homosexuals and some additional minority groups as virtuous and they view ethnic Christian European men as evil. (Cultural Marxism does not recognise the existence of non-Feminist women, and defines Muslims, Asians and Africans who reject Political Correctness as evil, just like native Christian or even atheist Europeans.).

Sounds familiar? Breivik blames the supposed Islamization of Europe on things like affirmative actions, multiculturalism, and diversity. You don’t need to spend much time following US politics today to hear right-wing politicians or pundits complain about the very same things as Breivik:

“Cultural Marxism,” as preached by the Frankfurt School has thus spurred the widely popular and destructive concepts of “affirmative action,” “multiculturalism” and “diversity.” One can’t escape these terms today. These concepts have destroyed every defensive structure of European society which has laid the foundation for the Islamisation of Europe.

The hatred of Feminism

Since Breivik, the misogyny and attempt to see men as the big victims as only intensified. Breivik writes (page 36):

There is no doubt in the media that the “man of today” is expected to be a touchy-feely subspecies who bows to the radical feminist agenda.

Breivik’s attacks on feminism and glorification of masculinity is only going more mainstream with things like the Incel movement, phycologist Jordan Peterson and Andre Tate, currently charged with trafficking women into the sex industry. All these people who have captured the zeitgeist of the time tend to glorify traditional masculinity and blame feminism for all the ills of society. Breivik uses similar argumentation to argue how muslims are supposedly taking over Europe:

The truth is that any nation is always protected from external aggression by the men. The women can play a supporting role in this, but never more than that. For all the talk about “girl power” and “women kicking ass” which you see on movies these days, if the men of your “tribe” are too weak or demoralised to protect you, you will be enslaved and crushed by the men from other “tribes” before you can say “Vagina Monologues”. Which means that if you break down men’s masculinity, their willingness and ability to defend themselves and their families, you destroy the country. That’s exactly what Western women have done for the last forty years. So why are you surprised about the results? As you said, you can’t fool Mother Nature. Well, you have tried to fool her for a long time, and you are now paying the price for this.

In other words, Brevik sees Western culture and strength destroyed from within and being overrun by Islam. Who is to blame for this? Who is the scapegoat? Anders Behring Breivik sees the political left as the source of all of this. In Norway, that is represented by the Norwegian Labour Party, a social democratic party in the tradition of democratic socialism. Thus, to stop this development, he saw a need to kill social democrats.

This kind of thinking isn’t new. In fact, there is a strong parallel to the German Nazi party and Hitler. As I said earlier, we often present Nazism as being primarily about hating Jews, but Jews were hated specifically for a reason. The belief that they had introduced all the same ideas as Breivik rails against was a core part of it. In fact when Nazis spoke of Jews they frequently didn’t mean Jews as an ethnic group but rather anyone with ideas such as liberalism, feminism or socialism in their heads. Read this paragraph from the famous Max Fraenkel interview of Hitler. He interviewed Hitler in 1931, and the interview is kind of unique since Fraenkel is a Jew. Fraenkel challenges Hitler on this idea that Jews have all this power in Germany and keep Germans down with the questions: “German slaves dominated by Jewish capital?”

Hitler then clarifies that with Jews he actually means people influenced by what he calls Jewish ideas. Hitler mentions internationalists. It is just another word for globalists, villains of the American political right today:

When I speak of Jewish capital, Jewish politics and Jewish domination I do not necessarily mean Jews. I mean, rather, all that is not truly German. The Jews have infected culture and German politics with their views. By trying to transform themselves into Germans they have turned Germans into Jews. They influence business and politics with their internationalistic ideas. The only way in which Germans who have become infected with Judeophilia can be saved is by labeling everything un-German Jewish.

You may wonder why I specifically mention the American political right or American conservatism in particular. Why not conservatism in general? Simply because it would make no sense to say that in e.g. Norway. The Norwegian conservative party never speaks in those terms. In fact, they probably sound more like American democrats. Breivik was thus never much influenced by Scandinavian conservatism. He was heavily influenced by the right-wing ideology that dominates social media. As the world’s only superpower, the US tends to set the online political agenda. Twitter, YouTube, Google, and Facebook are all American companies and due to the English language dominating online debate, American discourse will naturally set the tone.

Anyway, back to my point about what Hitler referred to as Jews.

I would call the entire Bruening Cabinet a Jewish cabinet. I qualify the Stressemann foreign policy a Jewish policy. I designate the Berlin police department as Jewish. The humiliating surrender of German interests to our former enemies is due entirely to Jewish influence.

The Brüning cabinet was ironically belonging to the political center and thus not all that left-wing. But it was enough to be labeled a Jew by Hitler. Thus killing Jews was not merely about killing people with Jewish ethnicity but people “corrupted” by Jewish ideas. Hitler railed against the very same ideals as Breivik.

Hitler famously advocated for Kinder, Küche, Kirche:

In a September 1934 speech to the National Socialist Women’s Organization, Hitler argued that for the German woman her “world is her husband, her family, her children, and her home”

The Nazi party wanted a return to traditional values. It was very much an anti-feminist party. Thus, ironically, even at a time like the 1930s, which does not seem very feminist by today’s standard, the paranoia about the decline of masculinity was no different from the same paranoia exhibited on the US political right today and pundits like Tucker Carlson, Jordan Peterson and Andrew Tate.

Barbara Kosta argues that, to some, the modern woman of the Weimar Republic was viewed as an insult to previous conceptions of Germanic motherhood, and womanhood in general.

As a Scandinavian, I keep seeing foreign right-wing mockery of Scandinavian progressive values. They, like Breivik, have some fetish about strong masculine Viking warriors. Breivik writes on page 352:

However, I suspect that the most important reason has to do with the extreme anti- masculine strand of feminism that has permeated Scandinavia for decades. The male protective instinct doesn’t take action because Scandinavian women have worked tirelessly to eradicate it, together with everything else that smacks of traditional masculinity. Because of this, feminism has greatly weakened Scandinavia, and perhaps Western civilisation as whole.

Ironically, while Vikings were extremely violent, they values by the standards of the day were, in fact, extremely liberal. In fact, the Tucker Carlson’s and Andre Tate’s of the year 800 AD could easily have complained about feminism running rampage in Scandinavia because women had far more rights than what was deemed appropriate elsewhere in the world. Were Vikings the original feminists:

It was surprisingly easy for married women in Viking society to divorce their husbands, meaning no woman was forced by law to remained married against her will.

Acceptable reasons for divorce were varied, but it was possible for a woman married to a Viking to cite grounds such as domestic violence, a lack of financial support or even sexual incompatibility.

Women were also permitted to reclaim their dowry as part of the divorce, as well as keep assets from the marriage and even remarry.

You didn’t even need to marry in Viking culture. You could have sex before marriage:

Not only were unmarried women permitted to live with unmarried men, but it was also entirely socially acceptable. There was also a completely permissive attitude towards children born out of wedlock. ‘Illegitimacy’ wasn’t a concept and women were never shamed for falling pregnant or having a child while unmarried.

In other words, this idea that Scandinavia has entirely changed and taken a hard turn towards to feminism relative to other countries is simply not accurate. Scandinavia today is more feminist than other countries because it was always more feminist than other countries. Scandinavia has simply evolved with the times. If your dream society is a patriarchal society where men are full in charge, you are better served looking at the historical Middle East or Ancient Greece, not Scandinavia.

Women in the ancient Greek world had few rights in comparison to male citizens. Unable to vote, own land, or inherit, a woman’s place was in the home and her purpose in life was the rearing of children.

In viking society, in contrast, women could vote when selecting the next king.

I am raising these points because there is an attempt by the far-right to rewrite history and to legitimize their views to appeal to whatever is supposedly natural. But the strong division between the gender advocate isn’t particularly natural. It is worth looking at this video interviewing primatologist Frans de Waal inadvertently who popularized the term alpha male:

He makes a good point about us humans in our nature being very close to other primates. A benefit of studying primates and their social interactions is that those interactions are less shaped by culture. Hence, we can see what is actually natural rather than what many people claim is natural. The same applies to studying various primitive tribal societies. Frans de Waal points out the concept of an alpha male is profoundly misunderstood. Today, people consider an alpha to be a strong, dominant male. It is the type of male person people like Andrew Tate advocate. Train hard and learn to punch. However, in biology, an alpha male is simply the one in charge of a group. It doesn’t refer to any particular traits. An alpha male can have almost any personality. Being strong or aggressive isn’t even very important. It is the ability to form alliances and gain followers which really sets an alpha apart from others. Other times there is nothing much to it. E.g., an alpha wolf is not a position gained through conflict, but merely the male that fathered the flock of wolves. And usually the flock is led by the couple, and not the male exclusively.

Fomenting hatred against leftists

My motivation for writing about his is to put the actions of Breivik in context. He wasn’t merely somebody who went crazy. He was radicalized by right-wing ideology of the kind that is far more mainstream today than it was when it carried out his attack. The core behind the rationalization to straight out kill social democrats was created and is still created by the propagation of the idea that leftists are traitors to their country and western civilisation. Somehow, we have opened the gates to Muslims to allow our own society to be destroyed. Hence, Breivik viewed his terrorist attack as a defensive move.

I draw a red line back to Hitler because this line of thinking isn’t new on the far-right. The killing of Jews was rationalized based on the idea that they spread leftist ideology, which poisoned the minds of Germans. In their view, all of Russia had been destroyed because of “Jewish” socialism. Germany was next if they didn’t act.

Breivik isn’t the lone gunman people like to portray. Survivors of Utøya still receive weekly hate messages from right-wingers who wished they had died and who call them traitors. It was telling that FOX News refused to acknowledge his ideology and consistently referred to him as a madman. That is why I object to the labeling of Breivik as mad or evil. It is a way to remove the ideological underpinnings of his actions. Ironically, they have no problem pointing out Islam as the driver of Islamic radicals committing terror.

Here it is important to find a balance. Every conservative isn’t a Breivik style ideologue, just like every muslim isn’t a terrorist in the making, or a supporter of terrorism. There is of course a moderate democratic right which fights for individual rights and human dignity. Just like, there are muslims who embrace modern secular values.

My point is that Breivik style ideology isn’t some tiny fringe. It is big and growing bigger. And while many right-wingers would never go as far as Breivik, far too many excuses or support too much of the rhetoric that people like Breivik push. If you are pushing the idea that for instance, the US Democratic Party is planning to turn all the US into a socialist state, then you are engaging in Breivik style conspiratorial thinking. Words may seem harmless, but they are not. If you convince people that leftist are a direct threat to your freedom, then you have rationalized using violence against those people.

If you characterize immigration or refugees coming into your country as an invasion then you also help rationalize using violence against these people and those who enabled this “invasion.” An invasion is an illegal act we normally respond to by taking up arms and shooting invaders. If you are not picking up a gun and shooting and invader, then I guess you must be okay with people invading you? You see the problem with extreme language? Call things what they are. Immigration today is still legal and controlled and people immigrating are not coming in with arms to to occupy the country.

To get people to do extreme actions you must make them believe their actions are justified. Extreme language helps justify extreme actions. Today many of the view of Breivik aren’t even considered extreme anymore. They are mainstream.

Norway never dealt with ideology of Breivik and never fully accepted that it was a politically targeted assassination. In the name of unity we simply said it was all of Norway that was attacked. The problem with that is that members of right-wing populist party such as Frp (political party in Norway) will continue to spout the kind of rhetoric that enabled Breivik. Last time they played indignant victim for being called out. It is not like the ideology has stopped having an affect. Brenton Harrison Tarrant followed directly in the footsteps of Breivik with his Christchurch mosque shootings.

Tarrant claims to be the author of a 74-page manifesto titled The Great Replacement, a reference to the “Great Replacement” and “white genocide” conspiracy theories. It said that the attacks were planned two years prior, and the location was selected three months prior.Minutes before the attacks began, the manifesto was emailed to more than 30 recipients, including the prime minister’s office and several media outlets, and links were shared on Twitter and 8chan.

The “Great Replacement” is a popular right-wing conspiracy. The idea that white people will be replaced. Thanks to people like Tucker Carlson, former FOX News employee, such view have now gone mainstream among US conservatives:

Many of the false narratives Carlson promoted were part of the “great replacement” conspiracy theory, the racist fiction that nonwhite people are being brought into the U.S. to replace white voters.

The question might be why this should matter to a Norwegian?

The Importance of US Politics

US politics matters as we saw with Anders Behring Breivik and Brenton Harrison Tarrant because US politics sets the tone all over the world. When extremist ideology rise in the US it also spills out into the rest of the world. It simply cannot be ignored. Concepts such as cultural marxism was completely unknown in Norwegian discourse when Anders Behring Breivik got arrested and was railing about it in Norwegian court.

But for anyone, like me, who has followed US politics over many years the term was nothing new. It is widely used by right-wingers such as James A. Lindsay. I only mention Lindsay because I kept seeing his tweets on Twitter and it sort of fascinated me that somebody that intelligent kept spouting so much conspiratorial stuff. I have since then had to come to terms with the sad reality that intelligence doesn’t seem to give that good protection against conspiratorial thinking. Sometimes the ones most lost in conspiracy have utilized their skill and brainpower to dig themselves really deep into conspiratorial material.


Anders Behring Breivik never managed to undermine Norwegian democracy, destroy the Social Democratic party or liberal values. But he still had a significant victory in that his ideas are more popular than ever with the Western world. Right-wing populism is on the rise and the social democrats he attacked are politically weaker than ever.

The Norwegian Labour Party may not have collapsed because of his attack but it was severely weakened. A whole generation of young politicians which would normally have formed the bulk of the party got either killed or traumatized. It left a scar in the party which will never fully grow.

On the other hand I suppose Breivik would be foaming at the mouth if he saw the current rise of “wokeism.” It isn’t really something new though. In his manifesto he complains about all the same things, but he refers to them by the older term “political correct.”

Are there problems with wokeim today? Absolutely. I am not behind every woke trend I see today by far. But I see the rise of Breivik style ideology significantly more dangerous. Nobody is going to go on a Breivik style killing spree in the name of wokeism.



Erik Engheim

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.