Lars Erik Berntzen
- Visitor AddressChristies gate 155007 Bergen
- Postal AddressPostboks 78025020 Bergen
- Current projects
- Liberal Roots of Far Right Activism (2020): Book reviews and excerpt
- Highlighted articles with abstracts
Lars Erik Berntzen is a Postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Comparative Politics, University of Bergen. He was previously a Researcher at the Center for Research on Extremism (C-REX), University of Oslo (2017-19), now affiliate researcher.
Berntzen's research sits at the intersection of political science, sociology and psychology and deals with topics such as:
- Peoples' attitudes to political violence and perpetrators of violence.
- Affective polarization and its potential consequences for democracy and how citizens view and engage with one another (social segregation, intolerance, pro-violence).
- The emergence and growth of the anti-Islamic far right from the turn of the century and onwards; scale, causes and consequences.
- Extreme right terrorism and adjacent phenomena such as school shootings with a particular emphasis on the July 22, 2011 case.
- Consequences of conflict among political elites for citizens beliefs and preferences.
2013-2018 PhD in Political and Social Science, Faculty of Political and Social Science, European University Institute, Italy
2015 Exchange, Faculty of Social Science, Department of Comparative Politics, University of Bergen, Norway
2013-2014 Master of Research (M.Res), Faculty of Political and Social Science, European University Institute, Italy
2009-2011 Master in Sociology, Faculty of Social Science, Department of Sociology, University of Bergen, Norway
2008 Exchange, Social Sciences Division, Department of Sociology, U.C Berkeley, USA
2006-2009 Bachelor’s degree in Sociology, Department of Sociology, University of Bergen, Norway
Politikk og Røvere, social science podcast in collaboration with Jonas Bergan Dræge (Norwegian):
49 episodes, available where you listen to podcasts - https://soundcloud.com/user-121156373
Newspaper Op-Eds and blog pieces:
Mer konflikt etter 22. juli - VG (14.07.2021).
Understanding the liberal roots of far-right activism - UiO blog Right Now! (11.11.2019).
Trusselen fra gutterommet – Bergens Tidende (22.11.2015).
Høyreekstreme grupper og einstøinger. Hvorfor Sverige ikke er så spesielt – Aftenposten (10.11.2015).
Pegida marsjerer fortsatt gjennom Europa – forskning.no (15.07.15).
Demokratiske rettigheter og diskriminering. Funn fra tre survey-eksperimenter – Vox Publica (26.06.15).
Anti-Islamic Pegida groups have spread beyond their German heartlands – LSE European Politics and Policy (17.06.15).
How anti-Islamic Pegida spreads across Western Europe – EUI Times (07.04.2015)
Var 22. juli egentlig en skolemassakre? – Morgenbladet (04.07.14).
Anti-islam, høyreekstremisme og vold – NRK Ytring (20.06.14).
De som vil redde oss – NRK Ytring (17.07.13).
Terrorhandlingenes fundament - Bergens Tidene (30.07.11), Stavanger Aftenblad (16.08.11).
Television, radio and podcast appearances (2019 - )
Mer konflikt etter 22. juli - NRK Nyhetsmorgen (10.08.2021).
Breivik avvist av ytre høyre - NRK Nyhetsmorgen (28.06.2021).
SIAN og ytringsfrihet - NRK Debatten, television interview (03.09.2020).
The Far Right and Muslims - Conversation with Dr. Ismail Patel for UK ReOrient Podcast, The Journal of Critical Muslim Studies (2020).
Hva er det SIAN vil? - Aftenposten Forklart, podcast interview (31.08.2020).
Hvordan høyreekstreme går fra nettforum til angrep - Aftenposten Forklart, podcast interview (15.08.19).
Den høyreekstreme terroren og inspirasjonen - Aftenposten Forklart, podcast interview (21.03.19).
English Defence League og ytre høyre – Studio 2, NRK P2, radio interview (25.02.2019).
Newspaper interviews and references to research (2019 - )
A decade on, 'the hatred is still out there' but attacker's influence is seen as low” – CNN (23.07.2021).
Forskere har for første gang kartlagt støtten til 22. juli-terroristen. To miljø skilte seg ut – Aftenposten (06.07. 2021).
Forskere: Frp gjør det vanskeligere å være høyreradikal i Norge – Nettavisen (23.06.2021).
Breivik avvist av ytre høgre - forskning.no (29.06.2021).
Fryktet Breivik-kopier – slik lot høyreekstreme seg påvirke etter 22. juli – nrk.no (17.07.2021).
Breivik's massacre inspires squabbling far-right heirs a decade on – The National (17.07.2021).
Arven etter Behring Breivik – Stavanger Aftenblad (31.07.2021).
Spørsmålene Norge måtte ha svar på – Universitetet i Bergen Aktuelt (07.07.2021).
Verkar valkampen – eigentleg? Stavanger Aftenblad (18.08.2021).
Startet blodig terrorstafett – Dagbladet (20.07.2021).
Ulven og hans flokk, Dagbladet (19.07.2021).
Ekstremister misforstår ikke hva FrP står for, - Anne Bitsch (op-ed), Morgenbladet (11.07.2021).
Stopp splittelsen – stå sammen mot voldelig ekstremisme, - Sylvi Listhaug, Ketil Solvik-Olsen og Terje Søviknes (op-ed), Aftenposten (11.07.2021).
FrPs alternative historieskriving - Anne Bitsch (op-ed), Aftenposten (15.07.2021).
Ti år etter 22. juli: tida leger alle sår? - Universitetet i Oslo.
Koraanin julkiset häpäisyt toistavat samaa kaavaa, joka usuttaa ihmiset toistensa kimppuun, arvioi norjalaistutkija - Helsingin Sanomat. (31.08.2020).
Ytre høyre provoserer oftere på gata enn før - forskning.no (16.01.2020).
Rasister, nynazister og anti-islamske nevnes ofte i samme åndedrag, men det er ulikheter - Vårt Land (04.08.2020).
Slik er gruppa som gjør folk rasende - Klar Tale (29.08.2020).
Sian-dilemmaet vokser - Aftenposten (28.08.2020).
Unge, hvite menn som dyrker vold, rasisme og konspirasjonsteorier – TV2.no (24.08.2019).
Forsker om høyreekstrem terror: – Er som å finne en nål i en høystakk - VG (16.03.19).
Ekspert om samfunnsdebatten: – Vi er i stor grad dobbeltmoralske – NRK (21.03.19).
SV varsler kamp mot muslimhat -Vårt land (25.03.19).
Soloterrorister blir radikalisert ved å kommunisere med likesinnede på nett (Dagen,
– Det går ganske kaldt nedover ryggen - NRK (12.08.19).
Åpen plattform hyller høyreekstrem terror: - Gir næring til hatet, sier forsker – Nettavisen (14.08.19).
«Gud, jeg håper han får et solid drapstall». Slik reagerte nettforumet under angrepet på moskéen - Aftenposten (14.08.19).
Personer som «heiet» på Manshaus på nett oppga å være norske – Nettavisen (14.08.19).
Terrorsiktede Philip Manshaus: - Veldig uvanlig - Dagbladet (20.08.19).
Etterforsker om terrorsiktede Philip Manshaus hyllet Breivik på Instagram – Nettavisen (15.08.19).
Hvite massedrapsmenn finner inspirasjon i hverandre: – Det er en «copycat»-tendens -VG (15.08.19).
Hemmelig-funksjonen endres i Facebooks kamp for å få kontroll over de lukkede gruppene – Aftenposten (15.08.19).
Bjånesøy, L., Ivarsflaten, E., & Berntzen, L. E. (2023). Public political tolerance of the far right in contemporary Western Europe. West European Politics, 1-24.
Berntzen, L. E., Kelsall, H., & Harteveld, E. (2022). Affective polarization and Its consequences: Avoidance, intolerance and support for violence in the UK and Norway. OSF Preprints. Retrieved from osf.io/sdm7p
Harteveld, E., Berntzen, L. E., Kokkonen, A., Kelsall, H., Linde, J., & Dahlberg, S. (2022). The (Alleged) Consequences of Affective Polarization: Individual-Level Evidence & a Survey Experiment in 9 Countries. OSF Preprints. Retrieved from osf.io/64uwd
Berntzen, L.E. (2022). Pegida. In The Wiley‐Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social and Political Movements. URL: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/9780470674871.wbespm605
Berntzen, L. E., & Ravndal, J. A. (2021). Monster or Hero? Far-right Responses to Anders Behring Breivik and the July 22, 2011 Terrorist Attacks. Perspectives on Terrorism, 15(3), 37-59.
Berntzen, L. E., & Bjørgo, T. (2021). The Term ‘Lone Wolf’ and its Alternatives. Perspectives on Terrorism, 15(3), 132-141.
Berntzen, L. E. (2020). Liberal Roots of Far Right Activism: The Anti-Islamic Movement in the 21st Century. Routledge.
Berntzen, L. E. (2020). How elite politicization of terror impacts sympathies for partisans: Radical right versus social democrats. Politics and Governance, 8(3), 19-31.
Weisskircher, M., & Berntzen, L. E. (2019). Remaining on the streets: Anti-Islamic PEGIDA mobilization and its relationship to far-right party politics. In Radical right movement parties in Europe (pp. 114-130). Routledge.
Berntzen, L. E. (2018). The anti-Islamic movement: far right and liberal? (Doctoral dissertation). European University Institute, Italy.
Berntzen, L. E. (2018). Ytre høyre: Ideologier, grupper, vold og rekruttering. Radikalisering—fenomen og forebygging.
Berntzen, L. E., Bjånesøy, L., & Ivarsflaten, E. (2017). Patterns of legitimacy on the far right. In ECPR general conference.
Berntzen, L. E., & Weisskircher, M. (2016). Anti-Islamic PEGIDA beyond Germany: Explaining differences in mobilisation. Journal of Intercultural Studies, 37(6), 556-573.
Berntzen, L. E., & Sandberg, S. (2014). The collective nature of lone wolf terrorism: Anders Behring Breivik and the anti-Islamic social movement. Terrorism and Political Violence, 26(5), 759-779.
Sandberg, S., Oksanen, A., Berntzen, L. E., & Kiilakoski, T. (2014). Stories in action: The cultural influences of school shootings on the terrorist attacks in Norway. Critical Studies on Terrorism, 7(2), 277-296.
Berntzen, L. E. (2011). Den eksistensielle trusselen, en sosiologisk studie av politisk motstand mot islam, muslimsk kultur og innvandring til Norge (Master's thesis, The University of Bergen).
- (2021). The Term ‘Lone Wolf’ and its Alternatives. Perspectives on Terrorism (PT). 132-141.
- (2021). Monster or Hero? Far-right Responses to Anders Behring Breivik and the July 22, 2011 Terrorist Attacks. Perspectives on Terrorism (PT). 37-59.
- (2020). How elite politicization of terror impacts sympathies for partisans: Radical right versus social democrats. Politics and Governance. 19-31.
- (2016). Anti-Islamic PEGIDA Beyond Germany: Explaining Differences in Mobilisation. Journal of Intercultural Studies. 556-573.
- (2014). Stories in action: the cultural influences of school shootings on the terrorist attacks in Norway. Critical Studies on Terrorism. 277-296.
- (2014). Stories in action: the cultural influences of school shootings on the terrorist attacks in Norway. Critical Studies on Terrorism. 277-296.
- (2017). Patterns of Legitimacy on the Far Right. 4. 4. .
- (2021). The limits of public political tolerance of the far right in contemporary liberal democracies.
- (2022). The (Alleged) Consequences of Affective Polarization: Individual-Level Evidence & a Survey Experiment in 9 Countries.
- (2020). Liberal Roots of Far Right Activism: The Anti-Islamic Movement in the 21st Century.
- (2015). Trusselen fra gutterommet. Bergens Tidende.
- (2015). Demokratiske rettigheter og diskriminering. Funn fra tre survey-eksperimenter. Vox publica.
- (2015). Anti-Islamic Pegida groups have spread beyond their German heartlands. EUROPP Blog.
- (2011). Terrorhandlingenes fundament. Bergens Tidende.
- (2018). The Anti-Islamic Movement: Far Right and Liberal?
- (2015). Pegida marsjerer fortsatt gjennom Vest-Europa.
- (2015). Høyreekstreme og einstøinger. Hvorfor Sverige ikke er så spesielt.
- (2015). Forsker på ekstremisme.
- (2018). Ytre høyre: ideologier, grupper, vold og rekruttering. 20 pages.
- (2018). Remaining on the Streets: Anti-Islamic PEGIDA Mobilization and its Relationship to Far Right Party Politics.
- (2017). Pegida. . In:
- (2017). Store norske leksikon (snl.no 2017).
More information in national current research information system (CRIStin)
Liberal Roots of Far Right Activism: The Anti-Islamic Movement in the 21st Century (2020)
Reviews: Patterns of Prejudice (Karavasilis, 2021), e-Extreme (Downes, 2021), Revue internationale de politique compare (Robert, 2021) and ECPS Book Reviews (Girdap, 2022).
Blog summary: Understanding the liberal roots of far-right activism
Europe is currently undergoing large-scale demographic and cultural change. An otherwise ageing and secularizing corner of the world has received an influx of younger, non-Western and often religious migrants. This influx has been increasingly and consistently contested by a resurgent far right from the 1980s onwards (Klandermans & Mayer, 2006, p. 3). For decades, as the conflict revolved around race, ethnicity and nationality – Africans and Arabs, Turks, Moroccans, and Pakistanis – some on the far-right upheld Islam as a positive, conservative force.
That has changed. In tandem with a long list of spectacular acts of political violence committed in the name of Islam and controversies such as the Muhammed cartoon crisis, Muslims and Islam have now become the predominant enemy for the far right in Europe and beyond.
This book is about that anti-Islamic turn and expansion of the far right. It is about a growing movement and subculture that is transnational in scope ranging from the United States, Western Europe, and, increasingly, Central and Eastern Europe. It has old ideological roots, but the movement began to coalesce online in the wake of the terror attacks on the United States by Al-Qaeda on 11 September 2001 (9/11). Since then, the anti-Islamic struggle has given rise to several distinct waves of activism under the names of Stop Islamization, Defense League, Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West (Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes, PEGIDA) and others. Anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim groups flourish online. In party politics, new initiatives such as the Dutch Pim Fortuyn List (Lijst Pim Fortuyn, LPF) and later Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party (Partij voor de Vrijheid, PVV) made opposition to Islam their main issue.
The parties that mobilize on anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic ideas and arguments are now the most studied of all the party families (Mudde, 2016). In contrast, we know less about the broader movement and subculture. An important reason for precisely why far-right parties are the subject of so much research, and why the anti-Islamic movement(s) and subculture merit closer scrutiny, is the idea that these initiatives either want to destroy democratic society itself or will in some way lead to its corrosion.
Franz Timmermans, the first Vice President of the European Commission, stated in an official speech that “The rise of islamophobia is one of the biggest challenges in Europe. It is a challenge to our vital values, to the core of who we are” (2015). Given this notion of a threat to “our” values, it is striking that the anti-Islamic far right in Western Europe and North America argue that they are defending democracy and freedom of speech (Betz & Meret, 2009, p. 313), while often proclaiming their support for Jews, gender equality, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual (LGBT) rights (e.g. Dauber, 2017, p. 52). If we turn the clock back two decades, we find a surge in neo-Nazi violence (Koopmans, 1996) and outspoken hostility towards Jews, homosexuals, and modern gender norms was commonplace.
Hearing far-right politicians and activists talk in such different terms today may appear paradoxical, given the legacy of opposition towards both progressive and liberal ideals, movements, and parties. Is the far right, which has been so closely tied to antagonism towards these very groups, now one of their defenders?
Viewed through the lens of history, it is their apparent self-portrayal as defenders of progressive and liberal ideals – and not their opposition to Islam and Muslims – that is most distinctive. In academic circles, this is often portrayed as being only skin deep, a thin veneer masking their true positions – and that the far right hides a radical “back stage” behind its moderate “front stage” (Fleck & Müller, 1998, p. 438) which is racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, against women’s rights, and hostile to democracy.
It is defined as a transparently strategic vocabulary (Scrinzi, 2017) used to circumvent and defend against allegations of racism. This is deemed a necessity on their part, since openly racist remarks have been stigmatized and pathologized (Lentin & Titley, 2011, p. 20) ever since the total defeat of the Axis powers in World War II (Jackson & Feldman, 2014, p. 7). The claims by Marine Le Pen of the French Front National (FN) to defend women’s rights are, for instance, understood as “instrumental” and “pseudo-feminist” (Larzillière & Sal, 2011). In much the same way, Mayer, Ajanovic, and Sauer (2014) state that the far right exploits gender and LGBT arguments strategically in order to denigrate Muslim men. Others have conceptualized this as homonationalism (Puar, 2013; Zanghellini, 2012), and femonationalism (Farris, 2012, 2017).
Critical positions and scepticism are not without merit. For instance, studies of the British National Party (BNP) that go beyond the “front stage” by examining speeches and memos not intended for the public reveal that they toned down their anti-Semitism and anti-democratic positions as a ploy to win over new recruits and circumvent opposition from mainstream society (Jackson & Feldman, 2014, p. 10). These findings are in line with the broad consensus in the literature. Yet, we risk misconstruing the anti-Islamic turn and expansion if we limit ourselves to a theoretically based rejection or if we rely exclusively on single-case evidence from organizations with a clear fascist legacy. As a starting point for mapping the anti-Islamic movement and to investigate this apparent paradox and its ramifications on a broader scale, I pose the two following research questions:
RQ1. What characterizes the anti-Islamic movements’ structure and composition?
RQ2. How, and to what extent, does the anti-Islamic movement incorporate progressive and liberal values?
In order to investigate the movements’ configuration and degree of entanglement with progressive and liberal ideals, this book provides a study of four specific dimensions: 1) the background of leaders; 2) their official ideology; 3) organizational networks; and 4) the mobilization of sympathizers. The extent to which liberal and progressive positions and arguments permeate the anti-Islamic movement has far-reaching consequences for our basic understanding of what the anti-Islamic movement is. In addition to saying something about their entanglement with progressive and liberal ideals, these dimensions give us insight about the anti-Islamic turn on the far right.
First, tracing the waves of activism and the biographies of the leaders, representatives, and ideologues provides us with insight into their motivation for joining the anti-Islamic cause and whether they have their roots in the old far right or not. Second, studying their official ideology (front stage) gives an indication of whether their positions are consistent or fragmented across countries and organizations. Third, network analysis tells us whether these initiatives form a cohesive whole or consist of disjointed communities. Taken together, the historical and biographical overview, alongside the analyses of ideology and networks, go to the core of the matter. Is this really a movement, or is it just a question of different groups driven by national, regional, and local legacies and peculiarities? And do they represent a continuation of the old far right or not? By studying their mobilization, we uncover whether they have managed to recruit moderates or extremists, and to what extent they are aligned with the official ideological platform espoused by the leaders. It also provides insight into the drivers of their continued online mobilization and ability to spread their message, and why certain messages get more traction than others.
The four steps
The broader anti-Islamic turn consists of two parallel developments: first, an anti-Islamic reorientation of pre-existing radical right parties; second, an anti-Islamic expansion of the far right with new political initiatives. While the expansion includes some electorally successful parties, such as Pim Fortuyn’s LPF and Geert Wilders’ PVV, both in the Netherlands, it largely consists of alternative news sites and blogs, think-tanks, street protest groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and PEGIDA, and minor political parties. Empirically speaking, the universe of cases dealt with in this book is limited to the anti-Islamic expansion. The findings and theoretical claims, however, have some bearing on the broader anti-Islamic turn.
The book starts by tracing the growth of anti-Islamic activism between 2001 and 2017, focussing on initiatives and central figures from six “stronghold” countries: Britain, the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, and Denmark. This is followed by a frame analysis of official statements by 11 key initiatives known for their anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic rhetoric in Germany, Norway, and Britain. All three countries are epicentres of anti-Islamic activism. Norway was the first country to have an explicitly anti-Islamic activist organization in Stop Islamization of Norway (SIAN) in 2000. Britain was the location where the online communities first gathered for a street march in 2005, and which witnessed the rise of the EDL in 2009. Finally, Germany gave birth to the latest version of anti-Islamic activism with PEGIDA in 2014, which has since spread across Europe (Berntzen & Weisskircher, 2016). I then trace the online anti-Islamic network starting with these 11 anti-Islamic initiatives’ from Norway, Britain and Germany and 16 of their offshoots across the world in March 2015 and March 2016; that is, before and after the “refugee crisis”. When examining members of these networks, the case selection consists of the anti-Islamic groups found in the network analysis that were active during the summer of 2016 – totalling 300 groups across Europe, North America, and Australia (Figure 1.1).
Findings and the argument(s)
As the old, highly authoritarian and ethnocentric far right lost its vitality, a new phenomenon arose to take its place: anti-Islam. It is a new addition to the far-right family, but no child of the old far right. The anti-Islamic cause was borne by a curious mix of people with leftist and conservative backgrounds, all of whom professed their attachment to many liberal ideals. Their leaders and intellectuals – many of them journalists and historians – came to see their own political camps as ignorant of the dangers posed by Islam. In their eyes, Islam was not a regular religion but a totalitarian ideology equivalent to communism and fascism. Propelled by their belief in a civilizational struggle between the West and Islam, these activists managed to establish a transnational anti-Islamic movement consisting of activist groups, think-tanks, and alternative media outlets, as well as some political parties. The movement itself has undergone four waves of expansion in response to acts of terror and other moral shocks, starting with 9/11. Most of their claims and positions about what they represent resonate with broad majorities in Western Europe: free speech, preservation of the Christian heritage, democracy, gender equality, LGBT rights and the protection of Jews. Their outspoken hostility to Islam and Muslims further resonates with substantial minorities.
Their civilizational worldview, which combines previously divergent political projects, is broadly consistent across organizations and countries. They continuously include both traditional and modern perspectives on a broad range of issues. On the one hand, hostility towards the Muslim minority and defence of traditions sits well with the older far right. On the other hand, their inclusion of modern gender norms and key liberal positions are clearly at odds with the traditional far right with its rigid views on gender roles and hostility toward democracy. For instance, when it comes to the supposed threat posed by Islam and Muslims to women’s rights, they vacillate between “protector frames” with a male point of view (our women), and “equality frames” with a female point of view. I define this ideological duality as strategic frame ambiguity.
The anti-Islamic network mirrors this ideological duality. Anti-Islamic groups reach out to animal rights, LGBT, and women’s rights groups, as well as Christian conservatives and Jewish and pro-Israeli initiatives. Some, but not all, of these reciprocate. Furthermore, both main components of the ideology – 1) Islam as an existential threat enabled by “the elites” either through a willed conspiracy or due to their sheer ignorance; 2) which undermines Western traditions and Christianity, democracy, gender equality, and minority rights – resonate with the online activists and followers. In terms of the two overarching research questions, the findings in this book can be summarized in one structural and one ideology-centric argument:
First, the initiatives that make up the anti-Islamic expansion of the far right comprise a transnational movement and subculture with a consistent worldview and prominent ideologues.
Second, the anti-Islamic movement and subculture is characterized by a semiliberal equilibrium.
It is to the second argument I now turn. The transnational anti-Islamic movement exists in a state of balance between modern and liberal values on the one hand, and traditional and authoritarian values on the other. Both components are part of their civilizational, anti-Islamic identity. I have chosen to describe this state of balance as semi-liberal. Therefore, it is also semi-authoritarian. Using the label of liberal instead of authoritarian is justified by the fact that their leftist-to-conservative- liberal stances largely predate clearly authoritarian ones. When looking at the far right in its totality, the anti-Islamic movement represents a profound unmooring from ethnically based nationalism and pervasive authoritarianism, as well as homophobia and anti-Semitism. This sets them apart from the older far right, which is firmly rooted in precisely these values.
Although the old far right with its all-pervasive authoritarianism and ethnocentrism certainly exists in a diminished state today, most pre-existing radical right parties in Western Europe have undergone an ideological transformation that makes them ideologically similar to the anti-Islamic movement that arose after 9/11. Herbert Kitschelt (2012) described this transformation as a partial decoupling between authoritarianism and the radical right through an adoption of liberal positions on many issues. The starting point was an authoritarian one.
For the anti-Islamic movement that emerged after 9/11, the precise opposite holds. As the anti-Islamic movements’ roots and original set of ideas come from outside the far right, it represents a partial coupling between liberalism and authoritarianism from a liberal starting point.6 In other words, the anti-Islamic expansion is in fact liberalism that has drifted to the far right. What is the cause of this drift? My material clearly points to the pivotal role of their conception of Islam and Muslims as the ultimate embodiment of authoritarianism, narrowmindedness, patriarchy and misogyny as the root cause. Ostensibly starting from a position of tolerance, they have concluded, “in order to maintain a tolerant society, the society must be intolerant of intolerance” (Popper, 1945, p. 226).7 That is, Islam as the ultimate manifestation of intolerance must be met with intolerance itself to preserve a tolerant Western civilization. This demonstrates that it matters who the enemy is.
If the anti-Islamic movements’ roots and many of their central ideas are not far right, why call them far right? Labelling them as part of the far-right family hinges on two aspects of their ideology. The first and main aspect is nativism. Just as nativism is the bedrock of older far right ideologies, so it is with anti-Islam. Nevertheless, their qualitative conception of nativism is fundamentally different. The nativism espoused by the anti-Islamic movement is primarily founded on citizenship and adherence to “Western values”, not ethnicity or race. It is therefore a more inclusive form of nativism. It is not an awakening of white ethnic identity as white, but a coming together around a civic identity that builds on progressive and conservative varieties of liberalism. Emphasizing broad categories such as nativism therefore masks fundamental differences between the anti-Islamic project and the old far right. There is no strong continuity between the old far right and the anti-Islamic movement in this regard, but rather an abstract similarity. It is, organizationally speaking, a “new” phenomenon with new actors who hold many substantially different beliefs compared to the old far right.
The second criterion is precisely their turn toward intolerance and authoritarian solutions to combat Islam in order to defend and maintain an otherwise tolerant Western civilization. Therefore, while their civic nativism clearly sets the antiIslamic movement apart from the old far right, their intermittent call for authoritarian solutions makes the difference less clear cut.
The ideological evolution of Hege Storhaug, a prominent female anti-Islamic activist and spokesperson for the Norwegian organization Human Rights Service (HRS) serves to illustrate the gradual coupling of progressive stances with conservative, and eventually some authoritarian stances under an anti-Islamic banner. Storhaug came from a left-wing background, seeing herself as a feminist champion of women’s causes. Her main antagonists were Christian conservatives and others opposed to gender equality, abortion rights, and so forth. During the 1990s, she began focussing on the plight of Muslim women living in Norway who had been victims of female gender mutilation and forced marriage. In the years following 9/11, and especially after the Muhammed cartoon crisis, Storhaug became increasingly dogmatic in her focus and hostility toward Islam, seeing it as a threat to Western civilization and in particular, women’s rights. In my interview with her, she said she came to the gradual realization that Christianity had largely been a force for good and was something altogether different from Islam. In the aftermath of the refugee crisis, she became outspoken in her praise of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and the Polish Law and Justice Party’s authoritarian policies and rejection of Islam and Muslim immigrants. Neither Orbán nor the Polish Law and Justice Party are great defenders of gender equality, LGBT rights, or free speech. By 2017, Storhaug had taken to arguing that mosques should be banned and the Quran rewritten. Geert Wilders and other key players in the anti-Islamic movement came to such conclusions far earlier, whereas some still adhere to a softer approach.
As the case of Storhaug’s ideological journey hints at, the current semi-liberal equilibrium characterizing the anti-Islamic far right is fragile. The first source of fragility lies in their view of Islam as an immediate and existential threat to Western civilization. This creates a space for more authoritarian, extreme, and explicitly anti-democratic solutions to gain ground. The second source of fragility stems from their activist base. Anti-Islamic activist groups contain a vocal minority of extreme activists who espouse long-standing hostilities and notions about race, homosexuals, Jews, and democracy. These extremists stand poised to exploit the movements’ ideological discrepancies if the opportunity arises. The continued inability to stem the growth of either Muslim minorities or incidents of terror attacks committed by Islamist extremists represents just such an opportunity. Finally, the recent eastward expansion now means that their transnational network includes radical and extreme right groups of the old ideological order. Since the Eastern European groups are closely aligned with the extremist minority within the anti-Islamic movement in Western Europe and North America, this expansion has made the anti-Islamic far right more susceptible to profound internal identity struggles. For these reasons, the pendulum may swing in a decisively authoritarian direction and the semi-liberal equilibrium overturned.
Affective polarization and Its consequences: Avoidance, intolerance and support for violence in the UK and Norway. 2022, OSF Preprints.
Affective polarization—that is, antipathy towards political opponents—sits high on the academic and political agenda. This is because it is thought to have a multitude of damaging consequences, both for how citizens view and approach each other and for how they relate to the political system. This study investigates some of the most mentioned and disconcerting possible inter-citizen consequences of affective polarization at the individual level. Zooming in on Europe, it sheds light on the substantive relationship between partisan antipathy and three kinds of norm-breaking escalation in the form of avoidance, intolerance, and support for violence against outparty supporters. Methodologically, it unpacks the affective component of polarization, testing to what extent the traditional feeling thermometer performs as predictor of these three potential outcomes. It then tests alternative expectations of the antecedents of such escalation derived from the intergroup emotions literature and the study of political radicalization. This is done using a broad range of both established and de novo survey items fielded in nationally representative panels between May and November 2020 in two contexts that score relatively low (Norway) and high (UK) on affective polarization. They reveal that avoidance, intolerance and support for political violence can be validly measured, and are manifest, in these two European countries, but that they are only weakly correlated to mere dislike of the outgroup. Instead, more severe forms of norm-breaking escalation depend on the specific nature of the discrete emotions induced beyond dislike (anger, fear, or disgust) and are rooted in factors such as relative deprivation, Manicheanism, and dark personality traits (psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism). We discuss the implications for the way polarization is theorized and measured.
Monster or Hero? Far-right Responses to Anders Behring Breivik and the July 22, 2011 Terrorist Attacks. 2021, Perspectives on Terrorism, 15(3), 37-59.
This study maps and seeks to explain the evolution of far-right responses to the July 22 terrorist attacks in 2011. We identify substantial temporal and spatial variation in how different far-right actors responded between 2011 and 2021. These findings present us with four puzzles: First, why was Breivik rejected by the far right in Western Europe, while receiving substantial support in Russia and eventually also from online subcultures originating in the United States? Second, why did parts of the far right not only reject Breivik, but vehemently condemn him? Third, why did initial support for Breivik in Western Europe come from individuals outside the organized far right? And fourth, why does support for Breivik seem to increase with distance in time and space? We argue that the nature of taboos offers an elegant explanation to these puzzles. We propose that the strength of the macro-cultural taboo against violence provides an overarching explanation, mediated by three taboo-related mechanisms referred to as contagion, rebellion, and decoupling. In regions where the taboo against violence is strong, most future support for right-wing terrorism will probably continue to manifest itself through anonymous online spaces, while the more organized far right will continue distancing itself from taboo violators to avoid becoming (complete) social and political pariahs.
How elite politicization of terror impacts sympathies for partisans: Radical right versus social democrats. 2020, Politics and Governance, 8(3), 19-31.
The populist radical right is frequently engaged in intense political and normative conflict with their political opponents. Does this have a spillover effect on citizens’ sympathies for populist radical right voters and the voters of their political antagonists, and if so, why? This is a study of citizens’ affective evaluation of radical right and social democratic voters when exposed to intense conflict between the two parties at the elite level. It zooms in on the conflict between the Norwegian Progress Party and the Labour Party that revolves around the trauma of the 22 July 2011 terror attacks, in which a former Progress Party member committed two devastating attacks against the Labour government and Labour Youth summer camp. This is studied using a survey experimental approach, relying on panel data from the Norwegian Citizen Panel. Drawing on the authoritarian dynamics’ literature, it incorporates the four-item child-rearing values index measure of authoritarian predispositions which offers a personality-based explanation for why people react differently to threat. In contrast to the authoritarian dynamics’ literature, which has found that it is either authoritarians or non-authoritarians who react, this study finds that both authoritarians and non-authoritarians simultaneously respond to high-intensity political conflict. Whereas non-authoritarians rally in support of social democratic voters, authoritarians rally in support of radical right voters. Further differentiating between those with low and high authoritarianism scores, we see that low-authoritarians also become more hostile to social democratic voters. This indicates that conflict involving populist radical right parties is a driver of personality-based, affective sorting of citizens. Since personality is relatively stable, the resulting state of polarization is also likely to be quite durable.
Anti-Islamic PEGIDA beyond Germany: Explaining differences in mobilisation. 2016, Journal of Intercultural Studies, 37(6), 556-573.
The rise of anti-Islamic PEGIDA (Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes) is one of the latest sustained episodes of radical right mobilisation in Western Europe outside the electoral arena. This study provides a first comparative analysis of PEGIDA beyond Germany and its core region of Saxony. Combining protest event analysis with online data and network analysis, we identify why PEGIDA mustered low-scale support in some countries and failed in others. Focusing on Austria, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland the study reveals the pivotal importance of the organisers’ agency and their relations to other radical right players. Unlike the sui generis case in Dresden, the PEGIDA label has become a rallying point appropriated by pre-established radical right activists using it for their own mobilisation efforts. Furthermore, the analysis reveals the significance of protest policing, in the form of state bans, for the fate of PEGIDA beyond Germany. Finally, it demonstrates the importance of online spheres as channels for dissemination of radical right world-views and the interplay of offline and online mobilisation.
The collective nature of lone wolf terrorism: Anders Behring Breivik and the anti-Islamic social movement. 2014, Terrorism and Political Violence, 26(5), 759-779.
Anders Behring Breivik, a lone wolf terrorist, killed 77 people in two terrorist attacks in Norway in 2011. This study uses framing theory from social movement studies to compare his Manifesto with the rhetoric of the anti-Islamic movement that inspired him. The anti-Islamic movement has a dual, and sometimes inconsistent, collective action framing. On the one hand, they portray Islam as an existential threat to the West and a warlike enemy; on the other, they promote peaceful and democratic opposition. The potential for radicalization is thus immanent. This case study reveals the importance of seeing lone wolf terrorists as acting from rhetoric embedded in larger social movements. It further demonstrates, in detail, the subtle and complex ways in which political narratives rejecting terrorism and political violence still end up inspiring such acts.