Masonic terrorism

The atttack in Norway seems to have been the work of a single man, a Norwegian named Anders Behring Breivik, a Mason with a grudge against Muslims. That isn’t good news.

The scariest thing about today’s terror attacks in Norway is that they weren’t carried out by some lunatic jihadi group. Instead, they were carried out by a lunatic Norwegian Mason (no, seriously)

We plot upon the level, and kill upon the square.

with an anti-Islamic grudge. Islamic terrorists are a finite threat. The habit of blowing stuff up to make random political points is not.

Of course when I read about it I assumed it was the work of some al Qaeda clone. And that’s precisely why I didn’t say anything about it until more facts came in. The right-wing bloggers who were in such a hurry to express their Islamophobia – to stir up, that is, precisely the sort of lunatic hatred that actuated Anders Behring Breivik – ought to be ashamed of themselves. But they won’t be.

But cheer up: at least the Republicans in Congress are making sure that the Department of Homeland Security takes no precautions against home-grown terrorism. All terrorists are Muslims.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

19 thoughts on “Masonic terrorism”

  1. “The right-wing bloggers who were in such a hurry to express their Islamophobia – to stir up, that is, precisely the sort of lunatic hatred that actuated Anders Behring Breivik – ought to be ashamed of themselves. But they won’t be.”

    What about the left wing bloggers who were in such a hurry to pin the Gabrielle Giffords et. al. shooting on Sarah Palin? You know – the shooting actually carried out by a unstable loon with as many left-wing crankish opinions as right-wing crankish opinions and a paranoid grudge against Giffords that dated to well before anyone south of Vancouver had ever heard the name “Sarah Palin?” Are they ashamed of themselves?

  2. @sd: No. Nor should we be. I never said anything about the alignment of the shooter, who – as you say – had a variety of cranky notions. I did point out that Sarah Palin had posted a graphic showing Giffords as a target, and, when Giffords complained, shrugged it off and left the hate-filled image in place. That was an irresponsible and despicable act, and I have no reason to apologize to Palin for calling her out on it.

    Here’s what I said then:

    “But even assuming that the roots of the shooter’s behavior where psychological rather than intelligibly political, it’s hard to imagine that the violent rhetoric of right-wing talk radio, and of some of the more florid Tea Party leaders and their candidates, has no real-world impact, even on people not in full contact with the real world.” That’s true of the latest lunatic, too.

    So your attempt at moral equivalency (or changing the subject) falls completely flat. But thanks for playing!

  3. @ Mark Kleiman

    Oh Please. The titles of your posts at the time were “Palin Target Murdered” and “Violent Rhetoric, Violent Deeds”

    The posts themselves contained such wait-for-the-fact-before-drawing-conclusions gems as:

    “…someone seems to have decided to employ what Palin’s friend Sharron Angle called “Second Amendment remedies.””

    “…though the hint about possible participation by second, older man leaves open the possibility that the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords was an attempted assassination rather than just part of a random shooting spree.” (sd – that theory really panned out didn’t it?)

    “Words have meanings; speech is a form of action; and actions have consequences. If you play with fire long enough, someone is going to get burned.”

    And besides, are you suggesting that every left wing blogger who rushed to link the Giffords shooter to Sarah Palin dressed their guilt-by-association tactics with mealy-mothed caveats like the ones that that you selectively quote above?

    In the wake of human tragedy some political ideologues, whose reasoned judgement has been atrophied by years of jumping at every single opportunity to score points off of the political opposition, will indeed issue denunciations of their political opponents that later prove to have zero basis in fact. And I agree with you that any right wing bloggers who rushed to pin this incident on Muslims* to furthert their political agenda have been foolish and and ultimately destructive of civility. But I also have the perspective to see that their behavior is, sadly, not that uncommon on either end of the political spectrum.

    *It should be pointed out that there were reports today that a Muslim group did indeed claim credit for the Oslo bombings. Which is to say that any right wing bloggers who balmed the attacks on Muslims did in fact have more evidence to go on than the scores of left wing bloggers who immediately asserted that the shooter of Ms. Giffords was motivated by a right wing political agenda

  4. Just left the forum at where, after listening to a fascinating albeit depressing discussion on the continuing rise of Islamophobia, eclipsing even that of early post-9/11, and largely fueled by Tea party/et. al. political opportunism of ’10 and recession populist demagoguery, I bore witness to a stunning descent into ugly, Islamophobic Muslim-bashing by the right-wing commenters there – who are generally much more reasonable than your garden variety conservative.

    I’ll re-post my comment here:

    I just watched This Is England last night, which I highly recommend to those who have not seen it. It’s the story of a young, poor English kid who loses his Dad in the Falkland Islands war, and finds support in a group of non-racist skin head misfits. However, a schism in the group develops when a racialized skin-head comes back from prison, and begins agitating for far-right English Nationalism, and to lead the skin heads in racial violence against the”Pakis”, the Muslims, and generally the foreign, brown-skinned invaders.

    It occurred to me during one particularly brutal scene where he’s ranting against foreigners and the threat they pose against English sovereignty, that were you to merely remove the racist nouns, it wouldn’t be a far cry at all from what is becoming more and more mainstream in American political rhetoric.

    It is the same exact paranoid, conspiratorial, fuzzy logic bullshit that has always motivated right-wing nationalist hatred. There are obviously degrees, and certain people have their particular bogeymen, whether it is the “illegals” or Muslims, or various forms of non-“real” Americans. But that seed still lurks, and its scary. This board is filled with evidence of the kind of thinking that follows. (And these are supposedly the “reasonable ones”!)

    I’m not sure what to call it. I’m not even sure what it is. Is it a feeling that then creates false-cognitions? Is it false thinking that creates these feelings, which then lead to even worse logic? With Muslims, people who should know better, liberals who understand quite well things like racism and patterns of cognitive bias, get caught up in Islamophobic Muslim-bashing. Heck, I just finished Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape, and he seriously raised the possibility of Europe falling to a new Caliphate. His desire to attack religion overwhelmed his ability to reason, in a freaking book about the ways in which reason gets blindsided by emotion!”

  5. I followed online through Drudge, and the whole time the report was that “Friends of Global Jihad” took credit for the blast. Pretty easy to believe something like that when you’ve got someone claiming responsibility.

  6. I’m a little less interested in pointing fingers at bad guesswork and a little more curious about (1) what motivated this guy to think killing 80+ kids was a good idea, and (2) how he got the weapon(s) and clips to do it. Sweden apparently is more like Texas than I’d realized.

  7. Sweden apparently is more like Texas than I’d realized.

    Don’t know about Sweden, but Norway (where the bombing and shootings took place) may be.

    they were carried out by a lunatic Norwegian Mason

    So far, all I’ve read was that he listed “freemasonry” as one of his interests on his Facebook page–not that he was actually a Mason. The right wing, as it happens, is generally very suspicious of Freemasonry, and since he was a right-winger, that may have been the source of his interest.

  8. Swift Loris, since you’d rather express opinions than click on links, I have inserted the photo from the story already linked to. I hope that answers your question.

    By the standards of anti-Islamic punditry, this shows that we should put a moratorium on the construction of Masonic Lodges. In real life, of course, it just proves that this particular lunatic was also a Mason.

  9. Mark, I find it a bit peculiar that you were so outraged by my comment questioning the guy’s Masonic status that you felt you had to retitle your post.

    I had actually read everything at your links. I don’t happen to be familiar enough with Freemasonry to have recognized the outfit in the Daily Mail photo as Masonic, nor does the caption identify it as such. As I noted, the only mention in the text is that “freemasonry” (no cap) was listed as one of his interests on his Facebook profile. I haven’t been able to find much other information about any Masonic connections; his Wikipedia page doesn’t mention it (although it’s still pretty sketchy). Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s Infowars site does say he was “with the Saint Johannes lodge in Oslo from at least 2008 onwards,” linking to the site of a Norwegian TV station (in Norwegian). One Masonic forum has a post hoping he wasn’t a Mason and wondering if he was playing dress-up (as with his policeman’s outfit on the island) or if the photo had been Photoshopped.

    All other mentions I could find are in blog posts and appear to be based on the passing reference in the Daily Mail article. Most (I didn’t read them all) seem to be right-wing or fundamentalist blogs gloating over the possibility that he was a Mason, thus proving, as far as they’re concerned, that Freemasonry is evil.

    If you do a Google search on “Freemasonry,” you’ll turn up many right-wing and/or fundamentalist sites denouncing it as Satanic.

    So he may indeed be, or have been, a Mason, but my skepticism in the absence of solid information was entirely legitimate, given that his own right-wing and fundamentalist extremism seems incompatible with such an affiliation. On the other hand, he does appear to be a nutcase, so who knows how it seemed to him?

    In any case, it’s hard to understand how my comment here warranted your anger. And frankly, I wouldn’t want to identify the dude solely as a Mason in the title of a blog post about him, as if that were his most important characteristic, without some solid confirmation that it played a major role in his demented massacre. But of course it’s your blog and your choice.

  10. Boy, I’d love to hear more from Mark (or others who agree with him) on both of the central points of this posting. First, the threshold point that the “scariest” part of this story is that the crime was committed by a lone lunatic instead of an organized terror group because the latter is “finite” while the former “is not” seems, on its face, wildly unconvincing. The number of violent schizophrenics is, indeed, “finite.” And since they are not working together in trying to organize coordinated, long-term programs of terrorism, it seems obvious that this fact makes it far less “scar[y],” not more.

    I’d also enjoy seeing an example or two of the “right-wing bloggers” who should be ashamed of themselves. This isn’t a challenge — given Mark’s apparent certainty on this point I’m sure he has some real examples at hand. But it would be nice to have a link or two to evaluate. Something where a right-wing blogger improperly leapt to the conclusion that this was the work of a Muslim without a reasonable evidentiary basis for doing so.

    Best wishes,


  11. @Swift Loris: My apologies. I shouldn’t have assumed that everyone would recognize that ridiculous get-up as a Masonic outfit. (The hints are the apron and the builder’s right-angle.)

    @Carnap: Link added. I’m always reluctant to provide traffic as a reward for bad behavior, but that was probably a mistake in this case. I’ve compromised with a link to criticism: not literally of a blogger, but of Jennifer Rubin a piece in the Washington Post. But just between us, here’s Michelle Malkin. Here’s Legal Insurrection (“clinical professor” indeed).

    Of course the number of potential lone lunatic mass murderers is literally finite. But the number of terrorist organizations capable of serious action is small enough so that you can imagine destroying most of them and watching the rest closely: that’s the “offensive” side of the counter-terror effort. But you can’t possibly watch every potential lunatic, so preventing this sort of attack is an entirely “defensive” effort: bollards and limits on the purchase of explosives.

    This is a point Tom Schelling made a long time ago: since destruction is much easier than creation, increasing technical capacity has the side-effect of empowering the tiny minority of utter nut-cases to do real damage.

  12. A real-life Rorschach test and a laboratory for confirmation bias here. The usual Islamophobic suspects are trying not to eat crow after their initial conclusions have been blasted (e.g., Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post). People of a different persuasion are jumping all over reports that the killer has been described as a Christian fundamentalist, proving to themselves once again that they have always been right in what they have always believed. I have never heard a Christian fundamentalist quote from John Stuart Mill, nor have I heard one describe himself as gay-friendly (as reported on Wikipedia). His Facebook page appears to have no quotations from the Bible. None of this will disturb those who will always see what they wish to see.

  13. @Ed Whitney–FWIW, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail both report that police have said he posted to fundamentalist Christian Web sites, but they didn’t specify which ones or what he had said there.

    Wikipedia now identifies him as a Mason. It has the name of the Masonic lodge he belongs to but no further details. I still think it’s highly inappropriate to describe his acts as “Masonic terrorism,” as if Freemasonry were the driving force behind them, as long as there’s no information indicating this was the case. Freemasonry’s membership is very diverse, but from everything I can gather, it tends to be broad-minded and humanitarian. Plus which, as I’ve noted, right-wingers and fundamentalist Christians detest and fear it. So the Masonic connection appears to be highly anomalous.

  14. The right-wing is out in force to disassociate and dissolve any debate or conclusions we can draw from this event. Now that they’ve had a chance to wipe the egg from their collective faces, they are eagerly posting false equivalences or shifting the terms of debate lest any Western society critically thinks about its own brand of homegrown terrorism and how these terrorists get access to weapons. While speculation and Manchien metaphors are employed for brown terrorists (who were are desperately afraid of and must torture), no such speculations or conclusions can be made about acts of white terrorism. It’s always a “lone nut” with “mental health issues,” and besides the Left is mean to Sarah Palin so “both sides do it.”

    I have a hard time believing that any of the Right would be offering us “but remember, these were not TRUE Muslims” arguments if the attacks really were perpetuated by al-Qaeda, or withholding judgment and not using the event for their own political gain or agenda, a la Jennifer Rubin.

  15. Mother Jones’s James Ridgeway has got hold of a collection of Breivik’s posts to the Norwegian anti-Muslim Web site

    I’ve just read a bunch of them (maybe 15%?). The translations are pretty rough, but Breivik is clearly quite intelligent and (at least at the time he made the posts) very coherent.

    In what I read, I found only one post referring to Christianity:


    Here is a nice overview–10 reasons why the modern church will die:

    I myself am a Protestant and baptized/confirmed to me by my own free will when I was 15

    Today’s Protestant church is a joke. Priests in jeans who march for Palestine and churches that look like the minimalist shopping centers. I am a supporter of an indirect collective conversion of the Protestant church back to the Catholic. In the meantime, I vote for the most conservative candidates in church elections.

    The only thing that can save the Protestant church is to go back to basics.

  16. The professor states: “Islamic terrorists are a finite threat. The habit of blowing stuff up to make random political points is not.”

    So if I understand you correctly, the set of Islamic terrorists is finite but the set of political terrorists is infinite? I would love to see your proof. And after you prove it, please let us know if the set of religious terrorists is finite or infinite. Hopefully you will parlay this into a treatise on “Terrorist Set Theory.”

    As an aside, does this mean that the “rational terrorist,” if given a choice will always choose political terrorism in order to be a part of something infinite?

  17. OK, here’s the Masonic connection, but it’s still quite blurry. From the NY Times The Lede blog:

    On Saturday, Norway’s TV2, citing police sources, reported that the suspect uploaded a video to YouTube and a 1,500 page manifesto, written in English, to the Norwegian Web site, just hours before the attacks.

    Both the manifesto, “2082: A European Declaration of Independence,” and the YouTube video were signed “Andrew Berwick,” an apparent Anglicization of Anders Breivik. Both also make extensive reference to the Knights Templar [now changed to “the Crusades”] and the supposed threat to Christian Europe by Muslim immigrants.

    There’s an international order affiliated with Freemasonry called the Knights Templar. The medieval version was, of course, militantly anti-Muslim, but there seems to be no evidence that the modern Knights Templar, or the Masons in general, are. The Knights Templar group featured in the video is unrelated to the modern Knights Templar, which is a charitable organization.

    We still don’t know the basis for Breivik having become a “regular” Mason.

    Here’s the video:

    The manifesto is here (on Google Docs):

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