Why were America’s Islamophobes able to avoid accountability for so long?
By Max Blumenthal
Few political terrorists in recent history took as much care to articulate their ideological influences and political views as Anders Hans Breivik did. The right-wing Norwegian Islamophobe who murdered 76 children and adults in Oslo and at a government-run youth camp spent months, if not years, preparing his 1,500 page manifesto.
Besides its length, one of the most remarkable aspects of the manifesto is the extent to which its European author quoted from the writings of figures from the American conservative movement. Though he referred heavily to his fellow Norwegian, the blogger Fjordman, it was Robert Spencer, the American Islamophobic pseudo-academic, who received the most references from Breivik — 55 in all. Then there was Daniel Pipes, the Muslim-bashing American neoconservative who earned 18 citations from the terrorist. Other American anti-Muslim characters appear prominently in the manifesto, including the extremist blogger Pam Geller, who operates an Islamophobic organization in partnership with Spencer.
Breivik may have developed his destructive sensibility in the stark political environment of a European continent riveted by mass immigration from the Muslim world, but his conceptualization of the changes he was witnessing reflect the influence of a cadre of far-right bloggers and activists from across the Atlantic Ocean. He not only mimicked their terminology and emulated their language, he substantially adopted their political worldview. The profound impact of the American right’s Islamophobic subculture on Breivik’s thinking raises a question that has not been adequately explored: Where is the American version of Breivik and why has he not struck yet? Or has he?
Many of the American writers who influenced Breivik spent years churning out calls for the mass murder of Muslims, Palestinians and their left-wing Western supporters. But the sort of terrorism these US-based rightists incited for was not the style the Norwegian killer would eventually adopt. Instead of Breivik’s renegade free-booting, they preferred the “shock and awe” brand of state terror perfected by Western armies against the brown hordes threatening to impose Sharia law on the people in Peoria. This kind of violence provides a righteous satisfaction so powerful it can be experienced from thousands of miles away.
And so most American Islamophobes simply sit back from the comfort of their homes and cheer as American and Israeli troops — and their remote-controlled aerial drones — leave a trail of charred bodies from Waziristan to Gaza City. Only a select group of able-bodied Islamophobes are willing to suit up in a uniform and rush to the front lines of the clash of civilizations. There, they have discovered that they can mow down Muslim non-combatants without much fear of legal consequences, and that when they return, they will be celebrated as the elite Crusader-warriors of the new Islamophobic right — a few particularly violent figures have been rewarded with seats in Congress. Given the variety of culturally acceptable, officially approved outlets for venting violent anti-Muslim resentment, there is little reason for any American to follow in Breivik’s path of infamy.
Before exploring the online subculture that both shaped and mirrored Breivik’s depravity, it is necessary to define state terror, especially the kind refined by its most prolific practitioners. At the dawn of the “war on terror,” the United States and Israel began cultivating a military doctrine called “asymmetrical warfare.” Pioneered by an Israeli philosophy and “practical ethics” professor named Asa Kasher and the former head of Israeli military intelligence, Lt. Gen. Amos Yadlin, and successfully marketed to the Pentagon, the asymmetrical warfare doctrine did away with traditional counterinsurgency tactics which depended on winning the “hearts and minds” of indigenous populations.
Under the new rules, the application of disproportionate force against non-combatants who were supposedly intermingled with the “terrorists” was not only justified but considered necessary. According to Kasher and Yadlin, eliminating the principle of distinction between enemy combatants and civilians was the most efficient means of deterring attacks from non-state actors like Hamas and Hezbollah while guarding the lives of Israeli soldiers.
Asymmetrical warfare has been witnessed in theaters of war across the Muslim world, leaving tens of thousands of civilians dead in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Gaza Strip. The strategy was formalized in the Dahiya district of southern Beirut in 2006, when the Israeli military flattened hundreds of civilian structures and homes to supposedly punish Hezbollah for its capturing of two Israeli soldiers.
From the ashes of the Israeli carpet bombing campaign emerged the “Dahiya Doctrine,” a term coined by an Israeli general responsible for directing the war on Lebanon in 2006. “IDF Northern Command Chief Gadi Eisenkot uttered clear words that essentially mean the following,” wrote Israeli journalist Yaron London, who had just interviewed the general. “In the next clash with Hezbollah we won’t bother to hunt for tens of thousands of rocket launchers and we won’t spill our soldiers’ blood in attempts to overtake fortified Hizbullah positions. Rather, we shall destroy Lebanon and won’t be deterred by the protests of the ‘world.’” In a single paragraph, London neatly encapsulated the logic of state terror.
While Israel has sought to insulate itself from the legal ramifications of its attacks on civilian life by deploying elaborate propaganda and intellectual sophistry (witness the country’s frantic campaign to discredit the Goldstone Report), and the United States has casually dismissed allegations of war crimes as any swaggering superpower would (after a US airstrike killed scores of Afghan civilians, former US CENTCOM Director David Petraeus baselessly claimed that Afghan parents had deliberately burned their children alive to increase the death toll), the online Islamophobes who inspired Breivik tacitly accept the reality of Israeli and American state terror.
And they like it. Indeed, American Islamophobes derive frightening levels of ecstasy from the violence inflicted by the armed forces against Muslim civilians. The Facebook page of Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer’s hate group, Stop the Islamicization of America (SOIA), is Exhibit A of the phenomenon.
During a visit to SOIA’s Facebook page, which is personally administered by Geller and Spencer, it is possible to read rambling calls for killing “the diaper heads” and for Israel to “rule the whole Middle East.” A cursory glance at the website will also reveal visual propaganda reveling in the prospect of a genocide against Muslims. One image posted on the site depicts American and British troops dropping a nuclear bomb in the midst of thousands of Muslim pilgrims in Mecca. “Who ya gonna call? Shitbusters,” it reads.
A second image portraying a nuclear mushroom cloud declares: “DEALING WITH MUSLIMS — RULES OF ENGAGEMENT; Rule #1: Kill the Enemy. Rule #2: There is no rule #2.” Another posted on SOIA’s Facebook page shows the bullet-riddled, bloodsoaked bodies of Muslim civilians splayed out by a roadside. “ARMY MATH,” the caption reads. “4 Tangos + (3 round burst x 4 M 4′s) = 288 virgins.” However pathological these images might seem to outsiders, in the subculture of Geller and Spencer’s online fascisphere, they are understood as legitimate expressions of nationalistic, “pro-Western” pride. Indeed, none seem to celebrate violence against Muslims by anyone except uniformed representatives of Western armies.
The anti-Muslim fervor of Geller, Spencer and their allies reached a fever pitch during the controversy they manufactured in 2010 over the construction of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” in downtown New York City. Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, in North Carolina, a right-wing Republican ex-Marine named Ilario Pantano made opposing the mosque the centerpiece of his campaign for Congress, proclaiming that New York was “forsaking Israel” by allowing the mosque’s construction. During the height of the his campaign, a report relying on documented evidence and confirmed testimonies revealed that while serving in Iraq in 2004, Pantano had executed two unarmed civilians near Fallujah, firing 60 bullets into their bodies with his M16A4 automatic rifle — he even stopped to reload — then decorated their corpses a placard inscribed with the Marine motto: “No better friend, No worse enemy.” The incident did not hinder Pantano’s campaign, however. His Democratic opponent never mentioned it, Pam Geller hailed Pantano as “a war hero,” and he cruised to a resounding victory.
Pantano was sworn into Congress alongside another US military veteran closely allied with the Islamophobic right: Republican Representative Allen West. While serving in Iraq, West was discharged from the military and fined $5000 after he brutally beat an Iraqi policeman, then fired his pistol behind the immobilized man’s head. As in Pantano’s case, reports of the disturbing incident only helped propel West to victory. In fact, West boasted about the beating in his campaign speeches, citing it as evidence of how hard he would fight for his constituents if elected.
Though Breivik’s hatred for Muslims clearly spurred him to violence, he wound up murdering scores of the non-Muslims. He believed they were enabling an Islamic takeover of Europe, or what he called the creation of “Eurabia,” and that the “traitors” deserved the ultimate punishment. In homing in on liberal elements in Norway, Breivik borrowed from the language of right-wing figures from the United States, labeling his targets as “Cultural Marxists.” Initially introduced by the anti-Semitic right-wing organizer William Lind of the Washington-based Free Congress Foundation, Breivik understood the term as a characterization of liberal advocates of open immigration and sympathizers with the Palestinian cause.
“Let us fight together with Israel, with our Zionist brothers against all anti-Zionists, against all cultural Marxists/multiculturalists,” Breivik wrote in his manifesto. The killer also sought to differentiate between good Jews (supporters of Israel) and bad Jews (advocates for Palestinian rights), claiming that “Jews that support multi-culturalism today are as much of a threat to Israel and Zionism as they are to us.”
Breivik’s characterizations of the left and of left-wing Jews echoed those familiar to right-wing bloggers and conservative activists in the US, particularly on the issue of Israel-Palestine. The only difference seems to have been that Breivik was willing to personally kill sympathizers with Palestinian rights, while American Islamophobes have prefered to sit back and cheer for the Israeli military to do the job instead. The tendency of the American right was on shocking display this June when the Free Gaza Flotilla attempted to break the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip (during the previous flotilla in 2010, nine activists were killed by what a United Nations report described as execution style shootings by Israeli commandoes).
As the debate about the flotilla escalated on Twitter, Joshua Trevino, a US army veteran and who worked as a speechwriter in the administration of George W. Bush, chimed in. “Dear IDF,” Trevino tweeted. “If you end up shooting any Americans on the new Gaza flotilla — well, most Americans are cool with that. Including me.” While Trevino hectored flotilla participants, Kurt Schlicter, a former American army officer and right-wing blogger for Andrew Breitbart’s Big Peace site, joined the calls for bloodshed. “Sink the flotilla,” Schlicter wrote on Twitter. “Enough screwing around with these psychos.”
Neither Schlicter or Trevino saw any reason to apologize for inciting the murder of fellow Americans, nor did Trevino appear to face any consequences at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, where he serves as Vice President. Instead, Trevino earned a rousing defense from prominent conservative personalities like Erick Erickson, a paid CNN contributor who lauded “the correctness of Josh’s opinion” that Israel should kill American leftists. Indeed, no one from inside the American right’s online media hothouse condemned Trevino, Schlicter or Erickson, or even brooked a slight disagreement. Meanwhile, the incitement against Palestine solidarity activists has continued, with pro-Israel operatives Roz Rothstein and Roberta Seid writing this July in the Jerusalem Post that “Flotilla Folk are not like other people.”
When the smoke cleared from Breivik’s terrorist rampage across Norway, American Islamophobes went into intellectual contortions, condemning his acts while carefully avoiding any criticism of his views. While making sure to call Breivik “evil,” the ultra-nationalist commentator and former Republican presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan insisted that “Breivik may be right” about the supposed clash of civilizations between the Muslim East and the Christian West. Pipes, for his part, accused Breivik of a “purposeful” campaign to discredit him by citing him so frequently in his manifesto, while a panicked Geller claimed that Breivik “is a murderer, a mass murderer. Period. He’s not anything else.”
The comically revealing reactions by American Islamophobes to Brevik’s killing spree demonstrate the politically catastrophic situation they have gotten themselves into. All of a sudden, their movement was under intense scrutiny from a previously derelict mainstream media. And they were likely to be monitored to an unprecedented degree by federal law enforcement. These same figures who influenced Breivik had been printing open calls for terrorist violence against Muslims and leftists for years — while a few, like Pantano, went a step further. Before Breivik killed 76 innocent people, they had generally gotten away with it.
Why were America’s Islamophobes able to avoid accountability for so long? The answer is not that their yearnings for righteous political violence had not been fulfilled until Breivik emerged. The truth is far more uncomfortable than that. America’s Islamophobic right was only able to make so much political headway because a broad sector of the American public had tolerated and even supported the kind of terror that they openly celebrated.