The Shadow of Oslo

How politicization drives presumptions in terror coverage

The Shadow of Oslo

First there were the Oslo terror attacks. Then there was the discovery of a new threat to Fort Hood. What has received less coverage is the fire bombing of a Planned Parenthood Clinic in McKinney, Texas.

Both the FBI and the ATF are investigating the McKinney attack. Dallas media outlets have noted that, so far, they are being very cautious about throwing the 'T' word around.

Oh, if only that was always true in all corners in all contexts. As has been shown over the last week, when it comes to the right wing echo chamber, the first rule about terror attacks is simple. Throw the word "Muslim" around. The second rule? When it turns out the attackers are not Muslim, screech that the lousy liberal media is using the shootings to attack Christians.

What has been amazing over the last few days is how much ink has been spilled over what Anders Behring Breivik, the suspect in the Norwegian attacks, means for American politics. The obvious response would be, "Errr nothing," but not if you'd been watching the seemingly wall-to-wall coverage. Sadly, much of the analysis of Norwegian politics and society came from the same cadre that regularly prove that they could not tell Ramadan from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

On the day of the attacks, the Weekly Standard started trying to dictate the direction of the investigation, suggesting that the attack was a direct response to the charges brought in Norway against al-Qaeda ally Mullah Krekar, This is, Foundation for Defense of Democracies senior fellow Thomas Joscelyn wrote, "one lead investigators are sure to follow." (For context, you might want to read what Sourcewatch and The American Conservativehas to say about the FDD, and its hawkish past.)

Kings of the fringe Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly quickly followed suit. Beck said that he did not make the link to "Muslim extremists," but instead decided to fulminate about how the children's camp, run by the youth wing of the Labour Party, was "a little like the Hitler Youth. Who does a camp for kids that is all about politics," he rumbled. Er, your acolytes, Glenn? Like, say, the members of the Tampa 912 group that ran the Tampa Liberty Summer camp, a Tea Party outing that applies the same kind of feckless literalism to every scribbled word from the Founding Fathers that Christian Extremists have been applying to the Bible for years (much to the eye-rolling chagrin of much of the rest of Christendom.)

Not that O'Reilly would ever think about indoctrinating kids in far right rhetoric through a summer camp (he has a book for that.)

Cue O'Reilly leaping to Christianity's defense. "Why is the liberal press playing up the Christian angle in the Norway shooter case?" bleated the voice-over man in one of his trailers, before Fox News' pet ball of fury claimed there was "no claim that this man practiced Christianity at all." Apparently, because he did not wander around with a Bible in his pocket at all times, that meant Breivik was not really a Christian. O'Reilly then went on to claim that "No one believing in Jesus commits mass murder." (Wonder how that claim is sitting with historians of Medieval Judaism right about now.)

As for arch-wingnut Pat Buchanan, he followed up a grand career as a Hitler apologist with a solid dose of Breivik apologia.

This is all as batshit crazy as the latest fulminations of Hassan Firouzabadi, chair of Iran's Chief of Staff, who the Jerusalem Post reports claims that investigators should be "searching for hands of Zionists involved in the attack". Not that the Post has been a model of restraint in this whole affair. The more liberal Haaretz has called out the Post's editorial board for an unsigned editorial in which they argued "Breivik’s inexcusable act of vicious terror should serve not only as a warning that there may be more elements on the extreme Right willing to use violence to further their goals, but also as an opportunity to seriously reevaluate policies for immigrant integration." Haaretz columnist Bradley Burtson attacked the piece for a "certain cowardice" and called it "a slap aimed both at the Norwegians and nearly 20 years of Mideast peace efforts."

Unfortunately, the Post's editorial is weak tea compared to the legion of Firouzabadi-style conspiracy theories about how this really was a Jihadist attack intended to slander the gun-toting right ("Brievik was a patsy" t-shirts on sale in three … two … )

Elsewhere in the right wing cosmos, the South African Christian conservatives, with their sterling record on intercultural relations, have jumped on Beck's "Socialists equals Nazis" band wagon much more explicitly. "One would expect supposedly educated and well informed journalists to at least know the difference between Nationalism and National Socialism," sneered the Praag editorial after complaining that "the leftist main stream media is subjective, irresponsible and practices hate speech against white, Christian conservatives."

Not that this sort of political opportunism is restricted to anti-Muslim sentiment. The Australian Christian League has used the Norway killings to renew its call for a ban on violent video games.

But we don't have to just look at the international stage to find this kind of rhetoric and switch-back logic. Enter Texas Public Policy Foundation vice-president for communications Joshua Treviño, whose Twitter feed has been a delight. Even after Breivik's arrest, he trumpeted: "Next time there's a mass-terror attack, I'm going to wonder whether Islamists were responsible. Because I value sense over false piety."

If that logic holds, one has to wonder if it's OK to make assumptions about the political and religious affiliations of the Planned Parenthood firebombers.

He went on to cite Europol crime stats to prove that, in 2010, "European terrorist violence was preponderantly from separatists and the left." See the brilliant conflation there? Because, as everyone knows, there have never been any right-wing nationalists.

What Treviño missed out was the part where the report said the violent fringe right is becoming "more professional."

Right-wing extremists are also increasingly active in online social networking, to reach out to a younger generation. The internet is a cheap and effective way of communicating with targeted audiences. This is adding a new dimension to the threat right-wing extremism may present in the future.

The report goes on to say:

Professionally developed websites add to the impact of presentations of historical events and politics. Against an anti-Semitic and xenophobic background, right-wing presentations focus on sensitive topics of public debate such as immigration, corruption and the financial crisis.

Huh. Easier than setting up a summer camp, I guess.

Got something to say? The Chronicle welcomes opinion pieces on any topic from the community. Submit yours now at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Terrorism
Unlocking the Secrets of <i>Prisoner X</i>
Unlocking the Secrets of Prisoner X
Other Worlds Austin presents political paranoia thriller

Richard Whittaker, June 21, 2016

Renaissance Man
Renaissance Man
Downtown shooter left signs of a troubled mind

Michael King, Nov. 29, 2014

More Planned Parenthood
Paxton Bans State Employees From Donating Pay to Planned Parenthood
Paxton Bans State Employees From Donating Pay to Planned Parenthood
But they can still donate to an anti-choice group

Mary Tuma, Jan. 13, 2020

Abbott to Trump: Pay Us Money We Lost for Excluding Planned Parenthood
Abbott to Trump: Pay Us Money We Lost for Excluding Planned Parenthood
Texas guv sends a "pretty please" to the president

Mary Tuma, Jan. 25, 2018

More by Richard Whittaker
All The Pieces Fall in to Place as SXSW Adds <i>Tetris</i>
All The Pieces Fall in to Place as SXSW Adds Tetris
New titles include experimental Visions and 24 Beats Per Second

Feb. 1, 2023

Sundance 2023 Review: <i>The Amazing Maurice</i>
Sundance 2023 Review: The Amazing Maurice
Terry Pratchett's feline fraudster gets above-average adaptation

Jan. 30, 2023


Terrorism, Planned Parenthood, Norway, Oslo, Anders Behring Breivik, Hassan Firouzabadi, Joshua Trevino, Pat Buchanan, Glen Beck, Bill O'Reilly

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle