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Guest Post: John R Hall: “Norway’s cultural Christian apocalyptic crusader?”

Blog-friend John R. Hall is a Professor of Sociology at the University of California – Davis, and the author of such books as Gone from the Promised Land: Jonestown in American Cultural History; Apocalypse Observed: Religious Movements and Violence in North America, Europe, and Japan with Philip D. Schuyler and Sylvaine Trinh; and Apocalypse: From Antiquity to the Empire of Modernity. His current research involves deploying a social phenomenology to retheorize modernity in relation to contemporary society.

David Ronfeldt suggested that John’s long and detailed remarks taking off from my own post, 2083 Graphics – a first look, deserved to be a post in its own right and not be lost in the comments section, and with Zen’s approval, I am delighted to present it here as Dr Hall’s first Zenpundit guest-post. — Charles Cameron


I have just completed a very preliminary examination of the Norwegian manifesto posted just before the Oslo bombings. It is an astonishing and significant document, far from the incoherent ravings of a mad person, as I would wish it to be. And it is incredibly chilling in its ruthless rationality and relative coherence. Here, I offer some initial reflections. I have concentrated on the portions from page 717 forward, where the author details ideology, revolutionary strategy, and utopian vision of a future, federated Europe. Beginning on p. 1388, the author offers an autobiography and c.v. of Breivik, which presumably will be checked out by investigators and the media, plus a quite detailed account of his actions over the past several years. A number of important comparisons already have been made – to al Qaida and the Oklahoma City bombing, for example. But in many ways, if the perpetrator indeed acted alone, he is something of a piece with the Unabomber, who similarly combined ruthless action with a carefully elaborated manifesto. There are important difference, to be sure. In particular, the Unabomber worked to conceal his identity so that he could carry out multiple actions, and he operated out of an environmental left ideology rather than a Christian nationalism.

The latter part of the document depicts its account of pre-emptive war as a new mode of writing, exploring scenarios rather than writing fiction or history, thereby claiming to eliminate its usefulness to authorities seeking to use it as evidence when bringing charges against the author or a perpetrator of the acts it describes.

As others already have commented, the label of ‘Christian fundamentalist’ seems wrong, at least in conventional use of the term today. Certainly the author represents himself as a nationalist/European federalist conservative opposed to ‘cultural genocide’ of the Enlightenment West, and seemingly he proposes reinstitution of monarchy as more representative of a nation than democracy can be. Only very late in the missive, p. 1134, does he embrace Europe’s return to the traditional Catholic Church, for its apostolic succession of authority and its capacity to guide believers in matters of scripture. This development is to be coupled with a re-initation of patriarchy, developed in substantial detail (p. 1141ff.), and concern about ‘the ongoing genocide of the Nordic tribes’ and a discussion of its genetic basis and the dangers of miscegenation and sexual promiscuity (including a discussion of ‘erotic capital,’ leading to a frank discussion of the possibility that the state could ‘play an essential role in national reproduction’ (p. 1157ff.; quote, p. 1185). The treatise goes on to mention future education, economic, pollution-control, population-control, crime, cultural/anti-multicultural, deportation, and youth policies, as well as discussing financing an organization, categories of traitors (A, B, and C). In short, it is a comprehensive (in Mannheim’s terms) ‘utopian’ vision, i.e., one that could never be realized in the world as it is presently institutionalized.

Yet there is certainly a basis for recognizing the claims of a ‘Christian’ basis for the ideology, and a religious fundamentalism as well. This latter claim, I make in relation to Martin Riesebrodt’s important comparative study of U.S. Protestantism at the dawn of the twentieth century and Iranian fundamentalism 70 years later or so – both of them strongly based in an ideology of patriarchy, as is the Oslo killer’s manifesto (A Pious Passion, U. California Press, 1993).

Yet this is not simply ideological quasi-religious fundamentalism/nationalism. Rather, the utopian program has all the markings of an apocalyptic crusader, and more generally, the apocalyptic warring sect that I described in Apocalypse (Polity, 2009). The lever by which the author makes contact with Christianity (beyond its status as the cultural basis of European civilization, is a modern-day ‘PCCTS, Knights Templar’ struggle to initiate a European ‘civil war’ against ‘enablers’ – cultural marxists and multiculturalists who are ‘aiding and abetting’ cultural genocide, most significantly in efforts to accommodate Islam within Europe. The challenge, as the author sees it, seems to be to eliminate Islamic migration to Europe, assimilate or force emigration of Muslims, and to excise all Islamist or Arab influenced culture, art, and architecture from European countries. The Knights Templar, described as an ‘ancient Christian European military order,’ is being re-founded not by Christians alone, but by 12 individuals, including a ‘Christian atheist’ and a ‘Christian agnostic.’ Eventually, p. 1309, the manifesto is clear that its appeal is to ‘cultural Christians,’ although it invokes the Bible and Church crusading history, especially the work of Bernard de Clairvaux, to justify the contemporary initiative. One of many elements is the crucial proposal to engage in asymmetric warfare – a vein that is classically that of the apocalyptic warring sect, using a ‘clandestine cell organization,’ combining the rhetoric of ultimate belief in a cause with the cold, rational logic of how to operate. In considerable detail, the manifesto outlines a mode of operations that foreshadows the actions in and near Oslo, including the chilling note, page 886, that it will take ‘the SWAT team 10 – 40 minutes to reach you,’ and therefore, it is worthwhile to divide up the components of a planned action accordingly.Similarly, the author mentions, p. 995, ‘announcing your operation’ ‘only seconds before you initiate’ it, and suggests, p. 927, ‘hide a knife behind a smile,’ a recommendation, along with subsequent ones, that foreshadows the killer’s use of a police uniform and a story about helping to ensure the safety of the island camp participants before beginning to slay them – a technique that he used twice, in different places on the island.

In a variety of passages, the document offers a detailed handbook of asymmetric operations of war, including attacks and sabotage, and evaluation of a variety of targets, accompanied by a detailed catalogue of equipment, weapons (including bombs made from fertilizer – see esp. p. 1015), and armor, where to buy materials, and how to create weapons, detailed discussions of chemical, biological assaults, and attacks on nuclear reactors, as well as dietary recommendations, and an outline of a training regimen, recommendations concerning alliances with certain criminal networks [a theme that reprises the analysis of Eric Hobsbawm that I cited several weeks ago].

The author also announces that the apprehension of a Knights Templar is not the end of the operation: it ‘will mark the initiation of the propaganda phase’ (p. 948), and afterward, the task will be one of ‘countering the misinformation campaign’ (p. 1073), and comments on the use of trial opening and concluding statements for propaganda purposes (p. 1108-14). Alternatively, if you die, you will live on as a martyr in the memory of those carrying on the cause.

The scope of the publication is almost encyclopedic. It also includes historical analysis of how the past millennium of European history lead to the present crisis and need for re-formation of the Knights Templar, as well as a sketch of the umbrella organization, membership, military uniforms for dress occasions, medals, appropriate tombstones, a proposal for subsequent compensation (upon victory) for people who contribute to the resistance movement (a sort of rational-choice approach to mobilizing supporters), and on and on.

In short, the document envisions apocalyptic war as the means to reach a new European conservative/nationalist/Christian utopia. Yet unlike many other visions of apocalyptic war, this manifesto goes far toward detailing what that utopian world would look like. Even if, as it seems, this action is that of a lone individual, it is a dangerous development that we ignore at our peril.

John Hall

24 Responses to “Guest Post: John R Hall: “Norway’s cultural Christian apocalyptic crusader?””

  1. Dave Schuler Says:

    That’s a fascinating analysis.  Thank you.  At first glance (and at a distance since I haven’t read the manifesto and don’t intend to) it appears to me as though the Oslo bomber has adopted Al Qaeda’s underlying view turned in a "Christian" European nationalist direction.

  2. The Oslo Killer’s Manifesto Says:

    […] an interesting analysis of the Oslo killer’s manifesto from UC Davis sociologist John R. Hall that I’d like to bring to your attention. Here’s […]

  3. John R. Hall Says:

    To Dave Schuler:
    I think you are exactly right in your thought that Breivik, who has now admitted to being the killer, styled his worldview as what amounts to a mirror image of al Qaida. Indeed, that is basic to apocalyptic war: the other side much take the bait. After 9/11, the Bush administration fell into this trap at first. Now, Breivik has taken it in a very different direction, in part because he deems his enemy to be the European politicians — across a variety of political parties, let it be said — who have aided and abetted multiculturalism.

  4. Fred Zimmerman Says:

    All the document really demonstrates is that one nutjob had a lot of time on his hands. It can’t really be read as emblematic of any larger trends or issues. Even if it could be, the author has completely undercut his own message by the massacre. 
     IMHO his actions and the response to them are far more telling and actionable.
    1) anyone who can figure out how to make a truck bomb can become a superempowered Blofeld. if he is really cunning, he can deliver an Al Qaeda style synchronized attack.  2) the killer picked an ideal killing ground: an abundance of soft targets, isolated from police response, no on-site security.  Site selection for politically sensitive gatherings needs to be given greater consideration in any society where Blofelds have access to ammonium nitrate and rifles, i.e. any society.3) SWAT teams need to have helicopters ready to fly.

  5. zen Says:

    I want to thank Dr. Hall for his informative and timely post here as well as Dr. Ronfeldt and Charles for getting the ball rolling on it. Great work!

  6. Ram Says:

    This is a good breakdown of the document that agrees with my own skimming/reading. My own fear is that it offers an extendable and durable (but as yet incomplete) template both in its interpretation of the past and in its plan for a projected future . The document’s style is very plain and matter-of-fact when it comes to action, both tactical and strategic; cold-blooded would be one way of summarizing it, so much so that: far from undercutting the message by his actions, the author/perpetrator has underlined the validity of the message to those who (would) believe in it. And finally, it seems to me that the message can only be combated by understanding its potential impact. All this IMO.

  7. Fred Zimmerman Says:

    @Ram —  my take is that the author, far from unifying like minds around his message, has provided a bunch of giant red warning flags that he (and his message) are insane.  My bet is that this will result in marginalization of far-right fanatics in Norway, and that potential Norwegian  believers in the message will be put off by a) the thought of association with the most shameful crime in Norwegian history b) the certainty of high police scrutiny for anyone advocating far right views.  In my (admittedly superficial) recollection, the Oklahoma City bombing took a lot of the wind out of the sails from the militia movement in the US. But I can understand how you might draw the opposite conclusion: time will tell. 

    My line of thinking about combating extremist messages is that it is actually not that valuable to try to understand them. You get a lot more bang for your buck by focusing on increasing civic resilience against anthropogenic and natural disasters.  More first responders, better trained; layered security; earlier and more proactive interventions with those who act violently on political beliefs (whether right or left). 

  8. J.ScottShipman Says:

    Dr. Hall, Many thanks for reading the manifesto and providing analysis. One thing this long expository tells me is that Brievek took the time to not only know his mind and motives…but wrote them down—which makes me wonder whether he is crazy or just evil. Writing something of such length, notwithstanding reports of plagiarism, requires the writer to organize and reflect—essentially to "live in" his ideas. I sure hope the authorities in Norway are talking to his family and friends…this isn’t the sort of thing one could keep to one’s self for any length of time…Thanks for a great post!

  9. John R. Hall Says:

    Scott Shipman makes an important observation that struck me as well when I was reading the manifesto. Breivik devoted years of effort to producing this document (which, as you note, includes its fair share of pasting from other sources). He has done a terrible, terrible thing, and he has done it with a kind of inner discipline and sustained commitment that are not typical of deranged people. The closest one might come to a category is obsessive-compulsive, but he is a far cry from people seriously beset by that condition. Many of us would like to dismiss him as insane, but I am afraid that this account does not really add up, even if what he did was incredibly sick.

  10. Jenny Says:

    I read an interesting theory this afternoon that made the case of Breivik as a Manchurian figure concocted to slander those who have had it with the left’s disastrous and harmful agenda. It make’s sense to me,  because the entire premise of what the media has served up to us just seems so fabricated

  11. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:

    Scott Shipman & John Hall:  Good observations.
    What always strikes me as very, very odd about these characters is how so much reflection almost always includes one blind spot:  the long-term failure of their plans.    I haven’t read the manifesto, so I can’t comment at length.   However, these all-or-nothing actions by homegrown, largely isolated terrorists so often resolve into "nothing"—nothing beyond the initial shock, destruction, etc. of their efforts.  True, there is often the assumption that they are mere cogs in machinery that will continue operating long after they have burnt themselves out; but the future is long indeed, so a vision of some form of ultimate utopia seems more wish than anything.
    Wonder if either of you have read Auden’s distinction between those who believe in Utopia and those who believe in Eden?  Use of the idea of utopia here reminded me of that essay.  Don’t at the moment remember which essay in The Dyer’s Hand included it.  His essential breakdown:  Edenists believe in a perfect society or order that once existed; utopians believe in a perfect society that may yet exist.    He fell on the side of Edenists and warned against utopians.

  12. Joseph Fouche Says:

    Reminds me a passage written by an obscure Prussian philosopher:
    War is more than a true chameleon that slightly adapts its characteristics to the given case. As a total phenomenon its dominant tendencies always make war a remarkable trinity–composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; of the play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone…These three tendencies are like three different codes of law, deep-rooted in their subject and yet variable in their relationship to one another. A theory that ignores any one of them or seeks to fix an arbitrary relationship between them would conflict with reality to such an extent that for this reason alone it would be totally useless.Our task therefore is to develop a theory that maintains a balance between these three tendencies, like an object suspended between three magnetsOr as Hobbes put it, "chiefly for fear, next for honour, and lastly for profit." 
    If you ask whether this Northman is mad, an anomaly, or rational, the answer is yes

  13. J.ScottShipman Says:

    Hi CGW, Many thanks!
    You’re spot on w/respect to the Utopian thinking (I’m recalling John Gray’s often infuriating Black Mass). I have not read Auden’s distinction, but will add to my list.
    As for resolving into "nothing" [tongue in cheek here] after the Unibomber, I noticed how ubiquitous hoodies and metal framed sunglasses became–they’re still pretty popular among some young people.

  14. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:

    Found it.  It’s from Auden’s essay Dingley Dell & The Fleet.  He uses Eden along w/ Arcadian, on the one side, and New Jerusalem w/ Utopian:

    "The psychological difference between the Arcadian dreamer and the Utopian dreamer is that the backward-looking Arcadian knows that his expulsion from Eden is an irrevocable fact and that his dream, therefore, is a wish-dream which cannot become real; in consequence, the actions which led to his expulsion are of no concern to his dream.  The forward-looking Utopian, on the other hand, necessarily believes that his New Jerusalem is a dream which ought to be realized so that the actions by which it could be realized are a necessary element in his dream; it must include images, that is to say, not only of New Jerusalem itself but also images of the Day of Judgment.
    "Consequently, while neither Eden nor New Jerusalem are places where aggression can exist, the Utopian dream permits indulgence in aggressive fantasies in a way that the Arcadian dream does not.  Even Hitler, I imagine, would have defined his New Jerusalem as a world where there are no Jews, not as a world where they are being gassed by the million day after day in ovens, but he was a Utopian, so the ovens had to come."

    Never thought about the hoodies.  For me it was a chicken/egg kind of thing! 😉

  15. J.ScottShipman Says:

    Zen, Thanks for overcoming my continuing non-post formatting issues:)) CGW, many thanks for the reference. At dinner tonight I shared your comment and she was familiar with Auden and the concept—and sort of looked at me like I was bordering on illiterate:)) (she’s an English major, what can I say?)…Hitler wasnt’ alone, Marx and those who followed co-opted the notion that man can scientifically improve to a point of perfection. I posted this thread to a friend who does not blog—a bright guy who is a West Point grad. His take was telling. He believes that Europe is awakening to the dissolution of their culture and will, as time progresses,  react violently (much as Joseph Fouche already eloquently described). My guess is there are enough sheep in Europe to stave off a full revolution, but guys like the one in Norway probably took note and are making their plans. France and Belgium are dealing with the issues in law proper, so I suspect we’ll see more activity there in the future…

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  20. John R. Hall Says:

    I’m honored that my analysis of Breivik received this recognition. It is fascinating to see the range of views on the web about Breivik, his motivations, how his actions are to be explained or dismissed, and what we should make of these events.

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  22. martha Seymour Says:

    I hope readers are aware that the concept of "Christian nationalism" is an absurd oxymoron. People use available, popular labels to rally the unsophisticated. But there is nothing in Christian texts that condones violence or any form of nationalism (except perhaps for paying your taxes…probably a pragmatic way to lessen the possibility of extreme persecution by the state. Christianity is at its core about love, non-violence, and (if you will) multiculturalism. The early Christians reached out to people of all races, particularly the poor. So, in fact, the best remedy for the murderous nationalism of people like Breivik (who, as you much more plausibly say, finds a potent model in al Qaeda) is ACTUAL Christianity. Real Christians would never have made war in Afghanistan or Iraq, much less set up torture chambers for suspects. Labels should have some historical integrity. What people have done to others under a religious banner tells us nothing about the religion per se, only their shameless effort to obscure what they are really about. The lamest argument against religious creeds is that some hateful, violent people have once invoked it. Is there ANY body of ideas not invoked by some madman? I think exposure of these incongruities is essential for fighting the violence. We have to be careful that we don’t condemn all Christians, Muslims, Jews, or Buddhists for the actions of a few. That’s so obvious, but it bears repeating –especially to audiences of atheists and agnostics eager to find more handles for condemning religious beliefs (as if atheists have such clean hands! Let’s don’t forget Stalin and Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, etc.)

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