The anti-Muslim movement is growing. I expect we’ll see even more groups this time next year:
The international network of counter-jihadist groups that inspired Anders Behring Breivik is growing in reach and influence, according to a report released on the eve of the Norwegian’s trial.
Far-right organisations are becoming more cohesive as they forge alliances throughout Europe and the US, says the study, with 190 groups now identified as promoting an Islamophobic agenda.
This week Breivik will appear on trial in Oslo after confessing to the murder of 77 people in Norway last July, killings that he justified as part of a “war” between the west and Islamists.
The report, by anti-racism group Hope Not Hate, states that since the 33-year-old’s killing spree, the counter-jihad movement – a network of foundations, bloggers, political activists and street gangs – has continued to proliferate.
Campaigners cite the formation three months ago of the Stop Islamization of Nations (Sion) group, designed to promote an umbrella network of counter-jihad groups across Europe and the US, as evidence of a global evolution.
An inaugural Sion summit is planned in New York this year to coincide with the anniversary of 9/11. Speakers are set to include Paul Weston, chairman of the anti-Islamic British Freedom Party (BFP), which recently announced a pact with the English Defence League. In the manifesto that Breivik published online 90 minutes before his attacks, he cited blog postings by Weston which discussed a “European civil war” between the west and Islam.
Researchers at Hope Not Hate name the UK as one of Europe’s most active countries in terms of counter-jihad extremism, with 22 anti-Islamic groups currently operating.
In Europe as a whole, 133 organisations were named in the report, including seven in Norway, and another 47 in the US, where a network of neo-conservative, evangelical and conservative organisations attempts to spread “negative perceptions of Islam, Muslim minorities and Islamic culture”.
Nick Lowles, director of Hope Not Hate said: “Breivik acted alone but it was the ‘counter-Jihadist’ ideology that inspired him and gave him the reasoning to carry out these atrocious attacks. All eyes this week will be on what Breivik did last July, but we ignore those people who inspired him at our peril.”
Andreas Mammone, a historian at Kingston University in London and an expert on European fascism, said broader factors had helped the counter-jihad movement to consolidate support. “The economic crisis continues to promote nationalism alongside the need for a common enemy. A fear of radical Islam is being developed, the idea that it presents a threat to our freedom,” he said.
The report also identifies the counter-jihad network’s most influential figures, including EDL leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (known as Tommy Robinson), but also the more discreet London property tycoon Ann Marchini, whose details surfaced on a leaked list of EDL donors and who is understood to have attended counter-jihad conferences in Scandinavia, Brussels, Zurich and London. She attended a recent meeting where the EDL agreed its electoral pact with the BFP and is also understood to be involved with the UK wing of the Centre for Vigilant Freedom (CVF), and a well-funded US group renamed the International Civil Liberties Alliance (ICLA), which is based in Fairfax, Virginia, and co-ordinates individuals and groups in 20 countries.
The ICLA also runs the Counter-Jihad Europa website, which acts as a “clearing house for national initiatives to oppose the Islamisation of Europe”. Three months after Breivik’s attacks the ICLA organised a counter-jihad conference in London with the help of its European co-ordinator, Christopher Knowles, another EDL co-founder and director of the UK branch of the CVF, which is registered in Wakefield.
New anti-Islamic groups continue to emerge. Two weeks ago in Denmark, Yaxley-Lennon held the inaugural meeting of a Europe-wide network of defence leagues. Another new group, founded in Belgium last month, is Women Against Islamisation, a pan-European network whose launch was addressed by Jackie Cook, the wife of Nick Griffin, chairman of the British National party (BNP).
In Greece, polls suggest the ultra-nationalist Golden Dawn could pass the 3% threshold required to enter parliament in elections next month.
Another development concerns the hardening of links between European and US anti-Islamic organisations. US blogger Pamela Geller is a key figure driving closer transatlantic relations. Geller, who is president of Sion, was mentioned in Breivik’s manifesto and was a vociferous protester against the development of a mosque in Lower Manhattan in 2010.
The co-founder of Sion is Denmark’s Anders Gravers, organiser of Stop Islamisation of Europe. Gravers met Yaxley-Lennon in Denmark last month.
Campaigners are concerned that US neo-conservative and evangelical groups will begin sharing resources with the leagues. Images of EDL demonstrations are already used at Tea Party movement fundraising events, while officials from groups such as the Christian Action Network have met EDL activists. Other US and UK links include the Virginia-based anti-Islamic blog, the Gates Of Vienna, which counted Breivik as a contributor. As attention turns to Norway, experts are keen to stress that the country was not unusual in terms of the extent of its counter-jihadist movement. Among the online forums linked to Breivik are the nationalist blog Document.no, on which Breivik posted more than 100 comments.
Breivik – an admirer of the EDL – was also an online supporter of the Norwegian Defence League, which retains close links with its English counterpart.