Does Norway have a neo-Nazi terrorist problem?

Philip Manshaus – Copyright HÅKON MOSVOLD LARSEN / NTB SCANPIX / AFP

A young man, Philip Manshaus, who ­­­­­­carried out the terror attack in Norway on 10 August 2019 has now been sentenced to 21 years ‘preventative detention’. He was charged with killing his step sister, Johanne Ihle- Hansen, and an act of terrorism for attacking the Al Noor mosque in Bærum, Norway. At the trial, he showed no remorse, noting that he wished he had done more damage and regretted not having planned the attack better. He had in fact turned up the day before eid al Fitr (the festival that marks the end of the Holy month of Ramadan) to an empty mosque and was tackled and stopped by Mohammad Rafiq and Mohammed Iqbal Javed the only people there. The prosecutor, Johan Øverberg, said Manshaus had proven to be an extremely dangerous man. There was a racist motive behind the murder; his step sister had been adopted from China, and the attempted attack of the mosque itself had racial overtones. As noted by the German international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle: ‘in his concluding remarks, the attacker  said he expected to be convicted and given a long sentence, “but I would like to point out to the judges that they are accomplices to the ongoing genocide of the European people.”’

Over the last year the picture of how Manshaus became radicalised has become clearer; he seems to have acted alone and as other right-wing ´lone wolves´ became radicalised online. He was a great admirer of Brenton Tarrant, who carried out the terror attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on 15 March 2019 and killed 51 worshippers, and of another right wing extremist, Anders Behring Brevik, who killed 77 (mostly young) people  in and near Oslo, Norway on 22 July 2011. There is no evidence he was part of a larger network but Manshaus had met with high ranking members of the neo-Nazi organisation, the Nordic Resistance Movement (or NRM), in a café in Olso a month before the attack and asked to join the organisation. The journalist and author of the new book, ´Nynazister blant oss´ (or ‘neo- Nazis among us’), Harald S. Klungtveit, argues the main reason Manshaus wasn’t a member by the time of the attack was not because the NRM didn´t want him, but because of delays in NRM’s membership system as well as internal conflicts and a split of the organisation.

Luckily, Manshaus’s plans to kill Muslims during prayer were a failure – with him appearing on the wrong day and being apprehended by the only two men who were in the mosque who managed to stop him and ring the police. It took the police a long time to turn up, which looked like a repeat of the police´s reaction to the phone calls about Breivik and has now led to an investigation of the matter by an expert committee. The delay has been interpreted as racial profiling according to some, there are also other calls for Bærum police force to be investigated on accounts of racism. The Norwegian security service´s (PST) investigation of the police´s delay and behaviour in the Manshaus case was delayed because of the Corona pandemic and regretfully the report wasn´t ready at the time of Manshaus’s court case.

More information has revealed since the trial; notably that Manshaus increased his online activities dramatically after he came back from a gap year college in May 2018. He had spent the academic year 2017-2018 at a liberal residential craft school, named ‘Fosen Folkehøgskole’, on a peninsula in the picturesque Trondheim fjord. The college´s ethos is about living sustainably and teaches sailing, boat building, farming, self-sufficiency and organic living. It has a reputation of being a leftist, alternative utopic paradise. The school´s ambitious aim is to “guide the world in a more environmentally friendly direction”.

Manshaus subsequently attended the stream that teaches sustainable living and self-sufficiency. The school is a very tightly knit community with activities and trips on the weekends. Students who knew Manshaus said they had noticed how he had changed during his stay at the college and they had begun to fear that someone would get killed soon; either Manshaus or somebody else. They said he expressed more and more radical views and became increasingly religious (Christian). His head teacher, Arnhild Finne, stated they had little reason to believe that he had been radicalised there but regrets not having acted on a tip from a concerned student and notified the police.

Fosen Folkehøgskole is not exactly a place you would expect to find a future extreme right wing terrorist and police reports from his internet activity show Manshaus’s interest in the radical right, neo-Nazism and terror grew rapidly in the spring 2019 after he had left the school. He had downloaded a PDF version of ´SIEGE´ by the US neo-nazi James Mason but his reading was broad and covered the right-wing psychology professor and professional contrarian, Jordan Peterson as well as Anders Behring-Breivik´s manifesto. Manshaus seemed more interested in the ‘alt-right’ than neo-Nazism and terror attacks.

More than anybody Manshaus seemed obsessed with Brenton Tarrant who carried out the terror attack on the mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand in 15 March 2019 and killed 51. In Manshaus´s notes, the police found a detailed terror plan that was lifted directly from Brenton Tarrant´s manifesto and also happened to be influenced by Breivik. The Norwegian police had had Manshaus under observation for a while and his old friends described him as having become radicalised. For instance, and especially from the summer 2018, he had become awkward and difficult to socialise with because of his views and as a result he spent more and more time on his own.

 In court the police presented their analysis of Manshaus´s activities in the last two years; activities that led to him becoming a Nazi, an anti-Semite and a terrorist. He had searched for – and had visited – internet sites with the key words (such as “Nazi”, “nigger”, “Jew”, “genocide”, “Breivik”, “Holocaust”, “NRM”, “4Chan” and “8Chan”). Manshaus had showed an interest in 4Chan since his mid-teens but his engagement intensified in 2018. In court, he complained that anyone interested in something deviant in relation to the Holocaust or immigration was being subject to a ‘witch hunt’. Moreover, he had also tried to convince friends of conspiracy theories and Holocaust denial. Furthermore, he had expressed hatred of Jewish people and showed an interest in the school shootings in the USA and Finland. He was also fascinated by alt-right internet culture and had written about race and religion in his diaries and of a “psychological war against my people”. The security service says his relation to reality had started to show signs of radicalisation in 2018. Philip Manshaus´s internet activity escalated after the Christchurch attack when he also started searching for weapons for sale and avidly read the bible to find viewpoints against racial mixing. He had also read the racist ideologue David Lane who had been imprisoned a third of his life for murder of a Jewish journalist and used Lane´s ´14 words´ in court (i.e., “we must secure the existence of our race and a future for White children”).

 In the wake of Breivik’s (successful) and Manshaus’s (failed) attacks, Norwegian society and the security services have their work cut out; there is a relatively small number of neo-Nazi groups and individuals in Norway but – left radicalised by the internet and international events – they are more likely to carry out violent attacks than before. Klungtveit says neo-Nazism is no longer taboo among the younger generation, but that is international phenomenon. In Norway the media in the name of ‘freedom of speech’ is facilitating agency and a space for radical right to voices to be heard, helping to normalise them and therefore ultimately make such attacks more likely in the future.

Dr Mette Wiggen is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Lecturer in Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds. See her profile here.

© Mette Wiggen. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).