Lessons From The Day A Right-Wing Norwegian Terrorist Killed 77? We’re Actively Unlearning Them.

Christian Christensen
4 min readJul 22, 2021


Paal Sørensen 2011, Wikimedia Commons

A decade has passed since Anders Breivik killed 77 in Norway, and we have learned nothing.

Actually, scratch that. Not only have we learned nothing, we are actively attempting to unlearn and forget what little we did know before the man whose hatred of multiculturalism, feminism, Islam and leftist politics led him to murder innocent teenagers on an island in the name of racial and cultural purity.

Europe and the United States fashion themselves as the joint centers of the moral and intellectual universe, so one might imagine that the unambiguous lessons of July 22, 2011 — the connections between the language of racism and sexism and violence; the danger of the myth of a Europe “defiled” by multiculturalism; the grotesque social implications of linking leftist politics to the racist notion of the “Great Replacement” of whites — would lead to self-reflection and aggressive attempts to stem the public proliferation of words, images and ideas that fuel men like Breivik.

Yet, it is precisely the fact that the US and Europe fashioned themselves as global intellectual and moral centers that critical self-reflection was impossible. Centuries of in-built arrogance and sense of superiority have a tendency to do that. In its place, we have seen the rise of a politics of natvism and xenophobia, rooted in ideas about the nature of humanity and society that Breivik championed.

When athletes kneel in opposition to racism, they are now smeared as “Marxists” trying to “divide the nation along racial lines” with their “Deep Wokeism.” The arrow between that claim and Breivik is both bold and straight, and since many of those making the claim know full well that millionaire athletes working for billionaire owners and advertisers aren’t “Marxists,” the only explanation is that they are pushing something they know to be explosive bullshit in the hope that it whips up supporters with thoughts of unpatriotic, “ungrateful” minorities. Do those who criticize kneeling want people dead? No. But that’s hardly an excuse for not seeing the obvious connections here.

When pundits and politicians spread blatant lies about huge numbers of young citizens, from primary schoolers to university students, being indoctrinated with a “Critical Race Theory” critics can neither describe or define, it is a message that “white culture” is being marginalized and replaced at the will of cosmopolitan elites. The results can be seen in places like Texas, where a previous requirement that students be taught that the beliefs and actions of the Ku Klux Klan were “morally wrong” was eliminated.

When refugees to Europe and the US flee warfare in search of better lives, they are painted as social and economic leeches, and their basic humanity stripped away in the service of a politics of xenophobia and fear-mongering. Political discourse is lowered to discussions about who is “really” a citizen of Country X (only white people), with debates about the “problem” of people having one or two parents with immigrant backgrounds. As always, the purity of the nation is framed as being at stake. Can you really be Muslim and French? Or Muslim and Swedish? If you think the bigoted nature of the question is the problem, then you’re framed as naive or a traitor.

In all of these areas we have media, so often painted as “liberal” or “leftist,” normalizing or parroting the political language of nativism, racism, Islamophobia in the name of “balance” and “objectivity.” What was once unspeakable bigotry has been converted into “political positions” that we must now “debate.” If you refuse to engage with bigotry, you’re accused of being part of a leftist, elite cancel culture. The political right that relentlessly lampooned “relativistic postmodern thinking” in universities is now the greatest proponent of the idea that all ideas, no matter how repulsive or factually incorrect, are matters of “opinion,” have legitimacy and are worthy of discussion.

A decade ago, Western audiences watched in disbelief as a white man who wallowed in constructed white victimhood killed children. A lot of that disbelief was because, well…we are conditioned to think that it’s Muslims who kill people, not white Christians. (The families of a few hundred thousand dead in Iraq would beg to differ, but they can feel better in the knowledge that that their dead fathers, mothers and children died in the service of the greater good and from bombs dropped from 40,000 feet.) The reaction to July 22, 2011 was not to seek and destroy narrative of victimhood, but to strengthen, sanitize and mold it into a viable mainstream political platform. That racism has always been there, of course, but the brazen ease and overt-ness with which it is now expressed illustrates how far we have fallen.

The tragedy of July 22, 2011 was unspeakable. Yet, somehow, we have managed to compound that pain. That’s a shameful legacy.