Sometimes being a navy geek can have its drawbacks. When I first heard the Norwegian psychopath being compared to “John Brown,” my first thought was “what does one of Britain’s most renowned ship builders have to do with that nutjob?” Then once I recovered from my facepalm, I refreshed my memory of the militant abolitionist of the same name.
“Militant” is probably the most precise term. Brown engaged in many sessions of open combat over the issue of slavery, personally killed several pro-slavery people, was responsible for the death of many others, and saw a lot of his allies and followers killed in his fights. His final action involved leading a squad (his plan was for 4,500 armed men; he ended up leading 21) to take over a federal armory in Virginia and distribute the weapons to renegade slaves. He’d then march through Virginia, recruiting slaves into his forces and arming them. He’d never seek an open confrontation, but would be prepared to fight back if he was confronted. He believed that so many slaves would flock to his march that the institution would simply crumble.
Obviously, it didn’t work. The armory was assaulted, several of his followers were killed, and he was captured. He was put on trial for, among things, “treason against the state of Virginia,” and hanged.
Brown was — and is — a polarizing figure, to put it mildly. He was hailed as a hero and a martyr to many in the north, while Abraham Lincoln called him “insane.”
I don’t think it’s a strong parallel, but I do see some of the points. The Norwegian monster, like Brown, portrayed himself as the champion of a noble cause. He was willing and ready to use violence to push his agenda. And a lot of people who shared his cause were made exceptionally uncomfortable — if not downright outraged — at his tactics.
One major difference, though, is that Brown was considerably more selective in who he killed or helped kill. A lot of them occurred in ways that clearly qualified as self-defense, and the only non-anti-abolitionists (damn, that’s an awkward construction) who died were by accident.
Breivik’s victims, though, were very carefully selected — and had at best a tangential relationship to his cause. He targeted the ruling party of his nation, both its present and future leaders. The “youth camp” wasn’t what we consider one, especially during summers, but essentially a leadership retreat for the (mostly adult) children and other young leaders of the established party. In other words, not so much Camp Kookamunga and more College Democrats outing.
Which makes it slightly less random, while still reprehensible. He was incensed at what he (and a lot of others) see as the Islamification of Europe, and blamed the Norwegian Labor Party for aiding and abetting them. The reasoning of how his attacks would promote his cause is insane troll logic, and I can’t force my brain into the necessary convolutions to work out how he expected to get to Stage 3 from his Stage 1.
There is one very significant parallel between Breivik and Brown, however. Both men and their actions were used by their enemies to demonize the side the terrorist supported, while those that the terrorist had praised and claimed as allies found themselves struggling to maintain their positions while distancing themselves from the madman’s deeds.
And make no mistake — Breivik’s concerns are valid. The Islamization of Europe is a real thing. There are whole neighborhoods in Western Europe that are de facto Islamist states. For example, portions of Great Britain and France fit into this category, and Norway has its own particular problem with its Muslim immigrants. Further, Denmark is still paying the “price” for allowing one of its newspapers to publish cartoons of Mohammed.
What Breivik did was monstrous. He should pay the ultimate price for his crimes. Sadly, it looks like that under Norway’s liberal, enlightened, and moral legal system, he’ll face at most 21 years in prison.
But for his crimes to be allowed to cudgel even discussing the issues that he wanted to raise would compound the tragedy of his acts.