Anders Breivik, Norwegian black metal and fascism today

On 16 July, French police detained a man called Varge Vikernes and his wife, Marie Cachet, supposedly on the basis that they were planning a terrorist assault. Vikernes had, it seems, been under surveillance since Anders Breivik, the Islamophobic mass murderer, mailed him a copy of his manifesto. The specific trigger for their arrest was Cachet’s purchase of four rifles, which, under the circumstances, naturally raised eyebrows. The pair were later released after the authorities could identify no ‘specific terrorist plans or terrorist target’.

This episode, minor in itself, becomes of somewhat more interest when we note Vikernes’ centrality to the subculture of Norwegian black metal.

That is, using the name ‘Count Grishnackh’, Vikernes played guitar for a number of the seminal black metal bands. Most notoriously, he was involved with Mayhem, the group that epitomised the extremity of that scene. Under the leadership of guitarist Øystein Aarseth – ‘Euronymous’ – Mayhem performed on stages adorned with pigs heads impaled on spikes, with the singer Per Yngve Ohlin (‘Dead’) cutting himself with knifes. Dead eventually killed himself with a shotgun; the band used Euronymous’ photos of the bloody corpse as an album cover. Euronymous also sent fragments of Dead’s skull to other musicians as marks of respect.

Thereafter, Euronymous, Vikernes and others in the scene embarked on a campaign of church burning, for which Vikernes was briefly imprisoned. In 1993, Vikernes stabbed Euronymous to death, claiming self-defence on the basis that Euronymous planned to kidnap and torture him (which may well have been true). Vikernes served 16 years jail for the crime, during which he continued to record for his one-man project, Burzum.

There’s considerably more to the bizarre, grand guignol narrative of Norwegian black metal (about which I claim no particular expertise) but you get the general idea.

Since his release, Vikernes has continued to proselytize what he calls ‘Odalism’, a philosophy that combines Norse mysticism with eugenics, racism and a fascist contempt for democracy. In a recent interview, for instance, he declared that ‘everyone should read “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, “Mein Kampf” and all the books not written by Jews about their own culture they can get their hands on.’

Without his musical career, Vikernes would be just another unpleasant crank with a blog. While Burzum has its fans, it’s doubtful that there’s much specific political support for his eccentric mash-up of Nazism, pagan folklore and, um, JRR Tolkien (‘Burzum’ means, apparently, ‘darkness’ in Tolkien’s ‘Black Speech’).

In some ways, however, that’s what makes the connection between Vikernes and Breivik so disturbing.

For a start, it’s indicative of how much more easily these days individuals on the extreme Right can make contact with each other. In the twenties, the incipient fascist groups attracted all kinds of deranged and violent individuals. But would-be recruits had to physically attend meetings or, at very least, track down the addresses of other fascists in order to correspond by mail.

By contrast, Breivik could add Vikernes to the list of prominent Islamophobes to whom he sent his manifesto simply by using Google. Obviously, the internet’s a boon to any political organisation but it’s especially important to fascists, since they do not build upon innately collective identities (in the manner that, say, trade unions build from the ties inherent in the workplace) but depend on welding scattered individuals into some kind of externally imposed unity. The peculiar dynamic of online communication – with its both users atomised and networked at the same time – is almost ideally suited to the far Right, which is one reason why the Islamophobic blogosphere has become so powerful, so quickly.

Secondly, the relationship between Vikernes and Breivik is interesting, precisely because it makes no sense whatsoever. Breivik, of course, sees himself, like most of the Islamophobic Right, as defending a specifically Christian Europe. Vikernes went to jail for burning churches, in a campaign intended as resistance to the Christianisation of Europe. As he put it: ‘For each devastated graveyard, one heathen grave is avenged, for each ten churches burnt to ashes, one heathen hof is avenged, for each ten priests or freemasons assassinated, one heathen is avenged.’ Indeed, on his website, Vikernes excoriates Breivik as a tool of the Jews (naturally!), who are, apparently, the real force behind militant Islam.

But it’s all too easy for the Left to console itself with the incoherence – indeed, the burbling insanity – of far Right ideas, forgetting that ideas have always been the least important aspect of fascism. ‘We aim to exalt aggressive action,’ wrote the Futurist Marinetti, in the manifesto that both anticipated and encapsulated the fascist mindset, ‘the racing foot, the fatal leap, the smack and punch.’ Who you punch matters less than your willingness to punch someone – and Breivik was certainly willing to do that.

Again, that’s not to suggest that Vikernes represents anything significant, in and of himself. Indeed, he seems, in some respects, rather a busted flush these days, with the most recent Burzum albums drawing distinctly mixed reviews. The main battalions of the fascist Right – think Golden Dawn in Greece, Jobbik in Hungary – identify themselves with traditions that are rather less esoteric than those that emerged from Norwegian black metal. But while fascism is most dangerous as a mass phenomenon (which is what we’re seeing in Greece and Hungary), it’s also entirely capable of inspiring individual lunatics, who, as Breivik demonstrated, can inflict all kinds of carnage.

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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  1. Terrific, Jeff. Thanks for this piece. This broader question you raise of “dexternetics” – how to describe and analyse the networking modes and technologies of the right – seems to correspond very interestingly with GRundle’s earlier posts on the ICT situation confronting the left. It strikes me that your atomisation/unification analysis has much to say about the broad spectrum of right wing activity online in countries such as Australia that follow the Washington template for campaigning. There’s a great deal of work to be done here still!

  2. “There’s considerably more to the bizarre, grand guignol narrative of Norwegian black metal (about which I claim no particular expertise)…”

    Who you kiddin’ Jeff?

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