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Seeds of terror in Norway

Anders Behring Breivik has a lot in common with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

July 28, 2011|By Andrew Gumbel

America's violent far right would have no difficulty recognizing the tell-tale signatures of Friday's killing spree in Norway — and not just because they would see the confessed perpetrator, Anders Behring Breivik, as an ideological soul mate who, like their own heroes, thought he could trigger a white-supremacist revolution with bombs and bullets.

Breivik appears to have been more than simply inspired by American predecessors such as Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber: The materials he used, the way he planned and carried out his attacks, and his own writings all suggest he was deeply familiar with the actions of some notorious political killers on this side of the Atlantic.

Breivik possessed a Glock semiautomatic, the same weapon McVeigh was carrying when he was arrested by a hawk-eyed Highway Patrol officer 90 minutes after the April 1995 bombing in Oklahoma. Breivik also possessed a .223-caliber Ruger assault rifle, just like McVeigh.

The Ruger, in fact, has a long history of use by violent extremists because it is dependable, easy to load and fire, and cheaper than an AR-15 or M-16. It is also convertible, without much difficulty, to a fully automatic weapon.

Gordon Kahl, an iconic white-supremacist tax protester, was armed with a Ruger Mini-14 — the same model as Breivik's — when he led the FBI on a multi-state shooting spree from North Dakota to Arkansas in 1983. Richard Wayne Snell, a protege of Kahl's, was carrying a Mini-14 when he killed the only black trooper in southwestern Arkansas in 1984 and then battled it out with police across the state line in Oklahoma.

Snell, who was part of a violent revolutionary group known as the Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord, was a hero of McVeigh's who was executed in Arkansas on the very day of the Oklahoma City bombing: April 19, 1995.

Breivik acquired about 12,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and, according to the Norwegian police, appears to have used some of it to make the bomb that detonated in Oslo. That's the same farm fertilizer compound McVeigh and his co-conspirator Terry Nichols acquired to build their bomb. They mixed about 4,000 pounds of the fertilizer with nitromethane and diesel fuel to construct a device powerful enough to rip the guts out of the Oklahoma City federal building and kill 168 people.

Such similarities of weaponry and methods are common among hard-right revolutionaries who tend to read the same pamphlets and books and frequent the same websites. The literature they share tends to fetishize military hardware and to speak reverently of the history of each piece of weaponry.

Perpetrators are often fairly explicit about their inspirations, which they draw both from real life and from pop culture. McVeigh, for example, likened the attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City to the destruction of the Death Star in "Star Wars."

The far-right extremist world is replete with paranoia and fear of government informants, leading to a philosophy of action that Breivik and McVeigh appear to have shared. In America in the 1990s, the approach was known as "leaderless resistance" — the notion that everyone shares a common ideological goal but that individual warriors make their own plans in secret to minimize the broader movement's risk of exposure. People might work in cells or alone, but the idea — not always observed in practice — is to keep action plans strictly under wraps.

Breivik's lawyer says his client has told him about other cells in Norway and elsewhere in Europe that are devoted to fighting back against what he sees as a Muslim invasion of the continent. But he also claims to have carried out Friday's attacks alone, suggesting that he too embraced a leaderless resistance model, real or imagined.

Norway in 2011 might bear some superficial similarities to Oklahoma in 1995. Both were regarded as peaceful, safe places that were unlikely targets for terrorist attacks. But there were also differences. Breivik discusses in his 1,500-page Unabomber-style manifesto how much more difficult it was for him to assemble bomb materials than it was in the America of the mid-1990s. "Times are changing and the possibilities which were available to us during the time of Mr. Timothy McVeigh are no longer present," he wrote.

Norway also has much stricter gun control laws than the United States, and part of the reason Breivik settled on the Ruger Mini-14 was because, as he wrote, it was "the most army-like rifle allowed in Norway."

The Oklahoma City bombing was ultimately viewed as an operational disaster by the radical far right in this country because the death toll of innocents — including 19 children under age 5 — caused only revulsion and effectively squashed the American militia movement. Breivik's grand murderous folly is likely to generate that same kind of disgust.

Andrew Gumbel, a Los Angeles-based journalist, is writing a book about the Oklahoma City bombing, due out from William Morrow next April.

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