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The Trouble with Conspiracy Theories

by Cath Murphy

August 29, 2011

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Donate Two months ago, the name Anders Breivik meant very little or nothing to most people in Norway. Since he embarked on his mission to save Europe from what he saw as the creeping peril of multiculturalism, his is a name that most people in this country are unlikely to forget.

Last week, Breivik was taken back to Utøya island to reconstruct the events of the day in July when he stepped off the ferry, shouldered his weapon and ended the lives of 66 people, most of them teenagers. Now the police have a detailed picture of how those terrible events unfolded. They know the what and the where and the how. The victims are named, the route traced, the bullets extracted and identified. But perhaps the biggest question of all remains unanswered " the question every parent of every dead child must have asked as disbelief receded and reality sank in. That question is why.

Before he embarked on his one-man killing spree, Breivik posted a document on-line and e-mailed it to over 1000 in-boxes. This rambling and charmless rant " at 1500 pages it’s almost three times the length of the average edition of Mein Kampf " gives us an insight into what motivated Breivik to do what he did. And central to his thesis is " guess what " a conspiracy theory. According to Breivik, the dark forces of Socialism are conspiring with Islam to convert Europe into “Eurabia”. Complaining bitterly about being forced to learn knitting at school, Breivik points out that the very same leftists who impose politically correct art classes on Norwegian school children use charges of racism to stifle protest against their liberal immigration policies. It’s all a sinister plot says Breivik: muslims invade our territory unchecked, while the young boys who might one day stand against them, are emasculated by a curriculum which teaches them sewing instead of target practice.

You'd have to be fairly batty to believe this crap, but plenty of people do without feeling the need to gun down children. What about all of this drove Breivik to murder? The answer lies elsewhere in the manifesto. In amongst the descriptions of bomb making, Breivik lectures his reader on couture for the about-to-be-notorious. It’s important, says Breivik, to appear clean and tidy for media appearances in the aftermath of one’s mass destruction. As a helpful guide, he includes photographs: Breivik in skin tight lycra shouldering an assault weapon, Breivik in full Temple regalia, complete with tiny satin apron, Breivik in Aryan mode, gazing into a muslim-free future.

Here is the why. Breivik is a narcissist " a person who chronically overestimates his own abilities and importance. Frustrated by the gap between how they see themselves and what they can actually achieve, people like Breivik grab at opportunities to get the attention they feel they deserve. In Breivik’s case, his conspiracy theory allowed him to create a Europe in peril and to cast himself in the role of some kind of 21st century Richard Lionheart, replacing chain mail with combat gear and using bullets in place of a longsword to vanquish the agents of evil.

The saddest thing is that Breivik didn’t invent this rubbish on his own. His ideas might be more obscure than the more familiar ones about Big Pharma giving us all Aids or who was really behind 9/11, but go to the right websites and the rhetoric is out there, ready to infect the next unstable mind that happens to come across it.

Because that’s the trouble with conspiracy theories, for most of us they seem harmless " at best entertaining, at worst (as in the case of “Eurabia”) offensive. But in the wrong hands, like those of Anders Breivik, conspiracy theories are about as harmless as a loaded gun.

by Cath Murphy

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