In July 2011, the phrase “Cultural Marxism” broke into the mainstream thanks to a long and rambling manifesto. It was published after the author, a Norwegian far-right terrorist, killed 77 people in Utoya, Norway, the majority of whom were youth attending a left-wing political summer camp.
Anders Breivik saw these youth as a threat to the White Europe that he wished for. Cultural Marxism, he explained in detail, was a political theory pushed by Jews and feminists to destroy Western Civilization.
It was code for the racist, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, violently sexist worldview that drove Breivik to commit such a mass horror.
Breivik’s crimes should have been the moment that Canadian journalists realized that we have an organized white supremacy problem. His manifesto — rambling, long, semi-coherent and deeply racist — touched on many of the tropes that have dominated Canadian discussions about the far right for years, including before and after the attack at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City in 2017.
Breivik laid it out for us: how university campuses are hotbeds for Cultural Marxism and feminist organizing, how global movements of refugees threaten white Europe and through anti-Semitic tropes, how media engages in “fake news” to lie to people, and so on. He even started his manifesto with the heading: “Political correctness is Cultural Marxism.”
After his rhetorical arguments, he then explains how to carry out an act of mass terror.
We knew in 2011 that violent rhetoric begets violence. We knew in 2018 that a Canadian mass murderer was radicalized online by softer right-wing forces. And we know, again, that the organized global forces of white nationalism feed one another.
At the time, I remember reading Breivik’s manifesto in shock to see that someone had summed up every horrible thing that I had become used to reading on the Internet. For years, I had followed racists' websites and blogs to understand a curiosity; but Breivik’s words and actions felt like a watershed moment. We now had the proof to link online hatred and rhetoric, with real-life acts of violence. We saw, clearly, that organized hatred for Islam and Muslims was deadly, and what coded language about Jews, women, Marxists, Antifa, refugees and Liberals really meant to organized white nationalists. The proof was undeniable, and worse, it was set in blood.
Breivik focused on Europe and Western settler-states, so it wasn’t surprising to read Canada referenced from time to time throughout the thousand-plus pages. He lamented Canada’s low birth rate. He cited a National Post article that argues that so-called “homegrown” terror is a threat to Canadians. But he took specific interest in an issue that I was involved in: the management of Ryerson University’s multi-faith prayer space. He referenced the Canadian Federation of Students’ Taskforce on the Needs of Muslim Students. There was a direct line from student organizing in which I was involved, to the disgusting ramblings of a mass murderer.
Canadians never learned the lessons that we should have following the Utoya massacre. There was no understanding from among politicians or media that the buzzwords that drove Breivik were driving Canadian extremists as well. At Maclean’s, they examined Breivik through the lens of a lone gunman, inexplicable and racist, but with no lessons for us to learn. Colby Cosh summed up how the Canadian media and political establishment understood Breivik in a quip that was profoundly incorrect: “Although Breivik’s boasts about being part of a Europe-wide movement of right-wing terror are yielding nothing but wind…” he writes, and then delves into what was known about Breivik’s childhood at the time. Scanning through the footnotes of his manifesto alone demonstrates that Cosh should have known then that this was more than simply wind — Breivik’s sources reveal an English-language global network of racist writers and thinkers whose entry into the mainstream was simply a matter of time. With the right prophet, these ideas could easily spread.
No one did more to mainstream the theory of Cultural Marxism than Jordan Peterson, and not enough commentators or journalists made the connection to its racist, far-right origins. Peterson became an international superstar with the help of journalists promoting his brand of social critique, while doing the bare minimum to interrogate and investigate the origins of his social theories. In a few short years after Breivik’s massacre, the theories that underpinned his rampage dominated right wing Facebook groups and movements. They can even be found sanitized in Canada’s national newspapers.
Consider this from the National Post’s Barbara Kay in November 2018: “Horowitz has a 50-year history of civil-rights activism. Horowitz only hates Marxism, including the cultural Marxism of identity politics, so he never assigns collective guilt to individuals.” The Horowitz she is defending is David Horowitz, who faced protests when he was invited to speak at Dartmouth College in the United States, last year.
Horowitz’s foundation publishes JihadWatch, the website cited more than any other source in Breivik’s manifesto. JihadWatch remains a favoured location for far right news and analysis among Canadian right-wing discussion groups.
We knew in 2011 that violent rhetoric begets violence. We knew in 2018 that a Canadian mass murderer was radicalized online by softer right-wing forces, like Ben Shapiro and Tucker Carlson. And we know, again, that the organized global forces of white nationalism feed one another. The Christchurch murderer wrote a similar manifesto to Breivik’s, except updated for a 2019 audience.
When will Canadian journalists finally make these connections? Is New Zealand going to be our tipping point? Or have we already proven incapable of learning this, as a homegrown terrorist has already killed and injured our neighbours and friends?