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Report: Threat from anti-jihadist extremists grows

Anthon Unger / AP

Demonstrators from European anti-Islamic groups converged on Aarhus, Denmark March 31 to protest what they call the Islamization of Europe, as police tried to keep them apart from a larger group of counter-protesters.

Anti-Islamist groups and individuals like those that inspired Norwegian Anders Berhing Breivik to launch his bloody attacks in Norway last July are growing in number, reach and interconnectedness, according to a new report published in Britain.

The report documents the activities of about 300 groups and individuals worldwide — including many in the United States — that increasingly overlap in fund-raising and rhetoric, but have diverse origins.

"They are neo-conservatives. They are Christian evangelicals. They are hardline racists. They are football hooligans. They are nationalists. They are populists. They are hardline Zionists. They are former leftists. The 'counter-jihad' movement comes in all shapes and sizes but they are united in a common loathing of Islam," according to the report, compiled by the London nonprofit Hope not Hate.


Generally, these groups maintain that there is an Islamic plot to take over the Western world, and that there is little difference between the hardline Islamists and the majority of Muslims, according to the report, "Counter-Jihad," published to coincide with the start of Breivik’s trial in Oslo.

It argues that the 9-11 attacks by Islamic extremists provided fuel for counter-jihad extremists — themselves provoking violence by individuals like Breivik.

"As this report graphically shows, the bloggers, radio hosts and journalists are increasingly shaping and poisoning the wider political and media discourse,” it says in the introduction. "Breivik acted alone but it was the 'counter-Jihadist' ideology that inspired him and gave him the reasoning to carry out these atrocious attacks."

The Norwegian gunman has admitted killing 77 people in a bomb attack and shooting spree but will argue that his actions were taken in self-defense, based on his belief that Islam and massive immigration have threatened his culture and existence.

In a 1,500-page manifesto and a YouTube video posted to the Internet just hours before the attacks, Breivik laid out his views, including the idea that liberal policies advocating multiculturalism threaten Western culture. His victims were mainly young people associated with Norway’s liberal party who were attending a camp on a nearby island.

"The EU is formally surrendering an entire continent to Islam while destroying established national cultures, and is prepared to harass those who disagree with this policy," he wrote. "This constitutes the greatest organized betrayal in Western history, perhaps in human history, yet is hailed as a victory for 'tolerance.' "

"My advice to Westerners in general is to arm themselves immediately, first of all mentally with knowledge of the enemy and pride in their own culture and heritage, but also physically with guns and the skills to use them," Breivik wrote.

Breivik was in direct contact with some anti-Islam groups prior to the attacks, including the English Defence League of Britain, said Dan Hodges, spokesman for Hope not Hate.

His writing cited dozens of sources, including influential anti-Islam voices in the United States such as Robert Spencer, who makes a living writing about the dangers of Islam through his Jihad Watch, his blog, and other activities.

Spencer, named among the "Top Dozen Players" of the global anti-Muslim network, rejects the notion that Breivik was inspired by his writing, though it was liberally cited in Breivik's "manifesto."

"The idea that I inspired him to do violence to innocent people is a media fiction," Spencer said in a comment emailed to msnbc.com about the new report. "In reality, he was plotting violence in the 1990s, before I began publishing books on Islam."

"Breivik in his manifesto calls for working with (the Palestinian group) Hamas, which shows that he is actually incoherent ideologically, and has nothing in common with my advocacy for human rights and freedom," Spencer said.

"One could not say those are the actions of a rational individual," Hodges said of Breivik’s killing spree. "But it is quite clear from evidence we have seen before the trial that Breivik was inspired by the broader political narrative" created by the anti-Islam extremists.

The counter-jihad groups increasingly are combining forces for fundraisers — with high-profile European anti-Islam speakers gaining audiences in the United States among right-wing religious and political groups.

On this year's anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, like-minded groups are invited to attend a conference in New York City called Stop Islamization of Nations , spearheaded by Pam Geller, a well-known voice in the anti-Islam movement.

"Freedom fighters from all over the globe, journalists, intellectuals and academicians will be among the participants in the workshop, which will consist of brainstorming sessions to develop mechanisms for cooperation with external partners, and to develop an action plan to address the phenomenon of the Islamic war against free speech," Gellar wrote in an article announcing the event.

Among the speakers listed were several European luminaries of the counter-jihad movement who maintain that their governments have suppressed free speech in deference to Muslim sensitivities, including Anders Gravers and Lars Hedegaard of Denmark. Gravers, Hedegaard and Geller are all listed among the Counter-Jihad report's "Top Dozen Players."

It was understandable, Hodges said, that governments, security and police focused on the threat from Islamist extremists after 9-11. But he said they have been too slow to recognize the threat coming from violent extremists riled up by rhetoric on the other side.

"Those who say that these people (like Breivik) are an isolated threat are sadly mistaken," he said. "We mustn’t allow the extremists from the anti-jihad movement the opportunity to stage their own 9-11. If we lower our guard they will do."

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