Some of the comments on HP were fine, but others descended into the abyss of trying to justify what Breivik did. "Hutch" quoted israelmatzav as saying, "Norway's ambassador to Israel justifies 'Palestinian' terrorism and we're supposed to cry for the Norwegian Laborites?" "Ben" writes, "Israel is once again displaying a lack of self-respect. The exaggerated display of solidarity with the Labour Party youth victims (lowering the embassy flag to half mast, Peres making overly fulsome speech of grief) is unseemly, because it is quite clear that most of the Norwegian Labour Party establishment and its youth cadres acquiesces in or is indifferent to Jew-killing in Israel." "censoredbyyou" writes "I in no way condone his acts, but as the smirking 'Left' internationally observed after 9/11 - they had it coming."
J.J. Golberg of the Forward wrote about a similar phenomenon in the talkbacks to articles on Breivik on the websites of the Israeli newspapers - Ynet and Maariv.
Damian Thompson, right-wing writer for the Telegraph (UK) and editor of their blogs, has some trenchant words on Anders Breivik and the echo-chamber of the trolls:
Was Anders Breivik an internet troll? I’m sorry if that seems a flippant question to ask about a man who killed dozens of Norwegian teenagers, but you can’t read his 1,500-page “manifesto” without being struck by how thoroughly he trawled the web. Whatever the explanation for his murderous actions, this was definitely a brain warped by the blogosphere....
Then there are the pyjama-clad pseudonymous obsessives whose fingers are calloused from rattling out the truth about the “EUSSR”, BBC bias, Big Pharma, Zionists, Islam etc.
These trolls aren’t confined to the far Left or the far Right: some of the most noxious internet bores turn out to be Liberal Democrats. It’s true that, on the whole, their views tend to be controversial, but the essence of their trolling is their rhetorical style: in particular, an insistence that they know the truth about everything. All they really have in common – apart from an aversion to deodorant – is hysterical omniscience.
Speaking as someone who hates the way the mainstream media suck up to radical Muslims, I find it frustrating that websites devoted to monitoring Islamism are dominated by trolls and writers who play up to them. I don’t trust a word that the BBC tells me about “the religion of peace” – but equally, I can’t trust either the articles or the comments on the Gates of Vienna or Jihad Watch websites. (This I learnt the hard way, by quoting on my own blog an anecdote about Muslims besieging a hospital that turned out to be an urban myth.)
Someone who did trust them, however, was Anders Breivik, whose manifesto draws far more heavily on anti-Islamic and anti-EU blogs than it does on neo-Nazi sources. This is massively embarrassing for the Right-wing bloggers he cites, three of whom are old friends of mine, but it demonstrates cunning on Breivik’s part.
He knew where to look to find statistics to support his vicious theories. He knew that the far Right can succeed only by exploiting public anger at political correctness and immigration, avoiding the idiocy of neo-Nazism, about which the manifesto is scathing. Above all, he revelled in the special hysteria of the internet, which allows its users to bolt together whatever ideas turn them on, while ruthlessly excluding inconvenient data. (This new hysteria taints even the most trivial internet discourse – you should have seen the way supporters and opponents of vibrato-free Mahler were squawking at each other after Roger Norrington’s Prom on Monday.)
I don’t know why Breivik made the leap from propaganda to mass murder. I don’t think he was mad, in the sense of suffering from psychotic delusions, but there’s no doubt that years spent in the echo chambers of cyberspace can cause psychological damage.
In the months leading up to last Friday’s atrocity, did he join in the internet discussions he read so avidly? Given his verbosity, it’s more than likely. The manifesto is written in the self-righteous, autodidactic style of a troll; it will be interesting to see whether, following Breivik’s arrest, one of the anonymous contributors to Right-wing websites suddenly disappears off the map.