It should come as no surprise that anti-Muslim bloggers Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller helped shape the political ideology of right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik, the confessed killer of at least 76 people in the bombing in Oslo and the shooting rampage at the nearby island youth retreat.
In his 1,500-page manifesto, Breivik quotes Spencer 64 times. Breivik also suggests that he was the anonymous Norwegian blogger who wrote anti-Muslim posts as Fjordman, who regularly contributed to Spencer's JihadWatch.org website.
Spencer and Geller have distanced themselves from Breivik. There has been increasing blog chatter about Spencer's right-wing extremist influences, but the notoriously thin-skinned Muslim hater is uncharacteristically restrained in his response. His only answer to the growing speculation about his links to Breivik was a July 23 post denouncing the Norwegian and reiterating "our dedication to the defense of free societies and opposition to all vigilantism and violence."
Spencer hides behind the argument that he doesn't advocate violence, but his mocking and abusive rhetoric against Muslims on Jihad Watch prompts hundreds of commenters to fill the gap that Spencer leaves open by suggesting or openly advocating the destruction of mosques, mass deportations of Muslims and wars against Islam. Here's one mild example from a regular Jihad Watch reader commenting on the pending trial of an alleged Muslim extremist: "Burn his ass at the stake. I'll bring the http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifmarshmellows (sic)."
Spencer claims that readers shouldn't construe any comments to his posts, or any of the dozens of his links to hate websites, as an endorsement by Jihad Watch, which has tax-exempt status as a religious education website. However, each link to websites like Geller's Atlas Shrugs or posting comments that suggest execution by immolation, rings of endorsement.
In the July 24 New York Times, former CIA officer Marc Sageman said anti-Muslim writers like Spencer argue "that the fundamentalist Salafi branch of Islam 'is the infrastructure from which Al Qaeda emerged.' Well, they and their writings are the infrastructure from which Breivik emerged."
Sageman said such "rhetoric is not cost-free."
This points to the culpability of Spencer and his fellow travelers concerning the Oslo terrorist attacks. Breivik, and only Breivik, is responsible for his actions. However, should be consequences for laying the foundation that helped Breivik reach the conclusion that the mass destruction of life and property was the only answer.
Osama bin Laden was not an active participant in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but he inspired 19 men to wage horrific attack son New York City and the Pentagon in the name of Islam. Jihadist websites worldwide inspire young men and women to wage war against the West. Some websites explicitly advocate violence, while others are more subtle in espousing an extreme ideology that prompts followers to commit violence. Law authorities shut down or block these websites, and may put the owners or website readers under investigation.
The irony is that Spencer's Jihad Watch is emerging as the mirror image of the jihadist websites. He doesn't advocate violence; he just inspires it in his readers. He plants the idea that Muslims deserve special retribution for the ills of society and demands that his readers be vigilant to prevent Muslims from imposing their will. He then stands back and watches someone else do the dirty work, whether its mounting a pig's head on a stick in front of mosque, or, I suppose, killing people with a machine pistol. I see little difference between Spencer and jihadists.
Yet Spencer, who a generation ago would be mimeographing his screeds in the basement of his parents' home, has gained respectability in the mainstream media. The BBC, for example, included his viewpoints in its "Life of Muhammad" (peace be upon him) special. He exercises restraint and minimizes his trademark mocking and smirking in front of the camera for audiences watching the BBC or ABC. He's a little more frothy as a guest on Fox News, but he generally keeps his hate on a leash.
The same can't be said for his website, which attracts a much broader audience with a much nastier tone. And like any true extremist, Spencer is unaffected by the Oslo horrors. He takes a moment to express outrage that the media linked him to Breivik, and then moves on to chronicle the perceived misdeeds of every Muslim that comes under his gaze.
As a journalist, it's repugnant to me to see anyone's right to free speech curbed. Still, I'm conflicted. I have to admit that after reading the noxious postings on Spencer's website I see merit in hate speech legislation. But rather than go to that extreme, I prefer to see Spencer come under the same scrutiny from federal authorities as any jihadist website. After all, they have common goals: Inspire the masses and then sit back and watch the mayhem.
UPDATE: Mr. Spencer responds to a query from a Norwegian journalist with this:
"I have never been in contact with Anders Behring Breivik.
If I was indeed an inspiration for his work, I feel the way the Beatles must have felt when they learned that Charles Manson had committed murder after being inspired by messages he thought he heard in their song lyrics. There were no such messages. Nor is there, for any sane person, any inspiration for harming anyone in my work, which has been consistently dedicated to defending human rights for all people."
Ah, yes. The Beatles, those hateful lads from Liverpool with a well documented history of writing hateful songs. Who would have thunk it?