Must all conservatives answer for the actions of a psychopath?
Anders Behring Breivik believed himself a Knight Templar and awarded himself various military ranks accordingly. He also believed that he and other self-described racists had common cause with jihadis and that the USA has a Jewish problem. So even before he planted a car bomb in a civilian area and gunned down scores of young people, it would have been clear to anyone who bothered to question him that Breivik was insane.
But in the coverage since his atrocities first broke on to the world, two troubling tendencies have converged. The first is the search for reason in a mind that was clearly a stranger to it. The second is the tendency — particularly strong on the left — to use any horrific act as a megaphone for existing prejudices. In the aftermath of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford in January, the left-wing media and politicians hunted for the right-wingers who they claimed had inspired the attack. That the gunman was not only a loner but a psychotic maniac was largely ignored as they rushed off excitedly to attack their ideological enemies. And so it is with Breivik.
For the past decade and more, every time an Islamist has blown something up, a chorus of voices — mainly from the left — has rightly said that ‘we shouldn’t jump to any conclusions’. But this time it was different. The Labour MP Tom Harris observed, with great frankness, that a ‘palpable relief that swept through the left when the identity of the terrorist was made known… Here, thank God, was a terrorist we can all hate without equivocation: white, Christian and far right-wing. Phew.’ So never mind not jumping to conclusions. When it seemed to emerge that, among many other things, the killer also claimed to be opposed to immigration and was fearful of Islam, that jump became a great leap towards group blame.