Could one have foreseen the unforeseeable? Could one have comprehended the incomprehensible? Could one have seen the evil designs of Anders Behring Breivik coming? Today many are quoting Stieg Larsson, the Swedish thriller writer who already back in the 1990s had warned of the violent excesses of Scandinavian far-right groups.

In his magazine Expo the author of the Millennium trilogy proved something of a clairvoyant – and drew down aggression and threats. Yet he too had illusions. Because we all were fascinated by the image of an innocent Norway, with the open-mindedness of a society that seemed immune to the virus of intolerance. It was Stieg Larsson who revealed that Sweden, where the neo-Nazi movement has been growing more and more arrogant, was the first to produce “White Power” music and other racist claptrap.

Yet even Stieg Larsson, that agitator of his countrymen’s consciences, concluded that the Norwegian extremists were crude and disorganised, that they were made up of a confused and incoherent rabble of small groups who were almost always drunk when they arrived at the gatherings at the border. Little wonder, therefore, that such an illusion could survive. Certainly, 15 years have passed since then. The extreme right in Norway today, it is said, has forged strong criminal links with other movements abroad, in Europe, in Russia, and in the United States. Last March the annual report of the Norwegian domestic intelligence service (the PST) reported an “increased level of activism among Islamophobic groups” and an “increased activity among far-right circles” in 2010. The study concluded, however, that neither the groups nor individuals of the extreme right were “a serious danger to society.”

“Nobody saw the tragedy coming,” admits Kari Helene Partapouli of the Norwegian Centre for the Fight against Racism. According to her, many factors backed up the illusion of immunity. The nexus of xenophobia, nationalism and Islamophobia never created real political connections in Norway and, above all, never found charismatic leaders. The most populist movement of the country is the Progress Party of Siv Jensen, who demands a tightening of immigration laws. Anders Behring Breivik was a member of the party from 2004 to 2006. He left it then, apparently dissatisfied with its too moderate line.

A leap into the darkness of insanity

The party had little in common with the rising tide of the new European populist parties, such as the so-called “Sweden Democrats” under Jimmie Akesson, who, together with Pia Kjærsgaard of the Danish People’s Party or the very clever, very Islamophobic and very skilful Geert Wilders of the Dutch PVV, are now personae grata in the salons of national policy. Even looking further to the right and crossing the indecency threshold into anti-Semitic or anti-Roma neo-Nazism, Norway has no movement similar to Hungarys Jobbik [Movement for a Better Hungary] under Gábor Vona.

“Here in Norway”, explains Kari Helene Partapouli, “there was no great debate about the failure of multiculturalism as we have seen in Denmark or the Netherlands.” Of course, Jonas Gahr Støre, the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, says today that right-wing extremism is a “phenomenon to be taken very seriously.”

Anders Breivik Behring holds the key to the mystery. So far, his only known international connection is his membership in a Swedish neo-Nazi blog, Nordisk. Founded in 2007, the blog has 22,000 members and promotes the “identity, culture and historical traditions of the Nordic countries.” Members include both deputies to the Swedish Parliament and representatives of neo-Nazi and xenophobic movements.

Certainly a project that shows such clear determination, consisting of planting a murderous bomb and gunning down dozens of teenagers, is a leap into the darkness of insanity, the darkness of a deranged mind. However, doubt continues to circulate among the authorities, investigators and public opinion: did he really act alone? The repercussions the carnage will have on Norway and on the rest of Europe will depend on the answer to this question.