More than any other current issue, the public debate over how the Norwegian police handled the recent protest march by the Nordic Resistance Movement has captured my interest. As can be expected the calls for the free speech rights of this particular group to be suppressed aren’t far between. As somewhat of a free speech fundamentalist myself, I find it deeply troubling that there seems to be so few people capable or willing to take a principled approach to this question. If you don’t defend the free speech rights of others, how can you expect them to defend your rights?
I don’t have a ton of knowledge about this particular group or what they stand for, except that they self-describe as “National Socialists”. I will therefore accept the label of “Neo-Nazi” as a descriptor. Upon hearing about the hubbub in the media, I instantly recalled the Neo-Nazi march in Skokie, Illinois in the 70s when the ACLU defended their free speech rights, despite vehemently opposing the contents of this speech. The majority of expressed opinions in the Norwegian newspapers and on comments sections online oppose this principle. They strongly dislike the contents of this group’s message and therefore want to ban it.
It is deeply troubling that free speech stands on much shakier ground than I thought. The proper response to this particular protest march would be to counter with a march of your own. Some people did in fact do this. A counter-march respects the speech rights of the original group, something outright suppression fails at. The main slogan used by the Neo-Nazis was “smash the gay lobby!”. I find it interesting and revealing that they used a anti-LGBT slogan and not an anti-Semitic one. You would think that anti-Semitism is more central to Neo-Nazi ideology than being anti-LGBT. This brings us to the real meat of the matter.
The police have been harangued in the media for allowing the march to take place. Some context is in order. This group had applied for a police permit to march in another city. This request was orally granted, but later rescinded. The police cited concerns for public safety as the reason. Potentially violent counterdemonstrators had announced that they would show up. I believe that it is rather self-explanatory why it is a terrible idea for law enforcement to allow threats of violence to dictate their decisions. Having had their request denied, the group decided to carry out the march in a city in another part of the country. Media estimates claim that 60-70 people took part in the march.
We could all read that 18 people were detained at the border, suspected of intending to participate in the march. If I remember correctly, some weaponry was also confiscated from several cars. Police claim that they allowed the unsanctioned march to proceed out of concerns for public safety. They feared that violence might erupt had they denied the group once they arrived. Apart from a skirmish with one bystander, the march was completed without incident (presuming that media reports are accurate). The police have received much criticism for allowing the march to go ahead, and for not arresting all the Neo-Nazis on sight.
This conflict is reminiscent of the struggle between the West and Islamic extremism. We can’t understand the way the participants choose to act through conventional understanding. It seems pretty clear to me that the Neo-Nazis in question have a firm grasp on concepts such as Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) and information warfare. The police and the legacy media have quite clearly shown their ignorance when it comes to such matters. What is the goal the group wishes to accomplish? Power, influence, recruitment and spreading their message. How will they accomplish this? Media coverage. It appears to me that they have engineered events to maximize the exposure their actions would garner.
First of all, their choice of slogan is deliberate and intended to “trigger”. LGBT-individuals are more of a protected group today than any other. Choosing a slogan targeting this group is intended to create outrage and thus invite extensive media coverage. That they avoided an anti-Semitic slogan, I believe shows that the general pervasive left-wing criticism of Israel and the attituded of Muslim immigrants towards Jews have lessened the outrage factor criticism of Jews would attract. The messaging is therefore sculpted to attract attention and trigger a reaction in the public.
Second, they reportedly used video cameras to record the onlookers. Pedestrians have in the media described this as an intimidation tactic intended to silence critics. I don’t deny that this is a logical conclusion to draw. But they probably also used cameras to create internal and external propaganda materials and to “cover their asses” legally speaking if a violent confrontation erupted (so they could prove they didn’t strike first and so on). The sole skirmish that did take place was instigated by the bystander, who struck the camera one of the Neo-Nazis was holding. The bystander was then struck by a couple of marchers until police intervened. I don’t want to ascribe more tactical “cleverness” to the marchers than is factually correct, but looking at all this together reveals a pattern. Their actions seem to be carefully designed and scripted to draw in as much media coverage as possible. This wouldn’t be possible if the media didn’t play along “into their trap”.
The original march was originally only “entitled” to be one news story. When the permit request was denied, it became another story. Speculation about how the group would respond and about possible other marching sites became more stories. The people detained at the border became yet another story. The skirmish with the bystander (baited by deliberate use of cameras?) another story. The police response and the debate surrounding it, more stories and space in newspapers. Remember that their goal is as much coverage as possible.
Their actions succeeded in achieving their goals, not without great assistance from the media and police. An example: Tactically it was the correct decision for the police to detain the marchers on the border. They could easily find justification within the law to do so. But strategically, the story changes. The doubling of new coverage (march story + border story) benefited the group more than the addition of those people to the number of marchers would have. Another example is a march in Sweden by the same group that took place last year (I think?). An iconic image of a female immigrant standing in the middle of the road with a black power salute blocking the procession of Neo-Nazis swept across Scandinavia. Was this an effective method for showing disagreement? It multiplied the coverage of that particular march several times over.
My final point, a message to the media and law enforcement. If you want to combat such groups, you must understand the rules of the game you are playing. Just like having massive conventional armies aren’t sufficient to win in new, modern conflicts such as the War on Terror, you must understand the goals and methods of you opponents if you are to police effectively. According to you, such groups might be evil, but they aren’t necessarily therefore dumb. They are playing a deeper game than you currently comprehend. If you want to be more effective in countering them, you must step up your game.