The Knights Templar: you have probably heard of this name more than once. Usually, we associate The Knights Templar with medieval times, white robes, crusades and bloody fights. It sounds like something of an ancient past, but what if you are told that the Knights Templar do still exist and are fighting a new war?
The Knights templar
On 22 July 2011, a man named Anders Behring Breivik planted a bomb in the government district of Oslo, thereby killing eight people. Two hours after the explosion of the bomb, Breivik arrived at the small island Utoya, where at that moment the Norwegian Labour Party was having their yearly summer youth camp. Upon arrival, Breivik started shooting at the students and eventually killed 69 of them. He claimed that he did all of this in the name of the Knights Templar (BBC, 2012).
In this article, we ask the question whether Breivik – like some media stated – acted alone (NOS, 2014) or if he – like he claims – acted in the name of the ancient organization called the “Knights Templar” (Breivik, 2011). In court, Breivik was trialed as an individual who has plotted his attack without the help of others.
According to many media outlets, Breivik acted alone - he was a “Lone Wolf’, so to speak. According to Spaaij (2010, p. 856), a lone wolf terrorist is a terrorist that operates individually, does not belong to a terrorist organization and who works without direct outside command. Lone wolves are particularly hard to identify before they strike, because they lack a (visible) community and this is the reason why they pose a major, public security threat.
Richman and Sharan (2015) note that there is sometimes little difference between the actions of a lone wolf and an organized terrorist group, but that the lone wolf in some cases can be more dangerous, since there is no group-decision making process that regulates his (impulsive) actions and the lone wolf has less to lose (e.g. supporters or followers). Lone wolves tend to work alone and create their own ideologies that combine personal frustrations and aversions with broader political, social or religious aims.
However, according to Spaaij (2010, p. 856), the lone wolf does often draw on extremist communities with comparable beliefs and ideologies and the information that forms their ideology is also often transmitted by extremist movements.
The Knights Templar are a constant source of reference during all of this. Breivik conceives himself as a member of the Knights Templar and believes he is executing a long term plan of freeing Europe of Cultural Genocide.
If we take a look at Breivik’s case, we also see these tendencies at work, because he acted alone, but at the same time he was part of multiple online communities who shared parts of his ideology and belief system. If we take this into account, one could easily ask the question, how alone was this lone wolf called Anders Breivik really?
In contrast to what some sources claim, Breivik’s actions were not executed spontaneously. Just before the attacks in Norway, he published his manifesto on the internet. In this 1500 pages long manifesto “2083 – A European Declaration of Independence” (2011) – which consists of three books – it becomes poignantly clear that Breivik knew very well what he was going to do in July 2011 and that he believed that his actions served a higher purpose. He gives his view on what is wrong with today's society, points at numerous causes (e.g. Islam, feminism, cultural Marxism) and describes in detail how his plans will stop the decline of our Western civilization.
The Knights Templar are a constant source of reference during all of this. Breivik conceives himself as a member of the Knights Templar and believes he is executing a long term plan of freeing Europe of Cultural Genocide that finds its roots in the Knights Templar movements (Breivik, 2011). Thus, he sees himself as a part of a large group of individuals who share his ideas, instead of a lone wolf. He believes that his plan is an extension of the ideology of the Knights Templar and this seems to form the basis of his justification of the murder of the 77 people in Norway.
Who were the Knights Templar?
The Knights Templar was a Catholic military order founded in 1119 and disbanded in 1312 by the Pope. It consisted of a large group of economically and politically powerful men, who were key in the organization of the crusades by providing financial and military support to the Catholic Church. Known for their recognizable dressing style (i.e. white mantles with a red cross on it) and distinct imagery, the Knights Templar have been a constant source of inspiration for right wing individuals (e.g. Ku Klux Klan) (Wollenberg, 2011, p. 5). In his manifesto, Breivik (2011) devotes a number of chapters to the history of the Knights Templar, their imagery and their contemporary significance.
Throughout the centuries, the rise and fall of the Knights Templar, but especially the existence of their esoteric division, has given rise to a lot of speculation about the actual nature of the activities of this powerful order (Wollenberg, 2011, p. 7). During the twentieth century, more and more books and movies (e.g. Umberto Eco’s Foucault's Pendulum and Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code) started to make reference to the order and there has been a number of writers and theorists who have claimed that the order never really was disbanded by the Pope in 1312.
Some say that a lot of members of the Knights Templar took refugee in the Freemasonry orders, while others claim that in 1312 they just became a secret order. Apart from these theories and historical fabrications, there also has been a number of people who tried to revitalize the order. The most famous one is the International Organisation of Good Templar (IOGT), which was founded in 1851 in the United States by a number of rich aristocrats. Modelling themselves after the Freemasons and taking as their motto "Friendship, Hope and Charity", the order grew rapidly during the second half of the nineteenth century. So as we can see, time and time again, the Knights Templar served as a source of inspiration for certain individuals and groups (Wollenberg, 2011, p. 10).
The 21st century Knight Templar
Let us now try and see if we can find out why the Knights Templar have been and still are so attractive to certain people and, in particular, to Anders Behring Breivik. In his manifesto, Breivik (2011) describes his ideal for the European society and the ways in which we (i.e. white, Western men) can establish this ideal form of living (i.e. non-democratic, hierarchical society).
The reader is presented with pages and pages of explanations of what has caused the “downfall” of Europe, but there are also a lot of pages filled with imagery and slogans for the society as Breivik imagines it. Here, Breivik develops an interesting relationship to religion and in particular to Christianity. Religion is ‘a crutch for many weak people’ and ‘a source for drawing mental strength’ and faith in God can be used to overcome and chase away fear (Breivik, 2011).
In his manifesto, Breivik comes across as a person who is obsessed with everything that even slightly resembles the proclamation of an ideal society with strong, white Western men and with all imagery representing muscular strength and political power. For Breivik, religion is able to create a powerful form of society that can conquer and rule over a vast amount of land like Christianity showed us.
One of the groups that according to him was vital in establishing the immense power of the Catholic Church were the Knights Templar. The Knights Templar seem to fulfill Breivik’s ideal of a group of extremely powerful, white Western men who rule with an iron fist. To us, this seems to be the main attraction for Breivik and the cause of idolization of these men in white and red. The Knights Templar have “[an] armour of steel … [and] the armour of spiritual protection” and this makes them impregnable and untouchable (Breivik, 2011).
To conclude, the Knights Templar have the right image (i.e. powerful, mysterious men) that Breivik and others groups, like the Ku Klux Klan or the Freemasons, need to appeal to their audience during the proclamation of their social and societal ideals.
A wolf pack behind Breivik?
In his manifesto, Breivik also describes in detail how his actions relate to the actions of the Knights Templar. An analysis of chapters like “The Crusades of Today” or “Knights Templar and ethnocentrism” (Breivik, 2011) can make Breivik appear as a respectable researcher who combines all kind of information he found in decent sources. He seems well-informed and reliable, since he discusses around twenty titles that refer to the Crusades or the Knights Templar.
However, when we look at the references that he used, the image that we have of Breivik gets even more contorted. When examining the manifesto in detail, you will find complete copied sentences and entire copy-pasted web texts from sources as diverse as Catholic pages, blogs, the Bible, and other online sources that had relevant content for him. The sources disclose that the result of his “long research” is basically just a long text based on suspicious websites. This raises the question whether there was in fact any (online) community or contemporary Knights Templar order after all?
In the manifesto, Breivik (2011) describes the Knights Templar as a ‘hypothetical fiction’, but also asserts that he attended a meeting of the group in London in 2002. In court, he reaffirmed this claim and told the judge that in fact he had attended a meeting of the contemporary “Knights Templar” with other individuals who shared his ideology (Independent, 2012). However, up to now, there has not been any evidence that this meeting actually took place.
One of the people who Breivik claimed to have had contact with is Paul Ray, who is one of the establishers of the English Defense League (EDL). However, on the internet there are numbers of articles where we can read that Paul Ray denies there was ever any contact with Breivik (Edmondson, 2014). On the other hand, Paul Ray did reveal that his opinions could have influenced Breivik’s Islamophobic diatribe (Gardham & Orr, 2011). In an interview Ray also claims that he thinks Breivik was a lone wolf and was just creating this mythology around him to make it look like he is part of something much bigger (Armstrong, 2011).
In the manifesto, there is also a small chapter entitled ‘You are not alone - 14 David’s against one Goliath’ in which Breivik (2011) writes how all Christian Europeans should fight together against “A and B” traitors. This title and the fact that this is one of the few chapters that he wrote himself, gives the impression that Breivik had a need for affiliation and a need to belong to a community. Apart from these needs, the opportunity to find so many sources that rely on the similar or the same ideology probably gave Breivik a sense of connection and recognition.
When we think about all of this, was Breivik really a “Lone Wolf” after all?
The wolf pack behind the lone wolf
After having a good look at Breivik’s manifesto, we may now be able to conclude whether or not Breivik really was a lone wolf or if he was, indeed, part of a much bigger group. According to himself he was not a lone wolf, since he performed the attacks in Norway in the name of the Knights Templar.
On the basis of our examination, we can say that Breivik’s ideology is not unique. He got almost all of his information from hundreds of different internet sources. Therefore, he is part of an online community that gave and gives him the opportunity to get support for his ideas and his worldview. The sources that Breivik used are neither from his personal affiliates nor from his offline community, but can rather be found on the internet in the scope of a larger, online community.
To conclude, from a legal viewpoint Breivik was alone when he killed all those people in Norway in 2011, because there were no other people involved in this attack in the traditional way. But, he certainly was not alone when he collected the information that motivated him to do what he did. Breivik created his own online society by using an enormous amount of sources that is available for everyone on the internet, and he drew from the ancient order of the Knights Templar. From this perspective, the “Lone Wolf” does not seem to be so alone after all.
Armstrong, J. (2011, July 26). I’m not Anders Breivik’s British mentor. Retrieved from: https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/bna4bv/the-ancient-order-of-the-templ...
Breivik, A. B. (2011). 2083 – A European declaration of independence. Retrieved from: https://info.publicintelligence.net/AndersBehringBreivikManifesto.pdf
Edmondson, N. (2014, July 2). Anders Behring Breivik: The Knights Templar connection. Retrieved from: https://www.ibtimes.co.uk/anders-behring-breivik-knights-templar-groups-...
Gardham, D. & Orr, J. (2011, July 29). Oslo attacks: EDL member Paul Ray admits he may have been Anders Breivik's inspiration. Retrieved from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/norway/8669670/Oslo-at...
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NOS. (2014, October 23). Lone wolves grootste gevaar. Retrieved from: https://nos.nl/artikel/2000510-lone-wolves-grootste-gevaar.html
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