This Is Not an Odd Book Review – What the Hell Is Going on in France?

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Last year on Houdini’s Revenge, I wrote about how the media worldwide completely mishandled the details of the arrest of Varg Vikernes in the summer of 2013.  Seriously, it was a complete mess, and the hearing that occurred on June 3rd of this year was chilling in what it revealed and the implications for anyone in France who may espouse ideas that are contrary to a particular party line.

Before I begin to discuss the situation with Varg, I need to make a couple of statements, one for clarity and the other just because it always comes up and it’s tiresome.  First, let me tell you how I know Varg.  I met him when I was working on a project I started before 9/11 that eventually fell apart because I am sort of chaotic and was even more so back then.  I consider him a friend, and I assume he considers me one, too, though we frequently butt heads.  Second, despite considering Varg a friend, I don’t share all of his beliefs.  I mention this because I get shade from both sides of the fence and it’s annoying, when it isn’t amusing.  Some people assume I am an anti-Semite because I like Varg and that makes them angry.  Interestingly, some remain angry when I explain I don’t hate Jews because they think I should revile Varg for being an anti-Semite.  But then some people who agree with antisemitic ideas find out that I like Varg and that I am not an anti-Semite, and they get angry.  Not long ago some dude who thinks he’s like Charles Martel because being anonymous on the Internet is evidently pretty empowering was so annoyed by me that he social media snarked me with, “Oh, you are a multicultural white genocide supporter?”

Isn’t that how journalists used to know they were on to something – when everyone was pissed off at them?  That’s what I tell myself these days.  So please know I don’t want to hear your opinion about my beliefs, unless you feel that freedom of speech is a bad thing and then I will totally be willing to throw down with you in comments. 

Going back to Varg’s arrest in July of 2013.  Why was he arrested?  According to the French government, they had uncovered “evidence” that he had been in correspondence with Anders Behring Breivik, a genuine terrorist if there ever was one, and that he had received a copy of Breivik’s manifesto, the exhausting 2083.  Evidently, receiving this manifesto was enough for France to open a secret investigation into Varg’s activities, which culminated in what was essentially a SWAT team bursting into Varg’s home, terrorizing his family and charging Varg with planning a terrorist action.  In addition to supposedly receiving a copy of 2083, proof of this upcoming terrorist action was based on Varg’s wife legally owning guns and ammunition.  You can read all about it in the original entry I linked to above, but remember – Varg Vikernes never received a copy of 2083.  In fact, I may have been the person who told him first about the existence of the manifesto.

The French authorities had gathered so much “evidence” against Varg that his attorney asked for a court continuance so he could have a fighting chance to review all the documents.  On June 3, 2014, Varg went back to court and we all got a real education about how the French court system works.  His attorney did his best to explain that some people have impersonated Varg online and that the e-mail address that received a copy of 2083 was someone who was impersonating Varg or was using his name in a sort of fan-adoration manner.  Varg has never been in contact with Breivik and anyone who read 2083 would know that there is an ocean of difference between Breivik’s beliefs and Varg’s beliefs.  The two men have remarkably little in common, philosophically.  But beyond that, I corresponded with Varg immediately after Breivik’s attacks and I know for a fact he had no idea who Breivik was.  More on that in a moment.  I’ll post those e-mails, which the French authorities should already have if they were indeed monitoring Varg as closely as they claimed.

It looks like his attorney did a decent enough job defending Varg because it appears that Varg will receive a six-month suspended sentence and a fine.  It could still change – he could face a five-year-sentence for writing favorably about National Socialism (the actual charges are inciting race hate and justifying war crimes).  He could also face much larger fines.  As an American, I find it despicable that many European countries limit speech about the events in World War II and National Socialism in general.

I can see how in the days after the war countries were eager to put paid to the Nazi ideology and to suppress actual Nazis still on the ground.  My country wasn’t occupied by the Third Reich so it’s real easy for me denounce free speech limitations post-war.  But it’s been almost 70 years since the war ended.  The people who committed those war crimes are, save a very, very small percentage, gone from the earth and limiting free speech has not killed off right wing sentiments anywhere on the planet, not even France.  Certain forms of speech have to be suppressed – child pornography, for example.  Making child pornography illegal has not resulted in the end of child exploitation but the mass of sane people worldwide agree universally that child pornography is a vile harm to society.  When we examine the things that are indeed a grave harm to the fabric of society, does political blogging and expressing thoughts some consider racist and antisemitic really rate?  Again, I am very American and I don’t think such expressions come close to being the sort of speech that should be suppressed or criminalized.

A father in the French countryside who dislikes Jews and is interested in more or less living off the grid while blogging about his political, social and spiritual beliefs is no threat to the fabric of French society.  Varg has threatened no one specifically, has not advocated violence against any religious or ethnic group on his blog, and this is an undeniable truth even if you don’t like what Varg has to say.  Free speech limitations are a double-edged sword. What you cannot speak of today could be your own beliefs tomorrow.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all know this. We’ve all read 1984. We know the dangers of thoughtcrime. I am saying nothing new.

But there is more at issue than just the appalling lack of free speech in France. The fines Varg will have to pay are bizarre. It’s the fine part that is really upsetting to me, and it should be upsetting to any Frenchman because it is chilling in its implication.

I have not read all of Thulean Perspective, Varg’s blog. A lot of his blog content is not relevant to my interests.  But a quick search function on every page of the blog indicates that he never once mentioned LICRA (International League Against Racism and Antisemitism) or SOS Racism in his blog prior to June 3, 2014.  So in what just universe should organizations never once mentioned or maligned in Varg’s blog have standing to collect fines just because he is, in American parlance, a white separatist who does not like Jews?

This is all the more upsetting because initially Varg was charged with planning a terrorist attack based on receipt of 2083 and stock-piling arms.  As I will show shortly, he didn’t know who Breivik was before July 22, 2011 and, as my previous article showed, four rifles does not a terrorist action make.  The French officials knew their charges were nonsense.  And it was after these charges were largely refuted that additional charges were levied against Varg, specifically the charges of inciting racial hatred and justifying war crimes.

The French officials had access to his blog long before they charged him with planning a terrorist attack.  Why did they not bring up the content of his blog until their previous accusations were proven baseless? The two organizations mentioned above had never filed any objections to Varg’s blog but showed up in court after politicians grandstanded at Varg’s expense, asking for damages because they claim Varg’s blog interfered with their goals in France and they need remuneration.

This is nuts.  Patrick Henry, who served in both the French and American revolutions, must be turning violently counter-clockwise in his grave.  So does this mean if Varg writes articles denouncing the use of pasteurization in milk that the equivalent of the Milk Board in France can demand damages?  If he says he hates Japanese cars, can Toyota France sue him for reparations? And not just sue him, but have the State serve as their means of collection?

I don’t begin to understand how French people can tolerate this.  Varg is not the first entity in France to be harassed for online content.  LICRA went after Yahoo! in 2001 in an attempt to force an American company to filter out all anti-Semitic ideas and sentiments positive toward National Socialism.  Of course they failed – what made them think they had jurisdiction over an American company?  The case was eventually dismissed for a lack of jurisdiction.  This didn’t stop the UEJF (Union of Jewish Students) from suing Twitter in 2011 because users made antisemitic Tweets.  A French judge levied fines against Twitter and demanded Twitter reveal who posted the antisemitic Tweets.  And again, since Twitter has no business presence in France and is an American country, nothing has happened because these demands and fines cannot be enforced.

The case with Varg is different because even though his blog is hosted by an American company, using an American blogging platform, Varg himself wrote the blog posts while he was in France.  The French authorities didn’t appear even to waste their time going after WordPress to delete the posts because WordPress is an American company and they had Varg right there.  This could set some very interesting precedents in France – Marine Le Pen was forced to throw her own father off the National Front website because he made antisemitic remarks, but I wonder how much more censorship right wing organizations in France will be subject to because the metrics the French authorities used to accuse Varg of inciting racial hatred and justifying war crimes are very broad.  Yeah, every country has the right to set and interpret their laws as they see fit, but politicians and lawmakers are as short-sighted as American CEOs these days.  They set laws that are great for them when they are in power but miserable for them when they are not in power.  How will right wingers interpret incitement of racial hatred when they inevitably have their turn at the top?

But remember, all of this began because Varg supposedly received a copy of 2083 directly from Breivik.  So did over a thousand other people, but never mind that because my correspondence with Varg immediately after the Utoya attack shows he had no idea who Breivik was and had zero use for him once he discovered Breivik’s true beliefs.  Since Varg had no connections with the mass murderer of children, the entire basis for this bizarre travesty is invalid.

By the way, Varg has given me permission to share our e-mail exchange.  I offered to do this back when he was first arrested but he didn’t feel it was necessary, likely because who on earth could have foreseen this Orwellian outcome.  I have blacked out some information that is either personal or irrelevant, like my opinions about David Duke (hint:  I’m not a fan).  I tend to go on at length and my many opinions in those e-mails don’t add to this discussion.  I also warn everyone that despite my extremely liberal nature, I detest al Qaeda and the Taliban and wish both organizations could be wiped from the face of the planet.  I make no liberal, hand-wringing excuses for either organization because one is a bunch of rich boys playing war and the other degenerate religious fanatics.  Do not confuse such opinions with hatred for all Muslims.  The two are not even close.

Email One:  On the afternoon of 7/22/11, at 3:08 pm Central Standard Time, I contact Varg because the news about the bombing in Oslo alarmed me.  Last I had heard from his mother, she was living in Oslo and I was concerned.  By my reaction, in the US news it was still being reported that the terrorist was Muslim.  (Please attribute all spelling and grammar errors to the nature of rushed, personal communications.)

Email Two: Varg replies at 3:17 pm CST.  He lets me know that the terrorist is a white Norwegian and that the media have gotten it wrong.  He speculates about why Breivik may have done what he did, expresses antisemitic ideas, and wonders if Norway is finally standing up against liberal forces.  This email is very important because in this message to me, Varg had no idea of Breivik’s motives or even his identity, which indicates he never received the manifesto or interacted with Breivik beforehand.  Breivik emailed his manifesto approximately ninety minutes before the bombings in Oslo.  Varg sent me this message approximately nine hours after the first bomb went off in Oslo and approximately seven hours after the shootings began on Utoya.  He was clearly online at 12:30ish am, his time.  He replied to me within ten minutes of receiving my message.  Had he received the manifesto, it would have been in his possession ten and a half hours after it was sent and he makes no mention of it and has n0 awareness of who Breivik is or what he stands for.  (Please note that at this point Varg, as well as most of the world, was not aware that those killed at the camp were children and teenagers.)

I can stop here, because this shows clearly Varg knew about as much about Breivik as the rest of the world as we watched these events unfold.  But I’ll include the rest just in case anyone cares.

Email Three:  I reply at 4:00 pm CST.  I bemoan the state of media in the USA, and am appalled that the belief that the Utoya shooter could not have acted alone already has traction in spite of recent evidence that shows what the super-empowered individual is capable of doing.

Email Four:  Still on 7/22/11, 10:02 pm CST, I send Varg another email because the words “Nazi Sympathizer” have come up and I am worried that Varg could get dragged into the investigation due to his own beliefs.   Just like Timothy McVeigh, the media and politicians are already twisting Breivik into whatever they needed him to be before the blood on the ground had dried.   Not even 24 hours after the attack, Breivik is becoming a symbol of antisemitism.

Email Five:  On 7/23/11, at 4:25 pm CST, Varg sends me a link to the infamous video Breivik made explaining his beliefs.  Varg is still under the impression that Breivik is close to him philosophically.  He also clearly still has not seen the manifesto because he doesn’t mention it even as he produces the link to the video.

Email six:  I reply to Varg on 7/23/11 at 9:46 pm.  The video has been removed and I give him a new link and mention that surely he has the manifesto by now (because if I had it, surely he did, too).  I mention things I noticed in the video and am appalled by Breivik’s categorization of his attack as a “commando marketing” campaign.

Email seven: Varg replies on 7/24/11 at 12:06 pm CST.  He says he thinks Breivik is a genius and produces a video from David Duke.  But as he praises Breivik, he also notes that he has noticed that in his video that Breivik said nothing about the Jews and speculates that he left the Jews out of his video explaining his desire to repel Muslims from Europe because had he shown all his cards, the media would have dismissed him as yet another anti-Semite Nazi.

Email eight:  On 7/24/11, at 3:05 pm CST, I reply to Varg and tell him what my preliminary scan of 2083 showed me.  I tell Varg that Breivik has more in common with American Dominionists and was using Christianity to describe a geopolitical notion of Christianity as white race/ethnicity repelling Muslim invasions.  I also emphasize the fact that no matter what Breivik’s beliefs, he killed dozens of children.

Email nine:  Varg replies to me in five minutes.  He had already realized Breivik was not as the media was presenting him and had written an article denouncing Breivik’s actions.  In that article he describes the rampage as a false flag to harm right wing ideals and a sort of recruitment of the right wing to fight for left wing goals.

Additionally, as Varg discovered more about Breivik, he wrote another article denouncing him.   On 12/13/12, Varg actually exhorts Breivik to kill himself.

Look, I am not trying to rehabilitate Varg here.  He believes what he believes and many people find his ideas detestable.  But you don’t have to like him to see that his arrest was a farce. It was declared he was planning a terrorist action based on the receipt of 2083, a document Varg never received written by a man Varg despises.  The evidence of planning a terrorist action hinged on Varg’s wife owning hunting rifles and ammunition.  When these accusations fell apart, the French government changed tactics and added on the charges of inciting racial hatred and justifying war crimes, opening the door for third parties who faced no harms from Varg’s blog to present strange testimony proving that Varg owes them damages.  Varg is going to be forced to financially fund political and social organizations he does not believe in, which would be another violation of his freedom of speech in the USA because here such donations are considered a form of speech.

It is a complete violation of all that the modern French society is built upon to threaten a man’s liberty and to take his money simply because he holds opinions others find offensive.  Varg has not threatened to hurt anyone on his blog.  He has not encouraged any illegal action.  He simply spoke his convictions.  France is the country that produced Voltaire, Moliere, Camus, and Hugo – could any of them write what they wanted without fear of repercussions in modern France?  It seems unlikely and the modern Frenchman should be very concerned.

13 thoughts on “This Is Not an Odd Book Review – What the Hell Is Going on in France?

  1. Wow, so if I’m reading this correctly they couldn’t actually prove the charges against Varg, but they’re fining him anyway? Kind of a “we don’t have anything on you but we don’t like your looks” penalty?

    Out of curiosity, do you feel there should be any limits on freedom of speech whatsoever? Including, to take the most extreme example, illegal content such as child pornography, or speech that could lead directly to violence.

    1. Actually, I think the sequence of events is that the French authorities could not prove the initial allegations so they piled on the other charges of inciting race hate and justifying war crimes, opening the door for third party entities to testify against Varg and collect fines from him themselves. Does that make sense? The money being collected is not going to the French government but various anti-racist groups who claim Varg’s blog have harmed their goals in France. If it makes no sense, it is probably because we are Americans and have the ACLU to help protect us from insane crap like this.

      Oh yeah, there is speech that has to be suppressed. I mention child pornography specifically. It’s too much of a societal harm to permit it, even if suppression doesn’t eliminate it. The harm principle that guides freedom of speech is unquestionably at play here – permitting people to record and distribute images of child rape violates the notion that we can say and express anything we want as long as it does not violate the freedoms of others.

      While antisemitic speech is not anything I want to read or absorb, by the harm principle it does not limit the speech of Jews in France and it does not threaten their liberty. If people hate you, it’s an unpleasant experience, but expressions of dislike and hate kept within a blog don’t constitute a violation of the harm principle. Varg’s blog may offend people. It may deeply disturb the few remaining Holocaust survivors. But nothing Varg said harmed anyone’s liberty and therefore by American standards and, frankly, moral standards, Varg’s speech has been limited without even an attempt to apply the harm principle.

  2. It ain’t just France. I can’t find a single mainstream news account, but I am reliably informed that Simon Sheppard (of the Heretical Press) was AGAIN arrested and detained on June 6, apparently for writing or maybe just mailing a BOOK.

    If you’re not familiar with this guy’s long history of trouble with British thought cops (always over publishing WORDS), below are some links to bring you up to speed. The first one is something I wrote when the heat was on the “Heretical Two” a few years back.

    I may be more of an old-fashioned anti-censorship absolutist than Anita, but you don’t have to drink it all the way down to note the curious lack of media coverage devoted to Sheppard’s — and Varg’s — travails in contrast to the tons of ink devoted to more politically convenient targets like, say, Pussy Riot. There was a time when the ACLU and other organizations sought out the hard cases to force the fundamental issue. Those days are over.

    1. There’s still no reporting on his arrest. The only mentions of it I can find are from racist sites like Stormfront.

      Some brief research into media black-out arrests in the UK shows it is not common but that it happens. That is shocking. Then I read about a man named Roger Hayes who was actually tried in secret. I genuinely do not know what to think about what is happening in the West.

  3. I’m not entirely surprised this happened to Varg. The man’s had a huge target painted on him for awhile now, but it’s still disappointing to hear.

    I have a feeling Europe in general is just going to get worse with these crackdowns right-wing speech. I’m no right-winger, but like you this kind of thing really offends my American sensibilities.

    1. Varg had said to me once that when he got out of prison he was going to fade away, marry and have kids and live on a farm and leave the world of music and publicity behind. I wonder if he would have had a target on his back had he been quiet. Not that he should have been quiet in order to avoid harassment. Honestly, I thought he would face more harm from angry Mayhem fans than a Western European government. It’s all so twisted.

  4. Ugh. I find it so incredibly disgusting that Varg would call Breivik a genius for killing “commies” even after it was clear that he had in fact murdered a load of children for their membership of the Labour Party, which is not even nearly the most left wing organization here. (I know that this was not originally a public statement, and also that you acknowledge in your own email that my response is pretty standard, but I really wanted to voice my disgust nonetheless.)

    Anyway, as much as I no longer have much time for Varg as a figure, or feel the grudging admiration I might once have felt, I agree that if the arrest was not a farce then the follow-up certainly is. It seems very petty, as if instead of admit their error, French authorities will work to pin something, anything on him. I know that they have a huge guilt about their collaboration during the war, but they should remember how proud they are to be the country of Voltaire.

    I wonder if you followed what happened to Houellebecq back in 2002? I remember being really appalled at the time, so when I read about the current charges against Vikernes last week I was really unsurprised. The Houellebecq case was about Islam, so I think it provides interesting context in as much as it’s not only Jewish pressure groups who can do this kind of think in France.

    (On a side note, I work now in the place where Breivik was housed while awaiting trial and undergoing assessment, so I know some people who knew him personally. I obviously can’t say much about it, but I don’t think it’s unprofessional to tell you everyone is very relieved that he was moved to a prison.)

    1. It will piss him off if he reads this, but Varg’s thinking is no different than anyone else who uses faith to justify their world view. Varg believes the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is historical and philosophical truth and no analysis of the sources of the document can dissuade him. He is convinced that Jews are wicked and unnatural on a genetic level. As grotesque as such thinking is, it’s no different in mechanism than those who believe the Bible is the literal word of God and an accurate historical document, and therefore everything done in the name of God is righteous.

      When you look at this sort of thinking, when everything is filtered through faith, the magical nature of faith insulates the thinker from the reality of their thoughts. I know people who are convinced that the Israelis have every right to kill Palestinians because the Bible tells them so. But when you confront them with a picture of a Palestinian father carrying his murdered child, shot by the Israeli army, they are appalled at the reality they earlier felt was just dandy. They don’t change their minds about bloodshed, and later they can find themselves justifying such atrocity, but in that moment of confrontation they see what their notions have wrought. I think Varg was in that state of mind when he initially approved of Breivik’s actions. But when the real horror of it hit him, he changed his mind (and it stayed changed because Breivik was not from his philosophical camp). It’s unpleasant, but most people whose world views rely on faith engage in this sort of thing. Those who do not share that faith are The Other and what happens to them is a result of badness, so why mourn them or worry about their fate? Faith makes people callous when they are dealing with those outside their faith. There are exceptions but they tend to be the exceptions that prove the rule.

      So I cut Varg the same amount of slack that I cut just about every fundamentalist Christian I know.

      I only know very little about Houelllebecq. I’ll have to look into him.

      Oh man, I wish you could speak about Breivik. I will always wonder if my take on him was the correct one – that he is not a schizophrenic, but rather a complete narcissist.

  5. You say you are a fan of freedom of speech but you keep deleting my comments. You are a hipocrite and a liar.

    1. Freedom of speech is integral to the functioning of a free society. You have the right to say whatever asinine thing comes into your head, and I firmly believe you should not have to go to prison for saying it.

      That does not mean you get to act the fool on my website because you don’t like Varg Vikernes. You don’t get to insult people, you don’t get to make up what I know to be scurrilous lies about Varg’s family, and you don’t get to write out some bad-ass Viking scenario wherein you best Varg in what, frankly, reads to me like a deeply disturbing fantasy life that is best left to fan fiction. You’ve added nothing to the conversation about speech, you’ve tried to impugn the reputations of people who are not even mentioned in this article, and you think I should let you do it because freedom of speech means you get to drop trou and crap all over everything?

      Nope. Freedom of speech does not mean I need to clean up after you as if you are a dog in my garden.

      You’re now in perma-moderation, True Norseman. You’re not banned. You can talk all the crap you want. However, I’m the only one who will be able to see everything you write. No one else will see it, including the man with whom you have an unsettling fixation.

    1. I don’t have the time (and increasingly the will) to maintain the site. Hopefully I will be able to coordinate a handover to someone else. We’ll see.

  6. Hi, I found your website and all of your articles from the rabbit hole that is the internet. I only write to ask if you have any updates on what happened to Varg. I never knew of him until 15 minutes ago, and although his views seem to be ones I do not in any way share, I AM interested in fair justice. It is a shame what happened to him.

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