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Norway attacks focus attention on US right-wing extremists

/ Source: NBC News

The bomb attack and shooting spree that killed 76 people in Norway on Friday is refocusing attention on the threat from right-wing terrorist attacks in the U.S. inspired by anti-Islamic rhetoric.

In the aftermath of the mass murder, investigators are looking at a 1,500-page manifesto in which Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian man who admitted to carrying out the attacks, vowed “brutal and breathtaking operations” in order to stop “the ongoing Islamic Colonization of Europe.” Analysts say the manifesto was inspired by heated rhetoric from groups in the United States – some of which are quoted directly.

Robert Spencer, the co-founder of Stop the Islamization of America, is cited more than 50 times by Breivik. He helped organize protests against the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York City and has written that “traditional Islam contains violent and supremacist elements.”

Breivik wrote that Spencer would be an “excellent choice” for the Nobel Peace Prize.

But Spencer told NBC News that he bears no responsibility for what happened in Norway.

“There’s nothing in any of my writings that is anything but a defense of human rights, a defense of the equality of rights of all people before the law,” he said. “So if somebody gets from that that they should kill, well then he’s nuts.”

But according to some analysts, words can be weapons themselves.

“When you push the demonization of populations, you often end up with violence,” said Heidi Beirich, research director for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The center recently released a report, Jihad Against Islam concluding there has been an apparent spike in anti-Islamic attacks in the United States in the past few years, including the burning of a mosque in Tennessee arsons and bombings in Florida, Michigan and Oregon.

In this April 14, 2011 photo, Imam Abdul Latif Azom walks past damage from an April 1, 2011 fire at the Masjid Al-Falah Islamic Center of North Detroit in Detroit. Federal authorities are investigating the recent fire. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)Paul Sancya / AP

“This attack in Norway should be a wake up for our decision makers,” said Daryl Johnson, the founder of DT Analytics, a consulting firm that tracks extremist activity in the United States.

As a former top domestic terrorist analyst for the Department of Homeland Security, Johnson produced a 2009 report that warned of a growing threat from right-wing extremists and domestic hate groups. The report produced a storm of controversy amid charges that the department was monitoring protected political speech. The report was ultimately removed from the Homeland Security website and Johnson says his unit was eventually dismantled.

DHS officials told NBC News that the domestic intelligence division of DHS was merely reorganized. And they say they are tracking the problem as closely as ever, but see no signs it is getting worse.

Johnson, however, sees parallels between the rhetoric of some domestic extremists and Breivik’s writings.

“We could have a similar attack here, and that’s my greatest fear,” he said. “We could have a Timothy McVeigh-type carry out a mass shooting event or a vehicle bomb attack that resulted in mass casualties.”