When news began to unfold on Friday of the terror attacks in Norway that has left more than 90 dead, many blogs and Twitter accounts immediately lit up with speculation about who was behind the massive bombings in Oslo and the subsequent attack on a youth camp 20 miles away.
But some pundits, mostly right-wing neoconservatives, proclaimed that this bore all the hallmarks of Islamic terrorism, even going so far as to draw policy prescriptions. At the Washington Post, normally a well-respected news outlet, Jennifer Rubin quoted the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies' Thomas Joscelyn and AEI scholar Gary Schmitt to say that the attacks were the result of Islamic terrorism. She then concluded the “jihadist” attack on Oslo means the US shouldn't cut military spending:
This is a sobering reminder for those who think it’s too expensive to wage a war against jihadists. […] Some irresponsible lawmakers on both sides of the aisle…would have us believe that enormous defense cuts would not affect our national security. Obama would have us believe that al-Qaeda is almost caput and that we can wrap up things in Afghanistan. All of these are rationalizations for doing something very rash, namely curbing our ability to defend the United States and our allies in a very dangerous world.
The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, rushed up an editorial Friday, blaming “jidhadists” for the attacks and exclaiming, “Norway is targeted for being true to Western norms”:
…in jihadist eyes, [Norway] will always remain guilty of being what it is: a liberal nation committed to freedom of speech and conscience, equality between the sexes, representative democracy, and every other freedom that defines the West. For being true to those ideals, Norwegians have now been asked to pay a terrible price.
As more information came out about the attacks and the attacker, the WSJ rewrote the online version of the editorial, albeit by removing any trace of the above paragraph. Instead, it mentioned that it had falsely attributed the attacks to jihadists and called the attacker an al Qaeda “copycat.”
Many other conservatives committed similar follies. AEI's Ahmad Majidyar published a post about the links between Norway and al Qaeda. FDD president Cliff May openly speculated at Pajamas Media that the attack was probably a “retaliatory” strike for the recent indictment of a radical Islamic militant in Norway. Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin made multiple references to jihadist attackers on Twitter in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. Josh Trevino, a GOP activist and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, sarcastically quipped that he “suspected Lutherans” for the attack while also saying it was part of a “jihad.” Conservative activist Andrew Breitbart and RedState's Erick Erickson were quick to join in as well.
Even after the identity of the suspected attacker was known, Erickson went up with a bizarre new post claiming some sort of difference between Christian and Muslim terrorists.
Now, though, we know that these speculative hypotheses, presented with near certitude and no evidence, couldn't have been further from the truth: The man now charged by police for both attacks is a right-wing 32-year-old Norwegian “fundamentalist Christian” (per Norwegian police) with — far from ties to Muslim extremist motivations — a particular animus toward Islam, which he's labeled a “hate ideolog(y).”
Rubin, who has a penchant for credulously repeating unverified and incorrect claims that fit with her worldview, drew the ire of James Fallows and Steve Clemons at the Atlantic website, where they said the Post should correct her “fear-mongering” piece and issue an apology.