Tag Archives: terrorism

What does “black metal” have to do with Varg Vikernes’ terrorism arrest? Nothing — sort of.

The news broke this morning that Burzum frontman Varg Vikernes was arrested in the Correze region of France after his wife, Marie Chachet, after Chachet purchased four rifles (which she was licensed to own). The couple, who have three children, were charged on suspicion that they were fostering a terrorist plot, based in part on the fact that Anders Breivik sent Vikernes a copy of his 1,500-page manifesto before he went on a terrorist spree near Oslo, killing 77 people.

For readers who don’t know, Vikernes is one of the most famous — and most divisive — figures in the Norwegian black metal scene, to the point that it’s almost impossible to have a conversation about that scene’s early days without his name cropping up. In 2009, Vikernes was released from prison after serving 15 years of a 21-year sentence for the murder of his friend/rival, Mayhem guitarist Oeystein “Euronymous” Aarseth, as well as for the arson of several historic churches in Norway. His involvement in these crimes, and the subsequent coverage in international magazines like Kerrang!, put black metal on the world stage for the first time.

I recently finished reading “Black Metal: Beyond the Darkness,” an anthology of essays and interviews regarding the scene and its progression in the 20+ years since Vikerness stabbed Aarseth to death. Vikernes’ crimes cast a long shadow; they were mentioned in almost every piece in the book. Given that those crimes have now almost become synonymous with black metal’s origin story, it’s easy to see why. However, the book showed again and again how wrong it is to view all of the genre through the lens of Vikernes’ actions. By and large, the musicians and fans involved in the scene are not violent, destructive criminals. Sure, some adore theatrics, simulated rituals and references to Satanism (either real or metaphorical). But that’s another matter altogether.

It’s also worth noting that many, particularly within the black-metal scene, actively boycott Burzum’s albums both because of Vikernes’ actions and because he’s an avowed racist and adherent to neo-Nazi beliefs — which may be part of what attracted Breivik to him, though that’s speculation on my part. Even fans find supporting him complicated.

Euronews’ headline today reads, “Neo-nazi and black metal star Varg Vikernes arrested in France.” They’re not wrong to do so, given that Vikernes’ identity as a black metal musician is his claim to fame. This isn’t like calling Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris “goths,” or Breivik a video-game lover. Those facets, true or not, aren’t what made those figures known to the world.

What would be a mistake is to once again paint all of black metal with the Burzum brush, as happened in the mid-1990s after the arsons and Aarseth’s murder. Again, the genre has largely moved on, incorporating other elements, other philosophies. It’s still dark and harsh and rebellious in plenty of places, but the overwhelming majority of folks in the scene, musicians and fans, are focused on music, philosophy and community; not criminal mayhem.

Sanity, lone wolves, and violent video games


Anders Breivik: the Oslo shooter is “sane,” and going to jail.

On Friday, major news emerged from Norway: Oslo mass murderer Anders Breivik is going to jail, and has been declared legally sane.

From the beginning, attorneys have argued over Breivik’s metal state at the time of the killings. While one psychiatric team argued that he is a paranoid schizophrenic, similar to Tucson shooter Jared Loughner, or perhaps Aurora shooter James Holmes, the winning side argued that Breivik is “narcissistic and dissocial — having a complete disregard for others — but criminally sane.”

They stopped short of calling Breivik a psychopath or sociopath — a form of mental illness, to be sure, but not one that meets the legal definition of “criminally insane.” Instead, he’s classified as a “sane” man who falls into the category of “lone wolf” terrorist, in the same mold as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, and most recently, Sikh temple shooter Wade Michael Page.

So, there’s a dilemma here: is a sociopath — someone who is incapable of embracing the same values of “right” and “wrong” as mainstream society — truly sane? Just because someone is capable of understanding his actions, does that mean he was in his “right mind” when he carried out those actions? Or is he more like a dog that attacks indiscriminately — one of those rare canines whom re-training won’t help?

With so many shooters in the news right now, we have the opportunity to compare and to categorize. Some are obviously suffering some kind of psychosis; others fall into this “dissocial” or even sociopathic category.

But you’ll notice that none of them fall into the “violent video games clearly caused it” category, or the “heavy metal music clearly caused it” category, or even the “Satanism made him do it” category.

From the very beginning, because Breivik claimed he “trained” on Modern Warfare and played World of Warcraft many hours each day, many felt that video games somehow informed his mission.

Instead, it seems clear now that the games were for Breivik, as they are for millions of others, an outlet. A pastime. And, among the millions upon millions of people who play these games, Breivik was the only one who perpetrated such an attack. When such a vanishingly small percentage of gamers commit mass murder, there’s no way you can argue that video games incite mass murder.

I’m glad to see that the conversation has moved on; I can only hope it stays that way.

Why do so many gamers heed “Call of Duty?”


Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 alone has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. What makes this series so popular?

Ten years ago, a group of men working with Al-Quaeda hijacked four American airplanes. They crashed two of them into the World Trade Center towers in New York, toppling them. A third crashed at the Pentagon, and a fourth crashed over Pennsylvania. Within weeks, American troops had invaded Afghanistan and declared war on the Taliban. By 2003, the military had moved into Iraq as well. A decade of messy, complicated war followed.

It may be no surprise, then, that the Call of Duty franchise has become one of the all-time best-selling video game series during this decade. Many Americans were justifiably angry, but couldn’t go to war themselves. Others wondered what our soldiers were going through, but the news reports just weren’t enough. The Call of Duty games feed just those kinds of emotions, providing lifelike and detailed versions of military operations in spots around the globe.

As the world looked back this month on September 11, 2001, The Denver Post’s John Wenzel spoke up for Call of Duty, saying the games helped players make sense of the terrorist attacks:

Instead of promising escapism, they provided an outlet for ordinary Americans to vent their rage and frustration by aiming virtual weapons at otherwise nebulous foreign enemies.

Video-game environments are entertaining and tidily self-contained — unlike real war, where the blood lingers long after players switch off the Xbox 360. But as funhouse mirrors of the past decade, “Call of Duty” and other war games have reflected a certain distorted collective therapy that, at times, makes for an eerily lifelike portrait of the aggression and anxiety that violence breeds.

The new Call of Duty game, Modern Warfare 3, is due out next month and is likely to be a top seller at Christmas. The #2 holiday pick is another military game, Gears of War 3. Clearly there’s a hunger for war games in this long era of military exercises in far-flung places.

With such brisk sales, it’s inevitable that some teens and younger kids will play Call of Duty. And there are some who say they shouldn’t. But kids were just as effected by the terrorist attacks and the vagueries of war as adults were — and they have a right to explore these ideas as well.

Call of Duty players: what attracted you to the game? Did playing it help you process the 9/11 attacks or the “War on Terror” in any way? Has it helped you understand your feelings about war and military action better?

MW3 offers catharsis for bombing survivors

The newest trailer for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is out, and it includes compelling footage of gameplay in London and Paris, among other places. The London scenes zoom through an Underground tunnel — and even show a Tube train derailing. It’s understandable that Londoners, particularly those who experienced the 7/7 bombings or know someone who did, would be unnerved by such scenes.

Still, many say the London newspaper Daily Mail is taking it too far, with headlines like, “BAN THIS SICK FILTH” and “BAN THESE EVIL GAMES.” From the Giant Fire Breathing Robot blog:

The paper quotes Vivenne Pattison, spokeswoman for Mediawatch UK, as saying, “I have concerns as these games are hyper-real and take place in a landscape we are familiar with. In light of the fact we have just had the 7/7 inquests, it is in incredibly poor taste.” One of Mediawatch’s self-proclaimed missions is to, “campaign against violent, sexually explicit and obscene material in the media.”

It would be easy to say that game companies are capitalizing on these kinds of events. They are, after all, earning a profit from the games they design and sell. That said, the Call of Duty series didn’t get to be one of the best-selling game franchises simply by being gory and exploitative. If you watch the trailer above, you’ll see that it’s gripping, exciting, and incredibly lifelike. This isn’t just a game — it’s a chance to vividly imagine that you’re in the thick of a conflict on the modern-day streets of London and Paris.

As I’ve said before, these kinds of games can help both teen and adult players make deeper sense of current events such as the 7/7 bombings or other incidents. Anyone who is aware of those bombings, whether they experienced them directly or not, may have some leftover anxiety. Playing a game like Modern Warfare 3, with its built-in rewards and chances at heroism, can help people move past those anxieties.

Instead of banning these games, perhaps they should be handed out for free as a public service to anyone who needs to work through lingering fears about what happened that July morning in London. What do you think?