In a post that became the most written-about story in the Nordic country, Sylvi Listhaug of the right-wing Progress Party, currently part of the "blue" government coalition, claimed that the opposition Labor Party cherished "the rights of terrorists" above national security. The post was accompanied by a graphic image of balaclava-clad militants.
Listhaug's post was aimed at mocking the rivals, led by Jonas Gahr Støre, who promised to vote against the recent proposal to revoke the citizenship of Norwegians fighting for terrorist groups without having to wait for a conviction.
"We want to revoke the passports and citizenship of foreign fighters and terrorists quickly and effectively! Labor wants to vote against. In the fight against terror, we cannot sit and twiddle our thumbs," Listhaug wrote.
However, Listhaug's post appeared the very day "Utøya July 22," a film about Anders Breivik's massacre, was released in Norwegian cinemas, which many perceived as lack of fair play on Listhaug's part. In 2011, Breivik killed 69 people at the Labor Youth Camp located on the island of Utøya in the worst act of violence in Norway's post-WW2 history.
"We have been victims of terror, and we are fighting against terror. For Listhaug to make such a claim so offensive and unfair is disappointing and unbefitting of a Norwegian justice minister," Labor leader Støre told national broadcaster NRK.
Before the attacks, Breivik, who is often referred to by his initials ABB in Norway, was a member of the Progress Party from 1999 to 2006, but found Norway's most anti-immigrant party not radical enough. As Listhaug's post apparently hit a sore spot with the Labor Party, the Breivik connection quickly sprung up in the debate.
"We have been very careful not to link ABB and the Progress Party after July 22. However, Listhaug has now made it more difficult," Oslo Mayor Raymond Johansen of the Labor Party tweeted.
Vi var veldig forsiktig med å koble ABB til FrP etter 22 juli. Listhaug har nå gjort det vanskeligere. pic.twitter.com/JS08D3juQJ— Raymond Johansen (@RaymondJohansen) March 10, 2018
Prime Minister Erna Solberg told NRK that rhetoric occasionally overshadows political content in politics, arguing that this is what has happened in this case. According to Solberg, the image and the tone used in Listhaug's attack on Labor took the focus off the measures to fight terror.
Knut Erik Engh, a Progress Party representative in Ulstein, conceded that he would have used different rhetoric, while fundamentally agreeing with Listhaug about the message.
"What she means is we must make sure it is not easy for foreign fighters to travel and that there must be a consequence. She thinks Labor has been too weak in its position on this, and they really have," Engh told NRK.
Listhaug later defended herself by claiming her idea was only to discuss the proposal of withdrawing "foreign fighters'" citizenship in a fast and efficient way.
"It has never ever crossed my mind that it could be linked to the cruel massacre on Utøya that hit so many innocent people and Norwegian democracy. <…> Nor was my intention to hurt anyone, and I really hope to be believed," Listhaug wrote, assuring the public of her "great compassion" for the Utøya survivors and those who lost their loved ones.
A devout Christian, Listhaug previously served as Norway's Integration Minister, during which she saw to a toughening of Norway's immigration laws. She is also in favor of the repatriation of migrants.
The Progress Party, which is EU-skeptic and Atlanticist, is currently Norway's third-largest. It is led by Siv Jensen, Norway's Finance Minister since 2013.