I had heard through the grapevine that the "camp" had a very distinct political affiliation, but it didn't really register with me, perhaps because we don't really have any cultural analog in the United States to what this "camp" was all about. But I picked up on something on Twitter this morning that changed the nature of the story dramatically, at least for me:
@gusbbaker Gus Baker
BBC needs to stop referring to 'summer camp'- Utoya was political crime and it diminishes the young Labour members deliberately targeted
See, the "camp" event is really more akin to a political retreat and training, it seems. It's an annual event of Norway's "Worker's Youth League," (in Norwegian, the Arbeidaranes Ungdomsfylking, or AUF), which is itself essentially the youth arm of the country's ruling Labour Party. And by "youth arm," I really mean something like a "farm team," to use a sports analogy.
And we're in need of analogies here, because we don't really have anything like this here in the United States, which also makes it difficult to appreciate the scale of the potential losses. Eighty or more lives taken translates anywhere, of course. Eighty or more young people, all the more. But it's more than that. It's 80 or more of the country's most politically engaged young people, self-selected from the ranks of a single political party. In a country of just 4.9 million, that's an enormous loss. Strictly by the numbers, the ratio to the population of the United States suggests it'd be like the wiping out of over 5,000 activists from, say, OFA or DFA. Or, I guess, every single person attending this year's Netroots Nation. Twice.
Only even there the comparison is inadequate. As committed as the activists of OFA or DFA (or pick your favorite group here) are, neither organization has the relationship to the Democratic Party that the AUF did. A quick glance at and a few clicks through the names of the previous AUF leaders illustrates pretty clearly that it's a pretty direct pipeline into national elected office in Norway. And Utoya was where they gathered:
But it was the prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, who spent childhood holidays on the island as a young Labour party member, who summed up the grief of a nation: "Utoya is my childhood paradise that yesterday was transformed into Hell."
Taking out 80+ of the people committed enough to go to the AUF's Utoya summer retreat? That's like sending a Terminator back in time to take out a future Parliamentary leadership.
The crime was unspeakably heinous to begin with. And telling Americans that the killer targeted a "summer camp," it was no doubt imagined, would only make it sound worse.
It did. But it didn't really describe the magnitude of the loss for Norway. Nor did it convey the calculated sickness—and the very, very intensely political nature—of what the gunman undertook to do.