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From Norway to Mexico: the violent legacy of the Knights Templar

July 29, 2011

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What do Mexico’s newest drug cartel and the perpetrator of last Friday’s massacre in Norway have in common? Not much, one might suspect, aside from excessive violent tendencies. But bizarrely both were inspired by an ancient order of elite holy warriors dating back to the 12th century.

Anders Behring Breivik, a far-right extremist who admits responsibility for the twin attacks in Norway on July 22, claims to be a member of the Knights Templar, the same group of Medieval crusaders from which an offshoot of Michoacan’s La Familia cartel take their name.

At a court hearing on Monday, Breivik, 32, confessed to carrying out the consecutive bombing and shooting that left at least 76 dead and a further 96 injured, but pleaded not guilty to charges of terrorism. He told the court he had acted to “save Norway and western Europe from cultural Marxism and a Muslim takeover” and claimed he belonged to an organization with “two more cells” that remain at large.

In his diary Breivik claims membership of the Knights Templar, which he describes as an “international Christian military order,” that “fights” against “Islamic oppression.”

Breivik has made repeated references to the organization and also appears in a 12-minute anti-Muslim video called “Knights Templar 2083.” The blood red crosses that famously adorned the white tunics of the Templar also appear on the front page of Breivik’s manifesto, “2083: A European Declaration of Independence,” and on several home-made uniforms he was pictured in on his Facebook profile.

Breivik claims a group of nine individuals met in London in 2002 to re-found the Templar as an armed “anti-Jihad crusader-organization.” The Norwegian ranked himself as a “Justiciar Knight” and said there were up to 80 such knights around western Europe, all “completely unknown to our enemies.” The veracity of his claims has yet to be established.

In the state of Michoacan, western Mexico, the existence of a different Knights Templar organization, “Los Caballeros Templarios,” is all too evident. A splinter group comprised of former members of La Familia – another cartel notorious for its violent criminal activity and quasi-religious ideology – the Knights Templar was founded by school teacher turned drug trafficker Servando Gomez earlier this year.

Rumors that the group conduct initiation ceremonies dressed in Templar garb were substantiated after a recent raid in Zacapu, Michoacan, where Mexican soldiers found four hooded tunics with red crosses, a metal helmet, and a booklet outlining the Templar’s moral standards.

The 22-page handbook, entitled “The Code of the Knights Templar of Michoacan,” features illustrations of knights on horseback bearing lances and crosses. Among its 53 commandments the guide strictly prohibits drug use, justifies killing only in certain circumstances, instructs members to protect inhabitants of local territory, implores chivalry and respect for women, and affirms that “God is the truth and there is no truth without God.”

Given their status as major suppliers of methamphetamines, and the brutal and seemingly senseless killings attributed to the Templar Knights in the past month, it seems they do not always practice what they preach.

This is not the first cartel to follow a code of ethics of sorts. The late La Familia leader Nazario Moreno Gonzalez published a motivational pamphlet called “The Sayings of the Craziest One,” the contents of which have never been revealed by authorities but were reportedly based on the teachings of U.S. evangelist John Eldredge.

Analysts suggest the Templar’s use of ideology and ancient religious symbolism is a tactic to gain the support of Michoacan residents, lend some form of political legitimacy to their criminal operations, and create an aura of mystery that inspires fear and respect.

In the cartel’s stronghold of Apatzingan there are currently 1,800 federal police and soldiers trying to hunt down “La Tuta,” as Templar founder Gomez is known. Although he remains at large, another local chief, Bulmaro Salinas Munoz, alias “El Men,” was arrested in Morelia on Sunday.

Salinas, 33, is accused of extortion, kidnapping and involvement in the murder of 21 people. Mexican officials say he was previously imprisoned in the United States on drugs and weapons possession charges in 2004.

The Mexican government claims to have effectively dismantled the Templar’s predecessor, La Familia, with federal police having killed leader Moreno in a shootout last December, and arrested another founder, Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas, last month.

Although it is not immediately obvious why an Islamophobic Norwegian or a Mexican drug cartel would adopt the name of the Templar, the former presumably identified with the knights’ role as defenders of traditional European Christianity, while the latter most likely sought to project the image of an elite force once renowned as Europe’s most feared warriors.

The original Knights Templar were founded around 1119 and swore to protect Christian pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land. As they fought to reclaim Jerusalem from the Arabs, the Templar won a series of victories over their Muslim adversaries, often while heavily outnumbered.

In 1303 the Templar returned to western Europe, having been forced from the Holy Land. The knights fled to France, where they were considered a threat by King Philip IV, who had many of them tortured and executed. Pope Clement V, who lived in Avignon under the protection of King Philip, was pressured into disbanding the Templar by 1312.

Rumors persist of surviving knights, while legend has it that their descendants guard the Holy Grail and hold a secret that could destroy the Catholic church if it is ever revealed.

Already shrouded in myth, the Templar were further popularized and embellished by Dan Brown in his 2003 novel “The Da Vinci Code.” It remains unclear whether this exposure led to the appropriation of the name by either Breivick or the Mexican drug gang. But in both cases it is evident that, almost 900 years after their foundation, the Knights Templar have become a powerful reference point for violent extremists seeking to legitimize and mythologize their unconscionable acts.

Norwegian terrorist bought equipment in Zapopan

In his 1500 page manifesto, mass murderer Anders Breivik details buying equipment from a store in Zapopan prior to committing the attacks that left at least 76 dead in Norway last Friday, July 22.

On page 884 of “2083: A Declaration of European Independence,” Breivik reveals that he purchased vehicle-disabling road blocks from Prosperity Technologies in Zapopan, a municipality of Guadalajara.

Caltrops, as they are known, are “anti-vehicle weapons made up of two or more sharp nails or spines arranged in such a manner that one of them always points upward from a stable base,” reads Breivik’s description.

“The best caltrops available against vehicles are hollow spikes which puncture self-sealing rubber tires. The hole in the centre allows air to escape even if the other end of the tube is sealed by soft ground,” says Breivik, noting that an effective roadblock requires “10-20 caltrops” which vary in price from 3-5 dollars per unit.

The Norwegian terrorist ordered 60 caltrops from the Jalisco-based firm, commenting that they are “very useful for certain missions where it is necessary to either escape (use on free-way to prevent pursuit), or to block of (sic) roads or to cause havoc in situations where you want to prevent protectors from pursuing you.”

Breivik listed the telephone number and address of the Zapopan firm from which he ordered the caltrops in the detailed manifesto in which he also outlined his Islamophobic ideological motivation for carrying out the vicious attacks.

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