An Electronic Intifada investigation uncovers evidence that Thor Halvorssen, the founder of the Oslo Freedom Forum, receives significant funding from the same financiers who support the Islamophobes who inspired anti-Muslim Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik. Despite being presented with this evidence, the Norwegian government and Amnesty International are embracing Halvorssen, a long-time far-right activist and the scion of a politically-connected family tied to Venezuela’s US-backed opposition.
This week in Oslo, hundreds of people from around the world are gathering for the fifth annual Oslo Freedom Forum, a human rights conference billed as “a three-day summit exploring how best to challenge authoritarianism and promote free and open societies.”
Produced by the New York-based Human Rights Foundation (humanrightsfoundation.org), the event is sponsored by, among others, Norway’s Labor Party government (in the form of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), the City of Oslo, and Amnesty International Norway. Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide is scheduled to deliver prepared remarks at the forum.
Oslo is still scarred by the murderous rampage carried out by the right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik, a Norwegian citizen who fashioned himself as a crusading knight on a mission to save Europe from the scourge of Muslim immigration.
His killing spree began on 22 July 2011 with a bombing that killed eight persons and injured 209 others outside Oslo’s main government building. The violence ended some 25 miles to the north at a summer camp for the youth wing of Norway’s ruling Labor Party, where he massacred 69 persons, most of them children and youths.
Breivik insisted the bloodbath was necessary to stop those he saw enabling mass Muslim immigration — those he called “cultural Marxists” and especially the Labor Party — accusing them of “contributing to a process of indirect cultural and demographical genocide.”
The killer outlined his views in a 1,500-page manifesto, listing the far-right Americans who helped radicalize him. They included the most notorious purveyors of anti-Muslim resentment, such as Jihad Watch founder Robert Spencer, Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy, and Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes, whose writings Breivik excerpted at length.
Among the suggestions for “Further Study” provided by the killer were links on YouTube to the 2008 propaganda film Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West, which has been promoted as “the single most powerful piece of media over the past five years in persuading average Americans to the Islamist threat” (Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America, Center For American Progress, 26 August 2011, p. 16).
Breivik clearly thought it was powerful too and would help explain and justify his murderous rampage.
It is of public record that the Oslo Freedom Forum receives substantial financial support from the Norwegian government. But only a tiny handful of people know that one of the largest donors to the Human Rights Foundation — the producer of the Oslo Freedom Forum — are Donors Capital Fund and its affiliate Donors Trust, Inc.
Donors Capital Fund is the same right-wing American foundation that spent millions of dollars to fund the distribution of millions of copies of Obsession, and which has lavished hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years on the network of professional Islamophobes that Breivik cited as his inspirations.
Donors Capital Fund is only one of several major funders to the Human Rights Foundation that have been among the principal donors or conduits for funding to the Islamophobic hate groups and ideologues who helped radicalize Breivik.
One person who certainly knew this is Thor Halvorssen.
Oslo Freedom Forum’s right-wing brainchild
Who is Halvorssen? He is best known as the founder and CEO of the Human Rights Foundation, where he is listed as the lone staff member. The Oslo Freedom Forum is his brainchild, a confab he has sought to brand as “a Davos for human rights.” The theme of this year’s conference is “Challenging Power.”
Halvorssen is also a right-wing activist, film producer and scion of Venezuela’s moneyed elite whose years of involvement in ultra-conservative politics enabled him to corral a small coterie of mostly far-right moneymen into bankrolling his Human Rights Foundation.
The Electronic Intifada has obtained Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 990 forms filed by the Human Rights Foundation that include previously undisclosed information about its donors.
The forms show that the Human Rights Foundation received approximately $600,000 in donations from the Donors Capital Fund from 2007 through 2011. Based in Northern Virginia, Donors Capital Fund is essentially a slush fund for the cadre of rightist donors who bankroll the conservative movement.
The Electronic Intifada’s analysis of IRS filings by Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust shows that the Human Rights Foundation received $764,950 from 2005 through 2011 from Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust, all but about $5,000 coming through the Donors Capital Fund.
“Since the fund handles money from multiple donors and donors names aren’t disclosed, contributions made through the Donors Capital Fund are difficult to trace,” the Center for American Progress noted in its 2011 landmark report “Fear, Inc.” “Potential donors are required to open a minimum $1 million account to utilize the fund’s services.”
In 2009, Donors Capital Fund channeled $60 million to various conservative causes and from 2009 through 2011 a whopping $21,318,600 “to groups promoting Islamophobia,” according to the Center for American Progress.
Shadowy nonprofit funds Islamophobic film applauded by Breivik
In 2008, Donors Capital donated $17,778,600 to a shadowy nonprofit called the Clarion Fund — later renamed the Clarion Project (“Mystery of who funded right-wing ‘radical Islam’ campaign deepens,” Salon, 16 November 2010).
The donation paid for the Clarion Fund’s distribution of the film Obsession during the height of the 2008 presidential campaign — an apparent attempt to tar Democrats and then-Senator Barack Obama as weak on terror.
In the film, grainy clips of Nazi youth saluting Adolf Hitler blend into footage of Muslim crowds chanting in unison against Western imperialism. With commentary from a who’s who of anti-Muslim activists, including Daniel Pipes, the film implies that political Islam is today’s version of Nazism, and that between 10 and 15 percent of the world’s Muslim population poses an imminent, existential threat to the West.
Thanks to this support, some 28 million DVDs of the film were tucked into the Sunday edition of local newspapers and delivered to Americans in swing states across the country. Eventually, the film reached Breivik as well and is applauded in his manifesto.
Breivik cited Pipes at least 18 times in his manifesto; in one section, he quoted the far-right scholar commenting, “Self-hating Westerners have an out-sized importance due to their prominent role as shapers of opinion in universities, the media, religious institutions and the arts. They serve as the Islamists’ auxiliary mujahideen.”
Pipes’ Middle East Forum has benefited immensely from the generosity of Donors Capital Fund, reaping $2.3 million from the foundation between 2001 to 2009, according to the Center for American Progress.
In 2010, the Norwegian newspaper Klassekampen investigated what it referred to as Thor Halvorssen’s “secret funding,” which it suspected was “associated with the right side of the United States.” Halvorssen told reporter Sarah Sorheim: “I receive money from a variety of different people and environments. But that does not mean I necessarily support their political views.”
Sorheim asked him: “why not disclose who your sponsors are?” He deflected, explaining, “Since I got so much attention here in Norway, I’m still thinking about whether I can disclose our lists.”
Prior to this investigation by The Electronic Intifada, the full extent of Halvorssen’s right-wing funding was unknown. And contrary to the claims he made to Sorheim and to The Electronic Intifada, his political views appear to align neatly with many of his key backers and with those they support.
In an emailed response to The Electronic Intifada, Halvorssen stated that the $600,000 donated to the Human Rights Foundation through Donors Capital Fund from 2007 through 2011 that is disclosed in the Human Rights Foundation’s 2011 IRS filing actually came from his own family.
“The Harry Halvorssen Fund is an account I set up with Donors Capital/Donors Trust and it is the main vehicle through which my mother and I make our contributions to [the Human Rights Foundation] and other charitable pursuits ranging from ecological concerns and scholarships to inner-city children in New York, to equine rescue,” he stated.
None of the money provided through the Donors Capital Fund, he said, went to support the Oslo Freedom Forum, but he and his mother donate separate funds through the Human Rights Foundation to support the Oslo Freedom Forum. “The Harry Halvorssen Fund has never made any contributions to any film called Obsession,” Halvorssen wrote.
To be sure, the kinds of donor-advised services for living donors and legacies that Donors Capital Fund provides to major philanthropists are also offered by many well-established foundations, such as the Chicago Community Trust or the New York Community Trust, as well as other financial institutions.
So why did Halvorssen choose to support the Human Rights Foundation and other causes through Donors Capital Fund, which is tainted by its reputation as a pass-through for anonymous donors to give enormous sums to virulently Islamophobic and anti-gay causes?
“My choice of using Donors Capital Fund/Donors Trust is based on the fact that if I were to pass away unexpectedly I know they will very strictly abide to donor intent,” Halvorssen wrote to The Electronic Intifada. On its website, Donors Trust states that it was established “to ensure the intent of donors who are dedicated to the ideals of limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise” is respected even after they die.
Halvorssen offered an analogy to explain his motives: “People I may disagree with may also open a bank account at Chase Manhattan Bank, where I have a debit card; this doesn’t mean that Chase Manhattan Bank is responsible for their activities or that other customers are to carry some kind of collective responsibility for their banking choices.”
But this analogy might not be exact; on its website, Donors Capital Fund states that only organizations “approved by the Donors Capital Fund board of directors are eligible to receive grants from donor-advised funds administered by Donors Capital Fund.”
Even if Halvorssen were to be taken at his word about his relationship with Donors Capital Fund, he cannot explain why the Human Rights Foundation relies on other key members of the Islamophobia industry’s financial network.
The Sarah Scaife Foundation, one of the four foundations controlled by conservative financier Richard Mellon Scaife, donated $325,000 to Halvorssen’s Human Rights Foundation between 2007 and 2011, according to IRS filings.
According to the Center for American Progress, Scaife’s foundations contributed a staggering $7,875,000 to the Islamophobia industry between 2001 and 2009.
Among the major recipients of Scaife’s money was the David Horowitz Freedom Center, which received $3.4 million during the eight-year period documented in the “Fear Inc.” report.
The David Horowitz Freedom Center happens to be the main sponsor of Robert Spencer, the Islamophobic pseudo-scholar who claimed in a video interview with the conservative website Politichicks that the Muslim Brotherhood has penetrated deep into President Obama’s White House inner circle. Breivik referenced Spencer’s work no fewer than 162 times in his manifesto.
Then there is the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which contributed $145,000 to the Human Rights Foundation from 2007 through 2011, according to IRS forms. As The Electronic Intifada recently reported, the Bradley Foundation has helped pay the salaries of some of America’s most virulent anti-Muslim agitators. These include David Horowitz, the creator of “Islamofascism Awareness Week,” Pipes and Frank Gaffney, publisher of conspiratorial pamphlets like his 2010 “Shariah: The Threat to America,” in which he warned that American Muslims were engaged in a “stealth jihad” to place the country under the control of “sharia,” or Islamic law.
Breivik cited Gaffney and Horowitz a total of nine times in his manifesto.
False-flag conspiracy theories
Gaffney, for his part, hosted Halvorssen on the 22 April 2013 edition of Secure Freedom Radio show, introducing him as “a remarkable man I’ve had the privilege of knowing for a long time.”
Asked by Gaffney about the recent Boston Marathon bombing, allegedly perpetrated by the Chechen-American brothers Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev, Halvorssen suggested Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to exploit the bombings. Putin, he said, sought to distract from “a legitimate government-in-exile” that “wants to look to the West” — a clear reference to the exiled Chechen politician Akhmed Zakayev, whom Halvorssen hosted at the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2009.
Gaffney asked Halvorssen, “Did he [Putin] have something to do with this attack in Boston — that he was running Tamerlan Tsarnaev?”
“I have questions about it, Frank,” Halvorssen stated in an emphatic tone. “I have serious questions.” With his answer, Halvorssen demonstrated a readiness to indulge wild conspiracy theories that fit his political agenda.
Halvorssen’s hard-right libertarian supporter
Rounding out the small stable of major donors to Human Rights Foundation is Peter Thiel, who contributed $535,000 to Halvorssen’s group through his personal foundation from 2007 to 2011.
Thiel earned his fortune as a venture capitalist, helping to found Paypal and investing in Facebook. He is also a right-wing libertarian ideologue who declared, as reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2012, “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” Thiel went on to blame the extension of voting rights to women for “hav[ing] rendered the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron.”
Besides Halvorssen’s pet human rights project, Thiel has financed the notorious and now-discredited ACORN video sting by right-wing filmmaker James O’Keefe.
A February 2012 profile of Thiel published by Mark Ames in The Nation noted that the libertarian billionaire “co-authored an anti-affirmative action book, The Diversity Myth: Multiculturalism and Political Intolerance on Campus — a book that belittles ‘imaginary oppressors’ of minorities, blames homophobia on homosexuals and attacks domestic partnerships.”
Halvorssen presented Thiel with an award at the 2010 libertarian film festival, Libertopia, hailing him for “revolutioniz[ing] the monetary system.” The following year, he invited Thiel to speak at the Oslo Freedom Forum.
“I support the Human Rights Foundation and the Oslo Freedom Forum because their focus on dissidents engages the intellectual debate as well as the moral cause,” he remarked to the website The Street (“Peter Thiel Urges Investing in Human Rights,” 20 June 2011).
In response to questions about the Human Rights Foundation’s acceptance of support from Scaife, Thiel and other major donors of Islamophobic and ultra-conservative causes such as the Bradley Foundation, Halvorssen gave this statement to The Electronic Intifada:
Any donation or grant accepted by HRF is done with a categorical understanding that the foundation is free to research and investigate regardless of where such investigations may lead or what conclusions HRF may reach. We encourage funding from anyone who cares about human freedom. This does not mean HRF endorses the views or opinions of its donors. In plain language: We are grateful, privileged and proud that we receive support, as this ultimately means that our mission is being endorsed. This does not, however, mean we agree [with] the views of those who support us. Likewise, some donors on this list may ultimately disagree with the decisions and public statements of HRF. Their inclusion on this list in no way implies that they agree with all of HRF’s positions or activities.
While Halvorssen takes a relaxed view about the activities of his principal funders, he has different standards for where others should get their money.
When actors Hilary Swank and Jean-Claude Van Damme accepted payments to be celebrity guests at the birthday party of Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Russian puppet regime in Chechnya, Halvorssen denounced them. “Hilary Swank obviously has the right to earn a living entertaining the highest bidder, but this sort of venality should be exposed,” he said. “We must remember the disgrace of Mariah Carey, Nelly Furtado, Beyoncé and 50 Cent [who] were exposed … singing for Gaddafi’s family and earning millions of dollars for it” (“Hilary Swank, Van Damme slammed for attending Chechen president party,” Digital Spy UK, 11 October 2011).
As for libertarian ideologue Thiel, Halvorssen wrote to The Electronic Intifada: “Peter Thiel is not just a donor, I consider him a personal friend. … Peter’s devotion to human rights, education and nonviolence are extraordinary. We are thrilled to have him as a donor and as a former speaker at [Oslo Freedom Forum].”
This year, the Thiel Foundation is listed as a main supporter of Halvorssen’s forum.
Norwegian government, Amnesty respond
The Electronic Intifada shared some of the information about the Human Rights Foundation’s donors with Ragnhild Imerslund, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs communications chief and spokesperson for Foreign Minister Eide.
Imerslund acknowledged that the Norwegian government has provided 800,000 Norwegian kroner ($138,000) to pay for “participation by Human Rights Defenders from the Global South to the Oslo Freedom Forum 2013,” which she called “an important arena for discussing human rights issues.”
Regarding the donors to the Forum’s producer and creator, Imerslund said only, “Questions regarding sources of funding for the Human Rights Foundation should be directed to them.”
Similarly, Gerald Kador Folkvord, Political Advisor to Amnesty International Norway, wrote that “To the best of our knowledge, none of the sponsors of the Oslo Freedom Forum (mind you, it’s the Forum we are concerned with; who might or might not support the organization Human Rights Foundation outside the Forum does not really concern us as we have no other dealings with them) has been involved in activities undermining human rights so seriously that we couldn’t be part of an event they are sponsoring.”
“The Sarah Scaife Foundation is not listed among the sponsors of the Oslo Freedom Forum,” Amnesty’s Folkvord added. “When it comes to their support, if any, to The Human Rights Foundation, the latter would have to answer for that.”
Folkvord said that Amnesty had paid for one “human rights defender” to travel to Oslo and, “with the other organizations involved, Amnesty participated in discussions around the program of the Oslo Freedom Forum and suggested issues and speakers.”
The Electronic Intifada asked both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Amnesty how they thought members of the Norwegian public would respond to the fact that the Human Rights Foundation — the producer and originator of the Oslo Freedom Forum — counted among its most generous supporters the same donors that sustain the Islamophobic activists cited by Breivik as inspirations. Neither offered a reply.
The right connections
So how did Halvorssen manage to secure funding from Norwegian government sources? And why are government officials so dismissive when presented with evidence that he is simultaneously supported by rightist forces propagating religious bigotry?
A 26 November 2010 report in Norway’s daily Klassekampen offers some possible answers (“Gir millioner til sine egne”).
According to the paper, the Oslo city council increased funding for Halvorssen’s Oslo Freedom Forum in 2010 while slashing social spending amid a worsening financial situation. Leading the effort to ramp up public funding of the human rights forum was a politician from the Liberal Party named Ola Elvestuen — the brother of Per Elvestuen.
And who is Per Elvestuen? As Klassekampen revealed, he has been listed as a “coordinator” and “director” of the Oslo Freedom Forum. He is also is a board member of Ny Tid, the magazine owned by Halvorssen and a spokesman for the Halvorssen-owned Hunter Media Inc.
Thanks to a tangled web of high-level connections and an apparent case of nepotism, the Oslo Freedom Forum has thrived.
Fortunate son of Venezuela’s elite
Halvorssen is the scion of an oligarchic Venezuelan family closely linked to the political opposition that formed against recently deceased former President Hugo Chavez. His mother, Hilda Mendoza Denham, a direct descendant of Venezuela’s first two presidents, is a member of one of her country’s most influential clans.
Halvorssen’s father, also named Thor Halvorssen, was a wealthy heir who gained control over Venezuela’s telecommunications monopoly. In 1989, then-President Carlos Andres Perez appointed Halvorssen Sr. as Venezuela’s “anti-drug ambassador.” That same year, President Perez’s government was responsible for committing one of the worst massacres in modern times: up to 3,000 persons were killed protesting President Perez’s harsh International Money Fund-imposed austerity program (“Victims of Venezuela’s Caracazo clashes reburied,” BBC News, 21 February 2011).
Halvorssen Sr. is reported to have helped expose the secret bank accounts his longtime friend Perez used to embezzle public money, allegedly earning the wrath of the president and his inner circle.
As Perez sought to fend off scrutiny and an electoral challenge, a series of bombs exploded around Caracas. Halvorssen Sr. was immediately arrested and accused of orchestrating a terrorist plot to manipulate the Venezuelan stock market. He was imprisoned under harsh conditions and only freed after 74 days thanks in part to intervention from Amnesty International.
With his father cleared of all charges, Halvorssen Jr. refers to him today as a former “political prisoner,” describing him as the force that helped inspire his interest in human rights. But there was another side to the elder Halvorssen that was wrapped in intrigue and which remains shrouded in mystery.
Besides his role as a businessman and government official, Halvorssen Sr. was a part-time spook who, according to a 19 November 1993 report by the Associated Press, “cooperated with the CIA” and “was used to funnel money to Nicaraguan Contra leader Eden Pastora” (“Trafficker, Alleged Terrorist Penetrated CIA, DEA in Venezuela”).
In her book Hostile Acts, journalist Martha Honey notes that Halvorssen Sr. served during the early 1980s as president of the Committee in Defense of Democracy in Nicaragua, a CIA front group “used to rally regional public opinion against the Sandinistas …” (p. 237).
A 29 November 1993 article by US News and World Report describes Halvorssen Sr. as a “CIA source” and notes that he was also a US Drug Enforcement Agency informant at the time, but that the agency eventually cut him loose, citing his tendency towards “duplicity and manipulation.” According to the report, Halvorssen Sr. “had unusual ties to and knowledge of drug traffickers” (“At play in the fields of the spies”).
Just as the father retreated from the international scene, the son began to make his name.
Anti-feminist, anti-environmentalist, anti-Arab
In a 2010 interview with Klassekampen, Halvorssen said, “Personally, I am no right-wing ideologue, as some have described me. I’m liberal. Period” “Jeg er liberalist”). He described himself in the same terms to The Electronic Intifada.
But a look at the early stages of Halvorssen’s career, which he spent as a conservative operative combating gay rights initiatives, feminism and multiculturalism on US college campuses, suggests otherwise.
Like his father, Halvorssen enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania. He first gained notice in 1994, when he authored a guest commentary for The Daily Pennsylvanian demanding that prospective students be warned before applying to the school that “it may be deadly to live in West Philadelphia,” the mostly African-American area surrounding Penn’s campus.
As editor of the conservative student magazine Red and Blue, Halvorssen courted controversy when the magazine ran a November 1994 column called “One Man’s Vision of Haiti” that was illustrated with a sketch of a voodoo doll. “To the best of my knowledge,” the article’s author wrote, “the only imports from Haiti we have in this country are exiled dictators and cab drivers.”
The article’s publication stirred the outrage of African Americans and Haitians on campus, eventually prompting Penn administrators to temporarily withdraw school funding from Red and Blue. For Halvorssen, the incident crystallized his sense that conservatives on campus were an oppressed minority.
He emerged after college as the executive director of a newfangled right-wing group called FIRE, or the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, defending evangelical students against charges of anti-gay discrimination and combating hate crimes legislation.
FIRE has been funded by two right-wing foundations that also support Halvorssen’s human rights mini-empire: the Sarah Scaife Foundation and the John Templeton Foundation, an evangelical outfit directed by John Templeton Jr., a veteran right-wing activist who has donated more than $1 million to ban same-sex marriage in California. In 2009, HRF noted that the Oslo Freedom Forum “was made possible in large part thanks to a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation.”
Right-wing campus operations
Halvorssen also found work at the time as a program director for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, another prominent right-wing campus operation. Under his direction, the group condemned the establishment of a women’s studies program at Yale University, complaining in an 1 April 1998 press release that the program “delves into the most radical issues of militant feminism and homosexuality while completely ignoring traditional female roles.”
Halvorssen’s political empire expanded with his founding of the Moving Picture Institute, a libertarian film company that produced “Mine Your Own Business.” Financed by a Canadian mining company, the film was promoted as “the world’s first anti-environmentalist documentary” (“A Maverick Mogul, Proudly Politically Incorrect,” The New York Times, 19 August 2007). The Moving Picture Institute received more than $300,000 through Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust from 2005 through 2011, according to those organizations’ IRS filings.
Next, Halvorssen oversaw the making of a 2007 documentary called Indoctrinate U (the entire film is on YouTube). The film features an amateur conservative filmmaker named Evan Coyne Maloney wandering around campuses attempting to interrogate befuddled school administrators and poking fun at feminist students who had established women’s centers on their campuses.
Towards the end of Indoctrinate U, Daniel Pipes and ultra-Zionist scholar Martin Kramer surface as talking heads, warning that Arab donors have been stealthily guiding the anti-American agenda of university departments.
Kramer also appears on the pages of Breivik’s manifesto making remarkably similar statements: the killer quotes him attacking the Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said and complaining that “academics were so preoccupied with ‘Muslim Martin Luthers’ that they never got around to producing a single serious analysis of bin Laden and his indictment of America.”
Campaign for Venezuela regime change
In 2004, Venezuela’s US-backed political opposition lost a hard-fought 2004 referendum aimed at recalling Chavez, whom it considered illegitimate from the start. The voting results were certified by former US President Jimmy Carter’s Carter Center as “reflect[ing] the will of the Venezuelan electorate.” According to the Carter Center, “balloting day was conducted in an environment virtually absent of any violence or intimidation.”
However, at an earlier opposition protest rally demanding Chavez’s ouster, Halvorssen’s mother was shot and wounded, allegedly by a Chavez loyalist.
It was then that Halvorssen claimed to realize that “defending [college] students’ rights while there were people in Venezuela being shot for disagreeing with the government” was “a little absurd” (“My dinner with Thor,” The Pennsylvania Gazette, March-April 2008).
He embarked on an international campaign for regime change in Venezuela, with his Human Rights Foundation leading the way.
In 2005, Halvorssen took to the neoconservative Weekly Standard to paint Chavez as an anti-Semitic dictator seeking to establish a “resistance bloc” that placed the US, Europe and Israel in grave danger. Halvorssen called for “democratic alternatives to Chavez,” describing him as a key supporter of “terrorist groups in South America and terror sponsors in the Middle East.”
That same year, Halvorssen appeared as a guest on the radical right-wing televangelist Pat Robertson’s television program The 700 Club. A week before hosting Halvorssen, Robertson had urged the US to “take him [Chavez] out,” declaring, “if he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it.”
When Robertson denied calling for Chavez’s assassination — an obvious falsehood — Halvorssen leaped in to defend his host. “The person who began this, who started the concept of assassination for political reasons, was in fact Hugo Chavez, and his foreign minister is a former guerrilla terrorist,” Halvorssen told Robertson. “They basically have no standing to criticize anyone who made remarks that like — you know, that were misinterpreted, like the ones you made.”
Halvorssen’s obsession with overthrowing Chavez deepened after the president was re-elected. In 2008, Halvorssen railed against the actor and film producer Danny Glover in an editorial for Fox News, accusing him of “coddling Chavez” for accepting financing from the Venezuelan government for two films in development. He went on to accuse Hollywood supporters of Chavez of providing “a terrific boost” to the morale of Palestinian “terrorists.” The source for Halvorssen’s unusual claim was Aaron Klein, a writer for the far-right conspiracy site WorldNetDaily (“Hollywood A-Listers Prove Ignorance in Supporting Hugo Chavez,” 31 March 2008).
Venezuelan terror-sympathizer hired by Human Rights Foundation
Also in 2008, Halvorssen’s Human Rights Foundation hired Aleksander Boyd, a Venezuelan opposition representative based in London. Boyd was a notorious promoter of terrorism against Venezuela’s elected government, having written the following on his website:
“I wish I could decapitate in public plazas [Venezuelan politicians] Lina Ron and Diosdado Cabello. I wish I could torture for the rest of his remaining existence Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel … I wish I could fly over Caracas slums throwing the dead bodies of the criminals that have destroyed my country … Only barbaric practices will neutralize them, much the same way [Genghis] Khan did. I wish I was him.” He later declared, “Re: advocating for violence yes I have mentioned in many occasions that in my view that is the only solution left for dealing with Chavez” (“Friends in low places,” The Guardian, 1 September 2007).
When the Norwegian magazine Manifest criticized Halvorssen’s hiring of Boyd in a 12 May 2010 exposé, Halvorssen responded, “We knew of his comments before we hired Boyd and asked him about these comments and he stated, plainly, that it was an entry in his dream diary that was online.” He added that Boyd left the Human Rights Foundation in 2009.
In 2010, Halvorssen invited his first cousin, the Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, to speak at the Oslo Freedom Forum. Lopez, the Harvard-educated mayor of a wealthy district in Caracas, was among the politicians who signed as witnesses in the new government after Chavez was briefly ousted in the failed US-backed coup in 2002.
Lopez is the son of a former oil executive — Halvorssen’s aunt — who allegedly funnelled profits from the state-run oil company into his new political party, leading to corruption charges that placed his political ambitions in peril, as the Associated Press reported in February (“Leopoldo Lopez, Opponent Of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Faces Corruption Charges In Venezuela”).
Described by the US embassy in Venezuela as “vindictive, and power-hungry” but also as “a necessity,” Lopez received large sums of financial support from the US government-funded National Endowment for Democracy.
At the 2009 Oslo Freedom Forum, Lopez was a presented as a “human rights leader,” appearing at an event that had been graced by Nobel Prize recipient Elie Wiesel and Nobel nominee Vaclav Havel. He stirred his audience with lofty rhetoric about peace, democracy and the coming wave of freedom, casting the Venezuelan opposition as “David against Goliath.” “We know that we will overcome,” Lopez proclaimed, “we know that change will come in Venezuela.”
Noting that Lopez’s appearance at the Oslo Freedom Forum was covered far more heavily in Venezuelan media than in Oslo, where it was virtually ignored, Manifest accused Halvorssen of using his human rights confab for the purpose of “whitewashing Leopoldo Lopez … to establish a real contender for the Venezuelan presidency.”
The magazine described the Oslo Freedom Forum as a cleverly crafted “Washing Machine.”
The burden of knowing
Are those who gathered on stage at the human rights “Davos” being used to whitewash the ulterior political agenda of an ambitious conservative operative with ties to sectarian plutocrats and conspiratorial Islamophobes? Do they know about Halvorssen’s real history, about his funders and friends among America’s far-right? Most may not.
Unfortunately for the Norwegian Foreign Ministry and Amnesty International, they are not among those with the luxury of pleading ignorance.
Presented with the revelations uncovered by The Electronic Intifada, they dismissed them as immaterial, and even irrelevant. In a city still scarred by Breivik’s rampage, it is hard to imagine that these facts could be so easily washed away.
Ali Abunimah contributed research to this article.
Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author.