Manifesto evokes blurry line between myth and reality of Knights Templar
Anders Breivik's purported manifesto says he is a member of a new order of the Knights Templar.
July 28th, 2011
09:49 PM ET

Manifesto evokes blurry line between myth and reality of Knights Templar

“Perfect Knight I have always strived to be.”

Anders Breivik supposedly wrote those words in his diary last winter. Breivik admitted killing 76 people in a bombing and shooting rampage in Norway last week, his lawyer said.

CNN could not independently verify that the diary, titled "2083: A European Declaration of Independence," was written by Breivik, 32.

According to the diary, he's a warrior on a quest to save Europe from Muslim colonization. Breivik wants the world to know he is a member of a new order of the Knights Templar, the medieval order that protected Christian pilgrims from Muslims in the Christian holy land between the 12th and 14th centuries.

Breivik wrote that the new order is devoted to fighting against the influx of Muslims and non-Europeans to the West.

The cover of the manifesto and the medals he forged for his fake military uniform have the sign of the Templars, a blood red cross on a white background.

Scotland Yard and experts on right-wing extremism don’t rule out there might be such a modern-day group named for the Knights Templar. But they have no evidence of it, other than what Breivik has said.

Click to hear story from CNN Radio's Libby Lewis:

Historian Paul Crawford has devoted his career to understanding the real Knights Templar. He doesn’t make the real Knights Templar out to be gods or heroes.

“The Knights Templar were human beings. Sometimes they were heroic and virtuous and sometimes they were unheroic and sordid. That’s the way it is to be a human being.”

But he says the real Knights Templar weren't haters.

“Most people joined the Templars as an act of love. That strikes the modern mind as very odd. We don’t think of people going off to war out of love. They were following a commandment of Jesus in the New Testament. He said, ‘Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’”

In the 12th century, the very idea was new: a religious order of knights to shield Christians from Muslims in Israel, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon during the Christian Crusades and prevent the spread of Islam.

From this ideal of devotion, the Knights Templar grew into a wealthy, hugely powerful order in the medieval world - only to dissolve within 200 years.

They broke up in 1307 after the King of France leveled a flood of charges against them: charges that Knights spit on the cross and engaged in sodomy, charges so sordid that Pope Clement V felt compelled to abandon the Templar.

Until their name arose in the manifesto last week, the real Knights Templar have lived mainly in the world of scholars like Crawford and British historian Malcolm Barber. But the mythic Knights Templar are a different matter.

The myths of the Templar are woven into films, books and TV series such as the "Indiana Jones" movies, "The Da Vinci Code" and "The Last Templar." They have taken root in popular consciousness in fiction and film, as a secret society that held the Holy Grail, or as a mysterious group with secret knowledge of Jesus.

It leaves one wanting to know where all the myths sprang from.

Crawford says there are clues in history. For instance, the Knights Templars’ early base in Jerusalem was on the site of Solomon’s Temple.

The space is sacred to all three major religions - and King Solomon has his own hold on popular imaginations.

"Solomon had the reputation of being one of the wisest men who ever lived and in Arabic mythology he’s supposed to be the person who could put demons and genies in bottles," Crawford says. "Maybe somebody thought if you lived on the site where he used to be, you would pick up some of that by osmosis."

Then there was the wealth the Templars amassed from those devout Christians who donated money and property to the order. The Templars also held money and property for nobles and wealthy members in a kind of banking system.

“What people saw at the time was a vast network of Templar properties across Western Europe. They saw them absorbing vast amounts of money and resources, and then they kept getting bad news from the Latin East -– the Muslims kept winning and the Christians kept losing. That did generate some ill will towards the Templars," Crawford says.

There's also the story of the lost treasure of the Templars on Cyprus. No one knows where it went or why it went missing.

So, there is plenty of fodder for legend and myth and for wayward men like Breivik.

Crawford says he doesn’t know why Breivik was drawn to the Templars. But he says Breivik grossly misunderstood what the Templars were about.

"I don’t know of any instance when they engaged in terrorism against unarmed populations. If they needed to oppose Islam, they did it on the battlefield. And they had respectful relations with their Muslim neighbors as human beings, when they could."

But that, of course, is history. And the power of the Knights Templar lies in the empty spaces of history –- spaces that impressionable men and film directors can draw on forever.

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Filed under: Crime • Norway
soundoff (170 Responses)
  1. beckster

    If you're going to declare war against Muslims then kill Muslims. How does it make any sense to kill non-Muslim kids? Dumb-ass. Too bad he can only get 21 years in prison.

    July 29, 2011 at 7:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Aeromechanic.

      I agree.

      July 29, 2011 at 7:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Anthony

      He killed non Muslims for treason against Europe for supporting multiculturalism – He is a nationalist.

      July 29, 2011 at 8:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Jeremiah

      If by "nationalist" you mean he is a fascist, then you are right. But don't sugarcoat it by saying "nationalist".

      July 29, 2011 at 8:41 am | Report abuse |
  2. michaelfury

    He slaughtered scores of defenseless children. Some "perfect knight".

    July 29, 2011 at 7:38 am | Report abuse |
  3. michaelfury

    July 29, 2011 at 7:39 am | Report abuse |
  4. Billy

    "the Knights Templar, the medieval order that protected Christian pilgrims from Muslims in the Christian holy land between the 12th and 14th centuries."

    Sounds like someone completely failed history and just used google for about 3 minutes instead.....

    July 29, 2011 at 7:58 am | Report abuse |
  5. asldehyde

    "[they] were not haters" does not belong in a news article

    hope this helps

    July 29, 2011 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
  6. Black Ops 4302 Templar Nerd Alert

    Oooohhh. Looks like he played y'all like a fiddle. LMAO Stupid Humans. 21 years...

    July 29, 2011 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
  7. db

    Unfortunately this was not the way to handle the Muslim movement into Western Europe. It should be handled peacefully within each government, enforced through government, and controlled by each government, not by individuals.

    July 29, 2011 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
  8. Beefburger

    This nutbar can't really be classified as a terrorist, he is just another crazy like the Unabomber. "Terrorists" are following a group ethic of spreading violence to induce fear, thus terror, ergo terrorist. One d0uchebag does not count as a group, nor is there much more to be afraid of since his sorry buttocks are incarcerated.

    July 29, 2011 at 8:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Jeremiah

      So to be a terrorist you need to be a member of a group? Thanks very much there, Mr. Webster, but it is the act, not the association, that makes one a terrorist.

      July 29, 2011 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
  9. Won

    We all know he was nuts. He played too much Assassins Creed. Duh. Also people in Norway are nice- we all know this. One issue is that they have small groups of white supremacists. They are a real disgusting bunch- just like anyother hate group. There will be no justification of his imagined motives. Why is the media trying so hard to demonstrate that he is a non Christian -more recently, non Templar guy? Why not report on hate groups in Norway? Who ever said that a knight had good intentions? They blindly raided cities seeking wealth. So now we are making our bloody past into a Walt Disney tale while pretending to point out this guy had it slightly wrong. He was a crazy killer end of story. Stop trying to re-educate us about our past.

    July 29, 2011 at 8:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Jeff Williams

      """Stop trying to re-educate us about our past."""

      People haven't been educated about this in the first place.

      """Who ever said that a knight had good intentions? They blindly raided cities seeking wealth."""

      Well, historians, as a group. The knights resulted as a response to Muslim aggression and acquisition of lands Christians found holy. The Muslims also blocked Christian pilgrimage routes and advanced in a couple waves of jihads through Southern Europe and northern Africa. Their advances were stopped only when they had entered France and at Vienna.

      Ever wonder why bin Laden chose September 11 to attack the US? Look up September 11, 1683 for a clue.

      July 29, 2011 at 8:28 am | Report abuse |
  10. db

    Ever notice that when it comes down to terrorists or terrorist based organizations it is the radicals on either side of Islam that are the root of it. I tend to beleive that the mainsteam of Islam, Christian, and Judiaism are all basically normal people that want to lead a peaceful life and be left alone. When you think of it according to their own beliefs they all decended from Abraham so they are all basically brothers under the eyes of God. Why does brother want to distroy the other brother, Cane vs: Able or something like that? Radicals in any group always have the muck it up for everyone else.

    July 29, 2011 at 8:27 am | Report abuse |
  11. Sheryl

    I admire the Knights Templar. A lot–i really can't tell you just how much.
    I have one regular client–lunch, Thursdays–who is a member of the new Knights Templar. I've seen his certificate.
    I play the role of Blanche Fleur, and he's Parsifal. I have to read some of Wagner's libretti–my German accent is a little flawed, but my client says it's just fine as long s I wear the white silk gown with ermine trim.

    July 29, 2011 at 8:35 am | Report abuse |
  12. Sheryl

    We call Thursdays a "worship service."
    The Grail part is my favorite.

    July 29, 2011 at 8:38 am | Report abuse |
  13. Kanno

    Has Libby picked up a book on the subject you think ? Or read anything about the Knights and what they were doing when they took jerusalem ? They killed men,women, and children. They killed both christians and muslims. I wish reporters were unable to report unless they did a little bit of research beforehand.

    July 29, 2011 at 8:42 am | Report abuse |
  14. Matthew Stockfleth

    Who is this historian? They attacked muslim caravans, started a war, The Templers are NOT a lilly white order of monks.

    July 29, 2011 at 8:45 am | Report abuse |
  15. SameNtheUS

    This story unfortunately is doomed to be played out in the US. How many reports have we seen about Americans having no grasp of history. How many supposed religious people spout false information about their supposed belief system. How long will it be before one of these misguided/ignorant/angry Americans acts on impetus from hate-filled media and political figures? My guess is that it will be sooner than later, and we will be having these same discussions about the US. What a tragedy.

    July 29, 2011 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
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