Knights Templar: In Mexico, like Norway, criminals look to past for legitimacy

The attacker in Norway and a Mexican drug ring both invoke the ancient Knights Templar to describe themselves. Why do violent ideologues and criminals search the past for inspiration?

In this photo taken July 14, white robes with Maltese crosses, guns, munitions and Knights Templar paraphernalia are shown to the press after being seized by the Mexican army near the town of Santa Gertrudis, Mexico. The Templar Knights, a new drug cartel that was created after it splintered from the La Familia cartel last March, has issued a code-of-conduct booklet for members saying it is fighting a war against tyranny and injustice.

Mexico's newest criminal organizations, the Knights Templar, issued a "code of conduct" that included moral standards while also justifying the use of lethal force. The KT appears to be an offshoot of La Familia, another group that followed a cult-like ideology as it simultaneously profited from criminal activity and engaged in significant violence in Michoacan (also see Global Post and Al Jazeera).

Over the weekend, it has come out that the killer in Norway's shocking massacre last week also considered himself a member of the Knights Templar. He claims that a group of nine individuals met a decade ago to refound the organization. His manifesto calls for the organization to "seize political and military control of Western European countries and implement a cultural conservative political agenda."

Did an 800-year-old organization inspire violence on two continents this week? I doubt anyone thinks these two groups are linked. It's just a coincidence that they use the same name. Yet, it raises the question of what makes violent ideologues and criminals search the past for inspiration? And what makes two groups so far apart find that inspiration in the Knights Templar?

I've touched on the political ideology of Mexico's criminal organizations previously. They do try to impact politics, but the main political goals are usually to have freedom of movement and action, avoiding arrest by the authorities. Still, La Familia and Knights Templar do claim an ideology beyond the freedom to be criminals, claiming to impose a moral authority and set of rules on the regions they control. The Zetas, on the other side, have engaged in violent acts that don't appear to match their criminal goals and hint at a dark view of their role in Mexico and the world. Analysts question whether these groups legitimately follow their "ideologies" or if they are a false cover to grant some form of political legitimacy to criminal operations.

The Mexican Knights Templar code of conduct appears to be a false appeal to Mexico's citizens. By promising to stand up for poor and the oppressed, they take a page from the FARC's book in claiming to fight for economic justice while really cashing in on criminal actions. Their rule to use violence in only certain cases doesn't stand up to the brutal and seemingly senseless killings that they have committed in the past month.

As for the guy in Norway, his nationalistic and anti-Muslim views are part of a very disturbed and violent mind. The Knights Templar label is a failed attempt to grant historical legitimacy to a violent act that truly has no justification.

--- James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant based in Managua, Nicaragua, who runs Bloggings by Boz.

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