In its 2022/2023 report, the Swedish Security Service expresses strong concern that more citizens will lose confidence in the institutions of the Swedish state and in political decision-making in general.
The tone is high, and it goes so far as to warn of “anti-state messages” – something it traces not to well-founded popular discontent, but to “foreign influence operations” and “violent extremist agendas”.
Based on its report, the agency says, among other things, that it sees a risk that confidence among citizens in the social order in Sweden is becoming increasingly faltering.
– The Security Service is seeing an increase in the spread of conspiracy theories and anti-state messages. In the long term, this risks undermining confidence in the institutions of society, political decision-making and the legitimacy of the state. This development means that the agendas of foreign powers and violent extremists are increasingly converging, says Charlotte von Essen, head of the Security Service, in a press release.
The explanation for this, the security service believes, is “operations from Russia” and what it describes as “other authoritarian states” such as China and Iran – as well as “violent extremists” who “engage in subversive activities in the form of infiltration and influence” where “the broader, long-term threat to democracy is becoming increasingly prominent”.
Under the heading “Resilience in a troubled world”, von Essen links the “spread of conspiracy theories and anti-state messages” with “violent extremist ideology”,
“In recent years, we have also seen the consequences of subversive activities, for example in the storming of the Capitol in the US and the events in Brazil and Germany“, she continues – adding that work must be done to “protect fundamental democratic values”.
Under the heading “Threats to democracy when trust in society is undermined”, the Swedish Security Service reiterates its assessment that “extreme ideas and anti-state narratives have taken hold in a broader social stratum” in a way that it sees as “threatening to security”.
– Conspiracy theories in themselves are not criminal, and resistance to the establishment has almost always existed. But they do spread a narrative that can contribute to an erosion of trust in society and its institutions. This in turn can threaten security, says Fredrik Hallström, Head of Counterterrorism and Constitutional Protection at the Swedish Security Service.
Hallström argues that “the traditional threat of attacks” certainly still exists – but that democracy now also faces a “broader threat” in the form of what he describes as “subversive activities” and “infiltration” whose aim, he says, is to “further increase the division in society”.
Susanna Trehörning, deputy head of counter-terrorism and constitutional protection at the Swedish Security Service, says that the agency finds it difficult to know “who is a violent extremist” and “who is just expressing themselves in an extreme way” because, it explains, “extreme thoughts and expressions have become normalized and to some extent accepted” among the Swedish population.