Breivik Turns His Trial Into a Platform For His Right-Wing Extremism

Read just a little of the proceedings of the trial of Anders Behring Breivik — the Norwegian who killed eight in a car bomb in Oslo last July before shooting 69 people, mostly teenagers, at a left-wing political youth retreat on the island of Utoya — and you may well wonder why on earth are his heavily rationalized right-wing, Islamophobic, extremist, ramblings being given a platform for the ten weeks of his trial, with the families of many of the victims right in the courtroom.

Breivik’s Trial

Today is the fourth day of Breivik’s trial. Among the things he has said so far: He  prefers execution over a jail term (which would be limited to 21 years under Norwegian law). He “trained” for the attacks using the computer game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. His original plans included beheading Norway’s former Labor prime minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland, while filming the execution on his iPhone. He actually intended to set off three car bombs in Oslo and then drive around the city on a motorbike shooting people until he was killed; he was “forced” (as he says) to shoot his victims because Norwegian and EU regulations made it difficult for him to obtain enough materials for making bombs.  He cried when the propaganda film he made was shown to the court on Monday, the first day of the trial.

It turns out that Breivik has an American penpal, 23-year-old Kevin Forts of Massachusetts, who has told the Norwegian network VGTV that  he wanted to donate to Breivik’s legal team and decided not to after learning that the funds are being donated to families of the victims.

Should Brevik receive a maximum sentence of 21 years, he will spend it in a cell that sounds a bit more like an above-average (at least) college dorm room, with “mint-green walls and IKEA-style furniture in varnished natural wood” and “a flat-screen TV, a private bath, and a large unbarred window.”

Could Brevik’s Public Statements Actually Be “Damaging” to Right-Wing Extremists?

I live in northern New Jersey where nearly every community, however large or small, has a memorial to 9/11 victims. To many here, everything about Breivik’s trial is unfathomable. Many would argue that allowing a mass murderer to go on and on about his unspeakable, morally repugnant acts of violence and hate is giving in to Breivik, setting him in the public spotlight in just the way he was hoping for.

Writing in The Atlantic, Max Fisher argues that the U.S. could learn a thing or two from Norway’s trial of Breivik. Fisher compares the U.S.’s decision to try Khelid Sheikh Mohammed, the “September 11 mastermind,” not in a courtroom in New York city but in a military trial at the Guantanamo Bay military detention facility. Is it possible, asks Fisher, that trying KSM in New York “might have actually damaged KSM’s ideological message, rather than furthering it”?:

…rather than sparking a far-right-extremist renaissance, or inspiring a new generation of Breivik acolytes across northern Europe, his public rantings appear to be having the opposite effect. European white nationalist movements, of which Breivik represents an extreme fringe, have been on the rise of years,gaining political power and, whether deliberately or not, inspiring violence. But the popular backlash against Breivik has put them on the defensive. Far-right such as the English Defence League, with which Breivik had some indirect contact, are suffering as Breivik reveals their disturbing ideological overlaps. When far-right parties held a mass rally in Denmark earlier this month, opposing protesters actually outnumbered them.

An editorial in the Guardian says that, while the trial is too-clearly  revealing Breivik’s “wickedly calculated” courtroom strategy,

.. Norway has refused to rise to Breivik’s provocation. There is nothing that fanatics who see themselves as warriors want more than to provoke an over-reaction. That was the mistake that the United States made after 9/11. Even though Breivik’s acts are abnormal and abhorrent, Norway has rightly put him on trial in the normal way, has emphasised that he has rights, and has allowed him to have his say in court, however painful that may be. This is absolutely the correct way to assert the strength of democracy and the rule of law in the face of acts of terror of all kinds.

Norway’s response to Breivik’s atrocities is to see these as a “challenge to the rule of law” that “must be met with an assertion of the rule of law,” rather than by declaring something like “war.”

Crime and Capital Punishment

Fisher also points out that the death penalty is banned in Norway, as it is in most of the developed world (excluding the U.S.). The American justice system focuses on “retribution, which is popular but not effective,” with more than half of U.S. convicts ending up back in jail within two years. Capital punishment is popular in U.S. opinion polls but, says Fisher, “expensive and ineffective at deterring crime.”

With all this said, idealizing the Norwegian justice system and society certainly carries its own hazards. Two days after the massacre, Norway’s prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg said at a memorial service for the victims that “Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity.” John Olav Egeland, a columnist and former editor of the newspaper Dagbladet, says in the Guardian that “There have been, as far as I can see, no political suggestions on how to expand ‘democracy, openness, and humanity’,” but rather “‘more security and more safety’” in the form of barricades around some government buildings and 200 additional police officers — a crackdown, though minimal in relation to how other governments might response.

Should a mass murderer like Breivik be given the legal treatment and platform that Norway has allotted him? Could allowing a right-wing extremist to speak so freely really be an antidote to the spread of xenophobia, Islamophobia and hate?

Related Care2 Coverage

Anders Breivik’s Father Considered Suicide

Norway Mass Murderer Not “Psychotic,” Say Psychiatrists

Prison Without Bars Reminds Us We Can Change Entrenched Systems

Photo by Rødt nytt


Bonnie m.
Bonnie mutchler5 years ago

I have been so pleased with Norway's response to this terrible tragedy. No laws have been enacted to take away their rights, no "war" was declared, no "town hall meetings" where people whined and begged to be stripped of their rights as long as they were safe. I don't know what has happened to America. I am often ashamed of being an American when I talk to my international friends

David L.
David L5 years ago

The heading for this thread should have read : "Breivnick TRIES to turn his trial into a platform..."

* He has no actual organisations (they only exist in HIS mind..);

* He has no followers (trolls and spammers don't count..);

* He hasn't added anything new nor of any substance to the bigoted neo-nazi, fascist, KKK, white supremacist stupidities and inanities that are already out there in abundance..

People don't HAVE to listen to any of the nonsense and drivel he keeps muttering.

Ellen Mccabe
Ellen m5 years ago

He should have never lived long enough to get off that Island much less make it to trial.

KS Goh
KS Goh5 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Luvenia V.
Luvenia V5 years ago

911 was an EXCUSE to start a war which lead to another war. War was a solution that has NOT worked but it has gained us many enemies we did NOT have before. Maybe it is time to pay attention to other countries that do not make most of their money off of war and death.

Lisa Schröder
Lisa Schröder5 years ago

I'm beyond humbled and proud of Norway. I'm in awe of Breivik's defence attorney, who took this job, urged by his family, because he wanted to make a truly democratic impact.
I'm also so impressed with all the internet active Norwegians, who continue to reply to online comments urging for violence and hate with calmness and dignity. Well done, Norway.

Troy G.
Troy Grant5 years ago

In treating the insane, Norway leads the way to a sane society

Sue Jones
Sue Jones5 years ago

I don't know if he fits legal definitions of insane or not, but anyone who is so antisocial is not fit for life in society. There is no way he should ever be allowed to be on the streets ever again.

Robert Ludwig
Robert Ludwig5 years ago

"Fisher also points out that the death penalty is banned in Norway, as it is in most of the developed world (excluding the U.S.)." The writer could have stopped at "developed world."

I've been saying for years now that we should close Guantanamo and either try those people in a real court of law, or release them. This pseudo-justice gulag we're running damages us and gives aid and comfort to our enemies. It legitimizes their cause, and delegitimizes ours.

Thom Loveless
Thom Loveless5 years ago

'.....why on earth are his heavily rationalized right-wing, Islamophobic, extremist, ramblings being given a platform for the ten weeks of his trial(?).....'

Simple really. Because that is how a democratic system of justice works. Unpalatable certainly, appalling painful for the survivors for sure, but that is the way the majority of Norwegians want it and I, for one, think they are right. In this case the (untelevised) publicity acts as a sober reminder of the damage people with dangerous views can cause.