To watch Anders Breivik, in the news clips available of him in the Oslo court where he is being tried for mass murder, is to see a smile on the face of an animal much more terrifying than any beast: a human fanatic, whose own mental processes have produced a monstrous creature. That smile is so normal, appearing so naturally in his conversations with his defense lawyer Geir Lippestad. It seems almost…carefree. Indeed, Breivik does seem free from care. “I would say,” said Lippestad on Wednesday, in the precise and fluent English all Norwegians seem able to speak, that “he’s always in a good mood.”
Lippestad, who will likely never have another such shot at fame, will probably never again walk such a high wire. He must defend a man most of the world believes to be wholly indefensible and many in Norway know as one who murdered a relative, friend or acquaintance. He must accompany his client as he comes to court and gives his defiant, fist-out salute. Breivik has been asked to stop, but so far hasn’t. Lippestad is helpless in this matter, saying that “either he will or he won’t. There’s nothing that we can order him to do.” The Norwegian authorities are grimly determined that all the rules of a liberal order be followed: Lippestad, in a liberal society’s iconic (but hardly popular) role of the defender of a human horror, bears the brunt.
And he must argue, under instructions from his client, that he is sane. If he’s sane, he can get 21 years – the maximum sentence – and then, after he serves the sentence, there will be an argument (which Breivik may win) that he can be freed if he is judged no longer to be a danger to society. A judgment that he is insane could keep him in a secure medical facility for life, if that custody is constantly reimposed on three-year reviews. He has said: Give me liberty or give me death. He says the maximum sentence would be “absurd.” Norway has no death penalty: It is not about to invent one for him, even if many Norwegians would wish it (including one of the lay judges on the panel hearing the casecasec, who had to resign when he made this clear).
Breivik is instructing Lippestad to argue for his sanity because he wants the world to know that he acted consciously, logically, sanely – even, as he memorably argued earlier this week, out of “goodness” and “necessity” (the word was initially translated as “self-defense” but has since been corrected). “Necessity” in the sense Breivik wishes to convey is the needful protection of Norwegian – and European – society from Islam, from the ideology of multiculturalism that foists Islam on Christian societies, and from the agents of multiculturalism – in this case, the ruling Norwegian Labor Party, 69 of whose youth league members he killed on the island of Utøya on July 22, 2011. He would, he said, “do it again,” a claim that he must have seen as elevating his squalid massacre to the status of an opening battle in a long war over the forces that are destroying Europe.
Crazy, isn’t it? Even those who believe that immigration has been too high; who believe that Islamic extremism presents a constant and perhaps growing danger to the world, Europe included; who blame successive governments for policies that have too rapidly changed once largely mono-ethnic states into multicultural nations; who have whipped such feelings into a passion that leads them to join or to vote for parties of the far right – even they must feel that this is a diseased mind.