Norwegian reaction ranged from relief to disgust following confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik’s latest day in court. His appearance at a custody hearing, before an audience this time, seemed to confirm what his defense attorney has long called Breivik’s “altered sense of reality.”
The 32-year-old Norwegian who has admitted to bombing Norway’s government headquarters and carrying out a massacre on the island of Utøya offered a glimpse on Monday of how he’s living in a world of his own. “He has a completely different understanding of reality,” repeated Breivik’s defense lawyer, Geir Lippestad, who earlier claimed his client was “insane” but since has regretted that remark. “It’s his impression that both executions and torture are common things to use.”
Norwegian media outlets were full of reports on Tuesday about Breivik’s appearance at another custody hearing Monday that was the first one to be open to the public. In the courtroom were many survivors of his attacks and some said later that it was a relief to actually see him in Norway’s strongest form of police custody. Some said it helped them feel safer: One young survivor of the massacre on Utøya had noted that the last time he saw Breivik, he was marching around the island in his imitation police uniform, shooting people. Now the survivor has another mental image of Breivik, in civilian dress and at the mercy of the court.
Sondre Lindhagen Nilssen, another teenaged survivor from the coastal town of Kragerø, also said it helped to see Breivik. “He wasn’t as frightening,” Nilssen told Aftenposten.no. “I just saw a totally confused person who doesn’t have the faintest contact with reality.”
Commentators used adjectives like “calm, controlled,” even “confident” to describe Breivik, though, noting how his well-groomed imaged defied the bizarre statements that came out of his mouth. Newspaper Aftenposten published this version of his first statements in court:
“When two parties meet, it’s normal that both are allowed to present themselves,” Breivik began, speaking in a low monotone. “I have, until now, not had permission to do so. I will do so now. I am a military commander in the Norwegian resistance movement. And a Knight Chief Justice in the Knights Templar Norway and Knights Templar Europe.”
He then questioned the competence of Judge Torkjel Nesheim “because (the judge) has a mandate from organizations that support multi-culturalism in Norway. Multi-culturalism is an anti-Norwegian hate ideology designed to destruct the Norwegian ethnic group.” He got as far as adding that “destructing the Norwegian ethnic group is the same as ethnic cleansing…” before the judge cut him off, saying the court only wanted to hear from Breivik about his impressions of prison life.
Breivik later said he had no problems with the conditions of his custody, but said he “doesn’t accept” his imprisonment because he’s a “military commander.” He recommended Norwegian police look to Saudi Arabia for other “methods of torture.” The judge cut him off several times, refusing to allow Breivik to use the hearing as a “soapbox” to spread his beliefs. As reported earlier, his request to directly address survivors and victims’ families was denied.
Breivik was wearing a dark suit, shirt and tie, over what likely was a bullet-proof vest since now he’s the one fearing for his safety. Police clearly didn’t want to take any chances with an assassination attempt, given the high security around his transport and all the armed guards around him.
‘Dignified and orderly’
One of the many lawyers representing survivors and victims’ families, Siv Hallgren, told news bureau NTB that all her clients who attended the hearing felt it was the right thing to do. “It was okay to see the assailant and it was all very dignified and orderly,” Hallgren told NTB, adding that the hearing didn’t turn into the media circus many feared.
The head of the survivors’ support group didn’t agree, and most of the group’s members stayed away out of sheer disgust. One survivor, 20-year-old Bjørn Ihler, who was wounded by Breivik, however, had traveled over from college in Liverpool to attend the hearing. Ihler even wants to have a debate with Breivik, and doesn’t want to call him “a monster” as others have.
“Calling him a monster dehumanizes him and excuses, in a way, what he has done,” Ihler told Afternposten. “I look forward, actually, to meet a real person … and hear him say what he’s written. I want to meet him in an open debate as soon as possible.”
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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