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Monday, July 15, 2024

Pause in terror defense testimony

The ongoing trial of Norwegian terror defendant Anders Behring Breivik went into recess on Thursday, after several days of testimony from witnesses for the defense. Many let the court know that Breivik’s right-wing, anti-immigration views are not unique, but they also distanced themselves from Breivik’s terrorist attacks.

Terror defendant Anders Behring Breivik conferring with his defense attorney Geir Lippestad. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/Views and News

Few if any of them believed Breivik suffers from mental illness, but rather got so angry and frustrated over feelings of not being heard that he went on a rampage. Anti-Islamic commentator Ole Jørgen Anfindsen suggested there’s enormous anger among those who feel let down by community institutions that they also deeply mistrust.

Tore Tvedt, a neo-Nazi and leader of the right-wing extremist group Vigrid, called Norway itself a “terror state” where the white race is in the process of being wiped out by the Norwegian “power elite.” Dissidents like Breivik, he suggested, are created among those who feel persecuted by the so-called elite.

Arne Tumyr, the 79-year-old head of a group called “Stop Islamization of Norway,” complained about censorship by the established media of extremist right-wing views, or views that go against the consensus. He claimed Norway was a country lacking freedom of expression and assembly, and also criticized the court for not allowing the testimony of persons like himself to be broadcast live.

Breivik has supporters
Ronny Alte, former leader of the anti-Islamic Norwegian Defence League, testified that there are people who supported both Breivik’s views and his terrorist attacks, in which he bombed Norway’s government headquarters and then conducted a massacre at a Labour Party summer camp on the island of Utøya. The attacks killed 77 persons, most of them young ethnic Norwegians. Alte told the court, however, that he doesn’t think there are more than 100 of such supporters on a worldwide basis. The majority of the Islamic critics like Breivik did not support his terrorist acts.

The right-wing blogger who Breivik himself has claimed was a major source of inspiration, Peder Nøstvold Jensen, better known as “Fjordman,” objected to being called as a witness for Breivik’s defense and was dropped. Jensen has tried to distance himself as much as possible from Breivik, although they share many of the same views. In a recent e-mail exchange with newspaper Aftenposten this week, Jensen claimed he’s become a scapegoat in the case. Asked whether he distances himself from violence in the effort to remove Islam from western nations, he didn’t answer.

‘Political outsiders’
Several commentators referred to those called to testify by Breivik’s defense counsel “political outsiders” who feel they are social outcasts, silenced and misunderstood. But as Harald Stanghelle in newspaper Aftenposten wrote, it’s a political subculture that can’t be ignored. He cited philosopher Einar Øverenget, who cautioned in his testimony earlier this week that “it’s dangerous to diagnose political extremism” as a mental illness, “because it exists.” The main question facing the court in Breivik’s 10-week trial that began in April is whether he was sane or insane when he carried out his attacks. The first court-appointed psychiatrist’s report on the issue found him to be utilregnelig (insane) and therefore not criminally responsible for his actions.

Public outcry and professional debate led to another court-appointed report which arrived at the opposite conclusion, so it’s up to the court to decide whether Breivik should be jailed or committed to a psychiatric institution. Breivik himself has claimed nødrett, that he was acting out of necessity to save his country from immigrants and Islam, and wants to be declared sane.

Warnings against ‘diagnosing political ideology’
While many lay persons may claim Breivik is “crazy,” because of what he did, there’s a growing body of opinion that he must be held accountable for his actions and therefore be deemed sane. Siri Erika Gullestad, a professor of psychology at the University of Oslo, wrote in Aftenposten on Wednesday that just because an ideology may be extreme or strange, it doesn’t mean the person holding it is sick.

Diagnosing Breivik as insane would relieve him of responsibility for his acts, which he planned for years, while an insanity diagnosis also allows the court-appointed psychiatrists “to avoid taking right-wing radical ideas seriously, avoid having to try to understand the psychological, social and cultural conditions that have given us a right-wing terrorist.”

She thinks that’s dangerous: “We make the terrorist sick instead of taking up the political debate.” Breivik’s trial would continue on Friday with more testimony, from psychiatrists.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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