After being sentenced Friday to 21 years in prison for the July 22 attacks that killed 77 people in Norway, Anders Behring Breivik was asked how he wished to respond to the ruling. Did he wish to appeal? Did he want some time to think about it? Flanked by his attorneys, he shuffled some papers, pulled the microphone toward him, and denounced the proceedings.
"As I explained in my first statement to the court on April 16, I do not recognize this court as legitimate. I do not recognize this court as it has received its mandate from political parties that support multiculturalism.... The verdict is in my eyes illegitimate. At the same time, I cannot appeal the verdict, for to appeal would be to legitimize this court."
After a brief pause, Breivik continued: "I wish to end by expressing my regret. I express my regret to militant nationalists in Norway and Europe that I can no longer..." With that, Judge Wenche Arntzen angrily cut him off. If Breivik wished to speak to his followers, Arntzen would have none of it, turning to Brevik's lawyer instead to determine whether he wished to file an appeal. He did not, Brevik's attorney said.
And with that, Norway's trial of a century came to an end -- and Brevik won. The prosecution had asked the court to find Breivik insane, an argument the court rejected, and in a press conference after the trial proceedings, it was announced that the prosecution would not appeal the ruling. But Breivik got exactly what he wanted: to be pronounced mentally fit enough to be punished for actions he has never disavowed, not dismissed as a madman.
Though he denounced the court as illegitimate and did not recognize its authority, Breivik admitted to carrying out the attack that amounted to Norway's worst peacetime atrocity. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, one question kept being asked: "How could this happen in Norway?" What could possibly compel this blonde, blue-eyed Norwegian to carry out a grisly attack against his countrymen, most of whom were teenagers at a political summer camp on the idyllic island of Utoya? Surely, many argued, this must be the work of a lunatic, someone who has lost all grip on reality, someone who is deeply ill.
But Breivik has rejected that narrative, styling himself as a foot soldier in the fight against "multiculturalism," which he thinks represents a mortal threat to all that he considers good --Norway, Europe, Christendom. In this way, Breivik represents the utmost extreme of a radical right-wing ideology that has made significant gains in Europe over the past two decades. In Norway, its representative is Fremskrittspartiet -- the Progress Party -- of which Breivik was at one point a member. Across the continent, a similar screed of xenophobic paranoia is peddled by the likes of Jean Marie le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, and, before his death, Jorg Haider in Austria.
For this reason, Breivik is highly dangerous for the contemporary radical right. These parties have sought to place themselves as legitimate political movements while at the same time advocating explicitly racist policies, especially toward Europe's growing Muslim population. Breivik risks tarring these groups with his violent acts, which, in turn, endangers the parliamentary gains made by the far right. And make no mistake, the far right is on the march: In Norway, the Progress Party won 22.9 percent of the vote in 2009, the FPO won 17.5 percent of the vote in Austria in 2008, and the Freedom Party won 15.5 percent of the vote in the Netherlands in 2010.
The question of Breivik's sanity therefore cuts in two different directions. In Norway, dismissing Breivik as a madman allows his actions to be written off as an utter aberration. For the right, his insanity would mean that an ideological climate rich in racism and xenophobia had no significant role in nurturing a man who proclaims himself a soldier in a war for European civilization. But if he is sane, Norway faces the prickly question of explaining how such an act could have taken place. For the right, if he is sane, the ideological stew in which Breivik steeped becomes more difficult than ever to ignore.