'Commander of the Resistance': The Norway Shooter's Cold-Blooded Court Appearance

By  in Oslo

Anders Behring Breivik, accused of having cold-bloodedly murdered 77 people in Norway in July, was in court on Monday for his first public appearance since the crime. He showed no remorse and accused the judge of being the tool of an ideology that was "destroying Norwegian society."

Photo Gallery: Breivik's First Court Appearance Photos
REUTERS/ Scanpix Sweden

As the prisoner strides into the courtroom, he first glances toward the back of the room. On the right side, the media are seated, and on the left are those who survived the ferocious bloodbath.

His appearance is clearly meant to demonstrate dignity, with his hair carefully parted to the right, the three buttons on his jacket neatly closed and his tie carefully hanging over his broad chest. Calm, level-headed and proud -- that is clearly the image he wants to project as he enters Room 828 of the Justice Building in Oslo, Norway.

But then the judge asks Anders Behring Breivik to rise from his chair and explain himself. Breivik, who stands accused of killing 77 people in the bombing and shooting spree which shocked Norway in July, wants to appear polite -- and superior. "When people meet," he says in composed Norwegian, "they should introduce themselves." He fumbles briefly with his coat buttons before noticing his own nervousness and forcefully relaxing his hands. "I am the commander of the Norwegian resistance."

It was a sentence which marked the first time that Breivik had spoken in front of the Norwegian public since his heinous crimes. And it sounded as though he was speaking from a completely different world. "I don't deny my actions," he said, "but I don't accept having been imprisoned for them."

The mass murderer then quietly called the judge's authority into question. "You are a representative of multi-culturalism, an ideology of hate that is destroying Norwegian society."

Norway's Savior

Anders Behring Breivik sees himself as a warrior against Islam -- an ideology, he believes, which seeks to grab power, aided by its secret allies, the multi-culturalists in the country's center-left government. Breivik sees himself as Norway's savior.

The country's Supreme Court provided Breivik with the stage to hold forth on his confused conspiracy theories. Last Friday, court officials decided that the hearing -- which focuses on whether Breivik should remain in solitary confinement -- should be made public.

Media interest has, not surprisingly, been huge. Norwegian news outlets have followed Monday's proceedings closely, with live updates being posted online from the moment Breivik left his prison cell in the morning. Television stations set up their cameras in front of the post-modern building in the heart of Oslo, just a few hundred meters away from the spot where Breivik set off a powerful car bomb on July 22, killing eight. Two dozen foreign journalists were likewise on hand for the proceedings. They wanted to see first hand the cold-blooded killer who, on the same day as the explosion, then traveled to a summer camp for Social Democratic youth on the island of Utøya and shot dead 69 people.

Survivors of the massacre were also present, hoping to find clues to what made Breivik carry out his horrific massacre. One of those was Adrian Pracon, a successful young Social Democrat politician who waited outside the courthouse in the freezing cold for two hours before the proceedings began.

'I Want to See Him Again'

Brevik had fired on the young man twice. Pracon lay on the ground and feigned death, but Breivik went around and shot all those lying prone in the head just to be sure. But the killer only hit Pracon in the shoulder. "I saw him at the time and now I want to see him again," the 21-year-old says. "But with cuffs on his ankles and wrists."

A police reconstruction of the crime reached the conclusion that Pracon was hit by the last shot fired by Breivik on that Friday in July before he was finally arrested. He says he will never forget seeing the killer from so close. His party ally Erik Kursetgjerde, who is with him in the courtroom, says much the same thing. "He wasn't more than 15 meters (50 feet) away from me on Utøya," says the pale 18-year-old.

In the courtroom on Monday, Kursetgjerde found himself sitting roughly the same distance from Breivik. And he says that Breivik exuded the same calm as he did during his shooting spree. "On the island, he seemed to be only a little bit more stressed," Kursetgjerde says. "I can't comprehend what is going on behind that face."

Breivik on Monday seemed to sense that everyone in the room was helpless in the face of the immensity of his crimes. When public prosecutor Pal-Fredrik Hjort Kraby spoke of the "exceptional gravity" of the crime, a smile briefly flitted across Breivik's face. The number of dead speaks for itself, the police said on Monday. That alone is justification for keeping Breivik in solitary confinement, they argued.

Judge Torkjell Nesheim seemed particularly anxious to avoid giving Breivik much of a chance to speak. Most of the time, the defendant merely watched the proceedings with empty eyes. When asked about the conditions of his imprisonment, he said arrogantly that Norway could learn more effective torture methods from Saudi Arabia.

Other Priorities

When his lawyer Geir Lippestadt asked him about his solitary confinement, Breivik said merely: "I don't have a problem with it." The only difficulty, he explained, was changing so quickly from an active lifestyle to a sedentary one. It was as though he wanted to play the martyr. At that moment, Kursetgjerde later reported, "my heart tightened in my chest."

As his lawyer continued arguing for the conditions of Breivik's imprisonment to be loosened, the prisoner merely looked on with a blank expression. Lippestadt said that even human rights organizations had often criticized the practice of solitary confinement in Norway. And he addressed details such as access to mail, visiting rights, television and newspapers. It was enough to make even the most committed supporter of human rights question how much latitude should be given to a cold-blooded criminal like Breivik.

But the prisoner himself had other priorities. Over the weekend, he said via his lawyer that he "wanted to explain his brutal deeds." During the few opportunities he had to speak, he would routinely turn away from the judge and toward the crowd gathered in the courtroom.

Indeed, the longer the proceedings lasted, the more impatient he became. Finally, towards the end, he was once again granted an opportunity to speak. Ignoring a warning from the judge that he was only to speak about the conditions of his imprisonment, Breivik turned to the audience and said "I heard that victims are present. May I speak to them?"

Judge Nesheim demurred. "Not at this point in the proceedings," he said before ending the session. As he moved to leave the room, however, Breivik managed one last expression of his disdain for the Norwegian justice system. Even as everyone rose out of respect as is customary in Norwegian courtrooms, Breivik remained seated.

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