The verdict on Norway’s mass killer Anders Behring Breivik has delivered some justice for his victims and their families.
But it has also dealt a blow to the mainstream narrative that tried to blame his actions on mental disorder rather than his fascist ideology.
Breivik killed 77 people, most of them members of the Norwegian Labour Party’s youth wing, on 22 July last year. The sentence means he will spend at least 21 years in jail, but in reality can be held for the rest of his life.
The court found him to be sane and legally responsible for the murders. This was a significant decision.
It went against the opinion of court appointed forensic psychiatrists, who said Breivik was suffering from “paranoid schizophrenia”. It also went against prosecution recommendations.
But the finding of sanity was the outcome preferred by most Norwegians, who could see Breivik was exactly what he said he was—a right wing extremist intent on sparking a war against Muslims, multiculturalism and “cultural Marxists”.
The initial psychiatric report was a travesty, putting psychiatric labels on language, beliefs and behaviours that are common in the far right subcultures in which Breivik operated.
This approach was also taken by many commentators and politicians. They sought to deny any connection between Islamophobia in the political mainstream and Breivik’s massacre.
From the Daily Mail’s Melanie Phillips to London’s Tory mayor Boris Johnson, right wingers queued up to pronounce Breivik mentally ill.
There’s a racial double standard here. Entire Muslim communities are routinely demonised for the actions of Al Qaida. But when the terrorist is a white, middle class male, he is painted as a “lone wolf” or “madman”. The implication is that the roots of his behaviour are nothing to do with the society he emerged from.
In Norway and elsewhere, we have seen increasingly strident Islamophobic and nationalist rhetoric enter mainstream politics. This has in turn fed the growth of hard right subcultures and organisations.
Breivik was not just linked to such forces in Norway. He also had connections to the English Defence League and more shadowy organisations around Europe.
His “manifesto” was in part composed of large slabs of text from right wing writers such as Melanie Phillips, Daniel Pipes and Pamela Geller.
This verdict is a blow to the Islamophobes who hoped to rehabilitate themselves after the Norway massacre shone a spotlight on their sickening propaganda. But it is not enough by itself.
The capitalist crisis is already creating social conditions that can help the far right grow in Europe. We can see this most chillingly in Greece with the rapid electoral rise of Golden Dawn’s neo-Nazi thugs.
All of this underlines that building resistance to austerity has to be combined with exposing and confronting those who share Breivik’s hateful beliefs.
Tad Tietze is a psychiatrist working in Sydney, Australia. He is co-editor (with Elizabeth Humphrys and Guy Rundle) of the e-book On Utøya: Anders Breivik, Right Terror, Racism and Europe and blogs regularly at Left Flank