It was spooky and bizarre to watch Norway’s mass murderer, Anders Breivik, enter the courtroom for his trial. Blank-faced and self-satisfied, he raised a fist-clenched arm in a sort of salute—to whom, or what? Shortly thereafter video cameras were banished. I was relieved. Watching that strange man raises disturbing questions about what kind of creatures are we humano sapiens.
Having freely, even proudly admitted that he killed 77 people, the trial is only to determine whether he’s a criminal or insane. Among his strange statements is that he acted in self-defense, that he is trying to save Norway, that the only true freedom in Norway was when it was occupied by Hitler’s armies.
Norway, Sweden Denmark, and Finland, the four Scandinavian democracies, are admired by those who fear that rampant crony capitalism is degrading others, while voracious state capitalism is taking over in China. I was impressed with Sweden and Denmark when I danced there in 1954, more so when I taught two summers in Copenhagen, 1982-83. Bicycles had the right of way over automobiles and were left outside unchained overnight. That was thirty ago and maybe they lock bikes these days, but to an outsider, the Danes seemed busy, satisfied, and happy. I do recall some saying that immigrants from the Middle East were not welcomed by all, yet admired the free immersion classes they got in the Danish language.
Into this peaceful landscape, Anders Breivik exploded. Some deem him a freakish one-off, like a meteor from outer space. Others, that he is a deep madness flowing from within like lava from a volcano. Unfortunately, the second seems more likely. There is evidence that thousands are hate infected and capable of mass murder.
American rampage killers often end with a bullet into their own brain. That may have been Breivik’s intent. Norway has no death sentence making him an opportunity to study what can turn a seemingly healthy, well-fed, even privileged individual into a deluded mass murderer. If anyone is equipped for this, it is Norway, the country of Henrik Ibsen and Edvard Munch. No research is more important.