Five Days With the 'Perfect Knight'

20/04/2012 21:41 BST | Updated 20/06/2012 10:12 BST

After today's terrible testimony, many people will probably have had about as much as they can stomach of Anders Behring Breivik. Even the sight of him is disturbing. Seeing close up on television, he has the grotesque physical presence of a horror film villain or a Hollywood serial killer, with his narrow black eyes, his neat little beard and shark-like smile, his old-world formality and his puffed-up sense of his own importance.

Yesterday Breivik told the court that it was "contrary to human nature" to do what he did, and that it was necessary to "hammer away at your emotions" to come up with the desired product. Watching him is indeed like watching a simulacrum of a human being rather than a real person, who uses words and makes recognisably human gestures, but in whom it is impossible to detect any trace of empathy, compassion or any of the meaningful bonds that connect human beings to each other.

Breivik insists otherwise, but his ghastly account of the massacre that he perpetrated on Utoya island tells a different story. The more he talks, the more disgusting he reveals himself to be, and the more glaring the discrepancy between his grandiose 'cause' and the obscenity of his actions and ideas. Believing himself to be heroic and noble, he comes over as vain, deluded, and self-pitying.

One minute he is bragging to the court about having carried out "the most spectacular operation conducted by a militant nationalist this century". Then he is weeping, not for the lives that he snuffed out so brutally, but because he is 'moved' by the sight of his own propaganda video.

This tacky combination of racial paranoia, half-baked intellectualism and historical references, anti-Muslim hatred and sentimentality culminates in heroic sword wielding crusader imagery that might have been borrowed from a computer game or a Game of Thrones script.

For Breivik, the first-person shooter and self-styled 'perfect Knight' who spent 16 hours a day playing computer games and engaging in combat training by playing Modern Warfare: Call of Duty, fantasy and reality merged into a single heroic narrative with himself in the starring role as the exterminating avenger, slaughtering the sons and daughters of the party that he blamed for turning Norway into a "multicultural hell".

Whether comparing his youthful victims to the Hitler Youth or revealing his plans to kill journalists or decapitate the former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, he comes over as shockingly a callous, narcissistic and ultimately hollow individual, corrupted by his hatreds and monomaniacal obsessions.

Despite his attempts to distance himself from Nazism, Breivik has also revealed himself to be an out-and-out racist, whether decrying Norway's transformation into the "dumping ground for the surplus births of the Third World" or telling the court of his desire "for racial purity and to change the direction of multi-cultural drift, to avoid greater confrontation and civil war. The only way I could protect the white native Norwegian was through violence."

All this has been a disturbing and deeply depressing spectacle, and an even more shattering experience for the relatives of his victims. But the fears about Breivik being given a propaganda platform that would inspire others to follow his example would appear to have been misplaced. Breivik is so obviously repellent, that only those who already think like him are likely to be inspired by his actions and engage in further acts of 'resistance'.

But such forces do exist. And the last five days have revealed a contradiction that has yet to be resolved. The prosecution wants to prove that Breivik is insane, whereas he wants to prove the opposite - the better to glorify his acts of 'resistance'.

Breivik frequently uses the first person plural, presenting himself as part of a Norwegian and European-wide resistance, and referring to obscure meetings with influential like-minded people who formed his Knights Templar movement.

The prosecution argues that these claims are fantasies. If Breivik wants to prove that these contacts with individuals and organisations were not invented, then he may have to give names and dates.

To prove his sanity, his defence lawyer may also be obliged to demonstrate how many of his delusions and obsessions about immigration, Islam and multiculturalism, were shared, by a very wide spectrum that spans anti-Muslim websites and bloggers, established far-right parties, the more recent counter-jihad movement and the various 'defence leagues'.

This should not be difficult. As Breivik's Internet 'manifesto' makes clear, many of his ideas, references and sources of inspiration were drawn from an ongoing discourse about Muslims and Islam which can be found in any daily paper.

The next nine weeks will reveal how this contradiction is resolved. But if this horrendous episode is to have any positive outcome, beyond the immediate aim of finding some kind of justice and closure for the relatives of his victims, we must hope that the court does not limit its focus to Breivik himself.

Because the paranoia, hatred and delusion that he has expressed during the past week are not unique to him. Those who propagate conspiracy theories and fantasies of an Islamic take over of Europe shouldn't be surprised when some people take their fantasies literally.

And unless Europeans can acknowledge - and reject these dank and toxic politics, and face up to the bigotry and racism that so often underpins them, Breivik may not be the last of his kind.