To prove Breivik's sanity, they rolled out the crazies

A deft piece of courtroom theatre in the Breivik trial.

It was one of the weirdest days of the trial so far. They thought they had been given the chance to blow the whole conspiracy wide open. Instead the extreme right-wing obsessives called to testify for the defence in the Anders Breivik trial were exposed to the contempt and bafflement of the ordinary people they typically lionise.

After weeks and weeks of horror, even the survivors of Breivik’s 22 July massacre laughed in the court as the politically marginalised took the stand and relished their moment to finally preach their truth. Each of the unpleasant foursome had their jealous ideological niches – the ever-fractious far-right always will - but each agreed on the existence of a left-wing conspiracy deliberately preventing their popular views from reaching the masses.

In a trial where the only question is over the sanity of a confessed murderer of 77 people, it seems wrong to indulge in reductive pop-psychology. But the temptation is irresistible: in order to prove his sanity, Breivik’s defence had rolled out the crazies.

Ronny Alte, former leader of English Defence League spin-off, the Norwegian Defence League, moaned to a court packed with teenage survivors of a holiday island massacre, how his views means he must fear for his life. Arne Tumyr, chairman of Stop the Islamisation of Norway, complained furiously that the Muslims in his country meant “Winnie the Pooh’s friend, Piglet, is now considered an impure animal.” Tore Tvedt, leader of irrelevant Neo-Nazi organisation, Vigrid, blamed the ever-guilty Jews. Ole Jørgen Arnfindsen, initially adding a sheen of academic authority before descending into unfathomable conspiracy theorising, blamed… It was impossible to know who he blamed.

Each condemned the murders. Yet each still believed they had been called to his defence to legitimise those elements of Breivik’s philosophy where their own obsessions overlapped. They had not. In a deft piece of courtroom theatre, Breivik’s defence counsel, Geir Lippestad, gave them just enough room to show that being a sad, lonely, obsessive may make you a crackpot. But it does not necessarily make you mad.

Each one of these men could have been excused from testifying. A string of witnesses, including Carl I Hagen, the former leader of Norway’s mainstream anti-immigration Progress Party, and Mullah Krekar, Norway’s most notorious Islamic fanatic, were exempted despite originally being on the defence list. Most were able to argue that being called to defend Breivik would put them in an unsafe and morally unbearable position. Lippestad said he had no desire to force them.

Those who did appear were either unfailingly committed to the Norwegian judicial process or saw their appearance as an opportunity to break through the conspiracy and finally be put in front of a receptive public. The fact that they were literally laughed out of court should, but won’t, have dented their belief in a deliberate campaign to ensure their marginalisation.

Breivik complained in his 1,500 page manifesto that he mailed to 8,000 email addresses on the morning before his attacks, that he too had been ignored. He had written twice, we learned, to the influential Oslo daily Aftenposten to complain about its Islam-biased coverage of international affairs. His letters were never published. Hilde Haugsgjerd, the paper’s editor-in-chief said well-written contributions likely to appeal to more than a handful of people were favoured.

Anyone who has struggled through his manifesto, will know Breivik’s missives were deeply unlikely to have met either of these criteria. Yet in some dark corners of the internet, his heartfelt views and pseudo-academic justifications were swallowed and, no doubt, even admired. For the political marginal there is always a constituency and in the shouty internet such constituents can evidently make you feel mainstream.

Arnfindsen is the editor of, a site aimed at people who don’t realise that websites which evoke truthfulness and honesty should be regarded with the same scepticism as restaurants that testify to their cleanliness. On his site he has hits and acclaim. Shorn of his online echo chamber he and everyone else was shown why he is marginalised. Unable to construct a logical argument, incapable of properly weighing evidence, and flinging out unsubstantiated allegations like a small child playing Cluedo, he like the other nuts who testified to Breivik’s sanity were exposed for what they are.

Breivik wishes to be considered sane. It is galling that these people's testimony could help him to achieve his aim. But there must also be satisfaction in exposing these crackpots as the fairy tale villains they are. Raymond Johansen, general secretary of the Norwegian Labour Party so loathed by Breivik, said it was important their views should be heard. “If a troll comes out into the sunlight it will burst,” he said. “If it remains in the dark it will grow.”

Mark Lewis is a freelance journalist reporting from the Breivik trial in Oslo. He tweets as @markantonylewis.

Norwegian right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik sits on 6 June, 2012 in the courtroom in Oslo. Photograph: Getty Images.
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How the shadow cabinet forced Jeremy Corbyn not to change Labour policy on Syria air strikes

Frontbenchers made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the leader backed down. 

Jeremy Corbyn had been forced to back down once before the start of today's shadow cabinet meeting on Syria, offering Labour MPs a free vote on air strikes against Isis. By the end of the two-hour gathering, he had backed down twice.

At the start of the meeting, Corbyn's office briefed the Guardian that while a free would be held, party policy would be changed to oppose military action - an attempt to claim partial victory. But shadow cabinet members, led by Andy Burnham, argued that this was "unacceptable" and an attempt to divide MPs from members. Burnham, who is not persuaded by the case for air strikes, warned that colleagues who voted against the party's proposed position would become targets for abuse, undermining the principle of a free vote.

Jon Ashworth, the shadow minister without portfolio and NEC member, said that Labour's policy remained the motion passed by this year's conference, which was open to competing interpretations (though most believe the tests it set for military action have been met). Party policy could not be changed without going through a similarly formal process, he argued. In advance of the meeting, Labour released a poll of members (based on an "initial sample" of 1,900) showing that 75 per cent opposed intervention. 

When Corbyn's team suggested that the issue be resolved after the meeting, those present made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the Labour leader had backed down. By the end, only Corbyn ally Diane Abbott argued that party policy should be changed to oppose military action. John McDonnell, who has long argued for a free vote, took a more "conciliatory" approach, I'm told. It was when Hilary Benn said that he would be prepared to speak from the backbenches in the Syria debate, in order to avoid opposing party policy, that Corbyn realised he would have to give way. The Labour leader and the shadow foreign secretary will now advocate opposing positions from the frontbench when MPs meet, with Corbyn opening and Benn closing. 

The meeting had begun with members, including some who reject military action, complaining about the "discorteous" and "deplorable" manner in which the issue had been handled. As I reported last week, there was outrage when Corbyn wrote to MPs opposing air strikes without first informing the shadow cabinet (I'm told that my account of that meeting was also raised). There was anger today when, at 2:07pm, seven minutes after the meeting began, some members received an update on their phones from the Guardian revealing that a free vote would be held but that party policy would be changed to oppose military action. This "farcical moment", in the words of one present (Corbyn is said to have been unaware of the briefing), only hardened shadow cabinet members' resolve to force their leader to back down - and he did. 

In a statement released following the meeting, a Corbyn spokesperson confirmed that a free vote would be held but made no reference to party policy: 

"Today's Shadow Cabinet agreed to back Jeremy Corbyn's recommendation of a free vote on the Government's proposal to authorise UK bombing in Syria.   

"The Shadow Cabinet decided to support the call for David Cameron to step back from the rush to war and hold a full two day debate in the House of Commons on such a crucial national decision.  

"Shadow Cabinet members agreed to call David Cameron to account on the unanswered questions raised by his case for bombing: including how it would accelerate a negotiated settlement of the Syrian civil war; what ground troops would take territory evacuated by ISIS; military co-ordination and strategy; the refugee crisis and the imperative to cut-off of supplies to ISIS."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.