Every day I push through the photographers and stare in his face. I want him to stare back. I want to look into the face of evil.
Anders Behring Breivik, 33, never does. He doesn’t look at anyone. He just sits there. There are only so many times that you can write about him sitting dispassionately. You never get over it. You can never fathom it.
A coroner describes separating body parts from the victims of his bomb attack in Oslo, and he sits there. The court is played an emergency call from a terrified girl hidden in the toilet on Utoya Island begging the police to come while her friends are executed outside. He sits there. Families of his 77 victims weep in court. He just sits there.
When his own testimony came to an end last week, even Breivik’s own defence attorney, Geir Lippestad, admitted some relief. The two hours spent listening to him describe executing children on the holiday Island of Utoya will haunt every person in that court. He described murdering 69, mostly teen, members of the Labour Party Youth wing as if he were recalling a journey to work. He talked about their paralysis; how he had time to reload his gun and shoot them dead. “It was odd,” he said like he’d mislaid his keys.
“Some of them are just paralysed there” he said. “They are unable to run: Something that is never shown on TV or film. It looked really odd. Two people dodge down and curl up. I think that I ran out of ammunition. They heard that. And they just stand there. Many people screamed and begged for their lives. I don’t really remember what they were saying. They were just standing there. It was really odd. Then I reload and I shoot both of them in the head.”
The day before, Breivik had shown his contempt for the court by refusing to stand when the judge entered the room. By the end of his description last Friday, when the judge stood up to leave, more than half the court stayed in their seats as well. They were too stunned to move.
But any relief at the end of Breivik’s testimony was short lived. For the survivors and bereaved families, the gruelling courtroom ordeal is really only beginning. With Breivik out of the way until the summing up at the end of this ten-week trial, the court has begun to hear the testimony of the witnesses of his twin attacks on Oslo and Utoya, and the quietly heartbreaking accounts of the survivors’ individual tragedies.
In his seat at the side of the court, Breivik stifles a yawn. Aware that his impassiveness in court might help damn him to the secure psychiatric hospital he says would undermine his anti-Islamic cause, Breivik claims to be using Bushido meditation to “de-emotionalise” himself. He has been using it since 2006, he says, when he decided to undertake a “so called suicide operation.”
But Breivik is not incapable of emotion. If psychosis had left him with an emotional lobotomy, his manner might be easier to accept. Yet he angers when the prosecutor says Bushido was only mentioned after the publication of a psychiatric report, which concluded he was mentally incompetent. He is stung by the “humiliation” when the prosecutors ask him about his love of uniforms or the year he spent playing World of Warcraft for 16 hours a day. He even cried when his own 12 minute propaganda video was played to the court on the first day.
It is just that he is incapable of understanding how other people feel. He knows that his actions have caused grief and sorrow in an abstract sense. But he describes them without any sense of what they might mean. “What I have done is contrary to human nature and there are almost no words to describe the suffering and pain I have inflicted on the families and victims,” he says again and again. “That is the best way to describe it. But I will not let this affect me.”
Next week the court will begin to hear the coroner’s reports on the 69 children and young people he gunned down on Utoya. The weeks of testimony loom black in the court schedule. “I don’t think that people should expect me to break down,” says Breivik. “I have prepared myself.”
Many people here believed he might already have cracked. Nobody really thinks he will now. We have watched him sit there unmoved for too long.
Mark Lewis is a freelance journalist reporting from the Breivik trial.