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Wednesday, April 18, 2012 

"Give them the respect they deserve."

There really doesn't seem to be any great need to make lengthy comment on the trial of Anders Breivik. One of the great myths that crime writers and films have promoted is that serial killers are interesting, when the reality is that the vast majority of them are not. They tend to lead boring lives and have banal thoughts precisely because if they didn't they'd be caught much sooner: look at Dennis Nilsen, one of the most dull of his breed, who may well have escaped justice if he hadn't run out of places to store the bodies of his victims. There is the odd exception, like a Ted Bundy (and he's more intriguing than interesting), but they are very few and far between.

In these stakes Breivik could well be the dismal of them all. Anyone who writes a 1,800 page "manifesto" (if you can call an unreadable document largely made up of newspaper articles and blog posts quoted verbatim, as researched on Wikipedia a manifesto) as a justification for mass murder is instantly trying far too hard. At least the Unabomber had something vaguely original to say, even if it was nonsensical; with Breivik it's just the views of dozens of other like-minded individuals reproduced parrot fashion. Yes, we quickly realised that you're not much of a fan of multiculturalism, and that you blame cultural Marxists for its spread. What we're really interested in is why you decided you had to act, when all those other blowhards just continue to fulminate online at the how the West is committing cultural suicide.

An answer to which we simply aren't going to get. What we will get, as the week has so far shown, are those other traits associated with serial killers: sick-inducing narcissism, as when he claimed his actions were "the most sophisticated and spectacular political attack committed in Europe since the second world war"; the most pathetic self-pity, as when he cried upon viewing his own propaganda; and impenetrable delusions, like his insistence that his ridiculous Knights Templar organisation exists, and that it tried to "distance oneself sufficiently from national socialism because it was quite blood-stained". Just ever so slightly rich when his manifesto imagined a Europe-wide civil war where those he considered to be truly traitorous would be executed.

As much as the trial was supposedly meant to provide some sort of explanation to the Norwegian people, all Breivik has done so far is repeat his deeply unimpressive thoughts as released on the day. Writing last year, Simon Baron-Cohen stated that even if Breivik was a psychopath, that didn't begin to provide a reason for how his lack of affective empathy had led him to launch his lone act of terrorism. If the true point of the hearing is to establish whether Breivik is mentally ill or not, then there seems little reason for allowing him to turn the trial into a platform for spreading his own personal ideology when that can be achieved just as well behind closed doors. Indeed, the only reason for allowing him to attempt to justify his actions when other defendants would swiftly be silenced for being in contempt of court is that only the most maladjusted could possibly find anything admirable in his meanderings. Unfortunately, those are often the quiet, boring individuals that we still know so relatively little about.

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