Granted, it was hard to take the little man with a Charlie Chaplin moustache seriously at the time -- indeed, Charlie Chaplin himself produced a comedy about him ("The Great Dictator"). But the world would learn there was nothing funny about Adolf Hitler. Much to its sorrow.
Democratic governments seem particularly vulnerable to the kind of true believers who would overthrow them because, well, they're democratic governments. Consider ours -- complete with a Bill of Rights embedded in its Constitution. Not to mention all the other legal protections afforded citizens -- federal and state, formal and informal, in the common law and in the general tradition of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence. That great strength is also a great temptation for the Hitlers and Stalins and all the other fanatics who see such tolerance only as weakness, and are prepared to use the very rights a democracy affords against it.
Now it's Anders Breivik who's a guest of the state. His deluxe treatment should give Americans some idea of the life Timothy McVeigh might be living if the Oklahoma City bomber were still with us. Happily, he isn't, and so isn't attracting fan letters from every nutcase in this country.
Herr Breivik doubtless hopes he'll get a ton of mail from the usual suckers. For he gave a clenched-fist salute at his trial and spoke grandly of the tens of thousands of his followers in Europe eager to follow his example. His crimes may be matched only by his delusions of fascist grandeur.
Vidkun Quisling also aspired to membership in a fascist internationale, attending conferences back in the ominous 1930s, making contacts, and generally strutting through his brief hour on history's stage. Before strutting his last before a firing squad.
With access to a computer in his cell/suite, Anders Breivik may not need the services of a stenographer to record his rants -- the way Rudolf Hess transcribed his fuehrer's notes for "Mein Kampf" in prison. Unfortunately, the Weimar Republic didn't take the Austrian corporal seriously; he served only nine months, and those in comfort, before being turned loose on the streets and a gullible nation.
It occurs that the czarist police once had an agitator named Ulyanov in their hands, too, and even exiled him to Siberia for a time. The world would come to know him as Lenin, and during the First War, the Germans found him in Switzerland and shipped him to Russia in a sealed train -- the way one would a deadly bacillus -- in hopes of devastating their Russian enemy. He did. What the Germans didn't realize was that his doctrines would infect a whole world, and in the end kill millions.
Anders Breivik already has an opening chapter for his own "Mein Kampf" in the form of that rambling statement he made at his trial complaining about everything from the singers chosen for the Eurovision song contest to the cast and content of "Sex and the City." Having already run a diploma mill specializing in phony degrees, he has considerable experience at fakery as well as homicide. His posing with an automatic weapon in a YouTube video -- in the best al-Qaida style -- may say more about the danger he represents in the future than all the tortured legalisms offered at his trial.
The prosecution wanted the defendant judged not guilty by reason of insanity -- that way, he might be committed to a mental institution indefinitely -- while the "defense" asserted he was of sound mind. Just politically mad? Take your choice. The line can be thin in such cases.
But this much should be clear: As long as Anders Behring Breivik lives and breathes, he will be a clear and all-too-present danger. And that danger has not been removed, just postponed.