Tilting at justice

Posted: Apr 21, 2003 12:00 AM

Americans who worship the criminal justice systems of Our Betters in Europe should take a long look at the slap-on-the-wrist sentence passed on the Netherlands' first political assassin since World War II.

Volkert van der Graaf, 33, shot candidate Pim Fortuyn, 54, five times at point-blank range nine days before the May 2002 Dutch election. Fortuyn was polling in second place. He might have become prime minister, if van der Graaf hadn't decided to settle the election with a gun.

Last week, a three-judge panel (there are no jury trials in the Netherlands) sentenced van der Graaf to 18 years in prison, with the expectation that he'll be released after serving 12 years.

The judges rejected the prosecution's bid for a life sentence because, they said, van der Graaf deserves a second chance to rejoin society. The judges also disagreed with the prosecution's contention that the assassination was an "attack on democracy," when it clearly was a violent attack on an election.

"What do you have to do to get a life sentence?" Fortuyn supporter Patricia Houdkamp complained to the Independent of London newspaper.

Some American newspapers have dubbed Fortuyn a "right-wing politician" -- which may have made his murder more palatable to some readers. Others tagged Fortuyn as "anti-immigrant." The one-note taglines don't tell the story, however. Fortuyn was a outspoken homosexual activist who wanted the Dutch government to pay more attention to the common man. Fortuyn also referred to Islam as a "backward religion," which he saw as a threat to Dutch's liberal attitude toward women and gays, and hence advocated a moratorium on immigration.

Van der Graaf used the immigration issue as a warm-hearted excuse for his cold-blooded deed. He compared Fortuyn to Adolph Hitler, charged that Fortuyn "abused democracy" and asserted that Fortuyn was scapegoating Muslims -- the "weak side of society" -- for self-aggrandizement.

Figure a man who would commit murder can't be expected to be above misrepresenting his politics. The fact is, the "weak side" van der Graaf chose to kill for are critters.

Fortuyn had supported re-legalizing the breeding of animals for fur. Van der Graaf, The Associated Press reported, was working up to 80 hours a week against commercial animal farming. On his website, van der Graaf called Fortuyn a threat because of his support for pig farming and fur breeding. Van der Graaf is an extremist who killed a human being to protest bacon.

Van der Graaf testified, the Times of London reported, "Normally, I find it morally reprehensible to kill someone." Normally? When the prosecution asked him if what he did was acceptable, van der Graaf answered: "At the time, I thought it was. Now I'm turning the question around in my head." Well, that should be a short journey.

This killer showed only the pretense of remorse, yet the Dutch judges pronounced van der Graaf as unlikely to kill again.

"There are a whole lot of Europeans who would disagree vehemently with that opinion and would sentence that guy to life in prison immediately," Hoover Institution fellow Dennis Bark noted.

True, but those aren't the voices leading the European Union herd.

Readers are aware that the Netherlands, like all EU countries, has no death penalty. But you may not know that the EU issued a policy paper that criticized life sentences and called for "moving toward keeping imprisonment to an absolute minimum." Van der Graaf's minimal sentence is in the spirit of the EU ideal.

The Dutch have imposed 21 life sentences in the last half century -- usually for unrepentant, high-profile serial killers. Van der Graaf is just an unrepentant, high-profile, political killer -- who murdered a man and an election.

A Fortuyn partisan told the Guardian, "Fortuyn was killed for his ideas -- think about that." Fortuyn was killed for his ideas, and his killer will be set free because of a judicial philosophy that fails to consider the consequences of setting violent people free.