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Quisling Redux

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Ever since quisling became a common noun, a synonym for traitor, Norway has produced its share of low scoundrels with high political ambitions. But at least Vidkun Quisling, head of the Nazis' puppet regime in his country, was executed for his various crimes, including murder and treason.

Last week, Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in all during his murderous rampage last year, was sentenced to up to 21 years in prison -- not even 21 years for each victim, but for all. In Norway, they must be cheaper by the dozen(s).

The sentence handed down by the Norwegian court last week may be extended if the defendant is still considered dangerous after doing his time. That may be some degree of assurance that he won't menace any more innocents, but it's scarcely enough.

The leniency shown this unrepentant killer ought to make even opponents of capital punishment rethink their position. For his was an attack on the state and therefore on all who are part of it. In his case, capital punishment would have been an act of self-defense on society's part.

As long as someone like Anders Breivik lives and breathes and orates, he is a danger to all. He was already receiving fan mail in prison, corresponding with potential followers, and at work on a sequel to the 1,500-page rant he'd issued before committing his crimes.

Norway, and the world, cannot say it hasn't been given ample warning of his homicidal tendencies, which may now be restrained for 21 years -- if he doesn't make probation in six months, and then . . .

For now, having been duly tried, convicted and sentenced, the killer is off to his three-cell suite in a Norwegian prison -- bedroom, study and exercise room complete with treadmill, not to mention his television set (15 channels). We wouldn't want him to get bored, would we? He also has room service. He just rings a bell when he wants cigarettes.

In short, all the amenities of home except possibly freedom, and Herr Breivik doesn't seem to care much for that anyway, or at least not freedom for others. Or their lives, for that matter.

Given a chance to address the court, Anders Breivik did apologize -- for not killing more: "I would like to apologize to all militant nationalists in Norway and Europe. ... My brothers in the Norwegian and European resistance are sitting out there following this trial, while planning new attacks. They could be responsible for as many as 40,000 being killed."

That kind of talk could be just empty braggadocio, which is why a civilized world once underestimated any danger from a failed Austrian artist and rabble-rouser when he was locked up, for an all-too-brief time, after his part in a failed putsch.

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.

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