BBC, Apr. 15, 2003
The man who shot anti-immigration politician Pim Fortuyn started out as a passionate animal rights activist who fought against factory farming and struggled to explain his veganism at dinner parties.
But Volkert van der Graaf – sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment – was also a perfectionist with rigid morals who felt it his duty to protect weaker groups in society.
He saw Fortuyn as a threat to those groups, comparing his rise to that of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s.
But he said during the trial that he was now “struggling” with the question of whether his act was acceptable.
‘Green Robin Hood’
Volkert van der Graaf is 33, Dutch, white and from the town of Harderwijk, east of Amsterdam.
An interview with Van der Graaf three years ago on the website of the group Animal Freedom – which stresses that he was not a member – reveals a man committed to animal rights from an early age.
One newspaper last year dubbed him “the Green Robin Hood”.
At 15 years old, he worked caring for oil-covered birds in Zeeland.
As a student in Wageningen, home to a major university specialising in life sciences and agriculture, he joined an anti-vivisection group.
He was also active with the Inter-University Consultation on Animal Use – an organisation which he said aimed to reduce the use of laboratory animals in education.
At the time of the Animal Freedom interview, Van der Graaf said he worked for Environment Offensive, a group aimed at “stopping the expansion of factory farming”.
“Through legal procedures we fight permits for factory farms and fur farms, using the law as our tool,” the interview reads, fuelling speculation that Van der Graaf had been angered by Mr Fortuyn’s stated plan to lift restrictions on fur farming if elected.
Van der Graaf says his parents would not let him give up meat as a teenager, but he later became a vegan.
“Sometimes when you have dinner with other people, you encounter incomprehension,” he said.
The text suggests a personal struggle with the ethical issues surrounding the human treatment of animals – ranging from concern for the worms he used while fishing as boy, to whether his diet should exclude “eco-eggs”.
“Many animal protectors act from the assumption that ‘nature is good’,” he said, “but every dark side of humans can also be found in nature”.
“Protecting animals is civilizing people,” he said.
A man said to be a member of Environment Offensive told Dutch television that Van der Graaf had started out believing that the law was his weapon.
“Something must have gone wrong, something derailed,” the activist was quoted as saying, referring to Fortuyn’s killing.
On 6 May 2002, just nine days before the Dutch general election, Van der Graaf shot Fortuyn five times at close range as he left a radio studio in the central town of Hilversum.
He was arrested minutes after the shooting, and made a dramatic confession to the court at his first appearance there on 27 March.
The two-and-a-half week trial generated enormous public interest, and was frequently punctuated by vocal contributions from Fortuyn’s supporters.
The final reading of the verdict – which fell short of the life sentence demanded by prosecutors – prompted booing and a mass walk-out from the courtroom.