Are any American readers planning a visit to Norway in the near future? If so, allow us to offer up some free advice: you may want to avoid wearing anything with an American flag, and if anyone asks where you’re from, just answer “Canada.”
Why? Because at the moment, a Norwegian citizen by the name of John Kristoffer Larsgard is serving out a seven-year sentence in an Arizona prison, charged with the crime of aggravated assault. Did Larsgard beat someone senseless in a meth-fueled robbery gone wrong? Stab an innocent bystander who gave him the stink eye?
Hardly. According to The Local - Norway's News In English (via the blog Nothing To Do With Arbroath), Larsgard drove a rental car the wrong way down a one-way street, during a festival in Winslow. An angry mob then caused the Norwegian to panic, which in turn resulted in contact between Larsgard’s rental car and a few pedestrians.
Yes, pedestrians were injured, but none seriously. As far as we can tell, the worst injury occurred when a woman’s toes were run over, which begs the question of why this was prosecuted as a criminal offense instead of just a traffic offense.
By his own admission, Larsgard only wanted to get away from an angry crowd, including one passerby who reached into the car and punched him in the face, breaking his nose. Given the circumstances, it’s easy to understand his fight-or-flight reaction.
Local witnesses claimed that Larsgard threatened to kill them, which is somewhat difficult to swallow given how badly the deck was stacked against him. Adding insult to injury, the (presumably uncharged) man who assaulted Larsgard was also in court, but left in protest after flipping the Norwegian the bird.
George Olander, who serves as Norway’s honorary consul in Phoenix, commented that, “The whole case is shameful for the United States. There’s no proof, nor is it even probable that Larsgard tried to injure or kill anyone in Winslow.”
It gets better. In the days following the September 11 terrorist attacks, Larsgard was kicked out of the University of South Alabama’s biochemistry program. Were his grades poor? Were there disciplinary problems? No, but the university allegedly didn’t want foreign students experimenting with materials that could be used to make bioweapons.
By our reckoning, either Winslow police stopped a terrorist mastermind in his tracks, and humbly avoided publicizing their selfless deeds, or a foreign tourist received a jail sentence completely disproportionate to the crime. We’ll admit that we don’t know all of the facts in the case, but somehow the latter seems more likely.
We’re not sure if there’s a moral to this story, but we’re pretty damn sure of this: we won’t be visiting Winslow, Arizona or Norway any time soon.