Anders Breivik’s Delusions of Grandeur
The truth about Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik is bound to disappoint anyone on either end of the political spectrum who might have hoped to exploit his actions for propaganda purposes: he really was just a lone nut.
First, debunking his claim to be at the center of a vast anti-Islamic terrorist network, the police concluded that he acted alone. And now, as reported here on November 29th, the court-appointed psychiatrists have found that he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia.
Believing oneself to be endowed with a grandiose mission is typical of such patients. Sometimes they imagine that their incomprehensible scribbles conceal an earth-shaking formula to rival the discoveries of Einstein. Sometimes they think they have been chosen to save the world from Martian invaders or a next-door neighbor possessed by Satan.
But sometimes their belief system is cobbled together from less obviously fantastical elements. Breivik drew on polemical writings from the political fringes that many people might deem “crazy,” but not in a clinical sense. What was truly delusional about Breivik was the exalted world-historical role he assigned himself.
By telling the police he was a Knight Templar and the “Commander” of a non-existent resistance army, he betrayed his kinship with every lunatic who ever claimed to be Napoleon. Breivik was a commander with no troops, a leader with no followers. His imaginary power to move the masses was manifestly at odds with his actual life as an awkward loner.
According to French psychiatrist Henri Grivois, nascent psychosis is always characterized by a powerful sense on the part of an individual that he or she is in an intense relationship with all humanity. What could be the origin of such a skewed perception?
It seems to us there is a certain paradoxical logic to the situation. When someone lacks meaningful personal relationships with other individual human beings, an abstract relationship with humanity as a whole may well be all that remains.
Breivik’s father left when he was a year old and broke off contact with him when he was still in his teens. Later, his sister emigrated to the United States. Although he had recently lived with his mother to save money, his relations with her were strained. At 32, he seems never to have had a girlfriend.
Of course, being a troubled loner with extreme political views who goes on a killing spree is not enough to warrant a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. In Breivik’s case, though, there were signs of paranoia that had nothing to do with politics.
“He must have been insane, he became so different,” his mother told psychiatrists. Last April, he took to wearing an antiseptic face mask in the house out of fear she would infect him. He often refused to eat food cooked by her and once called the family doctor, accusing her of infecting his sinuses.
Some psychiatrists have argued that Breivik planned his attacks too methodically to be considered insane. But he could be considered a “high-functioning” paranoid schizophrenic. That was the label given Theodore Kaczynski, the “Unabomber” who killed three persons and maimed many more in a series of carefully planned attacks between 1978 and 1995.
Like Breivik, Kaczynski published a lengthy manifesto to justify his crimes. In fact, Breivik plagiarized a number of passages of his own rambling tract from the more literate Kaczynski. The Unabomber was steamed up about technology, not Islam, but he also lamented what he called the “craziness” of leftism in terms that Breivik applied verbatim to multiculturalism or “cultural Marxism.”
What about the craziness of retiring to a reclusive existence in the countryside in order to plot murderous attacks on perfect strangers? Breivik’s unacknowledged debt to Kaczynski goes beyond the words he used and extends to actual behavior. The Unabomber is a more plausible model for Breivik’s actions than authors he cited who never advocated violence.
Yet many pundits were quick to blame Breivik’s crimes on his ideological fellow travelers. “Theirs is the poison in which he refined his murderous resentment,” wrote Roger Cohen. Is there any validity to such an argument? We can answer this question with a simple thought experiment.
Imagine that some wacko reads Cohen’s op-ed piece and is struck by the observation that “Breivik alone killed many more people than the four Islamist suicide bombers in the 7/7 London attack of 2005.” This wacko concludes that anti-Islamist ideologues are a bigger threat than al-Qaeda and decides it is up to him to save the world from them.
Since Cohen singles out “Republicans like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Representative Peter King” as Breivik’s “enablers,” the wacko sets off a car bomb on Capitol Hill and massacres teenagers attending a Young Republican meeting. Naturally, he reproduces Cohen’s column in the nutty rant he publishes on the Internet. Would his actions be Cohen’s fault? To be consistent, Cohen would have to blame himself. But he would be wrong.
A lawyer representing some of Breivik’s victims has taken a more reasonable position. “People ask themselves how this could happen, and look for scapegoats,” said Carl Bore. “Maybe we can more easily move on as a society when we see that it was simply caused by a sick person.”
The best way to handle Anders Breivik is to treat him as the lonely psychopath he is and not as the political leader he fancied himself to be in his delusions of grandeur.
Mark Anspach is a Contributing Writer for The Propagandist