Part 1 is here.
Is the Mass Murderer Anders Behring Breivik Insane?
Part 2: Narcissism, Paranoia, and an Elaborate Fantasy World
When Anders Behring Breivik was eighteen years old he suddenly dropped out of the final year of high school, allegedly to pursue a political career and other, more important objectives than studying. This career never materialized, however. Breivik claims that he held a prominent position in the Progress Party in Oslo, but was unfairly squeezed out by jealous rivals. Everybody else in the PP tells a different story: they say he was a rather nondescript local member who never made much of himself.
His grades and results from high school indicate that he is of at least average and possibly slightly above average intelligence, although he is not the magnificent genius he thinks he is. Breivik brags about supposedly making multiple millions from his business ventures, thanks to his great intelligence and incomparable commercial skills as a salesman. Yet publicly available information indicates that he was a business failure.
The only thing I can recall of my first impression from the few emails I received from him was that I was dealing with a man with an unrealistic and grossly inflated self-image. This was obviously more true than I could possibly have imagined. Breivik was an uninteresting person who desperately wanted to be interesting.
The court-appointed psychiatrists Torgeir Husby and Synne Sørheim spent four months preparing their report, during which time they had thirteen long conversations with Breivik and read the police case documents. Their diagnosis was paranoid schizophrenia. Husby did not doubt his conclusion. An extended panel of experts from the Norwegian Board of Forensic Medicine reviewed the report and approved it “with no significant remarks”.
Schizophrenia is a group of severe mental disorders characterized by distorted perceptions of reality with unusual thought patterns and withdrawal from reality. The paranoid type of schizophrenia is often characterized by delusions of persecution or grandeur combined with unrealistic and disorganized thinking, irrational statements about unshakable beliefs, diminished emotional expression or emotional blunting, and shifts to bizarre behavior, all accompanied by significant personality changes and a deterioration of social relationships. Common symptoms include a refusal to touch certain people or things and staring at people without blinking, as if you are looking at something else. Those suffering from schizophrenia may also experience hallucinations such as hearing voices.
A number of these symptoms were arguably present in Anders Behring Breivik during recent years.
The psychiatrists Husby and Sørheim highlighted the bizarre ideas Breivik betrays about his own imagined importance. They suspect that he experiences certain types of hallucinations such as hearing voices, but they cannot prove this conclusively. Throughout the interrogations he repeatedly shifted between referring to himself in singular or plural, and systematically referred to the so-called Knights Templar as “we,” not “I.” He has created a grand organization, complete with medals and awards for its great heroes, the chief of which is Breivik himself. ABB takes this idea seriously, distributes staged photos of himself wearing the many medals he thinks he deserves for his courage, and calls himself a future Pan-European Grand Master Knight Commander.
He has told the police that Knights Templar Norway is the highest military and political authority in the country. He says there is a high degree of separation between the individual cells of the Knights Templar, He claims to be a judge in the organization, and is also Commander of Norway. He has issued entirely unrealistic “demands” that must be fulfilled before he will reveal information about other alleged terror cells. Breivik has suggested that Knights Templar have around 80 cells in Europe, and two other active ones in Norway. According to him, the national authorities can save hundreds of lives if they give in to his (often utterly ridiculous) demands.
Breivik returns again and again and again to a discussion of the organization Knights Templar, which probably does not even exist. In doing so he repeatedly alternates between talking about “I” and “we,” thus displaying an apparent fundamental confusion about his own person and how it relates to the rest of the world.
After the initial psychiatric report was completed and he was allowed to read it for himself, Breivik then claimed that literally 80% of the recorded conversations it contained never took place as described in the official report.
Unless we assume that both of these respected and experienced psychiatrists are purposefully lying — which I do not — there are at least two ways this can be interpreted.
One is that Breivik is simply lying in order to deceive the justice system. Such a possibility cannot be entirely discounted. We know that he can be a clever manipulator who managed to deceive everybody around him while planning his deadly attacks.
Another possibility, which is at least as likely, is that he is lying to himself; or rather, he is genuinely incapable of distinguishing fiction from reality. If this is correct, Breivik lives in a world where fantasy is mixed with reality to such an extent that the differences have become blurred and meaningless. He therefore refers to imaginary persons and events that exist only inside his mind, while ignoring events or conversations that have actually occurred in real life. If this is the case, it represents a clear-cut indication of serious mental illness.
As one reader commented, a schizophrenic is unable to tell the difference between internal and external so he externalizes what he sees inside his head, mixing real with imaginary events until he is unable to tell the difference. From an early point in the case he suspected that Breivik suffered from this illness. Comments in ABB’s manifesto about how slutty his mother and sister were, and that they had venereal diseases, are highly revealing. The journals of schizophrenics frequently contain such statements, whereas the writings of saner egomaniacs rarely do.
Journal-keeping is spontaneous behavior amongst many schizophrenics, who desperately try to create some semblance of order out of the chaos of disjointed thoughts and impressions rushing around inside their minds. Modern brain scans indicate abnormal activity among people suffering from this type of mental illness.
Breivik expected that the Norwegian police would execute his family after the terror attacks, and is disappointed that he has not been treated as an ideological prisoner, merely as a common criminal. He also believed he would be executed without a trial, and that he would be tortured in jail. He claims to have trained himself to withstand torture.
Scandinavian prisons are internationally renowned to provide criminals with some of the most humane — critics says “soft” — treatment in the world. Breivik should have known this, since he grew up in Norway. You have to have an extremely twisted view of reality to believe there is widespread torture in Scandinavian prisons, and that the Norwegian police execute the families of criminals.
Torgeir Husby and Synne Sørheim stress Anders Behring Breivik’s extreme narcissism, his complete lack of empathy with other human beings and above all his “total lack of self-criticism” (page 64). They describe (page 58 of the report) Breivik’s brick of a manifesto as being “almost pathetically egocentric”, where he writes about banal details from his life nearly from birth until the summer of 2011. In his manifesto, ABB claims to be a hero and the Savior of Europe: “A perfect example which should be copied, applauded and celebrated.” Husby and Sørheim emphasize the banality of his manifesto, specifically those parts of it most clearly written by himself.
On the other hand, these court-appointed psychiatrists consider it “delusional” when Breivik mentions the possibility of future civil wars in Europe due to mass immigration in general and Muslim immigration in particular. They have received a lot of criticism for drawing these conclusions, and I agree with their critics in part. We can already see rising ethnic tensions in many Western countries, caused mainly by the largest and fastest migration waves in human history. Extrapolating from this situation to predict the likelihood of serious ethnic conflicts in the near future is, unfortunately, not paranoia.
The two doctors have also been extensively criticized in the press for downplaying the influence of Islam-critical writers claimed to be his ideological mentors by members of the political Left, among them myself. Yet out of several hundred pages in the original psychiatric report, the single reference to me may be found on page 173, where Breivik mentions in passing that “The author Fjordman writes a whole lot between the lines, but everyone understands that. This is not aimed at me personally.”
Breivik’s manifesto of more than 1500 pages has been described as remarkably empty of real content and full of internal contradictions, at least within the material deriving from his own mind. His contributions reveal intimate and nasty personal details about friends and family — not particularly knightly behavior for an allegedly perfect knight.
I have not yet read his entire manifesto, but I have a fair idea of what it contains, thanks to references from others and quotes in the press. Based on these excepts, it is frequently quite obvious when Breivik himself writes something and when he quotes others, for the simple reason that his quotes from other sources sound much more sane and coherent. It’s true that he used long paragraphs from a number of essays I have published on the Internet in English, and borrowed a part of the title from one of them.
Lars Fredrik Svendsen, an author and professor of philosophy at the University of Bergen, Norway, has read the so-called manifesto in its entirety and is far from impressed by the creative intelligence displayed there by Breivik. In Svendsen’s view, “The rumors of his intellectual capacity are greatly, greatly exaggerated.”
He has understood very little of the philosophical works he lists among his favorite books. It is a strange text to read, because it is a cut-and-paste job with quotes from many different essays and publicly available sources that Breivik had encountered on the Internet. ABB himself comes off as a simple poseur, however. He contributes little other than his own deranged narcissism and hides behind the ideas of others in order to appear intellectual. In reality “He is nothing. He is just extremely high on himself and incredibly vain,” Svendsen concludes.
The internationally renowned Swedish terror expert Magnus Ranstorp has also read the manifesto. He comments that “Breivik is extremely self-loving and turns himself into an elevated God” with his delusional fantasies of omnipotence. Ranstorp believes that the virtual reality found inside ABB’s mind bears little resemblance to physical reality outside it, but he concludes that Breivik must possess considerable skills of social manipulation in order to have kept his terror plans hidden from all those around him for years. Leading such a complex double life successfully for so long is harder than it sounds, and requires a certain type of intelligence.
In brief: Those parts of his so-called manifesto that appear to be logically coherent and present factually-based views and analysis of wider political issues were not authored by Breivik. Those sections that were most clearly written by Breivik himself appear incoherent and are entirely about him, his family and their alleged shortcomings, and his own incredible status in a strange universe that makes sense only inside his twisted mind.
Anders Behring Breivik had not been in psychiatric care before he committed his terror attacks, and did not display obvious signs of mental illness in his youth, according to those who knew him well back then. This does not by itself disprove the current diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, as this condition can evolve slowly over a prolonged period of time. His social behavior is said to have deteriorated gradually over the past decade, accelerating over the couple of years just prior to his terror attacks. ABB lived with his mother from 2006 onwards, but moved to a farm by himself in 2011, where he could make terror preparations.
His mother reveals that ABB had in recent years developed an intense fear of disease and microbes. Breivik was increasingly fearful of germs, and dreaded catching diseases from other people, whom he considered irresponsible. He talked with his regular doctor about the possibility of wearing a surgical mask indoors (page 133) and occasionally actually used one while living at his mother’s home. In her talks, the mother claims that ABB sometimes refused to eat in the same room with her, and was obsessed with the possibility that his food was somehow contaminated.
His behavior became increasingly strange and erratic in 2010 and 2011, when he received large heavy objects in the mail. His use of anabolic steroids and other types of drugs increased as well. He mentioned hearing strange noises and was afraid that his liver might fail. He reported being sensitive to or frightened of certain sounds and radiation, which is common among those suffering from schizophrenia, especially for those hearing voices. He also claimed that spiders came crawling out of the walls all the time. He said he lived in a spider hell, full of spiders and beetles and other creeping creatures that crawled out of the walls and pestered him. At this point, his mother later explained, she definitely feared he was going insane (page 83).
Especially by 2010 and early 2011, Breivik was afraid of hidden cameras or microphones everywhere and was absolutely convinced that he was being spied upon. By this time, of course, he was actively preparing his attacks, so fearing that the security services or the police might keep an eye on him wasn’t entirely irrational. Yet this leaves us with the chicken-and-the-egg question of whether his paranoia predated and fueled his terror plans, or vice versa.
The causes of schizophrenia are not yet fully understood. It is suspected that there may be a hereditary component, in the sense that one may inherit an increased predisposition to it through his genetic material, just as one might inherit an increased susceptibility to many physical illnesses. However, there is probably no single cause. It is known that in addition to biological factors, the environment plays a role as well. In many cases some kind of trauma or stressful event in life can trigger the onset of full-blown schizophrenia in those who are susceptible.
Judging by testimonies from others, ABB may have been slightly weird before, but his social behavior became worse after his business failures when he moved back in with his mother. This would have been a difficult and frustrating situation for many ambitious young men. For a person with ABB’s pathological megalomania, nearly divine self-image, and militant Messiah complex, this may have proved absolutely intolerable, and possibly encouraged his already existing tendency to create an elaborate fantasy world more to his liking.
Anders Behring Breivik was born in 1979 and was 32 years old when he carried out his horrific terror attacks. It is possible to paint a picture of slowly deteriorating mental health throughout his twenties, with symptoms of resembling those of full-blown paranoia present around the age of 30. The first clear symptoms of schizophrenia are often already evident in the late teens, but a slow deterioration accelerating into early adulthood or the late twenties is by no means unheard of for this type of mental illness. Moreover, misdiagnosis is unfortunately widespread in schizophrenia cases. Thoughts and behavior get stranger over the course of time.
The psychiatric evaluation contains many details that had not been previously discussed in the press. Although I was initially skeptical of Breivik’s diagnosis, after reading this additional information in full I find it plausible, if not proven beyond doubt, that Anders Behring Breivik does in fact suffer from paranoid schizophrenia.
This brings us to the most hotly disputed question of all: Was he psychotic when he carried out his terror attacks, and therefore cannot be held accountable?
Of this I am not fully convinced. We will look at that aspect of the case next.
To be continued…
For a complete archive of Fjordman’s writings, see the multi-index listing in the Fjordman Files.