Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Anders Breivik

Breivik in a bit of his own propaganda

Four years ago next month, a Norwegian man set off a bomb in a government building that housed its justice ministry and prime minister's office, killing eight.

Then, well armed and clothed in a police outfit of his own design, he traveled to a summer camp of teenagers active in the country's Labor Party.  Moving methodically around the camp's small island, he calmly shot and killed another 69 young people, mostly at point-blank range.

When confronted finally by police, he claimed to be the leader of a coup d'etat aimed at freeing Norway from Islamization, feminism and Marxist indoctrination.

Norwegians still do not know what to make of these events.

One of Us

This is the title of a book by Norwegian reporter Asne Seierstad.  It traces the life of the terrorist/killer, Anders Breivik, as well as those of several of his victims.

We could say that Breivik's actions shocked Norway as the 9/11 bombings did the United States, but in fact they were more extreme: 

     -- Norway is a small country with a population of about 5 million, about the same as 
         that of Alabama.  A proportional attack in the U.S. would kill almost 4,800 here.
        (Fewer than 3,000 died on 9/11.)

     -- Norway's terrorist was home-grown.  The 9/11 bombers were not.  

Breivik was born to Norwegian parents and lived in a country populated mostly by Norwegians but with a small, fast-growing and not-well-absorbed immigrant population from the Middle East and Africa.  The book boils down to a meditation on how "one of us" could do such a thing to his fellow Norwegians.

(One bit of evidence that Norwegians were complacent about their peaceful country is their utter failure to anticipate actions like Breivik's.  After years of terrorist events across Europe, Breivik was allowed to park a truck full of explosives next to a government building.  Police failed to act on a phone tip, complete with the license plate number on his getaway car, after the explosion and as he drove to the youth camp.  The country's only police helicopter crew was on vacation for the entire month.  Ham-handed attempts to get to the children took way too long, even after Breivik had phoned officials twice to offer his surrender.  Many fewer would have died if Norway had planned better.)

Anders the Boy

Breivik had a rotten childhood.  His parents divorced when he was a year old, and his father, a diplomatic employee, lived in London and then Paris while the boy lived with his mother and her older daughter in Oslo.

Government social workers and psychiatrists, and other parents and neighbors, all concluded that his mother was disturbed and very strange.  Psychiatrists called her volatile and harsh; at one point they heard her tell Anders, "I wish you were dead!"

For a time, the mother was given "respite" from Anders for two weekends a month, and he thrived with a foster family.  She ended that arrangement quickly and refused another.  His father tried and failed to obtain custody and then gave up.  At least one counselor sought to have Anders removed forcibly from his home, but a court decision closed the case after concluding, strangely, that his home life was satisfactory.  This all happened during his first five years.

Anders was a bully, mean to animals and other children.  He found one friend, a Hispanic immigrant girl two years younger than he.  She dropped him when she started school and made friends with other girls.   

Later he befriended an immigrant classmate named Ahmed. Together they became rap music fans and active graffiti posters, or taggers. There were two tagging groups -- a nativist Norwegian one whose members taunted immigrants and the other, multicultural one.  Anders and Ahmed were part of the second group.  

When Oslo police stepped up graffiti enforcement, they twice identified Anders as a tagger.  Based on this, his father ended his already very limited involvement in Anders' life. 

By this time Breivik was 15.  His older sister had fled to America and married, and he was stuck with his mother and his own maladjusted personality.

Anders the Man

From early on, Breivik wanted to be important.  He sought prominence in the tagging/graffiti community and was dismissed and mocked.

He joined the conservative Progressive Party and aspired to youth leadership positions, but his efforts were ignored and rebuffed.

He called himself a metrosexual, wore makeup and saved up and got himself a nose job.

He sought a foreign mail-order bride who visited and, apparently unimpressed with his bank account, ended the relationship.  

He set out to build a fortune and made a profitable internet business selling fake college credentials until law enforcement began to move against him. 

He moved back into his mother's apartment and spent five years in his room marinating his brain on the internet.  For two years, he played World of Warcraft, a popular multi-player video game with millions of participants.  He tried to become a group leader in the game; this too did not work. 

For the next three years, Breivik soaked up malign political views on extreme websites.  He wrote --  and cut and pasted -- a 1,500-page manifesto calling for deportation of immigrants, and a return to traditional family values.  He envisioned a revolution with himself as the Justicious Knight Commander who would lead the battle to straighten out Norway by 2085.  He imagined that his internet comments had won him many followers and that his book, written in English, would extend his popularity around the world.

What seems to have happened in his brain was the merger of a video game world with a political strategy that he resolved to put into action.

Over many months and with great resourcefulness he assembled a cache of weapons and military uniforms and built a very big bomb.  Then he started his revolution on July 22, 2011.

After the Killings

The book about Breivik goes to some length to bring to life several of his idealistic young victims and their families.  These are very moving stories, and it is understandable that the writer wanted to contrast them with the terrorist.  

In a sense, this is unnecessary.  Anyone with half a heart can imagine the individual horror as well as the collective grief.

The Norwegians did not know what to do with Anders Breivik.  

Their basic question was whether he was crazy.  By most lights, his actions in themselves were evidence of insanity.  Breivik held onto the persona he had built for himself in his internet years and asserted that he was not only sane but the political leader of a dedicated opposition movement.

First he was examined by psychiatrists who concluded he was a paranoid schizophrenic. 
Then a second evaluation found evidence of Asperger's syndrome (which is not a psychiatric disorder or associated with violence) and narcissism.  

Breivik fought both these conclusions and asserted his competence and rationality.  He was judged to be sane and, having admitted his actions, sentenced to 21 years in prison; he can be confined for the rest of his life if he does not give up his commitment to war against his countrymen.  

So far, he is reported to be sticking to his beliefs.  What else does he have?  


Yesterday I spoke of how humans balance their personal wishes and goals with their desires to participate in groups with other people.

Anders Breivik is a case unto himself.  He spent many years looking for acceptance and recognition -- from his parents, from schoolmates, from women, from social and political organizations -- and he got nowhere.  

He reacted by retreating and isolating himself.  Then he made a new Anders Breivik, entirely within his own mind, with his own strange ideology and a bunch of imaginary followers.

There may be other people who repeat this process in their own lives.  But this lone wolf caused terrible damage while few others do.  

Certainly his familial and social communities did not reward or restrain him, and he remains responsible for what he has done.  

But I wonder what it would have taken -- by him or by the people who shaped him -- to have averted the collapse of his human values and concern for the lives of others.

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