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The Breivik Myths, Part 1
On July 22, 2011, Anders Behring Breivik murdered 77 people in Norway. First with a car bomb that killed eight people in central Oslo, and then with a shooting massacre that killed 69 people on the island of Utøya outside Oslo. Years later ABB can still make headlines in international media. In July 2015, it was confirmed that he will be allowed to study political science at the University of Oslo from his prison cell. This was mentioned in mass media throughout the Western world, from the BBC  to Fox News. However, the mass media are very selective regarding what they say about Breivik.
In early 2014, Breivik sent a letter in English from prison to various Western media. He there stated in plain words that he is not an anti-Islamic activist. On the contrary, he wanted to use the mass media to damage peaceful Islam-critical writers. Hardly any established Western media  mentioned this revelation with  a single word in 2014. Presumably, it did not suit their agenda. Some alternative media did mention this, however.
Breivik has become something of a modern myth. He is being presented as a rational and sane mass murderer, a white heterosexual right-wing extremist, a “Christian terrorist” and an alleged “Islamophobic” activist. The only facts that are indisputable is that he is a white man and a mass murderer. The remaining claims are either highly questionable or just plain wrong.
ABB was declared insane by the first psychiatrists who studied him in 2011. The forensic psychiatrists Torgeir Husby and Synne Sørheim found that he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and was delusional. They did not doubt this conclusion. Breivik’s main defense lawyer Geir Lippestad stated that he was not surprised by the psychiatrists’ findings. Lippestad told reporters in late July 2011 that “this whole case has indicated that he is insane.” Geir Lippestad further states in his book about this case from 2013 that some members of his defense team also believed that Breivik is insane.
However, this conclusion triggered outrage among the mass media. The media and some political forces started a prolonged and vicious campaign of character assassination against the two psychiatrists, who were simply doing their job. Some colleagues warned against a veritable “witch-hunt” on Husby and Sørheim. The establishment clearly wanted Breivik to be an anti-Islamic “right-wing extremist,” not a madman.
Following intense media pressure, the Oslo District Court and judge Wenche Elizabeth Arntzen in January 2012 appointed new psychiatrists to conduct another study of Breivik. This decision was virtually unprecedented in Norwegian legal history until that point. The second pair of forensic psychiatrists, Terje Tørrissen and Agnar Aspaas, delivered their report in April 2012, a few days before the trial was about to begin. They concluded that Breivik is legally sane. After a trial lasting months, even though the perpetrator had confessed and everybody agreed that he was guilty, Arntzen and her co-judges found Breivik sane on August 24, 2012. They based their ruling entirely on the report made by the second pair of forensic psychiatrists, which judge Arntzen herself had appointed a few months earlier. Lawyer Morten Furuholmen commented that the court had failed their task. In his view, the verdict was the result of a “massive, relentless pressure” from external sources.
The Oslo court declared that Anders Behring Breivik is sane and inspired by a right-wing extremist Islamophobic ideology. This happens to be exactly what the entire political establishment, from the major mass media to Labour Party Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, wanted the judges to say. PM Stoltenberg publicly stated on national TV before the trial began that the best outcome of the upcoming legal process would be for Breivik to be declared sane. Wenche Elizabeth Arntzen was appointed to the Supreme Court of Norway two years later, in 2014. Some powerful individuals and groups were apparently happy with the job she had done. However, many people still suspect that the first psychiatric report may have been correct.
Norway’s Board of Forensic Medicine approved the initial psychiatric evaluation. “There are no significant comments on the evaluation,” the board, led by psychiatrist Karl Heinrik Melle, said. In contrast, the Board of Forensic Medicine had objections to the second evaluation that found ABB to be sane.
The initial report made by Torgeir Husby and Synne Sørheim was based on multiple meetings with Breivik in the months immediately following his attacks in 2011. All of these conversations took place during a period when Breivik lived in relative isolation from the rest of the world. He had no direct contact with the mass media, only with the police interrogators, his defense attorneys and the two forensic psychiatrists. There is good reason to assume that he was being honest about his thoughts then. This was not the case with the second report.
The second pair of forensic psychiatrists talked to Breivik later and under less optimal conditions. He now had personal access to the media. After reading what the newspapers wrote about him, Breivik suddenly and substantially changed his statements to the police and the psychiatrists in order to be considered sane. Both the police interrogators and ABB’s attorney Lippestad admitted that Breivik changed his statements in 2012.
Several professors of psychiatry in Norway, among them Tor K. Larsen and Alv A. Dahl, have criticized the court’s verdict from August 2012 for displaying a flawed understanding of what constitutes insanity.
Peter Kramp, for years a leading member of the Clinic of Forensic Psychiatry in Denmark, agreed with the initial diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. He argued in an essay in the newspaper Politiken why it was correct. Also in Denmark, the psychiatrists Aksel Bertelsen, Merete Nordentoft and Ole Mors published an essay in the paper Berlingske Tidende arguing that Breivik probably suffers from undiagnosed and untreated paranoid schizophrenia. If true, his apparent pattern of a gradually deteriorating mental state in early adulthood is fairly common, although his actions are fortunately not common.
Sten Levander, a respected professor emeritus in the fields of general and forensic psychiatry in Sweden, listened to Breivik’s public statements at the beginning of the trial in Oslo. According to him, Breivik is immersed in a world totally of his own making. “To me it’s obvious that the guy is crazy,” Levander stated. Yet he also added that how mad you can be while still being held criminally accountable for your actions is a legal as well as a medical matter. Levander has criticized the unusual step taken by the Oslo District Court in demanding a second psychiatric evaluation as giving in to political and mass media pressure. Neither the prosecutors nor Breivik’s defense lawyers wanted a second evaluation. Levander noted that it is wrong to assume that medical insanity cannot coexist with elements of long-term planning and seemingly rational behavior. He stressed that recognizing insanity obviously does not mean that evil does not exist. In certain cases, a mentally ill person might also be described as evil.
The news program Deadline at Denmark’s state broadcaster DR on July 22, 2013, two years after the attacks, held a debate about the case. Even the long-time Communist activist Poul Villaume, now a Professor at University of Copenhagen, agreed that Breivik’s attacks were a highly unusual and probably unique event. He argued that Breivik’s extreme violence against unarmed teenagers was so horrifying that it was likely to disgust most people regardless of political color. In other words, it was counterproductive.
This is, coincidentally, the same argument that critics of Islamization have made from the very beginning. Even terrorist groups normally have some kind of cynical logic behind their attacks, to increase support for their cause or achieve specific objectives. Yet no sane person could seriously believe that butchering dozens of people at Utøya, including children down to the age of 14, could increase his number of supporters among the general public. This implies that Breivik is either not sane or did not have the objective he claims to have had. Perhaps he is insane, or perhaps he simply wanted to become famous, and chose an unusually ruthless path to do so.
In September 2013, Denmark’s state broadcaster DR staged a rational radio discussion with medical professionals and experts in the field of psychiatry on whether Breivik is sane or insane. The participants were the medical doctors Kristina Milting, Igor Petrov, René Sjælland and Lars Siersbæk Nilsson. The host was the brain scientist Peter Lund Madsen, who is respected for popularizing research into the human brain.
We do not possess descriptions from former teachers or classmates indicating that ABB came off as obviously insane during his school days. In hindsight, 2006 appears to have been a turning point. This is when he moved back home to live with his mother in Oslo. He became even worse after 2010. He was then described as irritable and increasingly unstable by his own mother, who feared that he was going insane. He also became abnormally obsessed with disease and cleanliness. Breivik indicated in conversations that he can predict other people’s thoughts and read their minds. He also has a very unusual way of speaking.
Dr. René Sjælland indicated that the way Breivik behaved from 2006 until 2011 is actually fairly typical for people who develop paranoid schizophrenia. He displayed a gradual, but marked change of social behavior and became more reclusive, displaying non-rational fear of germs, disease, noises and insects. The change happened gradually over several years. He became even worse in 2010-2011. At that point, his own mother feared that Anders was going insane. The police investigation shows that it was during this period he bought much of the guns, ammunition, body armor and other equipment that he used for his 2011 attacks.
During the initial talks with forensic psychiatrists, Breivik showed almost no facial mimic of any kind. He was emotionally detached, stared into the air and seemed to live in a different reality from the rest of us. René Sjælland indicated that the first pair of forensic psychiatrists were probably correct. Breivik’s symptoms are indeed compatible with the diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. The drugs and anabolic steroids he took may have affected his level of aggression, but not nearly enough to explain why he decided to carry out attacks.
Dr. Lars Siersbæk Nilsson was critical of the second forensic report, which declared Breivik sane. It came about in an atmosphere of extreme political and media pressure. In Nilsson’s view, the second pair of psychiatrists downplayed, ignored or tried to explain away credible information indicating that Breivik could be insane. The early interview with his mother where she stated that she feared her son had been going insane was hardly mentioned in the second report. The major point for them was that Breivik’s attacks required extensive planning, and that you cannot do this you are insane. As Nilsson indicated, this is an incorrect view of insanity. Plenty of people who suffer from schizophrenia or other types of serious mental illness can nevertheless show calculated behavior and extensive planning. Some schizophrenics can have careers or even win Nobel Prizes. That was the case with the American mathematician John Forbes Nash.
Anders Behring Breivik has claimed to be a “Commander” of the alleged international terrorist network Knights Templar. Years later, a very extensive investigation has not found a single trace of this organization. Not even one person, apart from ABB. This entirely imaginary organization seems to exist only in Breivik’s rather twisted mind. Yet Breivik carried out his attacks on behalf of this imaginary entity. He even made Knights Templar medals and uniforms. Many people still suspect that these ideas represent psychiatric delusions.
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