Psychosis: the Breivik dilemma

One of the interesting things to come out of the ongoing Anders Breivik trial is that there seems to be a disagreement amongst the psychiatric profession regarding Breivik’s mental state.  The original psychiatric report published last November concluded that he was psychotic.1

The second psychiatric report, published in April by two forensic psychiatrists concludes that Breivik is sane – which totally contradicts the original report.  They argue that they simply ‘judged the material differently’ than the previous psychiatrists.   What’s even more puzzling is that Breivik’s defence team are encouraging the view that their client is sane.  In fact they are calling Mullah Krekar, founder of the radical Islamic group Ansar al-Islam, as a witness to ‘demonstrate how a person with extreme political views may be put on trial as sane’.2

This last point raises a very important question: does the fact that someone holds extreme political views – which Breivik certainly does3, and is able to articulate them in a clear, rational way mean that they are therefore not mad?  Does the fact that Breivik gave a very calm, detailed, detached account of how he murdered all those young people on the island of Utoeya mean he is therefore sane?

The twist to all this, of course, is that Breivik is not only claiming he is sane, but also that he is not a criminal.  Normally in these kinds of cases it’s a question of one or the other.   Breivik’s view, however, appears to be that he is a ‘soldier’ and that all the people he gunned down and blew up were legitimate ‘targets’.  This raises an interesting question regarding the police uniform he was wearing at the time of the bombing and shootings: was it simply to fool the authorities so he could gain access to his victims, or was it also because he saw himself as a protector of (white European) Norwegian culture?

Darian Leader wrote a very insightful article soon after the shooting last summer.4  In Leader’s view it is pretty straightforward: Breivik is exhibiting all the symptoms of paranoia, i.e. he is psychotic.  The fact that up until the events last summer Breivik appears to have led a relatively normal life (although a close look at the original psychiatric report does raise some doubts about this) does not mean that he was any less psychotic than the ‘mad axe killers’ so beloved by the media (and the wider population perhaps?).  To quote Leader:

Paranoia has three classical components. The paranoiac has located a fault or malignancy in the world, he has named it, and has a message to deliver about it. For Breivik, the conviction is that Europe is rotten, that the name of this rottenness is Islam and that it is his mission to expose and excise it.

Perhaps it is already becoming clear that Breivik is certainly not alone….  Think Islamic or Christian fundamentalist, think Stalin, think Hitler, think neo-conservative politician, the list is endless.  They all located/locate the problems and contradictions of human existence in the external world, in the Other – and they are tasked with resolving such problems, removing such contradictions.  A quick search of the web will soon throw up hundreds of proto-Breiviks.  Of course, it’s more comforting to think that he is just another lone mad man, rather than being everyman.

Leader makes another interesting, and rather chilling observation in his article:

Neurotic people are unsure of their aim in life, and sex, death and existence are open questions. Encountering someone who actually knows the answer to these questions will exert a gravitational effect. Breivik, like many others, will probably attract his followers.

I don’t know why Leader bothered to write ‘probably’.  On this occasion I suspect it’s a dead certainty.


  1.  Please note this is a translation by someone who appears to be a Breivik supporter, so please don’t be too shocked if you decide to explore the rest of the site and don’t like what you read.  It does actually demonstrate that Breivik has a lot more support than many would like to believe []
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  3. This is clear from the first psychiatric report, his courtroom testimony and his manifesto []
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