Understanding the Breivik Verdict: The mass murderer’s ideology, shared by others, poses a threat to Enlightenment values.
On August 24 in Oslo, terrorist and mass murderer Anders Breivik was sentenced to the toughest sentence under Norwegian law: 21 years in prison, with the possibility of prolongation should it be determined, 21 years from now, that he remains dangerous. Considering Breivik’s crimes, the gravity of the verdict came as no surprise. On July 22, 2011, Breivik attempted to assassinate the Norwegian head of state with a bomb before gunning down over 60 innocent young members of the Labour Party at a summer camp. He claimed that Labour members were “cultural Marxists” responsible for an impending Muslim takeover of Europe.
Still, the sentence leaves important questions. How could Breivik have come so far in his planning for the massacres without being detected? How widespread is his viewpoint in Norway and in Europe as a whole? And what, exactly, is the character of this viewpoint? Breivik’s ideology is so extreme that an important part of the Norwegian court case dealt with the question of his sanity. Was he clinically insane, meaning that he shouldn’t be sentenced under a legal procedure presupposing the accused’s soundness of mind? Should he rather be confined, indefinitely, to an asylum or hospital? Or are his deeds, terrible as they are, the coherent product of an extreme but not clinically pathological political ideology? Two groups of psychiatrists submitted reports that reached opposite conclusions on this question. In the end, the court determined that Breivik was sane, and as a result he faces a normal jail sentence.
Certainly Breivik’s 1,500-page Internet manifesto does not appear to be a schizoprenic text. Some of its contents are clearly copied and pasted from other sources, but other parts he apparently wrote himself. Like the complicated logistics of his murderous acts, the manifesto text displays a high degree of coherence.