Sabine Wanmaker, 25 August 2012

Anders Behring Breivik was declared sane yesterday. When the judge was reading the courts’ arguments for its decision it seemed obvious he was sane. However, it was a hard decision for them to make and one of the few questions left in this trial (as it was clear from the beginning and all parties agreed Breivik committed his acts).

In this trial, there have been two contradicting psychiatric reports, which led to much confusion. Not just for the involved parties but just as much for Norwegian society. We met with Ulrik Malt, a psychiatric who observed Breivik and testified as an expert-witness in the trial. He explained to us how it was possible that these two contradictory reports actually described one and the same person. Malt explains that the symptoms observed by the two psychiatric teams were almost the same, but those observations led to different interpretations and thus, to two opposing outcomes.

Take for example his neologisms (new words invented by Breivik such as ‘suicidal humanism’), that the first team of psychiatrists interpreted as a symptom of schizophrenia while the second team thought they were self-made concepts fitting his ideology. Tore Bjorgo, a terrorism expert who cooperated in our research, told us another interesting example.

“Breivik mentions the civil war several times in his manifesto and this was interpreted as a delusion by the first psychiatric team. However, in the world of far-right extremists, this is a very commonly used term and it refers to what Breivik sees as the culture clash between the ‘real’ Europeans and the muslim immigrants. Other examples, that were interpreted as being part of Breivik’s psychosis were: his idea that he he has the right to decide who can live and who will die and his conspiracy-theory of Islam taking over Europa leading to Eurabia.”

An important criterium in all psychopathological disorders is that the behavior cannot be explained by cultural behaviour or thoughts. According to the judges, the first psychiatric report did not pay enough attention to this. The second psychiatric report claimed (and the judges followed this claim) that his behavior can be explained by his extreme-right views and thus, during his terrorist acts, he was not psychotic.

One of the most important arguments against him being psychotic (in general) which led the judges to believe he was sane, was the fact that he nuanced his opinions during the interviews and trial and that all the observers were able to follow his speeches. A psychotic person will be convinced by his own thoughts in such a way that he would not nuance his views in any way; his thoughts would be disorganized and his speech would not be clear. Breivik’s behavior, to the opposite, was structured: he payed rent to his mother and he was generally dressed neatly. Also, his cognitive functions like impulse control and the capacity to plan ahead were normal. The judges took this as another clue that his behavior was not the behavior of a psychotic person. For many Norwegians this was even more shocking; how can a sane person execute such a horrifying act?

Even though Breivik was declared sane yesterday, the judges concluded he did suffer from narcissistic personality disorder. This was reflected in the descriptions of Breivik by his mother and his friends. They described a switch from someone who had been an outsider for quite some time, yet a friendly one, to an antisocial person. His mother described him as both a kind guy that was always willing to help friends to solve their problems, but at the same time a son who was using her and was showing more antisocial behavior towards her.

These two opposing views can be explained by the loyalty she feels as a mother on the one hand and the feelings of  anger on the other. She described that she was worried about his behavior in the year before the attacks. He was obsessed with his looks, he was angrier than normal and switched between ignoring her and talking while sitting too close to her. She was not able to follow his thoughts anymore.

His friends described him as a stubborn boy with some strange ideas, an outsider of the group. However, he went on holiday with them. After he began to play the computer role-playing game of World of Warcraft he changed his behavior and did not participate in the friendships anymore.

One of the most striking examples of his narcissistic personality disorder was the fact that he began to cry in court when he was watching his self-made propoganda movie while he never showed any emotions during the rest of the trial. Also, he feels he plays a very important in European history.

As Ulrik Malt mentioned to us, people underestimate the difficulty of diagnosing someone. Fortunately, today, while distributing surveys on the street, a lot of people told us they were very pleased with the final verdict that said Breivik was sane. We think Norway can look back to a fair trial with, at the end, a just verdict. However, the role of psychiatrists in trials was undermined because of the Breivik trial, as recent polls show 54% of Norwegians do not trust psychiatry anymore after this trial.