Anders Breivik: cold and calculating, yes – but insane?

Breivik probably has a pyschopath’s lack of affective empathy. But that alone cannot explain his terrible cruelty

Anders Breivik

Anders Breivik is transported from the courthouse in Oslo shortly after his killing spree. Photograph: Scanpix Norway/REUTERS

We can all remember where we were when we heard that Anders Breivik had gone to a summer camp on Utoya island in Norway, dressed as a police officer, and shot and killed 69 people, mainly teenagers. Psychologists call this a flashbulb memory: although it may not have exceptional detail, the memory has a vividness that derives from the emotional shock around it.

As bystanders to this tragedy, we heard one question repeatedly voiced as we sat glued to our TV screens: why? If we had asked Breivik why he murdered all those young people, he would have said it was to draw attention to his manifesto aimed at saving Europe from the Muslims. Indeed he emailed his deeply disturbing “2083: A European Declaration of Independence”, to more than a thousand people 90 minutes before he bombed the government buildings in Oslo and just before he went out and shot all those people on the island camp.

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