What do these terrorists have in common? The have all been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenics.
The psychiatrists tasked with determining the mental state of Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik today declared him to be criminally insane.
According to their evaluation, the terrorist who killed 77 people in Norway this summer is suffering from paranoid schizophrenia - just like the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, whose manifesto Brevik copied large sections from word by word for his own manifesto.
The conclusions by the state appointed psychiatrists are of course controversial, and are bound to be debated for a long time. Many feel that this, declaring Breivik insane, is a way of letting hateful extremist ideology off the hook.
«Muslim terrorists are a product of Islamic hate-rhetoric. Norwegian terrorists on the other hand, could not possibly operate on the basis of an ideological background. No sir. The explanation for Norwegian-bred terror is to be found in the brain chemistry of the perpetrator,» wrote Norwegian blogger Paal Hivand (my translation).
There is some truth to that, but I suspect we might find various personality disorders or psychiatric disorders if we look closer at many terrorists and mass-killers, regardless of ideology.
The case that instantly sprang to mind when I read about the psychiatrists' conclusions today was Ted Kaczynski. Comparing the two cases reveal fascinating similarities.
As Kaczynski, Breivik has also rejected the diagnosis, is likely to reject a plea for insanity from his defense and is also likely to claim paranoid schizophrenic is a "political diagnosis”
This piece in Psychology Today is very interesting on that account:
Several (but not all) of the forensic psychiatrists and psychologists who examined Kaczynski diagnosed him as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia ...Though his defense attorneys tried to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, Kaczynski refused, perhaps in part due to denial about his illness, a very common symptom of schizophrenia; or perhaps because of his own narcissism, not wanting to be maligned as mentally ill.
And it goes on:
….Terrorism is itself a form of madness. Perpetrators of terrorism express their rage at the world destructively, in a desperate, last-ditch and sometimes suicidal attempt to gain recognition, fame or glory for themselves and their cause and, ultimately, to give some shred of meaning to their otherwise meaningless lives. Terrorism is typically an infantile and narcissistic act of violence stemming from profound feelings of impotence, frustration, and insignificance.
That is perhaps why we find many other terrorists and mass-killers, from different ideological backgrounds, who have been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenics.
Among them, David John Copeland, who became known as the "London Nail Bomber" after a 13-day bombing campaign in aimed at London's black, Bangladeshi and gay communities, and admitted terrorist and 9/11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. Evidence was also said to strongly support that Virgina Tech- Killer Seung-Hui Cho had paranoid schizophrenia.
Still, it’s not an easy conclusion to swallow in regard to Anders Behring Breivik, who meticulously planned and prepared his terrorist attack for many years.
I have read his manifesto twice, and he comes across as many things, certainly a narcissist, but insane? I'm not so sure.
Breivik may have grandiose and delusional ideas about saving Norway, his own importance in history, segregating races, breeding true Norwegians etc, but so did Hitler. If Breivik is criminally insane, why wasn’t Hitler?
However, at this stage it’s difficult to make any bombastic conclusions about Breivik's case as there are so many things we simply don’t know about the 230-page long psychiatric report on him.
So far, we’ve only heard the main conclusions, and very little about the background for how the psychiatrists arrived at them.
But what we do know is that with Breivik labelled both psychotic and paranoid schizophrenic - if these evaluations are not contested at the next stage of this process - it is very unlikely he will be allowed to give any of those long political speeches to the jury he had planned to make.
Neither will journalists be quite so keen on interviewing him. That would raise all sorts of ethical conundrums...