Saturday, July 23, 2011

Anders Behring Breivik: motives of a mass murderer

Three times, Adrian Pracon prepared to die on Utoya island, a Norwegian paradise turned to hell Friday. Friends he laughed with earlier in the day fell one by one in a gunman's hail of fire.
He survived to tell a horrifying tale Saturday.
When the shooting started Friday afternoon, many of the 600 people at the ruling Labour Party's youth camp ran down a hill and to the water. The shooter came after them, screaming.
"You are all going to die!"
Pracon was one of the last ones remaining between the shooter and the water and didn't have time to take his heavy clothes or boots off. About 100 meters into the chilly water, he realized he would not make it. He would drown with all that weight.
"I felt I couldn't breathe. I already swallowed too much water," he said. "I felt the clothes pulling me down.

The key thing is always motive," said David Wilson, professor of criminology at Birmingham City University, and author of A History of British Serial Killing. "I am sure that, as things become clearer, we will discover there was a mixture of the political and the personal."

The political seems relatively obvious. The bomb target was a government building and the mass shooting occurred at a youth rally for the incumbent political party. "The personal is more difficult to work out at this stage," Wilson said. "It's usually a grudge."

Wilson drew comparisons with the case of Derrick Bird, who killed 12 people on a shooting spree in Cumbria. "Bird was a clear case of the political and the personal. He felt people were trying to steal his taxi customers, that's personal, and he felt he was being unfairly chased for taxes – political."

Breivik's Facebook page suggests he held strong Christian beliefs, enjoyed playing World of Warcraft fantasy games and was a fan of the psychologist William James and philosopher John Stuart Mill whose treatise On Liberty warns against the "tyranny of the majority".

"If I were speculating, I would guess he was annoyed because of the Christian fundamentalism far-right idea that Norway's accessible open culture was being undermined by immigration," Wilson said. Early reports suggested the killings were carried out by a "deranged gunman". But Wilson said this was not the case. "This man was making a point that was very clearly thought through. [He] had a uniform – he was dressed as a policeman– he had planned well enough to have weapons (and ammunition) that he was going to shoot for two hours; he spoke to the kids saying, 'Gather round, I want to ask you some questions,' and then shot them and, crucially, he did not take his own life. This is somebody who is not ashamed of what he did. This man was making a point."

Both spree and serial killings in Scandinavia are rare. Finland witnessed two school spree shootings in 2007 and 2008 carried out by disaffected young men who felt they had been let down as pupils.

Wilson, who has visited Norway many times to study its liberal sentencing policies, asked: "How will Norway react to the appalling events? Will they only sentence this guy to 21 years the maximum sentence a criminal can receive in the country.

Questions, too, will be asked about the country's liberal gun laws. Shooting and hunting are major pastimes in Norway, and guns are easy to obtain.

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