Anders Behring Breivik, the individual who went on a gun and bomb rampage in Norway, leaving 76 dead, claims in his 1518-page manifesto that he is the “Justiciar Knight Commander for Knights Templar Europe and one of several leaders of the National and pan-European Patriotic Resistance Movement.” In a previous post, I commented that this belief is where (I believe) the blurred line between extremist beliefs and delusions becomes clear in Breivik’s case. Here, information about delusions and the insanity defense is presented followed by commentary about whether Breivik could successfully mount this defense in Norway.

If, indeed, it can be ascertained that Breivik is not, in fact, a Justiciar Knight Commander for the Knights Templar Europe (never mind whether this organization exists), then it appears as if much of what he has apparently written in the 1518-page manifesto that was released just prior to committing these acts of terrorism is delusional in nature. To be clear, most of what he has written in the manifesto (if indeed we assume that he wrote/compiled the manifesto; a logical assumption that has yet to be verified) is not delusional but can certainly be described as extremist. However, his apparent belief that he belongs to this particular organization (for which no evidence has yet been obtained) appears to be delusional in nature.

Delusions and Insanity

Delusions are beliefs that are clearly false and not based in reality. Delusional individuals cling to these beliefs even in the face of evidence to the contrary. In the United States and Canada, as well as in other countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, delusional beliefs can form the basis for an insanity defense wherein the delusional individual is not held criminally accountable for their actions.

Breivik’s attorney has gone on record stating that Breivik could very well have been insane at the time of his crimes. Professor Mike Berry, a Clinical Forensic Psychologist at Manchester Metropolitan University, provides some interesting insight on Breivik in the following clip.

Professor Berry notes that Breivik does not appear to be insane. I agree; however, I wonder how many people who hear this statement might not understand its very specific meaning.

Insanity in the USA & Canada

Insanity is a legal term that refers to the criminal responsibility of an individual. In the USA, most states allow for an insanity defense. The two most common standards for insanity are the M’Naughten Rule and the American Law Institute standard. In essence, these standards require that to be found insane (not criminally responsible for one’s actions) one must not have known what he or she was doing at the time of the crime or, if he or she did know, must not know that it was wrong.

Similarly, in Canada, individuals who were so mentally disordered at the time of the crime as to not know what they were doing or not know that it was wrong can be found Not Criminally Responsible on Account of Mental Disorder (NCRMD), the Canadian equivalent of the insanity defense.

Other countries with adversarial legal systems based on English common law, such as Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, also allow for severely mentally disordered individuals to present an insanity defense and, if successful, not be held criminally responsible for their actions.

Individuals who successfully present an insanity defense are technically acquitted (found not guilty) of their crimes since they did not have the requisite mental element (intent) for the crime. These individuals most often are detained in a psychiatric facility and treated for their mental disorder. Periodic evaluation of these individuals occurs and they can be released back into the community if a review board or other decision-making authority deems that they are not a threat.

Research shows that it is difficult to present a successful insanity defense. In the United States, this defense is mounted in about 9 of every 1000 felony cases and is successful in only about 2 of those.

More information on the various legal standards for insanity used in the USA and public perceptions of the insanity defense.

Insanity in Norway

Norway also allows for an insanity defense but to meet the requisite criteria for this defense, an individual must have been psychotic at the time of the crime. That is, he or she must have been sufficiently out of contact with reality so as to no longer be in control of his or her own actions. By Breivik’s own account, and by the detailed plan laid out in the 1518-page manifesto, it appears that it would be extremely difficult to argue that Breivik was psychotic and not in control of his actions at the time. In fact, it almost appears to be the exact opposite: Breivik appears to have been acutely and deliberately in control of his actions at the time. As Professor Berry notes in the clip above, Breivik’s level of planning for the attacks was meticulous and painstaking. Over the course of several years he methodically and obsessively planned for these attacks.

Breivik’s View on Criminal Responsibility

The 1518-page manifesto that was released just prior to the attacks delineates a very specific plan for the attacks. Breivik appears to have been very much in control of his actions. In fact, at pages 770-771 of the manifesto, Breivik refers to the criminal responsibility of individuals who commit the acts set out in the manifesto, stating:

Individual Criminal Responsibility:

A person who planned, instigated, ordered, committed or otherwise aided and abetted in the planning, preparation or execution of a crime referred to in the following articles shall be held individually responsible for the crime.

The official position of any accused person, whether as Head of State or Government or as a responsible Government official, shall not relieve such person of criminal responsibility or mitigate punishment.

The fact that any of the acts referred to in the following articles was committed by a subordinate does not relieve his superior of criminal responsibility if he knew or had reason to know that the subordinate was about to commit such acts or had done so and the superior failed to take the necessary and reasonable measures to prevent such acts or to punish the perpetrators thereof.

The fact that an accused person acted pursuant to an order of a Government or of a superior shall not relieve him of criminal responsibility, but may or may not be considered in mitigation of punishment in the future (depending on the accused persons [sic] current and future acts of repent).

Of course, it is unclear whether Breivik was including himself in this reference or whether he would believe in a double standard but it appears that Breivik would consider himself to be criminally responsible for his actions.

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