Extreme or Insane: When do Extreme Beliefs become Delusional?
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When are extreme beliefs considered delusional? This article discusses extreme beliefs and delusions, with specific reference to Anders Behring Breivik, his manifesto, and the gun and bomb rampage that left 76 dead in Norway.
Anders Behring Breivik’s Massacre
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last week you know that Anders Behring Breivik went on a gun and bomb rampage, killing 76 people in Norway. Just prior to the massacre, he released a 1518-page Manifesto entitled, 2083: A European Declaration of Independence. Although it has not been independently verified that this manifesto was actually written by Breivik, it appears fairly clear that this is, in fact, the case.
Having obtained this manifesto (and apparently having nothing better to do than to read through it), I am struck by the blurred line between extremist beliefs and delusions. A delusion is a strongly held belief that is not substantiated in reality. Delusional individuals cling to their delusional beliefs, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. But what about someone like Breivik who has such deeply held extremist beliefs? When are extremist beliefs considered delusional?
Breivik’s manifesto is full of extremist right-wing ideology (for lack of a better descriptor). The first 838 pages of the manifesto are a collection of Breivik’s own essays on world history as well as writings, blog posts, and commentary that he obtained from various (mainly) online sources. In essence, the bulk of the manifesto presents a re-writing of history through the eyes of Breivik, with various sources being cited as examples or evidence for Breivik’s point of view.
Breivik’s primary thesis is that most of the world has become too liberal in its views and actions and that “Political Correctness,” which Breivik uses as a catchall term to refer to multiculturalism, feminism, Marxism, and other leftist (for lack of a better, all-encompassing term) movements or political viewpoints must come to an end. The manifesto contains numerous pieces of “evidence” to buttress Breivik’s views (which all appear to be tainted by a pervasive hatred of Islam and his, arguably irrational, fear that Islam will take over the world), including declining birthrates in non-Islam nations, and quotes from various books, media articles, publications, and world leaders.
Although a good portion of the manifesto appears to be excerpts from the published works of various well-known authors (from a variety of professional backgrounds) as well as blog posts from right-wing commentators, the sections that appear to have been written by Breivik are well written and appear to show linear reasoning. Although the manifesto, as a whole, could be described as rambling, since it contains so many varied pieces of “evidence” to back Breivik’s political views, each of the manifesto’s sections appear to be quite logical and linear.
On page 839 of the manifesto, Breivik begins a section on “Planning the operation.” This section goes into very explicit detail about how to plan and execute an operation as a “self sufficient Justiciar Knight sleeper cell” (Breivik’s description of his own role; p. 846). Breivik appears to have been obsessive about the details of the operation and the minutiae involved in planning his attack. The manifesto contains specific and detailed information about obtaining weapons, building body armor, obtaining funding and credit (along with specific details about how to apply for multiple credit cards), diversifying risk, staying motivated, physical preparation (including diet, fitness, training, and how to obtain and use steroids), obtaining and storing equipment, what to use as an alibi, how to buttress your alibi, how to avoid apprehension, and how to apply “deceptive means in urban guerrilla warfare,” among others. The manifesto also contains list of primary targets, a classification system for various levels of traitors (Category A, B, C, & D), and estimates of how many “traitors” exist in the various countries in Western Europe.
Breivik refers to himself as a Justiciar Knight and states, “A Justiciar Knight is not only a valorous resistance fighter, a one man army; he is a one man marketing agency as well. We are selling the promise of a better future for our people and our children. Resistance fighters are in many ways sales representatives. They are marketers and ambassadors to not only their specific organisations and movements but to the future we wish to create…When we blow up a building full of category A and B traitors it is not only for the purpose of killing. An important part of the operation is to force awareness of our movement and our ideology. The ideology we represent is the product we want to sell to the European people” (p. 1065). The manifesto then goes on to discuss sales and marketing techniques, as well as how to prepare for a photo shoot.
On page 1111 of the manifesto, Breivik presents a section on “Finding the right defence attorney/legal counsel for your trial,” which includes how to brief the defence attorney with respect to the cause. This section appears to illustrate the extent of Breivik’s beliefs about his role:
The candidate [the defence attorney] must be explaining [sic] that this trial is not about you but about the future of Europe. Your participation in the trial is merely a formality and a Justiciar Knight expects no mercy/leniency whatsoever, as we offer no mercy/leniency to our enemies. The candidate must be informed that the purpose of your defence is not to ensure the lowest possible sentence but rather to further the cause of saving Europe from Marxism and the subsequent manifestations (Islamisation etc.) which is the cause of the PCCTS, Knights Templar).
The later sections of the manifesto present Breivik’s views on “race-mixing” and the “Nordic ideal.” A series of plans are laid out as to how to create a “monocultural” civilization, including the use of artificial wombs, “outsourced breeding,” “surrogate” families to preserve the Nordic genotype.
Recruiting for, building, and mobilizing a national and pan-European patriotic resistance movement, utilizing Facebook and other social media as a platform to consolidate and grow this movement, is then set out in the later parts of the manifesto. A plan for developing a global military alliance and for dividing up the continents into a “New Europe” and a “New Middle East” is also detailed.
Extremist Beliefs & Delusions
While much of Breivik’s manifesto is a re-telling of some aspects of world history through the eyes of someone whose political beliefs can only be described as extremist (Breivik self describes as anti-cultural Marxism), where is the line drawn between extreme beliefs and delusional beliefs?
For me, I suppose, the tipping point occurs somewhere in Breivik’s manifesto around his discussion of the Knights Templar and his beliefs about being a part of a “National and pan-European Patriotic Resistance Movement.” Until this point in the manifesto, the beliefs presented appear to be, for the most part, an extreme conservative (politically right-wing) account of actual events that took place in the world’s history. Although others might disagree with Breivik’s take on these matters, the beliefs would not be classified as delusional. Numerous examples abound of individuals having their own perspective on world, national, or political events that have taken place: Not everyone is expected to share the same viewpoint or opinion about a particular event. Indeed, history is ripe with examples of differing views of the same event.
Delusional beliefs are those that are clearly false and not based in reality. In addition, these beliefs persist even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Breivik refers to himself as the “Justiciar Knight Commander for Knights Templar Europe and one of several leaders of the National and pan-European Patriotic Resistance Movement.” It is this belief that crosses the line from extreme to delusional. If Breivik truly believes (and he certainly appears to) that he is a Justiciar Knight Commander whose mission it is to lead a resistance movement, and no corroborating evidence for this can be found, he has then crossed the line from extremist beliefs to delusion.
Blurry Lines between Myth and Reality of Knights Templar
A recent CNN blog post by Libby Lewis talks about the blurred line between myth and reality of the Knights Templar.
As is clear from the blog post and corresponding radio broadcast (“A Perfect Knight”), Breivik may be developing his own reality with respect to the Knights Templar.
Time will Tell
At this point, only time will tell whether Breivik’s extreme beliefs are, in fact, delusional. Norwegian authorities continue to search for evidence that corroborates Breivik’s story. We will all continue to watch this developing story with interest.
Photo courtesy of CNN.com