Breivik – down the path of extremism and violence

It is important to stress that the radicalization process of Breivik combines various incidents that take place over many years. Which events prevail over his meaning structures, however, and at which time period is hard to tell with great certainty.

To read the first part of this article, published on 24th April, please click here. 

By Andreas Dafnos

Step 6: Planning of a course of action

Since 2000, Breivik loses hope that democratic values are capable of restraining what he sees as an Islamic threat. He calls this period the ‘crossroad phase’. In his view, the Progress Party is now a moderate party consisting of opportunistic politicians with no courage to fight for their ideals; leading Breivik to perceive them as a basic component of the problem. This realization forces Breivik further down the path of violence. He starts planning the next steps meticulously – “if you are going to be capable of executing such a bloody and horrendous operation, you need to work on your mind, your psyche, for years. We have seen from military traditions you cannot send an unprepared person into war” (Pidd, 2012, para. 21).

By 2002, Breivik already knows that his future operations will succeed only if he gains financial independence, leading him to focus exclusively on his programming services business. Breivik manages to collect 4 million NOK (approximately €0.5m) within two years. The financial crisis ultimately forces him to cease doing business. Given the conditions in Norway, his decision to go bankrupt seems to be the most cost-efficient solution to maintain some of the funds he earned in the previous years.

In addition, a part of his planning requires Breivik to remain silent with friends or family members, for fear of destroying the campaign. Furthermore, he says that he did not discuss anything about the attacks because he feared incriminating them. Moreover, Breivik – in order to not raise suspicions about his true intentions – constantly creates cover stories. For example, he describes an incident in the manifesto about some friends who “believe that I have chosen semi-isolation because of some alleged homosexual relationship which they suspect I am trying to hide, LOL. Quite hilarious, as I am 100% hetero, but they may continue to believe what they want as it prevents them from asking more questions” (2011, p. 1,457).

Step 7: Acquisition of knowledge and skills for implementing one’s plans

In 2006, Breivik starts writing the manifesto; a period which lasts approximately three years. During this phase he decides to live again with his mother after a break of five years (Ravndal, 2012a) in an attempt to save money. Albeit embarrassing, he confesses that it is acceptable for a Justiciar Knight, as he labels himself, who aspires to launch a resistance campaign. Breivik uses Google Translate in order to derive educational material from a wide range of sources and school himself in non-English writings (Pidd, 2012). He is smart enough not to restrict himself only to ideologies pertaining to his goals. He studies al-Qaeda’s attack tactics and those of Marxist revolutions, against whom Breivik holds a hostile stance. Breivik emphasizes that successful case studies can provide valuable lessons.

Breivik collects information on weapons and armour, as well as potential criminal networks that he can contact. He goes to a pistol club and plays the video game, Call of Duty, in order to practice his shooting skills (Ravndal, 2012b). In addition, he becomes acquainted with methods that may function as a psychological stimulus and can help him remain motivated and focused during the preparation phase. He is aware of the possible challenges that he may face during the attack, such as fear, anxiety, pain or injury. Breivik also trains himself in chemical compounds and procedures to make explosive mixtures; knowledge of which he describes in his manifesto – “filter the solution into a 2L beaker containing 1,5L of distilled ice water with ice cubes while rapidly stirring the liquid (magnetic stirrer). This will convert it into bright yellow crystals. The ice cubes are scooped out and the liquid filtered again. The filter papers will contain purified DDNP crystals” (2011, p. 1,533).

Breivik comes across and identifies with the papers of nationalist statesmen and authors, such as Winston Churchill and Fjordman; his connection to the latter having a catalytic role in the justification of his activities. He studies several political systems and expresses admiration for those of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, since their first priority is to protect their culture. Moreover, Breivik researches counter-terrorism measures that have been developed over the years in order to be able to surmount them. He knows that after the 1995 improvised bombing attacks carried out by McVeigh in the USA, it is extremely difficult for an individual to obtain materials for explosions. Nevertheless, he feels confident enough to adapt to such obstacles through dedicated and detailed planning.

Step 8: Provisionally trying out new roles

As time goes by, Breivik feels more confident that violence is the only solution against the ongoing Islamization of Europe. He sees himself as the vanguard of Europe; a martyr for his own people. Breivik believes that “defending your people and culture from genocide is the most basic and recognized human right and one of few causes actually worth dying for” (2011, p. 1,458). In 2006, as already mentioned, he moves back to his family home and focuses on writing the manifesto. In the same year, he quits the Progress Party due to his belief that it will never take over control. Therefore, it is obvious that Breivik begins holding more extreme views. For example, he expresses resentment on an internet forum, saying that the Progress Party is open to multicultural demands and the suicidal ideas of humanism.

Breivik tries out new roles that will transform him into the perpetrator of the 2011 attacks. He plays the World of Warcraft video game on a part-time basis for 12 months in an attempt to detach himself from a conventional lifestyle that does not appeal to him anymore. During the trial, his friends testify this change of behavior – “the witness described attempting to visit him with another friend on his birthday, but said Breivik’s mother had told them he did not have time to see them”.  They assert that after 2006 Breivik keeps talking about immigration and politics, blaming the multiculturalist politicians of Norway for their tolerance to Muslims and betrayal to Norwegian society.

However, it is important to mention that, at this stage of preparations, Breivik does not feel completely certain regarding the necessity of the operation. Should he have seen a change in politics, he would have cancelled the attacks. The first two books of the manifesto hardly refer to armed revolutions, suggesting that Breivik may feel reluctant to use violent means in the beginning. Bearing this mind, it may also explain why he decides to acquire weaponry, armour and chemical materials in 2010 and 2011 (Ravndal, 2012b).

Step 9: Building of competence and self-confidence in new roles and relationships

Over the years, a sense of disappointment settles in Breivik’s mind. He sends articles to newspapers unfolding his anti-Islamic ideology, but they are not accepted. He makes an attempt to cooperate with Fjordman, but he refuses his invitations (Ravndal, 2012b). One can observe that Breivik’s voice cannot be heard within non-violent initiatives. His family, friends, political party and even inspiring people betray and ignore him. As a result, he comes closer to the belief that violence is the only alternative. He manages to complete the manifesto in 2009 and feels ready to cross the next phase of the plan. The first movement is to build a cover story for the ensuing steps. He creates the Breivik Geofarm Company in order to buy fertilizers without raising suspicions.

After the completion of the manifesto, it is plausible to assume that Breivik has the need to build self-confidence and competences, communicating either on the internet or in person with like-minded individuals. He emphasizes (2011, p. 890) that lacking competence is a deadly mistake; it is a “mistake to overestimate your partners strength/conviction and to undertake actions for which you, as yet, lack sufficient equipment or competence.” Breivik comes into contact with participants of the English Defence League, a far-right movement opposing Islamism. A year later, he joins the Norwegian Defence League, another anti-Islamic group; however, he was forced to leave due to his extreme views. In addition, Breivik appears to connect with several other groups, such as Order 777, Gates of Vienna and the Ancient Order of the Templar Knights, presumably demonstrating his will to justify the correctness of his acts (Ravndal, 2012b).

Finally, the aforementioned steps make Breivik believe that he is in the vanguard of fighting Islam and defending the future of Europe. He perceives “ideological confidence, patience, the ability to motivate yourself, keeping sensitive information to yourself, resourcefulness, being pragmatical and insightfulness in your own psyche” as the most important traits that a warrior must have during the operations (2011, p. 1,461). Having acquired these skills and having convinced himself of the necessity of the operations, Breivik proceeds to the crucial phase of his plan; to isolate himself in a farm outside Oslo setting up the bombs.

Step 10: A reintegration into one’s life on the basis of conditions dictated by one’s new perspective

Breivik has been through several experiences that have transformed his meaning perspectives. His novel worldview is now based on the idea that violence is the only way to inflict change. On May 2nd, 2011 Breivik moves to the rented farm and keeps a diary of the 82 days that he remains there. His radicalization process seems to have reached the end of the violent line. There is no way back in terms of his determination to carry out the attacks. He is entirely confident that the new role in society contributes to making him a better man. Nevertheless, he admits that the process was not easy; “I left several aspects of my old life behind and had to completely re-establish myself on an existential level” (2011, p. 1,483).

Breivik thinks that it is worth sacrificing his own life in order to protect the identity and culture of Europe. Unlike his friends who prefer to live a conventional life, he believes that he has the courage to be a martyr. The latter constitutes the driving motivation during the years that he plans the operations. According to Moskalenko and McCauley (as cited in Nijboer, 2012), psychology explains this kind of behavior, providing a concept which is called strong reciprocity. Therefore, Breivik has a strong feeling of reciprocity which means that he cares more for achieving common good than enjoying personal benefits. The extent of commitment to the mission is seen from the next phrase: “I have never in my life felt that I have done anything more meaningful than what I am doing now” (2011, p. 901).

Interestingly enough, Breivik does not address anger or hate towards Muslims. He says that their religion dictates the lifestyle, leaving them with no options but to follow. This explains why Muslims are not specifically targeted. Breivik recognizes that the root cause of the current problem stems from multiculturalists; mainly Norwegian politicians and journalists. For that reason, he plans to attack targets that involve, among others, the government headquarters, the Labour Party building and the annual conference of journalists. However, the original planning fails due to a loss of time in making the bombs, leading Breivik to confess that the final targets were the outcome of a compromise (Pidd, 2012). Finally, on July 22nd 2011, after using a drug cocktail prepared by himself (“Breivik: Court in Norway,” 2012) he detonates a bomb outside the government buildings in the centre of Oslo. A few hours later he opens fire against the youth organization of Labour party on Utøya Island, killing 77 people in total.


The present chapter introduced the radicalization process of Anders Behring Breivik using the conceptual framework of transformative learning theory. To assign his life events to the distinct phases of the learning theory, I showed that radicalization is an accumulative and complex process that can be caused by various factors. In this particular case, Breivik faces disorienting dilemmas since the age of 16-17 years old which question established beliefs, assumptions and expectations. This is an internal battle where he constantly tries to make meaning of these new experiences. In the beginning Breivik considers that those responsible for jeopardizing the future of Europe are Muslims (Criscione, 2012). However, several other experiences and, more importantly, critical reflection on them, make Breivik realize that multiculturalists have caused the current situation. Therefore, he excludes Muslims from his violent campaign, instead focusing the attacks on the corrupt politicians and journalists.

Lone wolves tend to create their own ideologies based on factors that may vary per case. Breivik’s driving motivations appear to constitute a mix of personal and political grievances. It is possible that he sees a connection between his parents, friends, the Labor party and Islamism. Regarding Breivik’s political grievances, the threat of Islamization and the behavior of traitors dominate a large part of the manifesto. In contrast, his personal grievances are hard to reveal. One might assume that it was the mistreatment of Wenche Behring that turned Breivik towards violence, or the betrayal of his Pakistani friend. Interestingly, Breivik’s parents were members of the Labour Party when they were young (Allen, 2011). Thus, one might also assume that Breivik attacked the Labour Party due to his troublesome childhood caused by his parents.

Several other experiences of his life can be considered as trigger events. For example, one of the friends testified that Breivik could not retain his composure when a Belarusian woman abandoned him; another said that he was suffering from depression until the summer of 2008 (Fisher, 2012). Therefore, it is important to stress that the radicalization process of Breivik combines various incidents that take place over many years. Which events prevail over his meaning structures, however, and at which time period is hard to tell with great certainty.

Andreas Dafnos graduated from Maastricht University (in collaboration with United Nations University) with a masters degree in Public Policy and Human Development, specializing in risk and vulnerability. Mr. Dafnos is a member of the Economic Chamber of Greece.

This article is published as part of TransConflict’s project, Confronting Extremism, which aims to improve understanding about the concept of extremism itself, plus the groups and ideologies that manifest extremism in their aims, rhetoric and activities.

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14 Responses

  1. farmrdave

    My opinion of Mr Breivik’s reasons are developed completely from what I have seen reported by various news agencies and what may have been his manifesto on you tube. I am not sure if what I viewed on you tube is actually from Breivik or not as I viewed it after the killing incident. I am far removed from anyone or anything directly connected to this. I live in western USA.
    It appears to me that Mr. Breivik is a self appointed crusader continuing the battle that has raged on for hundreds of years. He felt it necessary to make the ultimate commitment in the hope that others might review his actions and be awakened to the fact that pacificity will lead to a certain end and that resistance may lead to something different. It appears he thought this of so great of importance that he sacrificed the lives of all those killed as well as himself to make his conclusions known. He has forced us all to view his view of these events and draw conclusions from them.

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