Lessons From The Oslo Terrorist Attack

What have we learned from this horrific event?

Posted Jul 30, 2011

The July 22, 2011 terrorist attacks in Oslo, Norway are a reminder that when it comes to terrorism, whether domestic or international, the cause may change, but little changes about the terrorists themselves. I will explain.

Personality Types
When we look at terrorists such as the accused Anders Behring Breivik, aka, Andrew Berwick, two prominent but significant personality features stand out that we see over and over: pathological narcissism and paranoia (Navarro 2004).

And while it is true that most of us share a few narcissistic features, the narcissism we are talking about here is different: it is pathological in nature. Pathological narcissism allows the individual to see themselves as special, entitled, unique, and distinct - larger than life. They see themselves as having a unique understanding of events and a purpose that others don't have. They believe their ideas and thoughts are special and they see themselves as entitled to bend rules, break laws, and to take shortcuts to achieve their limitless desires. They rigorously overvalue themselves and their ideas, while devaluing others and their beliefs with equal zeal.

Paranoia among solo terrorists is extremely high and it permeates and molds their thinking. This kind of paranoia is truly pathological, persistent, and unyielding. It is a form of irrational fear of things that they dislike or are against. In the case of Ted Kaczynski it was fear of technology; in the case of Timothy McVeigh it was fear of a militarized police force (he hated SWAT teams); in the case of Usama Bin Laden, he feared Western/ American influence in the Middle East; and in the case of Anders Behring Breivik it appears he fears Muslims in Western Europe and multiculturalism. While many individuals out there may have similar views, it is the narcissistic paranoid that dangerously takes this to another level.

This twisted belief system is not a political philosophy that yields. Rather, it is a belief system that subconsciously identifies everything they oppose or hate as either bad or wrong and as an existential threat. Those who disagree are at best naïve and an obstacle, or at worst an enemy. Paranoia, you see, tolerates no alternative views, debate, tolerance or compromise.

So, when these two pathologies (narcissism and paranoia) combine it makes for a very dangerous kind of individual. How dangerous? Take a look at these world leaders who exhibit these features: Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, and Kim Jong-Il. No different than Ted Kaczynski, Timothy McVeigh, Usama Bin Laden, and now Anders Behring Breivik. This toxic amalgamation of narcissism and paranoia, whether at the national or individual level, makes for a very callous, unstable personality. If there is no intervention early on, these individuals can become extremely toxic, extremely dangerous, and extremely deadly.

Ideology and Wound Collecting
But narcissism and paranoia are only part of the equation. The other part of the equation is an unbending, powerful ideology based on "wound collecting." Whatever that ideology may be, it may not make sense to you or to me, but that doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is that it makes sense to the terrorist - no further justificationneeded. Whether it is anti-technology, anti-abortion clinic, anti-Israel, anti-US, anti-government, or anti-Muslim, no matter how extreme their ideology, for the terrorist, it makes perfect sense.

In a way, narcissism contributes to the ideology or skewed belief system while the paranoia assures there will be enemies and things to conquer. That rancid belief system is based primarily on something few understand and that is that all terrorists are wound collectors (Navarro 2010).

There is an unwritten requirement of all terrorists - collect wounds so that you hate with passion. Conveniently there is no statute of limitations on suffering or an injustice; there is no time limit or forgiveness for the terrorist. So the terrorist collects wounds - not just personal ones but those from history and from other social conflicts. So when we read the manifesto of Ted Kaczynski, the Fatwah of Usama Bin Laden, or the latest manifesto from Anders Behring Breivik, what we see is a collection of wrongs, grievances, and injustices, some from the present while others go back to the time of the first crusades. The terrorist collects wounds so he can amply nourish his beliefs and hatred - until he strikes.

Psychological and Physical Isolation
But these thoughts, ideas, perceptions, and beliefs usually come into conflict with society because their thinking is skewed and the "magical solution" is always the use of violence.

In any society there will be those who give lip service to the terrorist ideology but few want to be a part of that belief system. Soon the proto-terrorist realizes this and begins to isolate himself psychologically, all the while looking for other "true believers"(Hoffer 1951). When he can't find them or he is rejected, as they most often are (McVeigh was rejected by several groups he approached), they then physically isolate themselves (Dyer 1998, 223-227; Dees 1996, 150-170).

Violence as Magic
If terrorism is, as I have often argued, a form of "politics by other means," (borrowing from Clausewitz) then creating fear can only be achieved, in the terrorist mind, through violence (Navarro 2004). Violence becomes the "magical formula" for achieving the ideological belief as we saw in Oklahoma, with the letter bombs of the Unabomber, and on 9/11. In the case of Anders Behring Breivik, as he has admitted, it was necessary to bomb the government buildings of the ruling Labor Party and assassinate more than 70 children attending a Workers' Youth League (AUF) camp on the isolated island of Utøya, in order to properly warn Norwegians of the Islamic/multicultural threat (his words) and to bring about political change. If it doesn't make sense to you, as I said, it doesn't matter: the only thing that matters to the narcissist is what he thinks.

Lethal Cocktail
When you combine the narcissistic personality with paranoia and then add a powerful unyielding ideology which embraces violence as the means to bring forth change, you have a lethal cocktail which becomes dangerously virulent in an isolated state, where there are no rational voices to intervene (Post 1992, 37-38). In isolation, the terrorist can plan or rehearse for a terrorist attack and this allows him to experiment or practice with weapons. It is at this stage that the individual is ready to fulfill his narcissistic desires and it is from this point that the individual is most dangerous.

So what have we learned from Oslo?
The path to terrorism has a distinct trajectory based on the personality of the terrorist and his beliefs. There is nothing new here we haven't seen before and we will see again. The combination of a pathologically narcissistic personality that is paranoid. These personalities become extremely dangerous where there is an unyielding ideology based on wound collecting and hatred. When violence becomes the prescribed solution and it often does and it is nursed and allowed to percolate in unfettered isolation you have the making of a very dangerous individual. Ideology is the only thing that changes over time in these matters, all other factors described will remain the same. Could this tragedy have been prevented? Perhaps - that is the lesson here.

Update: August 24, 2012 The court in Oslo found today that the Norway mass killer Anders Breivik is sane (narcissism and paranoia are not insanity defenses) and he will remain in prison all his life. You can expect more vitriol from him as nothing pleases a Narcissist more than a world stage.

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For further information please consult the bibliography below or contact me at www.jnforensics.com. You can also follow me on twitter at: @navarrotells. For a complete list of my books please click here Amazon.com. 


The 9/11 Commission report: final report of the National Commission on terrorist attacks upon the United States. 2004. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

Combs, Cindy. 1997. Terrorism in the twenty‑first century. New York: Prentice Hall.

Dees, Morris and James Corcoran. 1996. Gathering storm: America's militia movement. New York: Harper Collins.

Dyer, Joel. 1998. Harvest of rage: why Oklahoma city is only the beginning. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Dyson, William E. 2001. Terrorism: an investigator's handbook. Cincinnati, OH: Anderson Publishing Co.

Hoffer, Eric. 1951. The true believer. New York: Harper and Row.

Juergensmeyer, Mark. 2000. Terror in the mind of God: the global rise of religious violence. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Kernberg, Otto. (1975). Borderline conditions and pathological narcissism. New York: Jason Aronson

Navarro, Joe. 2005. Hunting terrorists: a look at the psychopathology of terror. Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas Publishers. 

Navarro, Joe. 2011. Interviewing Terrorists: The definitive guide. Kindle Edition. 

Navarro, Joe. 2004. Lectures on exploitable weaknesses of terrorist organizations, Saint Leo University, Saint Leo, Florida, Spring Academic Year.

Navarro, Joe. 2003. "The psychopathology of terror," lecture before the FBI National Academy Graduates, Key West, Florida, July 28.

Navarro, Joe and John R. Schafer. 2003. Universal principles of criminal behavior: a tool for analyzing criminal intent. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, (January): 22-24.

Post, Jerrold M. 2004. Leaders and their followers in a dangerous world.: the psychology of political behavior. Ithica, New York: Cornell University Press.

Post, Jerrold M. ed. 2003. Assessing leaders at a distance: the political personality profile. In The psychological assessment of political leaders: with profiles of Saddam
Hussein and Bill Clinton, Jerrold Post, ed., Ann Arbor, Michigan: The University of Michigan Press: 69-104.

Post, Jerrold M. 2001. The mind of the terrorist: individual and group psychology of terrorist behavior. Testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, November 15, 2001.

Post, Jerrold M. 1992. Terrorist psycho-logic: terrorist behavior as a product of psychological forces. In Origins of Terrorism: psychologies, ideologies, theologies, states of mind, Walter Reich, ed., Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press: 25-40.

Copyright © 2011, Joe Navarro, All rights reserved.