Terrorism in Norway: Of Trolls and other Monsters

by Tani H. Sebro*


“The individual in whom insanity and criminality met in such a way as to cause specialists to raise the question of their relationship, was not the man of the little everyday disorder, the pale silhouette moving about on the edges of law and normality, but rather the great monster” (Michel Foucault 1978). 

“Trolls burst in the sunlight” (Old Norwegian adage). 

The Matter

            In the late morning of July 22nd, 2011, Anders Behring Breivik is busy sending out e-mails and packing up his car. A bit behind schedule, he gets in his green Fiat at leaves his provincial farm in Åmot kommune in Southeastern Norway. He drives several kilometers south towards the capital city, Oslo, and when he arrives downtown he parks his car next to a big white cargo van. He gets in the van and drives it a little ways to the Government Quarter where the ministers and government officials keep their offices. He parks in the middle of the square.

            Around the same time, I log out of my computer and begin clearing my desk so I can go home for the afternoon. It is summer and most government employees are either on vacation or taking short days in order to enjoy the nice summer weather that is so rare in Norway. The officescape at the Directorate of Immigration is filled with near-empty Ikea desks and swivel chairs, each station equipped with a personal coffee-cup and framed photo of a loved one. As I stood up to take my coffee-cup to the kitchenette, the air suddenly compresses around me. The bulletproof windows by my desk bulging inwards, the morphing glass slowly moves towards me as I gaze in amazement at the sight, like I am looking into a fishbowl from the outside. When the glass recoiled it sent a tremendous reverberation throughout the room, accompanied by a violent explosion that shook the very core of my body. A 950 kilo (2094 pund) car bomb had exploded down the street. I looked out the window and saw glass shattered everywhere in the street, debris, car alarms, billowing smoke and a woman pulling glass shards out of her bloodied scalp. I gasp and center my focus on the window in front of me, still intact, bulletproof.

            Debris, blood, fishbowl. What Jane Bennett refers to as matter imbued with “thing-power” that has the precarious ability to “produce effects dramatic and subtle” (2010:6). The drama of 950 kilos of explosives shattering windows, pulverizing concrete and melting steel structures for a half-mile radius around its epicenter. Transforming merchandise, office-supplies, storefronts, buildings, cars and bodies into debris. I walk home through a city-scape of “matter out of place,” or “moop” as Mary Douglas would call it (2002): the dust-filled chemistry of the air, deafening sirens and a sea of frightened bodies. We take turns gazing at each other, at the disassemblage around us, before becoming absorbed by our cellphones.

            The rest of the story falls outside my empirical experience, but haunted the Norwegian mediascape for months. Breivik, after detonating the bomb, drove one hour north of Oslo and commandeered a ferry-boat while disguised as police officer. The ferry-boat dropped him off on the island of Utøya, where youths from all over Norway were gathered to participate in a summer camp for the Youth Labor Party. Breivik told the youths he was there as security as there had just been a terrorist bombing downtown. He gestured for those present to draw closer as he spoke, when, without warning, Breivik opened fire on the unassuming youths who were camping on the idyllic island, killing 69 before the police arrested him. His youngest victim was a 14 year-old girl. Between the downtown bombing and the Utøya massacre 77 people were killed and dozens more injured. The death toll was as if seven 9/11 attacks had occurred amidst the Norwegian population of roughly 4.9 million people.

            This paper follows various “lines of flight” that attempt to attend to what has been framed as the “Norway terrorist attack” (McElroy 2011). I am interested in the materiality and sensorium of the “event” as I have described it above, and how it relates to the “micropolitics of justice” that Michael Shapiro defines as “a process in which individuals and collectives are affected by legalities/illegalities, such that they participate in a culture of feelings or sensibilities and subsequently engage in discursive encounters about what is just” (2011:1). In what follows, I problematize the notion of the “event” and deliberate on a political milieu that is zealously preoccupied with psychologizing the author of the attacks. As a Norwegian, who was present in Oslo and experienced the sensorium of the bombing as it occurred, I participated in a “culture of feelings and sensibilities” that were shared amongst Norwegians on a national level not felt since World War II, which is the last time Norway experienced killings and destruction of this magnitude.

            The framing of the “event” and the perpetrator of the crimes, reveal a political climate where the criminal mind must be rendered monstrous and his thoughts made intelligible through psychoanalysis. I discuss this rendering in terms of Michel Foucault’s (1978) conception of the “dangerous individual” as well as Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s (1987) notion of “becoming-animal”. The path that Breivik’s public persona has taken is that of becoming-monster and becoming-troll, and I argue that this path of becoming reveals a juridico-political climate that seeks to depoliticize the criminal in order to create distance between the homologous public and the monstrous anomaly.

The Event

            The “terrorist event,” as it was framed by the mainstream media in Norway and elsewhere, was first blamed by pundits on Muslim terrorist groups. It was not until the next morning that the media broadcasted that the same man was accused of perpetrated the Utøya massacre. Immediately following the bombing, guest host of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, Laura Ingraham asserted that the incident “appears to be the work, once again, of Muslim extremists” (Media Matters 2011). This speaks to a post-9/11 political climate where violent attacks on civilians in the West are made more easily intelligible if they are connected with Muslim terrorist intentions. Mainstream media, and particularly mainstream American media, has made a habit of blaming such attacks on the Muslim “other”. Initial news reports following the Oklahoma bombing in 1995, also blamed Muslim terrorists and conservative bloggers continue to speculate on the “Muslim connection” between Timothy McVeigh, his accomplices and their motivations for bombing (American Patriot Friend Network 2011).  

            Once it became clear that it was a Norwegian native, and not a Jihadist Terrorist group that stood behind the crimes, why were news agencies reluctant to call Breivik a terrorist? A blonde, blue-eyed white male from the wealthy West-side of Oslo did not match the Muslim terrorist profile etched in the post-9/11 imaginary. After it was discovered that this was a domestic incident there was a loss of interest in the American conservative media. While at the same time, European liberal media became fascinated (almost obsessed) with finding out the moral character of this man, this monster that had been spawned from one of the most peace-loving liberal societies on earth.

            A terrorist attack resulting in multiple civilian casualties and a great deal of “moop” becomes the foci of a political turn in the public imagination. After the “turn” of the event, new political currents and new discursive lines become possible. The event reveals the political that was there all along, but was masked by layers of stubborn discursive patterns that only violence can break. The event makes the public aware of its own becomings – of course, it was becoming all along, but the irruption of violence brings awareness from the depths to the surface. The violent “event” in Norway may be understood as a Lacanian political moment. The psychological trauma of the event, reveals society as an “appearance” of a layer of reality with endless layers preceding and succeeding it in an unbroken lineage of being and becoming. Bennett (2004) sees the Lacanian notion of the political as an event that disrupts the prevailing social order and by so doing uncovers the social and political system that underpins its “order”. For Bennett, “the “political” here refers to those irruptive events that reveal politics to be a masking of the restless and stubbornly diverse quality of “the real” or that which always exceeds actuality and eludes symbolic expression” (2004:48).

            The violent political event renders perceptible what was previously insensible. Extreme right-wing violence in what was once seen as one of Europe’s most harmonious and liberal societies: the spell of social harmony broken to reveal an underlying conservative counterpublic with violent force. Commentators noted that the violence marked a “loss of innocence” for Norway – a small liberal democracy best known for being the home of the Nobel Peace Prize and the Oslo Peace Accords (Tisdall 2011). It revealed an incipient underground counterpublic of right-wing, often Christian ideologues whose ideas were relegated to the margins of liberal Norwegian public discourse. These right-wing extremists use conservative blogs and websites to espouse their political world-views, but were never welcomed in Norwegian public debates.

            Of greatest concern to European right-wing conservatives in the post-9/11 era is the “islamisation” of Europe. Conservative European groups that Breivik was affiliated with, such as Stop the Islamisation of Europe, hold as their motto: “Racism is the lowest form of stupidity! Islamophobia is the height of common sense!” (SIOE 2011). Breivik believes that that Europe is at war with Islam and his violent attack was necessary in order to win this war. Norwegian liberal media did not resonate with such political ideologies and therefore the opinions of these right-wing ideologues were relegated to the discursive sidelines of public media. Left to fester and violently erupt.

            But what constitutes the event? What are its boundaries? Alain Badiou (2006) explains in The Event in Deleuze, that for Deleuze the event is a continual process of becoming: “The event is always that which has just happened and that which is about to happen, but never that which is happening (…) The event is a synthesis of past and future.” For Deleuze, the event reveals the process of becoming and unmasks the possibility of what once was and joins it with what is to come. Further, the “sense-event,” following Badiou (2006), belongs to the realm of language. The event is a sensorium, individual or shared, that begs reporting. Discourse emanates from the event and along with the sensorium (debris, blood, fishbowl) – constitutes it.  Matter, discourse, and sensorium are in a constant flow of becoming and intertwining, and when met with a sudden “turn”, or violent irruption, become the event in the public imaginary.

            The event, flowing and continuous, has no beginning or end. It is rather what brings our attention to continual historical processes. Often, is what forces us to attend to the lesser histories, the counter-narratives that operate on the margins. Right-wing extremism has been on the rise in Europe for decades and has been heightened by anti-Muslim sentiments following the entrant of Muslim immigrants and asylum-seekers since the 1990s. Issues of crime, assimilation, terrorism and xenophobia have been overshadowed by the liberal sentiment for multiculturalism and the maintenance of an “open society” in many European countries. In Norway, the public is overwhelmingly in support of immigrant rights and public debates leave little room for dialogue with right-wing extremists who espouse ideas of racism and/or xenophobia.

            In the wake of the terrorist attacks, Norway’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, stated, “The Norwegian response to violence is more democracy, more openness and greater political participation” (Ritter and Heintz 2011). The Norwegian liberal resonance machine would not let this event give way to the conservative nationalist resonance machine, to frame the debate in William Connolly’s (2008) terms. Norway is to remain firmly allegiant to the ideologies of democracy, multiculturalism and open society. But, perhaps, it is this reluctance to resonate with opinions that differ that created such deep frustration amongst right-wing extremists? What were the conditions of possibility that made a persona like Anders Behring Breivik possible?


The Monster

            In The Concept of the Dangerous Individual, Foucault (1978) introduces the Garafalo principle by quoting the lawyer of the accused French serial rapist who refuses to speak for himself. Since the accused rapist has nothing to say in defense of his own crimes, his lawyer poses the following question to the jury: “Can one condemn to death a person one does not know?” In cases when the crime is clear, the evidence is all laid out to bear and there is no doubt that the criminal is the author of her or his own crimes, why is it that the jury or the judging body needs to know more about the criminal’s persona? Breivik readily confessed that he had perpetrated the crimes when the police apprehended him. But he refused to acknowledge any guilt. He felt the crimes were a necessary step in the war against the islamisation of Europe. Thus, the inquiring public could not stop obsessing over the psychological status of Breivik. The public demanded an answer: how could anyone (who seemed to be just like us) perpetrate such monstrous acts without warning?

            The Garofalo principle explains that in old criminology only two terms were known, “the offense and the penalty” however in the new criminal justice system three are recognized, “the crime, the criminal and the means of repression” (Foucault 1978:2). Since the enlightenment turn, the emphasis on the “criminal” is heightened. She or he must be made knowable through thorough psychoanalysis. The “dangerous individual” must be made knowable, his crimes aside, as present day society yearns to figuratively peek into the mind of the “author of the crime” and by so doing, make him intelligible. For in the modern criminal justice system, “the crime tends to be no more than the event which signals the existence of a dangerous element – that is, more or less dangerous – in the social body” (Foucault 1978:2). The “crime-event” signifies the dangerous element lying latent, but with the potential to become-dangerous, become-violent, become-threatening etc.

            There is no longer a monstrous crime, but a social “monster” that signifies the monstrous element of the social milieu, and perhaps even signifying the potential monstrous elements within all of us. The monster here, becomes a floating signifier, devoid of a noun referent, but pregnant with contextual meaning. Just as “[c]riminal psychiatry first proclaimed itself a pathology of the monstrous” (Foucault 1978:5), so has modern media created a public that yearns to deconstruct the monster-minds of infamous criminals. Breivik’s defense lawyer answered to questions regarding Breivik’s sanity that

“No normal person could have done this” (Phillips 2011). The crime itself is evidence of insanity. Never mind that Breivik reportedly spent over seven years planning the crime, carefully orchestrated its execution and had no prior criminal or mental history. The crime speaks for itself; the crime becomes the criminal.

            By constructing the criminal as monster, two different kinds of speech-acts may be achieved: First, the political views of the monster may be disqualified as thoughts, opinions and ideologies of the deranged. Once framed as monster, the ability to think rational political thoughts may be ineligible for serious consideration by the criminal justice system. Second, by designating the criminal as monstrous and thereby attaching the stigma of insanity, deformity and anomaly to the individual, the criminal may now be distinguished from “us”. This distinction is pivotal in the public imaginary. Once the criminal has been sufficiently othered and become-monstered, there is less danger that “we” might commit the same crimes.

            The Western political-justice system has a long genealogy of monster-making. Personas seen as threats to the extant political order are framed as “dangerous individuals” in order to pacify the perceived ideological danger to the prevailing political norms. In Kathy Ferguson’s (2008) Discourses of Danger, she grapples with the reactionary framing of the feminist-anarchist Emma Goldman’s personae in the American pubic sphere as being a “dangerous individual”, who threatens to undermine the logic of the state. She does this by looking at the discourses and commentaries that surrounded Goldman’s life in the U.S., as well as examining Goldman’s “fearless” responses to her critics and finally interrogates the prevailing “discourses of danger” that serve to maintain the hegemonic ideologies of the state and its corporate bedfellows. The “discourse networks” that created Goldman as a dangerous persona persist in U.S. public discourse today – targeting all who challenge the supremacy of the nation (and any part of its logic) – and attempts to render them impotent as instruments of change. Making the analogy of Brevik’s case with Emma Goldman is in no way to compare the two personas, but rather to show the ways in which discourses of danger and monster-making are framed in order to discount the political views of the accused dangerous individual. 

            Breivik had intimate prior knowledge of the future psychologizing of his personae, and skillfully used the legacy of psychologizing the criminal mind to set the stage for his own infamy. He took several steps to secure his fame as one of the great mass-murderers in history. In the days and hours before the attacks, Breivik opened a Facebook account with pictures of him dressed in paramilitary gear and bearing the insignia of the Knight’s Templar. He released a YouTube video where he carefully explained his war against the islamistaion of Europe and how in 60 years from now this war will be won thanks to his work. On the morning before the attacks, Breivik e-mailed a 1,500 page manifesto, entitled 2083: A European Declaration of Independence to about 100 people (Boston 2011). In the manifesto, Breivik provided details about how he planned the attacks over the course of seven years; he wrote personal information about his relationship to his parents; his reasons for hating Muslims and pages upon pages of plagiarized text from Theodore Kazynsky’s or the Unabomber’s famous manifesto. Reporters note, “Breivik had “copied and pasted” almost a dozen key passages from the 69 year-old’s 35,000 manifesto, only changing particular words such as “leftist” with “cultural Marxist”” (Hough 2011). Breivik had done his homework and knew exactly how the media would react following his attacks.

            The author of the crimes in Norway used the public’s obsession with the cult of personality that arises around the perpetrator of especially heinous and incomprehensible crimes. Peter Svaar, is a journalist who attended high school with Breivik wrote for the Norwegian National Broadcasting Company that, “My greatest fear now is that he is still playing us – the media, the opinion – like a piano” (Svaar 2011). Svaar maintains that Breivik is not insane and must be held responsible for his own crimes. He goes on to say;

“What keeps me awake at night now is not that he is a monster. He is a normal, Norwegian guy. He has buried himself in a completely crazy political analysis, and has unfortunately, been resourceful enough to follow through his reasoning with actions.” (Svaar 2011).

Breivik, perhaps, presented the ultimate and most incomprehensible danger – as the silent manipulative criminal who knows the legal system so well that he fully pre-ordained and orchestrated not only his crime, but his capture, his criminal defense and created his own propaganda machine that continues even during his time in solitary confinement.

            Breivik believed he had real reasons and motivations for committing the crime. However, to the Norwegian-, and indeed the global public, these reasons were rendered unintelligible. To kill seventy-seven people, nearly all of them young, under the age of thirty and ethnic Norwegians, like Breivik himself, seemed the most incomprehensible act. But had he killed Muslims or people of color had the crime been more intelligible? To Breivik, the true source of Europe’s problems lie in the ideology of multiculturalism, an idea backed by liberal political parties such as the Norwegian Labor Party. By attacking the a political party that espoused, and legislatively implemented the ideals of multiculturalism he was getting at the very core, or root of what he perceived to be a threat to his idealized Europe. Eradicate not the Muslims, but those who allowed their presence in Norwegian society.

The Troll

“In every barbaric act there is a human element.

That is what makes the barbaric act so inhuman.”

 (Mankell 2011)

            What is of interest to me is not whether or not Breivik was insane at the moment of the crime, nor the question of why he felt he had to commit it, but rather – what were the conditions available to him in order to make such an act possible? How is it that a person can so accurately predict the behavior of the media and the public? What made a persona like Breivik possible? It is difficult to resist the urge to psychologize him. We so desperately want to know why a well-off, mild-mannered, white male from the wealthy West-side of Oslo could plan a terrorist attack for over seven years that culminated in the detonation of a 950 kilo bomb outside the Government Quarter and point-blank shooting of 69 children at an idyllic island summer camp. 77 people killed in less than three hours. Most of them were young people between the ages of 14 and 30; they were ethnic Norwegians, just like Breivik. 

            Breivik was recently given the diagnosis “paranoid schizophrenic” by a panel of Norwegian psychiatrists, and the diagnosis has caused a furor of controversy in Norwegian, as well as international public debate (Baron-Cohen 2011). If Breivik is seen as unfit to stand trial because of his psychosis he will be sentenced to rehabilitation in a criminal psychiatric ward. Every five years his psychological state will be reevaluated and he will be considered for parole. That means Breivik may be let out in a matter of years if he is deemed “normal”. But by deeming him normal now and fit for trial, would humanize him – make him too much like us. The alternative would be to deem him reasonable enough to stand trial. In Norway, a nation that staunchly opposes the death penalty, a maximum prison sentence is 21 years – a punishment few pundits find to be commensurate with his crimes. If he is deemed insane at the time of the crime and unfit to stand trial, he may be kept in a mental institution indefinitely.

            By rendering Breivik as insane and monstrous the public may distance themselves from his acts. In Norwegian folklore the figure of the troll stands prominent. Norwegian children are raised with folk-tales of the giant trolls that live deep in the dark Norwegian forests and mountains. Children are read bedtime stories from Peter Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe’s (1982) Norwegian Folktales, that tells the stories of human encounters with these monsters for the forests with Aesopian morality. Norwegian politicians and the mainstream media began using the old Norwegian adage “trolls burs in the sunlight” as a metaphor for the need for increased public debate with right-wing extremists following the attacks (Gierløff 2011). If Breivik and those who think like him were to be given a voice in public debates, perhaps they would not resort to such extreme rhetoric and violence? What was needed was not a reactionary government that further marginalized the voices of right-wing extremists. But rather, a liberal resonance machine that could find discursive sites for dialogue with this radical counterpublic. The belief being that dialogue and resonance has a placating effect on belligerent minds.

            This line of reasoning is staunchly contrasted by the American approach to dealing with perceived threats. The disproportionate and reactionary violence wrought on Iraqi and Afghani peoples following the 9/11 attacks, was not an example Norwegian society wished to follow. Norwegian society is not organized around “a vengeful vision of the Second Coming,” that expresses an ethos of revenge and American superiority (Connolly 2008:45). Rather, there is a will to openness and mutual trust. The Prime Minister wants to be able to continue riding his bike to work, mothers don’t want to have to walk their children to school, the people feel safer if the police don’t carry guns and if we change from an open society to a police state, we will have ceded a collective freedom due to the belligerent acts of one man.

            Let us return, for a moment to Foucault and the problem of having “zero degree of insanity” (1978). In About the Concept of the “Dangerous Individual” in 19th- Century Legal Psychiatry, Foucault (1978) discusses a series of heinous and incomprehensible crimes committed in France during the 19th century. The perpetrators appeared to have neither prior motive nor a criminal past to preempt their murderous attacks. Of the woman who killed her own daughter and cooked her leg in the soup, of the servant-girl who severed the head of the neighbors daughter, or the farmer who suddenly kills his foster mother “with whom he had always gotten along very well,” Foucault notes that, “It is stressed in each case that there was no previous history, no earlier disturbance in thought or behavior, no delirium; neither was there any agitation, nor visible disorder as in furor; indeed, the crime would arise out of a state which one might call the zero degree of insanity” (Foucault 1978:4).

            Breivik too, had no prior criminal record and his motivations for committing the crime hinged solely on his political affective universe. He believed, like many conservative Europeans, that Europe is under siege and undergoing a radical “islamisation” that will lead to a degeneration of a “pure” European culture. This is not unlike Adolf Hitler’s fear of the “jewification” of Europe and his eager willingness to eradicate the problem-race with limitless violent force. But for both Hitler and Breivik, there is no instance of momentary psychosis that made them somehow unaware of the pain they were inflicting, but rather a decades long cold and calculated engagement with the planning and carrying out of atrocious mass-killings. There is an attempt in psychiatry to unmask the type of derangement present during the act of the crime. But all too often the derangement “would have no symptom other than the crime itself, and which could disappear once the crime had been committed” (Foucault 1978:5). Had psychiatrists interviewed Breivik the day before the attacks found him to be “paranoid schizophrenic”? The heinous crime becomes the signifier par excellence that makes him a monster-troll, and without the crime signification, he is just another potential monster-troll.

            In order to carry out the killings, Breivik had to transform himself into a figure of mythical proportions. He had to undergo a process of becoming a knight. The leader of the Knight’s Templar no less. He got ahold of military and police uniforms and fancied taking photos of him wearing them while sporting large machine-guns. This becoming-Übermensch and becoming-military commando stood in contrast to Breivik’s everyday life. He would work on his farm, go to the gym, have drinks with friends and play video games. He tried serving in the Norwegian army but never completed his tenure. Perhaps the distance between madness and normalcy is not as far as we thought? But this notion is a dangerous one. Once we admit that Breivik contained the same degree of normalcy as in all of us then that would make almost anyone capable to doing the same thing if they had strong enough political convictions. By becoming-monster and becoming-troll, Breivik is rendered politically impotent. The process of becoming signals the will to depoliticize the murderer. At no point will it become necessary to engage with his political opinions as long as they remain the opinions of a deranged madman, the monster-troll.

            The process of becoming-monster and becoming-troll may take various paths. For Deleuze and Guattari becoming is never imitation. The man does not become the fantasy of the knight, nor the monster, nor the troll. But rather, the becomings are processes and activities that are real in themselves (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:305). They are symbolic identifications that belong to the realm of the mythico-political:

For if becoming-animal does not consist in playing animal or imitating an animal, it is clear that the human being does not “really” become an animal any more than the animal “really” becomes something else. We fall into a false alternative if we say that you either imitate or you are. What is real is the becoming itself, the block of becoming, not the supposedly fixed terms through which that which become passes (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:238).


The idea of becoming diverts attention from the idea of becoming as moving from one identity to another. If Breivik is monster all along, and the speech-act of his becoming-monstrous remains hidden. The depoliticizing of his persona is the path that his becoming takes. So, becoming has no origin and no end-point and a becoming is rhizomatic, it has lines that lead nowhere and come from nowhere. The pivotal point being not that Breivik becomes monstrous, but that the path of becoming-monstrous is a political act of misrecognition. The path of becoming monster-troll makes depoliticization and distancing possible. We distinguish our own becomings from the becomings of the horrific criminal, and by so doing; absolve the social and cultural milieu of responsibility for producing the monstrous anomaly.


            In the days following Breivik’s attack, a steady stream of people flocked to the disaster site in downtown Oslo. With them, each carried a flower or a bouquet to be laid in front of the Government Headquarters. Soon, the flowering of Oslo spread to the Central Church, the Grand Palace and any official monument or statue. This flowering culminated in a massive peaceful gathering of over 100,000 people downtown to commemorate the lives lost on July 22, 2011. Norwegians are not a spiritual people, with very few adhering to religious practice, but nearly all participated in a collective movement of sentiment and grieving. A national mourning made material by flowers and makeshift alters throughout the city center. We would not raise our guns in revenge, but rather fill our streets with symbols of peace and love. Daily, I would linger downtown after work to experience the sensorium of the rose-clad city – transformed to a collective site of mourning. Thorough collective trauma and shared affect, I have never felt closer to strangers.

            The solace came in knowing that Breivik did not change Norwegian society into becoming a police-state or a vengeful-state. Yet the magnitude of his crimes remained incomprehensible. Hennig Mankell (2011), a prominent Swedish literary writer, wrote in The Guardian following the attacks: “However hard the young Norwegian man tries to justify his actions, there will still be something that we cannot understand: what goes through the mind of a person who turns a gun against a young woman or man he does not know and pulls the trigger.” The relentless urge to psychologize Breivik, spawned from a 19th-Century proliferation in experts appointed to analyze the criminal mind, continues the path of making the criminal monstrous. And within this speech-act of becoming-monster or becoming-troll, the emphasis remains on the individual, the author of the crime, rather than the paths of his becoming.

            Foucault asks of this psychologizing juridico-political system: “is it necessary, in order to be able to condemn someone, that it be impossible to reconstruct the causal intelligibility of his state?” (1978:12). Just as with Emma Goldman (Ferguson 2008), the collective fear of the “dangerous individual” and obsession with monster-making out of those inhabiting the margins of society, creates a comfortable distance between the dangerous political element and the public. When the crime does not make sense, or the motives of the crime reveals dangerous political elements in society, the judgment of insanity frees all of legal responsibility. Thus, the unintelligible crime creates space for legal non-responsibility, but also absolves the public of the burden of having to make Breivik’s political agenda intelligible. By monster-making and troll-making, the “dangerous individual” along with his actions and political philosophy, are rendered impotent in a system of knowledge-making designed to protect itself against the specter of danger that a sane Breivik might incur.


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Phillips, Francis. “To call Anders Breivik a monster is to distance ourselves from the worst aspects of human nature.” Catholic Herald Online (Accessed December 4, 2011): http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2011/07/27/anders-behring-breivik-and-the-mystery-of-evil/

Ritter, Karl and Jim Heintz. “Jens Stoltenberg, Norway Prime Minister, Says Oslo Tragedy Response Will Be ‘More Democracy’.” 2011. Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/27/jens-stoltenberg-norway-prime-minister-oslo-tragedy-democracy-_n_910636.html (Accessed December 4, 2011).

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*Do not cite without author’s permission. 


6 thoughts on “Terrorism in Norway: Of Trolls and other Monsters

  1. Very interesting read. Although I am a bit disappointed at the absence of any reference to Hannah Arendts term “banality of evil”. Have you considered it?

    • Hei Miriram! Thanks so much for taking the time to read my essay and for your thoughtful response. Yes, absolutely Hanna Arendt’s work has influenced my thinking about totalitarianism in Burma and elsewhere. Her notion of the “banality of evil” can certainly apply here, but with some reservations. She of course, applied the term to Adolf Eichmann, who without feeling or discrimination, uncritically applied Adolf Hitler’s specter of violence upon innocent Jews. The idea is that average people can become monsters… “he never realized what he was doing” or “he was just following orders.” The implication is that anyone can become Eichmann under the same kind of ideology that Hitler espoused. My issue with this is that I don’t believe anyone can become Eichmannn, but that some people do. The problem with the banality argument in this case is that Breivik, like Eichmannn chose to follow a path of ideological extremism. Eichmann joined the racist Nazi party long before Hitler’s propaganda machine… therefore I cannot believe he was simply executing orders. This was a political choice he made. In the same way, Breivik made a conscious political decision to, in cold blood, murder 77 innocent men, women and children. To say this act was banal, would be to absolve him of guilt for choosing such a violent political path of exterminism. There is no way he did not know what he was doing. Just as the people operating gas chambers during World War II knew what they were doing and must answer to their crimes.

  2. Wonderful analysis. I have to start using ‘moop’ everywhere! If you wanted to, you could definitely deal with Douglas’ work more in depth, particularly concerning the need to construct this blonde-blue guy as a ‘moop’ (I think we can agree this needs to be a noun) through diagnoses of insanity. I wonder though, if his right-wing views stand in such opposition to the multiculturalist, liberal views of the majority in Norway, as you put it, why not take the opportunity to politicize it and condemn those views?

    • Hi Aashish – yes, isn’t “moop” a wonderful term? I do wish it were applied in more colloquial settings – and I know communities of environmentalists, and of course “burners” who use it all the time. But I’ve never heard it applied to a person – but people are matter and often times do tend to find themselves “out of place.” But, “people out of place” makes for a terrible acronym.

      As to your question – which I think is an important one and I take it quite seriously. It gets to the very heart of what I consider to be the problem of postmodern thinking – that it often lacks political teeth within all its analysis. So, your question being: “why not take the opportunity to politicize it and condemn those [Breivik’s] views?” Well, I do and I did. I was furious. I told everyone he was a monster and his views were insane. But, upon further reflection, I felt like a different perspective was needed. The reason my essay is not another defense of multiculturalism and a condemnation of Beiviks politics is three fold:

      1) Soon after 7/22/11, I read Foucault’s “About the concept of the dangerous individual” (http://schwarzemilch.files.wordpress.com/2009/02/foucault_dangerous_individual.pdf), and it changed my thinking completely. I realized that our current notion of “the criminal” is very new, so is our need to psychologize him. I wanted to write about how a conceptual personae like Breivik became possible through a careful manipulation of a political-juridico media complex. Breivik really understood how this system works and that is why we are still talking about him. This was a process I wanted to map as it went far beyond the implications of Breivik’s politics.

      2) Secondly, I grew up in Norway, as a liberal “multiculturalist”, but have since become more cautious about the concept of multiculturalism. This is because “multiculturalism” assumes all sorts of things: 1) that culture is a stable, definable category, 2) and more dangerously, that self-proclaimed “multicultural societies” have erased political difference. A multiculturalism that means vibrant diversity and open borders is something I welcome. But today, multiculturalism is a political term that aims at managing and compartmentalizing bodies based on race, ethnicity and origin. I think political difference is essential and healthy for any functioning community. The caveat being that difference does not have to mean antagonism. Multiculturalism, the way it is staged in Europe today, is very antagonistic.

      3) I allude to this in my essay, and it also speaks to the above two reasons – I don’t think condemning Breivik’s politics will prevent another Breivik. But I do think that making his views and the views of other right wing extremists more public and visible can prevent ideological pressure-cookers like Breivik from going off. In Norwegian media, it is very taboo to have anti-multiculturalist opinions. Therefore these ideologues linger in online forums and in their heads until they go off. I say, shine a light upon them, bring them into the debate-room, newspapers, and discussions. And, like all trolls do, they will burst in the sunlight.

  3. Hi there, would I potentially be able to cite this article for my Anthropology undergraduate essay? It is a course about monsters and how the essay i about how they embody ideological difference.

    • Hi Nicole – yes please do feel free to cite it. I am actually working on an updated article-length version of this, but it will be out late this year. Thanks for your interest and I am sure it will a fantastic paper!

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