The recent shooting spree at Umpqua Community College in Oregon could have been prevented. The lives of ten people could have been spared. The same is true of almost every massacre, including the mass murder of seventy-seven people on July 22, 2011, by Anders Behring Breivik.
Breivik holds the key to understanding what former FBI profiler Dr. Kathleen M. Puckett calls the lone wolf killer. He is the only one of these lone wolves who is still alive and willing to discuss his crimes.
As I began searching for answers as to how Breivik became a mass murderer, I learned that he, like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, is a lone wolf. Breivik used McVeigh’s recipe to make his bomb. He copied much of Kaczynski’s manifesto in his own. Each had a political message. However, the similarities go much further:
- Disconnected―Someone, most likely a parent, failed him at an early age, and as a result, he has difficulty establishing meaningful relationships. He is not even capable of connecting or keeping a connection with an extremist group.
- Intelligent―He possesses medium to high intelligence. Because of his intelligence, he has the capacity to connect to an ideology, as a replacement for human relationships.
- Abused—He is the victim of bullying or some other form of injustice.
- Angry―He has a need to strike back.
- Narcissist―He believes he is the most important person in his world.
- Need for recognition—It is not enough for him to kill a neighbor or former teacher. He strikes on a societal level to be seen, to matter.
Although they seem similar, Breivik’s motives are different from the numerous rampage killers’ intentions. The 2011 massacre was in no regard the act of a depressed young man wishing to commit suicide and take as many people with him as possible. The lone wolf believes he is the most important person in the world, and in his narcissistic view, he is too important and too essential to his cause to be sacrificed.
What drives the lone wolf is not only the need for recognition as the remarkable person he thinks he is, but a desperate need for connection to fill the hole that he has suffered from a young age. The life of a lone wolf is one of the loneliest and most desperate of existences. Contrary to common belief, Breivik was not born a killer. Only after years of suffering through isolation and preparation did he strike. Although unable to have meaningful relationships, international terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS are now encouraging lone wolves to join their cause. If this happens, we are in big trouble.
When lone wolves kill, they are righting a wrong, but they are so grandiose in their minds that the government itself has to pay for what they have suffered. Actually, the lone wolf killer—who has never been able to connect with anyone or anything but an ideology—cannot even connect with the person or persons who caused him such early pain. He can’t attack the school bully of his youth, so he attacks the school. He can’t kill his mother, so he decides to kill his government.
Prosperous and peaceful as they appear to the rest of the world, Norwegians are from an early age discouraged from standing out in a crowd and asserting their individuality. Norway projects an image of a perfect country, a culture of goodness, fairness, and solidarity for all. Norwegian exceptionalism, as it has been called, suggests that there is something better, nobler, and wiser about the Norwegian people than those from other parts of the world. They award the Nobel Peace Prize, after all.
Nevertheless, Norway’s culture was a facilitator in Breivik’s process in becoming a killer, but other countries can contribute to one’s sense of isolation in similar ways. In the United States, it’s the government’s use of massive covert surveillance programs.
Having seen what really happened in the Persian Gulf in 1991, McVeigh couldn’t tolerate what he saw as his government’s manipulation of the American people during Operation Desert Storm. Because of the lone wolf’s fragile personality, he sees his government as the ultimate bully.
Breivik’s case sheds the necessary light on the mystery of the lone wolf killer. And that is how to identify a killer without paper trail before he strikes. He also holds the key to preventing suicidal rampage killers. We don’t have to sit back and wait for the next Breivik, the next Kaczynski, the next McVeigh—or the next Boston bombers. We need to track the lone wolf in a new way, a way that will reveal him before he is able to kill. And ideally, before he decides to become a killer.
All children are born beautiful and untainted, including the lone wolf. Something happened to them along the way. By recognizing the warning signs and giving them the help they need before they become killers, we can prevent the next massacre.
Unni Turrettini was born in northern Norway and grew up in Drammen, a city near Oslo, approximately twenty minutes from where Breivik was raised. As a foreign exchange student, she graduated from high school in Kansas City, Kansas, and she has law degrees from Norway, France, and the United States. She currently lives with her family in Geneva, Switzerland, and is at work on a second book, a behind-the-scenes examination of the Nobel Peace Prize.
To learn more about Unni, please visit her website.