Questions and Misconceptions about the 2011 attacks in Norway/the Breivik trial

It is now nearly a year since the twin terror attacks in the Government Quarter and on Utøya, and the trial of Anders Behring Breivik should be wrapping up this coming week. I was wondering if any Dopers had any questions about either of these, which I can try to answer, and maybe our fellow Dopers in Norway or the rest of Scandinavia would be interested in helping to answer, too. I have the sense that the international press has been doing a, shall we say, less than perfect job of covering both the attacks and the trial.

A couple of misconceptions I wanted to clear up off the bat:

  1. The camp at Utøya was not, as some (particularly right-wing) commentators have said, an “indoctrination camp”. Nor was it, as others have said, a camp for the children of “the Labor Party elite”. It was a camp for members of AUF, which is the Labor Party’s youth party. All the major political parties in Norway have a youth party; this is common at least in Northern Europe. Anyone of the right age can join, regardless of whether their parents are members of the party or not. The camps, which the larger parties have, serve as a sort of annual convention, with a bit of normal camp things (flirting, swimming, rock music, grilling…) mixed in. The kids are not being taught what to believe; they are there to practice their skills at debating and organizing, and also to have fun.

1a. And for the record, some of the young people Breivik killed there were not ethnic Norwegians, and some were Muslims. I don’t know where this “he only killed ethnic Norwegian kids” came from, but it’s nonsense. He killed whoever was handy, and intended to let the rest drown. All honor to the brave folks from Utvika who rescued all those kids from the water.

  1. Breivik is not going to Halden Prison, let alone Bastøy Prison, for a long time if ever. The press loves to write about these places because they seem so un-prison-like, but they do not represent the majority of Norwegian prisons. They are for prisoners who have earned the privilege, and Bastøy is primarily for prisoners who are starting the transition back to normal society, which is to say they are in the last few years of their sentence. Breivik is currently being held at Ila Prison, which is Norway’s most traditional prison. If found sane, he will serve out his sentence there for the forseeable future and probably the rest of his life. If found insane, he will be held in a purpose-built hospital unit in the same prison.

Now it’s your turn - what are you wondering about?

What’s this about drowning? I knew he killed a fair number of people with a bomb in a building, but I know virtually none of the details about his attack on the camp. Somehow I was under the impression that he more or less walked around spraying bullets. Did he sink a boat loaded with kids or something? What exactly did he do?

I thought 21 years was the maximum anyone could serve in prison in Norway.

He said during the trial that he had assumed the campers would try to swim for safety, but that they would panic. That panic, combined with the cold water, he assumed would drown anyone he didn’t manage to shoot.

He did shoot at the boats that were rescuing the kids, but he didn’t manage to sink any or to hit anyone in the boats. His story is that he wasn’t really trying to hit them :dubious: I think we can safely say he just couldn’t hit targets very well at that range.

Odesio, the longest sentence given in years in Norway is 21. (Actually there is a new law allowing a 30-year sentence for crimes against humanity, but that doesn’t apply here.) However, there is also an alternate system called “forvaring” for extremely dangerous criminals. They can be held for as long as they are considered a danger to society, as determined by court cases every five or ten years. This has not been used in modern times to keep anyone locked up for life, but it can work that way, and in Breivik’s case almost certainly will be. (Who would want to be the judge who sets him free?)

I don’t get it. How did all these kids get in the water? If he was shooting at swimmers, he could probably figure out the water wasn’t cold enough to kill them (well, I suppose he could be stupid enough not to figure this out). What were these kids doing in the water in the first place? Did they jump out of boats he was shooting at and back into boats to be rescued, and then shot at some more? He couldn’t hit them at “that range”? How far away was he? And how far away was he from the kids he succeeded in killing?

The kids were in the water because they jumped in the water. There were only two boats associated with the island - the little ferry and an even smaller rowboat - and both left very early on in the attack. It’s about 600m to shore from the closest point, and many of the campers figured it was better to take their chances swimming to shore than to stay on the island, which they regarded as certain death.

Breivik claimed in court that he figured the kids would try to swim, and that this was part of his plan. As I said, he claimed that he assumed they would panic and that this panic, combined with the cold water, would cause them to drown. He was able to shoot some people in the water only a few meters from shore, but it seems that if they were able to get some distance between them - let’s estimate 15 or 20 meters, I don’t think anyone measured - he was not able to hit them. And nearly all of those shot in the water had non-fatal injuries.

On the shore opposite the island, there is a campsite, which was quite busy at the time. People staying at the campsite headed out in all the boats they had to hand, to rescue kids from the water. They were better swimmers than Breivik had figured on, and tried not to panic, but that’s still a long way in cold water, especially considering that some of them had bullet wounds. None of the boats came all the way to the island. They were focused on getting the kids who were already in the water to safety.

He shot most of his victims on land at quite close range.

Boyo Jim, my recollection from the news stories at the time is that Breivik was right in his assumption (see flodnak’s quote) that the kids would try to swim to safety. They weren’t in the water when he started shooting; they went into the water in an attempt to get away from him.

ETA: ninja’d! But by the right person; I only know what was reported in the international press (particularly the BBC).

Ok, thanks for (partially) erasing my ignorance. I didn’t even know the camp was on an island.

It is and was a real tragedy that I felt deeply even though I’ve never been to Norway and know none of its people personally. I look forward to reading an authoritative book about this some day that ties it all together. Right now the media reports are too immediate and biased to be of much interest to me. I cannot fathom someone being capable of doing this and not being found insane eventually…but there are varieties of insanity that are not insanity, it seems.

I have a question. Breivik IIRC said he did this because of the changes in Norwegian society due to Muslims and non-europeans immigrating to Norway and that Norway was losing its Christian identity. First did I understand this correctly? Before this all happened was this a common concern? I know that changes in immigration can cause problems but was this really a big deal to Norwegians at all? Oops that is more than one question but…

Thanks in advance


I assume that Norway’s laws are similar to the Anglosphere’s laws: the so called “insanity defence” is not about whether a person is or isn’t mentally ill, it’s about whether they’re so mentally ill that they cannot tell right from wrong.

Clearly Breivik is batshit insane, by any reasonable measure, but that’s not the question.

Kinda distantly related to this, how did nutbag relate his act of killing a bunch of kids to changing Norway’s immigration policy? Was he trying to be caught or killed as some part of a martyr strategy? Was he planning to somehow pin the blame for the killing on Muslim extremists? Otherwise I can’t imagine how he would expect a backlash against Muslims.

Breivik claims he was not only concerned about Norwegian society, but European Christendom in general. But yes, your basic understanding is correct.

Before the attacks, and since, I would say that many people are unsettled by what can feel like very rapid changes. There is certainly racism in Norway, much of it directed against Muslims. But Breivik’s concern, not that Norway and Europe are changing but that they are in danger of disappearing - that’s much deeper and to me it is fundamentally different.

This is correct. The question isn’t whether he’s mentally healthy or not, but whether he was capable of choosing to commit acts which he consciously knew were illegal.

The targets were not chosen at random. This was an attack on the Labor Party, the party Breivik considers traitors for allowing Muslim immigration. The bomb site was the Government Quarter, which is exactly what it says on the tin - where government ministers had (and will someday have again) their offices. The Labor Party is the main party in government at the moment - Breivik intended to kill Labor government ministers. Then he headed to the camp hosted by the Labor Party’s youth wing, to kill their young members, their future.

It was supposed to be the first battle in a civil war that would lead to a united, Christian Europe throwing out the Muslim intruders once and for all.