As the shock passes into reflection of the Utøya massacre — could anything have been different? — and the grief for and honoring of the missed and wounded, people will start asking questions as to how this could possibly happen.
Having gone through the methodology used, just like Hax did, we can examine one step after another of Breivik’s plan.
I frequently say that power in society is about information advantage. If you know more about your opponent than your opponent knows about you, then you will have the advantage. In this case, Breivik knew how to not look like the nutjob he was.
It’s not even particularly hard. As long as you do whatever horrible deed you plan to do alone, you will evade all wiretapping and data retention. The largest civilian spy program in history is useless against people like Breivik.
It’s a matter of knowing what sets off red flags in the system, and taking active steps to not have them pop up.
Breivik had guns. Three of them: a Glock handgun, a scoped hunter rifle and a shotgun.
Well, yes. So maybe you should have gun controls and strict background checks.
Except Norway has that already. Strictest on the planet, even; same as Sweden. You need to be a flawless, regular and standing member of a licensed shooting club for a full year to get a 9mm handgun license, with a spotless criminal record (Breivik had just a ten-year-old traffic ticket). A hunting license is separate, with extensive and different tests, and apparently Breivik had that too. This doesn’t redflag in itself.
Nobody would imagine that the handgun was planned to be used for point-blank executions with the scoped hunter rifle being planned for teenagers who tried to swim to safety. No program would catch it. Doing so would require mind reading.
Breivik could make tons of explosives. Metric tons.
Well, yes. The nutjob literally bought an entire farm to stay under the radar on this one. Nobody is surprised that farms buy tons of fertilizer; ammonium nitrate, specifically. Nor is anybody surprised that farms need diesel fuel. This was all that was needed, and with a minimum of 8th grade chemistry.
If you are going to prevent either one of these, where do you want your food to come from in the future? Or should we ban the knowledge of chemistry, or perhaps license it? Remove the books on basic chemistry from libraries and censor web pages that mention that knowledge?
Again, it is a matter of information advantage. If you know how to blend in, you will survive in an environment hostile to your intentions.
Which brings us to the last part:
Breivik intended to kill — no, execute — people.
As despicable as that is, how would you like to catch it, the key word being “intend”? He didn’t speak to anybody about it. Even his parents were caught completely off guard. He planned it alone; for nine full years, according to some sources. We have neither mindreading nor precrime technology.
We now have wanton en-masse ubiquitious wiretapping in Europe (specifically Sweden), explicitly for national security purposes, which would pick up a lot of what is said and spoken in Norway as well. We have individual location tracking of all citizens. Still, for all this surveillance which is the most extensive in human history, it was utterly and totally useless.
If we cannot prevent an event like Utøya, the worst killing spree ever in world history and the worst terrorist act in entire Europe in two decades, by any means conceivable — why are we playing this security theater and giving up hard-won civil liberties one after another?
The only thing that would have caught Breivik would have been frequent police raids turning his farm inside out, leaving no room to hide his experiments in chemistry. Turning all industries and homes inside out with sharp regularity might have prevented this. Even still, a person as determined as Breivik would likely have been able to blend in even under such circumstances.
Benjamin Franklin famously said, that “a people who gives up its freedom to gain a little security will lose both and deserve neither”. But now that it has been shown in the most gruesome, in-your-face way that we don’t even gain a little security by giving up these freedoms, then why are we doing so?
Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg is absolutely right when he says we must fight antidemocratic lunacy with more democracy and more humanity. His quote from one of the young on Utøya, “if one man can show so much hate, imagine how much love we all can show together“, is one of the most statemanworthy I have seen in my entire life. Both when it came from the young surviving lady right off the island, and from Stoltenberg on repeating it in his official capacity.
It brings me to tears, and to something more important: hope.