RENA, Norway (Reuters) - On a taxi ride to his farmhouse the day before he killed 77 people, Anders Behring Breivik talked easily of a future he must have known would never come.
Police believe the 32-year-old Norwegian had just deposited one of two vehicles — either the car carrying the bomb that would devastate Norway’s government district or the van he would use to help get him to a political youth camp — in downtown Oslo. He then caught a train back to Rena where he flagged down the silver-grey Mercedes station wagon driven by 40-year-old Ariid Tangen.
As the pair drove through the rolling countryside to the home where Breivik had written his 1,518-page “manifesto” and spent months planning his attack, the self-proclaimed defender of Europe made small talk.
“We spoke all the way and had a nice talk about nothing: the weather, the farm and that he wanted to be a farmer,” Tangen told Reuters a few days later. “He said he hired the farm to live like a farmer and that, if he liked it, he would buy one for himself.”
At no stage on the 12-km (7-mile) journey, Tangen said, did Breivik give any hint of what was to come.
“In my mind I’ve gone through it all in the most tiny detail,” the taxi driver said. “He had no nerves, he joked, he laughed. I just can’t get my mind round how he did it. He must have just... parked the bomb.”
For many Norwegians, still numbed by the worst violence in the country since World War Two, the fact the alleged killer looked and acted so normally is one of the most disturbing aspects of the attacks.
“What keeps me awake at night is that he is not a monster,” wrote Peter Svaar, a Norwegian journalist who was at school with Breivik as a young teenager. “He is a normal Norwegian boy.”
Most of those close to Breivik have gone to ground since the attacks of July 22. Phones are left unanswered and a policeman who answered the door of Breivik’s mother’s upmarket Oslo house simply smiled and said “There’s no one home.”
And while some of those prepared to speak say there was always something odd about the quiet, serious young man, others insist they saw no warning signs at all.
“He was a normal, well-behaved Norwegian boy,” his former stepmother Tove Oevermo told Reuters in a short telephone interview. “There were no signs.”
Breivik’s upbringing was remarkably privileged, even by Norwegian standards. He went to the same Oslo primary school as Crown Prince Haakon, who was a few years older.
At Handelsgymnasium, a high school in central Oslo where parents of new students are treated to an organist playing music by Edward Elgar, Breivik would have been surrounded not only by a keen sense of tradition but by his country’s future business and political leaders.
“I haven’t really had any negative experiences in my childhood in any way,” Breivik himself wrote of his upbringing.
But some of those who knew him say that even as a child Breivik always pushed the limits.
“He seemed a tough guy who could do things that were unthinkable for us. Like spitting in the cellar, urinating in the neighbor’s storeroom and took great pleasure in killing ants,” Lina Engelsrud, a childhood friend who knew him from roughly the age of 3 to 14 wrote in Aura Avis, a local newspaper.
Crime researchers speculate that Breivik may have struggled to cope with the absence of a high-achieving diplomat father who abandoned the family when his son was only one. Jens Breivik worked for the Foreign Ministry from 1966-96, ministry spokesman Frode Andersen said. Breivik senior served postings in London, Tehran and Paris before retiring in France.
Jens and his new wife Tove — another career diplomat — briefly sued for custody of the young Anders, he writes, but lost the case. He occasionally visited them in France, he says, but grew up with his mother Wenche, a nurse, and her new husband, a Norwegian army officer.
Breivik says his youth was dominated by strong “matriarchal” figures he worries “feminized” him, devoting a significant proportion of its manifesto to bemoaning the decline of conventional “fatherhood” in western Europe in general.
“The absence of fatherhood has created a society full of social pathologies, and the lack of male self-confidence has made us easy prey to our enemies,” he said. “If the West is to survive, we need to reassert a healthy dose of male authority.”
Contact with his father was broken off completely, Breivik says, after he got into trouble for graffiti during his teens — although he remained in contact with his stepmother. He said his father had also isolated himself from his other four children “so it is pretty clear whose fault that was.” Breivik talks of his occasional desire for a rapprochement, but says it never happened.
Speaking to Norwegian television from France after the attack last month, Breivik’s father said he sometimes wished his son had killed himself rather than attack others.
“Maybe he felt he was not as good as his father, but this is just speculation,” Ragnhild Bjoernebekk, a researcher at Norway’s police school who specializes in crime and violence, told Reuters.
Alternately, Bjoernebekk hypothesizes that Breivik might have been upset when a lover rejected him. Breivik wrote disapprovingly of some of his friends, saying they had 700 sexual partners.
“I have lived quite ascetic, a lifestyle that wouldn’t appeal to that many,” he wrote. “However, if I wanted I could have more or less everything I set my mind on.”
Some of his friends and his sister repeatedly tried to persuade him to find a girlfriend, he said, but that would not have fitted with his plan. His priority, he wrote, was safeguarding his mission.
“A couple of my friends have their suspicions,” he wrote. “I have managed to channel these suspicions far away from relating my political convictions. Instead, they suspect that I am playing WOW (the computer game World of Warcraft)... and a couple of them believe that I have chosen semi-isolation because of some alleged homosexual relationship which they suspect I am trying to hide.”
Such an idea was “hilarious” he said, as he was “100% hetero.”
Breivik makes clear in his journal that he deliberately chose a social circle he believed would not suspect and would not get in his way. His descriptions of his friends are sometimes affectionate, sometimes terrifyingly cold. He wrote about one friend, Marius, who “was a fireman, which is quite ironic as I will soon ensure he gets his hands full.”
“I ... only corresponded with moderate people who had no clue whatsoever about my clandestine activities,” he wrote.
In another entry, he suggests he might shoot his landlord’s girlfriend if she came to the farm building unexpectedly and discovered his preparation.
He wrote of his affection for his stepmother but says that because she had worked as a senior official in Norway’s immigration agency — which he blamed for the arrival of foreign Muslims — she, like many others, deserved to die.
“Although I care for her a great deal, I wouldn’t hold it against the KT (Knights Templar) if she was executed in an attack ... as she used to be a primary tool and category B traitor for the multiculturalist regime of Norway.”
The Knights Templar Breivik mentions appear to be a disparate collection of right-wing fanatics including former Serb war criminals and English nationalists, all planning semi-independent action.
Breivik’s vast document, posted on the Internet and e-mailed to hundreds of contacts a few hours before the attack, gives us some clues to what drove him: the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, a 2002 meeting in London with other extremists and attempted muggings by migrants on Oslo streets.
But investigators and other analysts say the document may also be riddled with inaccuracies and that Breivik’s talent for deceit may also have extended to self-delusion. All his testimony shows for sure, they say, is a troubled man who believed killing would bring readers to his thoughts and give his life the meaning it seemed otherwise to lack.
European police are urgently checking his claims of a wider network but say they believe he likely acted alone. Whilst his focus on publicity and political effect might be borrowed in part from other militant groups such as Al Qaeda, who he had clearly studied and expressed a grudging respect for, they say a closer comparison might be other lone gunmen behind one-off attacks in Europe and North America.
“To shoot like this tells of a person without emotion, without empathy...controlled in a very extraordinary way,” said Bjoernebekk.
“There are similarities to Columbine and Virginia Tech,” she said, referring to the U.S. school shootings in 1999 and 2007.
Pat Brown, a Washington D.C.-based criminal profiler, said that, like Breivik, the school shooters and other attackers such as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh often had similar messiah-like delusions.
“They decide they want to get their day in the sun and get their names in the newspapers, even if they are killed in the process,” he said. “Most of it is about fantasy.”
Exactly how Breivik got the money to rent his farm building, buy the materials for the attack and survive without employment for several years is not clear.
Breivik boasts of his successful business career, saying he made his first million Norwegian crowns ($185,000) by the age of 24, then more in share speculation. But he says he lost another 2 million crowns in less well-planned investments.
As with much else in his story, there may be an element of self-mythologizing. The businessman whom Breivik calls his “mentor” in his manifesto disputes the relationship was ever that close.
“I have never acted as, nor accepted the role of any kind of mentor for him,” Richard Steenfeldt Berg wrote on his Facebook page, admitting “I met this monster 11 years ago.”
He said he barely noticed Breivik’s radical right-wing views. “He never — oddly in hindsight — mentioned anything xenophobic,” he wrote. “However, I remember once, I was criticizing the immigration policies of the populist right wing. He went silent and left.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of those who might have been expected to know the Norwegian killer claim to barely remember him. Breivik claimed that he once belonged to the Progress Party, an opposition populist right-wing group, and even stood as a candidate for Oslo city council in 2003 before deciding the party was not radical enough.
But a party spokesman said Breivik “was anonymous. At official meetings, at parties, at dinners we cannot find a single picture of him. There is no trace of him writing anything.”
In one journal entry, Breivik wrote of one of his frequent trips into a nearby town to buy takeaway food. A “hot” girl in the restaurant checked him out, he said, prompting Breivik to worry that his smart clothes and good looks made him stand out too much in the rural area 100 km from Oslo.
But nearby residents remember him more for his awkwardness and lack of knowledge of farming terminology.
That impression looks to have lasted even up to the point where he stepped onto the ferry to the island on which he would kill most of his victims. Dressed in a police uniform, his manner and particularly his non-official vehicle put some passers-by on edge.
“I remember I reacted that that the man came in a civilian vehicle and I am 100 percent sure I said...that we ought to check his identity and joked that he wasn’t from the police,” wrote Haakon Sandbakken, 22, who also took the ferry.
But once again, no one challenged Breivik. Moments later, he was ashore and shooting.
(Alister Doyle reported from Oslo, Peter Apps reported from London)
Editing by Simon Robinson and Sonya Hepinstall