Twenty-four hours before two bombs were detonated Saturday at a Jersey Shore military race and later amidst a busy sidewalk in Chelsea, author Unni Turrettini happened to be in New York discussing her book “The Mystery of the Lone Wolf Killer.”
Bewildered after Anders Behring Breivik’s killed 77 and injured hundreds more in Norway in 2011, she started researching the massacre in search of a sense of understanding. After living in Geneva for 11 years, Turrettini recently moved back to her native Oslo with her husband and two children. With law degrees from Norway, France and the U.S., Turrettini previously worked in law and finance in Paris and Geneva before taking up writing as a career. Due out early next year, her second book is a behind-the-scenes look at the Nobel Peace Prize.
Turrettini, who knew one of the victims, said one in four Norwegians on the scene were killed. “Shocked” by following the trial and reading everything she could about it, she said she “just woke up one morning and decided, ‘I’m going to do some serious research to see how this seemingly normal Norwegian man who could have been my brother did this horrendous thing.’”
Over a cappuccino at Via Quadronno last week, she said of lone wolf killers, “People think that they’re psychopaths, they’re crazy — they’re not. They don’t lack empathy. They’re not psychotic. They planned this very, very carefully and they know exactly what they’re doing. They believe it’s for a good cause. They’re not psychopaths in the sense they’re getting satisfaction from the killing. The killing is just necessary for their cause. They believe they’re saviors just like Ted Kaczynski [the so-called Unabomber] — his war on technology back in the day. He’s the typical example of the lone wolf killer. Timothy McVeigh of the Oklahoma City bombing is also a typical lone wolf.”
Through her work with a former FBI profiler, Turrettini said there are always red flags and that instilling a greater sense of community even within your own circle can help. From her point of view, lone wolf killers are a universal problem. “It doesn’t really matter if they live in the U.S., Norway or in Japan. We have them in Japan, too. We don’t think that because in the media they say it’s a U.S. problem because of guns and…I’m not saying we shouldn’t have gun regulations but it really has nothing to do with that,” she said. “Then there’s bullying in schools. And that happens everywhere, even in the best schools, in the most educated places.”
The way she sees it, lone wolves are not born killers. “They were normal, sweet little kids, intelligent, sensitive. It took them years to become killers. I’m using the Norwegian guy as an example. He’s still alive and the only one willing to discuss his crimes. He can teach us so much about all these other random killers. It’s really to raise awareness about what are the warning signs. What can each of us do to try to prevent it? And ideally to help them when they’re kids so they won’t want to become killers. They’re really isolated, excluded, bullied — there was a lot of stuff going on.”
Turrettini will return to New York next month for talks at the Colony and Yale Clubs. She said of lone wolves: “They’re so disconnected from themselves and society and from their own pain that they can’t even take the revenge out on the people who actually hurt them. What happens is it has to be societal. They’re so narcissistic they believe that they’re so important and the world needs to know. So they want to kill their governments – it has to be huge.”
She added, “I see this continuing and increasing. Now it’s a little bit of a mix of ISIS and terrorism. That was Nice [in July] – he was a lone wolf but he piggybacked on the ISIS ideology because they can pick any ideology it doesn’t matter what it is. But right now it’s so convenient to pick that ideology. ISIS and Al Qaeda are using this because they’re going out and saying in public that they’re encouraging lone wolves in the world to take matters into their own hands and then they have their blessing kind of. Then they feel that community in a sense because they’re looking for a community. They’re looking for a connection and they get that.”
Dealing with such foreboding subjects does not make her feel threatened. “No, not at all really. We feel so powerless when something like this happens. I don’t like feeling powerless. I like feeling that we can do something,” she said.
“I’m hoping for it to be a way to give hope that we can actually do something about this. We can at least reduce the numbers by being observant and diligent and creating a better society – just every one of us in our close circle, in our little circle.”
Turrettini’s research skills have once again been put to good use in reading all she can in five different languages about the Nobel Peace Prize “and how the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize committee has completely changed the prize, and made their own little prize.” She also relied on leaks from the committee. “It’s not so much about peace any more. It’s about sending political messages,” she said.
The most challenging part is “feeling a little bit like I am betraying my country. Obviously, they’re so proud of the Peace Prize, so there was that, and, ‘Should I really write as harshly as I do about what they’re doing?’ You can find a lot of information about it in Scandinavia but not much outside. This has not been translated. There is so much we don’t know about it.”