Klaus Theweleit’s latest book takes the reader on a disturbing journey into the psychology of mass murder. Theweleit’s original and accessible research is all too relevant to contemporary society and will appeal to an international readership.
The Laughter of Killers considers recent acts of mass violence in Indonesia, Cambodia and Rwanda, both as a group phenomenon and as the result of individual brutalisation. By means of terrorisation the perpetrator is stripped of any emotion other than in and for himself – resulting in blind blood lust. The ecstasy of violence is often expressed as laughter or a grim smile.
Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer, appeared even more repulsive because of his ecstatic laughter during his killing spree and his ‘relaxed’ smile during the trial. Theweleit explains this response in terms of Breivik’s sense of false identity as a member of the Knight Templars, with its own laws and justifications that negate ‘normal’ human rules and emotions. Other examples are the Nazi SS, Islamic State, and the Ku-Klux-Klan – all engaging in mass killings so ecstatic that they can only give vent to laughter as an expression of release, and as an additional act of violence.