Last week I found myself re-reading The Turner Diaries after almost 25 years. I can't say I meant to. Something about the more extreme Tea Party rhetoric brought it to mind. And the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombings is this month. I just wanted to check on a few quotes I thought I remembered and wound up reading the whole thing. Not the two most productive hours of my life, that's for sure.
The book was pretty much as I remembered it. (Although the electronic version I first started reading was heavily abridged, with some of the more detailed descriptions of illegal activity, such as the bombing of an FBI building, removed.) As with a lot of propaganda, Andrew Macdonald’s (aka William Pierce) writing is clunky and stilted. However, it gets almost gleefully gory towards the end when describing scenes of mass genocide. I still think the Diaries contains the most hateful passage in American letters: Earl Turner's fictional entry for August 1, 1993, the “Day of the Rope”, which relates in stomach churning detail the mass hangings of so-called “race criminals” in Los Angeles.
The Turner Diaries was written in the late 70’s and, for the most part, seems amazingly dated. Only two groups fuel Earl Turner’s righteous anger: Jews, who in spite of their inferior status, somehow manage to control everything from the banks to the dreaded Equality Police and Blacks, who function as their incompetent subhuman henchmen. There's only a passing mention of illegal immigrants, homosexuals and feminists. The mass media mostly ignore Earl Turner and his fellow guerilla patriots until its too late. There's no equivalent of the talk radio echo chamber or Fox News to stoke the fires and give free publicity.
On the other hand: there are plenty of screeds about Second Amendment Rights. In fact, it is the fictional Gun Raids of 1989 that precipitate Earl Turner’s descent into crime and terrorism.
Once again I wondered just what was it about this hastily written book that inspired so many people to try to live it, often with tragic consequences. After all, it’s only words — and not particularly eloquent ones at that.
I have a theory about evil. I believe we all have the capacity for it; it rests in us like some sleeper virus waiting for a trigger. In most of us, it stays asleep a good part of the time. Thankfully, very few of us are born without any capacity to resist it.
But sometimes our resistance falters, the virus stirs and begins to multiply. One of the things that can drop our resistance in a heartbeat is a life-changing trauma. For Earl Turner, it’s the raid on his apartment and his subsequent arrest. The arrest leads to the loss of his job and his stable, ordinary life as an electrical engineer with latent racist tendencies. For a while he is able to coast, taking contracting jobs with some local electronics firms, but soon his deepening involvement with the racist underground leads him to a place where he’s poised to pass the point of no return.
“Now everything is chaotic and uncertain,” he writes. “When I think about the future, I become depressed. It’s impossible to know what will happen, but it’s certain that I’ll never be able to go back to the quiet, orderly kind of life I had before.”
In other words, Earl Turner has lost his center and realizes he’s in danger of losing his sanity. He commits to writing the diary to regain his psychological footing, but also to rationalize the evil he’s done so far, to become “reconciled” to his new way of life. This fateful decision to reconcile allows the evil in Turner to really blossom. With each violent act, his tolerance for atrocity grows, until he becomes a person who can shoot people in cold blood and find solace in the death of thousands.
Our nation has gone through several life-changing traumas in this young century. The first, of course, was 9-11. What? You mean we’re not invincible? This was followed quickly by the collapse of Enron and WorldCom. You mean I can work my whole life, be a loyal employee and all, and lose everything in a day? Then, Katrina. We let a city drown while the whole world watched? And finally the housing bubble burst, which eventually led to the Great Recession we’re in now. That whole American Dream thing was one big lie?
To add to all the heartache, there is the sinking feeling things will never truly go back to the way they were. We can try to patch things up, but we all know they really won't be fixed. The changes needed now are so far outside of our consensus thinking that when we try to imagine the future, all we can see is a black hole.
There are plenty of people in this country who are hurting and looking for a way to quiet their pain. Some will merely squelch it with antidepressants; others will start looking for someone or something to blame. Maybe it’s the Socialist Republic of Obama bin Biden. Maybe it’s all those illegal immigrants who stubbornly refuse to speak English. Maybe it’s Obamacare. Maybe a few of them will listen to Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck and be inspired to “do something” — or, God forbid, stumble on a link to the online version of The Turner Diaries and plan to blow something up. They say an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, but so is a shattered heart.
Earl Turner made a personal decision to descend into evil, but he never would have gotten that far without his fellow racist warriors to egg him on. Words have power — and when people are hurt, vulnerable and standing at the crossroads that power is infinitely multiplied.
Those who use violent or hateful language to “fire up the base” might as well be playing Russian Roulette. Most of the time you’ll escape with your life. But then again: there’s always that chance you’ll get the bullet.