Normally, I’d be overjoyed to receive a bunch of writing commissions from prestigious outlets like the Spectator and the Tablet. On this occasion, I was anything but delighted, because what they wanted me for was my expertise in terrorism and far Right extremism, following the unspeakable massacre in the Pittsburgh synagogue. Besides discussing the Pennsylvania context of the atrocity, I also pointed out the likely source that inspired the form of action taken by the terrorist, if not actually driving his hate. This was a book called Hunter, by William Pierce (1933-2002). Still scarcely known to law enforcement, Hunter is a prime source for the far Right at home and abroad, and it has also been a huge influence on ISIS/Daesh. Among Pierce’s other star-struck disciples was Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik.
In order to explain this, I am taking the unusual step of presenting here an unpublished piece I wrote long, long ago – around the time of the Oklahoma City bomb back in 1995. The paper was to appear in National Review but they sat on it for so long that they thought it had lost relevance, so they returned it to me with a kill fee (an uncomfortable phrase in the context). I have used the material a good deal in succeeding years, especially in my 2003 book Images of Terror, but it seems particularly relevant today.
I’ll offer the complete text, unedited and un-updated, as written in 1995. There are obviously things I would tackle differently if I were writing it today, but I think the basic argument still speaks.
A Nation of Berserkers?
“Our worries about the relatively small size of the bomb were unfounded …. Approximately seven hundred people were killed in the blast or subsequently died in the wreckage.” With those satisfied words, a character in William L. Pierce’s novel The Turner Diaries gloats over the fictional terrorist attack that destroys the FBI headquarters building in Washington DC. The book, published in 1978 under the pseudonym “Andrew MacDonald,” provides an elaborate account of a cataclysmic guerrilla war set in the America of the 1990s. This culminates in the victory of a neo-Nazi sect known as the Order, and the consequent liquidation of all non-White races on the planet. Derived ultimately from Jack London’s The Iron Heel, the book is laden with stark expressions of anti-Black and anti-Jewish loathing, laced with quotations and theoretical echoes from Mein Kampf.
For many years, Turner Diaries was known, if at all, as a bizarre manifestation of the very furthest of the far Right. All this changed on April 19 this year, when the destruction of the federal building in Oklahoma City provided a faithful facsimile of the FBI bombing in the novel, accurate down to the explosive and, within a few minutes, to the time of day. When suspects were arrested in the case, it was no surprise to find that all were avid readers of Turner, and circulated the book as a tool for propaganda and recruitment. (Pierce himself declared himself “shocked” by the “desperate and foolish” Oklahoma City attack). In the following months, copies of Turner were avidly sought both by journalists and law enforcement officials, anxious to understand the thought-world which had given rise to the Oklahoma incident. Amazingly to anyone who has ever studied American domestic terrorism, not only was this fundamental text utterly unknown to most police agencies, but none appeared to have the slightest idea where to obtain this very widely-distributed book.
The Turner Diaries has since become a well-recognized element in journalistic writing on Oklahoma City, Rightist terrorism, and the whole interconnected world of militias and white supremacists, for whom the book has near-scriptural status. However, media and law enforcement still fail to appreciate much of the real significance of the book and its author. Together with another still more obscure novel named Hunter that has yet to enter the public consciousness, Turner offers a frightening and wide-ranging blueprint for terrorist activities in the United States. Moreover, the extreme Right may now have evolved an organizational structure ideally suited to the indefinite continuation of such a campaign. If so, the long-term prospects for civil peace in the United States are grim, to say nothing of civil liberties.
Turner Diaries is distinctive in the painstaking detail of its nuts and bolts descriptions: how exactly to combine fuel oil and fertilizer to make a powerful bomb, how to sabotage the port of Houston, the best means of sabotaging a nuclear power plant (mortars firing nuclear contaminants). Turner tells you, for example, exactly the armaments you need to take out Dallas’s telephone exchange (“three 500-foot spools of PETN-filled detonating cord and a little over twenty pounds of dynamite”). In the militia training camps at this very moment, someone may well be reading the paean to mortars (“marvelous little weapons, especially for guerrilla warfare”) and speculating on the best methods for construction and use. The book reads like a manual for terrorist warfare, and has been so regarded by at least some of its readers, who have attempted to realize its lethally dark vision. Already in the mid-1980s, the text inspired a vicious terror campaign by a group based in the Pacific North West that actually took the name of “The Order”, and plotted to bring down the US government by counterfeiting, bombing and assassination.
In reading Turner Diaries, journalists have concentrated on the individual actions described, and these accounts should indeed be read as a sobering warning of what could quite plausibly be done by quite small bands of armed activists, especially those with even a basic military training: the destruction of embassies and aircraft, the coordination of attacks against particular urban areas or economic targets. Two mortars fire TNT and phosphorus into the Israeli embassy, causing immense loss of life: the chosen date for this attack is April 20, and “no better date in the year could have been chosen for such an action,” a cryptic remark until one recalls that this was the birthday of Der Führer. “The great Houston bombings” destroy the metropolitan power system, then bring to a halt both the airport and the freeways: “after Houston, there was Wilmington, then Providence, then Racine.” While the FBI attack is now the best-known incident of the book, ultra-Rightists across the country are intimately familiar with these other specific instances of mayhem. However, all these atrocities could be dismissed as fantasies if they were not combined with an organizational plan which is perilously realistic.
When The Turner Diaries first appeared in serialized form in the mid-1970s, the Order was conceived in the classic urban guerrilla format, of a close-knit clandestine organization of the sort that had defeated the British occupiers in Ireland and Palestine, or the French in Algeria. Subsequent events have shown this kind of Battle of Algiers structure to be disastrously flawed, and painfully vulnerable to infiltration and disruption. Whatever happened to the Red Brigades and Direct Action, to the Baader-Meinhof group and, indeed, to the Order itself?
By the mid-1980s, the balance had clearly shifted to the counter-terrorist forces, incalculably strengthened by new techniques of surveillance and counter-insurgency, and powerful legal weapons to target subversive conspiracies. This was recognized by the American far Right, whose theorists now evolved a shrewd if desperate strategy of “leaderless resistance”, the core of which is the “Phantom Cell or individual action”. If even the allegedly tightest of cell systems could be penetrated by federal agents, why have a hierarchical structure at all? Why not simply move to a non-structure, in which individual groups circulate propaganda, manuals and broad suggestions for activities, which can be taken up or adapted according to need by particular groups or even individuals? To quote Louis Beam, “Utilizing the leaderless resistance concept, all individuals and groups operate independently of each other, and never report to a central headquarters or single leader for direction or instruction . . . No-one need issue an order to anyone.” The strategy is almost perfect in that attacks can neither be predicted nor prevented, and that there are no ringleaders who can be prosecuted. The necessary diffusion of information has finally been made possible by the rise of the Web and the Internet, which in fact became a tool of choice for the Far Right in the mid-1980s, several years before most of us became aware of it. Today, Web journals like Stormfront offer instant access to the thoughts of rightist gurus like Louis Beam, Don Black, David Duke, and William Pierce himself.
Remarkably in view of the sudden discovery of Turner, neither law enforcement nor the media have yet paid the slightest attention to Pierce’s other novel, which provides a prophetic description of leaderless resistance in action. Hunter, published in 1989, portrays a lone terrorist named Oscar Yeager (German, Jäger) who assassinates mixed-race couples. The book is dedicated to Joseph Paul Franklin, “the Lone Hunter, who saw his duty as a white man, and did what a responsible son of his race must do.” Franklin, for the uninitiated, was a racist assassin who launched a private three year war in the late 1970s, which involved murdering interracial couples and bombing synagogues. The fictional Yeager also undertakes armed attacks against the liberal media and against groups attempting to foster good relations among different races and creeds.
Central to the book is the notion of revolutionary contagion, that the hero (for hero he is meant to be) cannot by himself bring down the government or the society which he detests, but his “commando raids” can serve as a detonator, to inspire other individuals or small groups by his example. “Very few men were capable of operating a pirate broadcasting station or carrying out an aerial bombing raid on the Capitol, but many could shoot down a miscegenating couple on the street.” Though Yeager does indeed inspire imitators, he learns that his acts of individual violence are insufficient to change the system, and that a wider political context is required, under the general umbrella of an ultra-Right party. He also realizes the critical importance of securing a foothold in the media, which in the novel is achieved by infiltrating anti-semitic and “Christian Identity” propaganda into the show of a popular televangelist. To paraphrase Mao Tze-Dong, extremist propaganda exists in the wider fundamentalist thought-world like a fish swims in the sea. As racial tensions rise, Blacks are provoked into open rebellion, a “Day of the Long Knives,” in which Whites are slaughtered in the streets, and open racial war develops in American cities. The scene is thus set for the total confrontation of Turner, to which the book serves as a “prequel.”
If the tactics of Turner are ever combined with the non-structure delineated in Hunter, the result could be an entirely unprecedented terrorist campaign, combining the devastating effects of traditional clandestine warfare with an immunity to essentially all existing counter-terrorist methods. Oklahoma City may well have been the first fruits of this strategy, which aims at nothing less than the creation of a never-ending cycle of “lone hunters,” berserkers willing to perish in order to accomplish the apocalyptic destruction of a society they believe to be wholly evil. To assess the plausibility of the scheme, consider that every year, perhaps fifty lone Americans carry out random massacres in restaurants and post offices, apartment blocks and offices. Let us imagine the consequences if a real-life Jäger could influence just a handful of these to politicize their deeds, explicitly to target Blacks or Asians with a view to aggravating racial tensions in any major city. Then couple this with the work of ten or twenty “leaderless cells,” barely a hundred militants in all, carrying out well-armed attacks on political targets. The result could indeed be a political and social crisis of horrendous proportions. To quote William Pierce’s radio address shortly after the Oklahoma bombing, “A growing number will turn to terrorism as their only weapon against a terrorist government. And I suspect that we’ll see some real terrorism – planned, organized terrorism – before too long. I suspect that a growing number of exasperated, fed-up Americans will begin engaging in terrorism on a scale the world has never seen before . . . . There are many Americans who have come to consider the US government their worst enemy.”
Until last April, taking such material seriously invited ridicule, but the situation has now changed dramatically. We should recall that some two hundred thousand copies of Turner Diaries are now in print, and Hunter is freely available from the same sources. Better, surely, to discover the books now rather than to read them as a retroactive commentary on the new wave of terrorism that we may be about to encounter. And this would also seem the ideal moment to begin devising a strategy to combat a form of terrorism that differs as much from the classic model as the electronic battlefield of the Gulf War did from Gettysburg.