The Turner Diaries
“”The first thing I saw in the moonlight was the placard with its legend in large, block letters: 'I defiled my race.' Above the placard leered the horribly bloated, purplish face of a young woman, her eyes wide open and bulging, her mouth agape. Finally I could make out the thin, vertical line of rope disappearing into the branches above... There are many thousands of hanging female corpses like that in this city tonight, all wearing identical placards around their necks. They are the White women who were married to or living with Blacks, with Jews, or with other non-White males.
|—The Turner Diaries, chapter 23|
The Turner Diaries is a 1978 novel by William Luther Pierce (published under the pseudonym Andrew MacDonald) and a favorite on the far-right loony bin circuit. It is a fictional account of a guerrilla war waged by a white supremacist cadre organization to overthrow the United States government and set up a neo-Nazi regime. Although on the surface "just" a novel, every plot device in the book appears carefully and coldly calculated to impart the positions of the National Alliance, the neo-Nazi group which William Pierce led, and to serve as a blueprint for a white supremacist revolution in the U.S.
The book was self-published by the National Alliance and mostly sold via mail order and word of mouth until Lyle Stuart Books decided, against all better judgment, to give it a mainstream reprinting and it wound up on the shelves of every Barnes & Noble and Borders for most of the late 1990s.
The book is presented as the diary of Earl Turner, a guerrilla fighter for "The Organization", published a century after the revolution. The beginning of the guerrilla war is set in 1991. It was immediately preceded by the passage of a 1989 "Cohen Act" banning private possession of firearms, and a Supreme Court decision legalizing rape on the grounds that laws against rape are racist (wait, what the fuck?). The obvious racist framing of both — Jews want to take your guns and blacks want to rape your white daughters — establishes the tone from the outset. Soon there are roving gangs of non-whites raping and looting at will. The book's protagonist, Earl Turner, joins The Organization fully committed to giving his life to the revolution. The Organization is in the form of small cell groups under the control of a secretive high command.
The book includes crude racist stereotyping on almost every page; people of color are always portrayed as animalistic criminal thugs, while Jews are always conniving exploiters. Turner's cell group's first act is to rob a Jewish-owned liquor store. (Because of course Jews run all the liquor stores, but hey, at least it doesn't portray blacks robbing the liquor store...I guess?) From there they go on to bigger acts of terrorism: attacking the FBI building with a delivery truck bomb, and numerous attacks on power plants. Trying to find allies for the revolution, he makes the mistake of contacting a left-wing hippie commune thinking they would be sympathetic on the grounds that they both have a common enemy in "the system", and the hippies instead turn them in to the police and the Israeli intelligence. (Apparently, Pierce intended this as a "very strong warning" against neo-Nazis trying to make allies on the far left, and not that leftists would of course oppose violent racists.) For both this grave mistake and for allowing himself to be taken alive by Israeli intelligence, Turner is assigned the punishment of an eventual suicide mission upon his release from a military prison. In another "very strong warning", northern California falls to a military coup led by a conservative Bircher-type Air Force general who wants to "restore the Constitution". The Organization first tries allying with him as both movements gain ground, but he is portrayed as an obstructionist who denounces the white revolution as communism. The Organization assassinates him, because even racist militia wannabes aren't crazy enough to follow the Birchers.
As the revolution proceeds, one of the most sickening scenes in the book, exceeded only by the epilogue, is "The Day of the Rope", a mass lynching where all white women who married black and Jewish men are hanged in public. Liberal Hollywood actresses and politicians are lynched. The Organization then launches nukes at Israel and the Soviet Union, which leads to the Soviet Union launching nukes at the United States. New York City, Miami, Detroit, Baltimore, Charleston, and Los Angeles are nuked, and Jews flee to Toronto, which is later also nuked. Arabs storm Israel and kill all of the Israelis who escaped the nuclear attack. France, the Netherlands, and the Soviet Union collapse, and anti-Semitic violence is carried out in cities throughout the world. Earl Turner carries out his suicide mission, flying a crop duster plane into the Pentagon with a nuclear bomb strapped on the co-pilot seat – this is where the diaries themselves end. An epilogue (or as Pierce spells it, "epilog") describes Turner's suicide mission as the turning point, but with several more years of guerrilla war degenerating into complete genocide, in which cities are taken one by one and their leaders, white or not, "liquidated" to establish the Organization's control. Food being scarce, it is rationed in such a way that "it was no longer sufficient to be merely White; in order to eat one had to be judged the bearer of especially valuable genes." North America is ethnically cleansed, with genocide committed against anyone not white and even "lesser" whites. The revolution spreads to Europe, sweeping across it in just a few months amid blood "ankle deep". This leaves what the epilogue calls the "Chinese problem", which is "solved" using chemical, biological, and nuclear attacks leaving all of Asia uninhabitable for hundreds of years except for "mutants" (yes, really). What happens to Africa is left unsaid, except earlier the book says the "Negro race" suddenly disappears during the revolution.
Given the book's sickening advocacy of race war and mass genocide over the entire earth, even to the point of leaving entire parts of the planet uninhabitable in order to secure a pure white planet, it is a wonder the book has an audience at all except among the most hard-core of neo-Nazis. Nonetheless, The Turner Diaries quite likely played a role in inspiring at least two different terrorist activities in the U.S.:
- "The Order", a violent splinter group of Aryan Nations active circa 1983-1985, who robbed banks and murdered Alan Berg, a Jewish radio host in his driveway for insulting them on air (In the novel, an unnamed Jewish radio talk show host is ambushed and shot to death in his driveway).
- Timothy McVeigh's bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. In the novel a similar attack destroys the FBI building in Washington DC.
The Anti-Defamation League cites additional terrorist groups during the 1990s also being inspired by The Turner Diaries including the Aryan Republican Army, which committed bank robberies and bombings, and The New Order, whose members were indicted before being able to carry out their planned attacks on the ADL and other civil rights groups. The methodology and targets of the terrorist attacks in The Turner Diaries — using trucks to bomb federal buildings, and flying aircraft into the Pentagon — also bear an unsettling resemblance to many real life terrorist attacks including 9/11, although any actual influence as opposed to such attacks being in the nature of terrorism in general are purely speculation. Likewise, there has been speculation on the extent, if any, The Turner Diaries may have influenced Anders Behring Breivik's 2011 attacks in Norway, although Breivik's manifesto also heavily plagiarized from the Unabomber's manifesto.
Scholars who have analyzed The Turner Diaries have, interestingly, noted that the novel appears to draw heavily from two speculative political novels of the left, The Iron Heel by Jack London and, less clearly, Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach. The Iron Heel is an anti-fascist novel but one which William Pierce was known to be a fan of, and like The Turner Diaries, it is written in posthumously-published diary style. Ecotopia, meanwhile, is an environmentalist novel in which Northern California and the Pacific Northwest secede from the United States and form a 'green' republic. It is discussed as a possible influence in Michael Barkun's Religion and the Racist Right due to both the timing (Ecotopia was published in 1975) and to The Turner Diaries using the secession of northern California in its plot.
Kinder, Gentler Turner Diaries?
Camille Jackson, writing in the Fall 2004 SPLC Intelligence Report, notes another possible influence:
“”"In the past 15 years, dozens of racist and extremist novels have been published by writers hoping to use the tool of fiction as persuasively — if, perhaps, to a less explicitly violent end — as Pierce. The novels span every category of extremism — neo-Nazi, neo-Confederate, radical environmentalist, anti-immigration, anti-government — but most stick to Pierce's formula."
In reality, this genre of dystopian right-wing fiction long predates The Turner Diaries. The films of Russell Doughten depicted an underground of Christian believers fighting the Antichrist's one-world government after the rapture. The Camp of the Saints, a mainstream and in its time best-selling 1973 novel from France, depicts Europe degenerating into anarchy while being overrun by boat people from an overpopulated India. It unfortunately has been regaining popularity in light of the European migrant crisis. The 1971 film If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? was a Christian film depicting, in violently graphic detail, a Communist takeover of America. Then, of course, there is Atlas Shrugged (shudder). As mentioned, the radical left also has its own books in this genre, from Jack London's The Iron Heel (arguably the true pioneer of the genre, dating back to 1908), to Communist tales of class warfare in the streets like Klaus Neukrantz's Barricades in Berlin, to several hard green novels, of which The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey is probably the most infamous.
All of these predate The Turner Diaries yet depict underground resistance, sometimes violent or illegal, and promote radical ideologies of one sort or another. Mainstream novels of underground resistance, like George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here, should also be mentioned — though, needless to say, these books aren't absolutely batshit crazy. More recently, evangelical Christianity has produced a number of bestsellers of dystopian fiction, with an end times or sometimes anti-abortion or spiritual warfare theme, such as Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series, Pat Robertson's End of the Age, Charles Colson's Gideon's Torch, and Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness. Lastly, dystopian societies and rebellions against them became popular subject matter for young-adult fiction starting in the late '00s, most famously with Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games, with these books typically trending more apolitical and less crazy by focusing on the generation gap and often portraying the rebels as themselves flawed and/or extremist in their own right.
Clearly then, The Turner Diaries didn't begin the genre of radical dystopian underground resistance fiction. What The Turner Diaries effected was to up the ante, opening a space for novels promoting race war and white supremacy that explicitly advocated mass genocide, while at the same time making any novels since look less bad by comparison. Take, for example, the novels of Matthew Bracken, which his fans will admit are in this genre, but at the same time, they will vehemently denounce any comparison to The Turner Diaries as unwarranted and unfair. Furthermore, in its refusal to tie its racial politics to any specific ideology (such as neo-Nazism or Christian Identity), it was able to promote a broader vision for white nationalism that any white person with a chip on their shoulder concerning minorities could theoretically embrace, serving as a forebear to the alt-right of the 2010s.
William Pierce followed it up with another novel, Hunter, about a sniper who targets interracial couples in the Washington, D.C. area. The sniper is a lone nut whom both the FBI and a white supremacist group try to co-opt for their own ends. The novel's ending hints that it is a prequel to The Turner Diaries, as the sniper is the founder of the Organization. It was dedicated to Joseph Paul Franklin, a serial killer who murdered at least 20 people between 1977 and 1980, targeting African-Americans and Jews in an attempt to start a race war, robbing banks and attempting to assassinate Larry Flynt. Initially, the 2002 "Beltway Sniper" was thought to have been motivated by this book until the two behind the sniper spree — both African-American — were caught.
- Mein Kampf. Undoubtedly had the more evil influence on human history than Turner, but it's debatable which book is a worse read.
- Race war
- Hunter - The prequel to this
- The Camp of the Saints - A French 1973 "novel" by Jean Raspail, about an invasion and takeover of Europe by the 'third-world immigrants' destroying western culture.
- Commentary on the book at the: ADL and SPLC.
- The book itself is on the Internet Archive, if you must read the thing.
- The Nazi on the Bestseller List The Village Voice
- Anti-Defamation League. The Turner Diaries.
- The Alliance and the Law Southern Poverty Law Center.
- Behind a Book That Inspired McVeigh New York Times.
- McCarthy, Jack. "Neo-Nazis and 9/11." Counterpunch, 29 October 2001.
- "On Anders Breivik and The Turner Diaries: How a 2011 Norwegian massacre echoes a 1978 American novel." Among the Truthers, 24 July 2011.
- "The Turner Diaries and The Iron Heel"
- "The Turner Diaries, other racist novels, inspire extremist violence." Intelligence Report, Fall 2004.
- Le camp des Saints, de Jean Raspail, un succès de librairie raciste? (in French)
- Kooky, paranoiac Christian anti-Commie masterpiece: "If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?"
- Berger, J. M. "How 'The Turner Diaries' Changed White Nationalism." The Atlantic, 16 September 2016 (recovered 20 September 2016).
- See the Wikipedia article on Hunter (Pierce novel).