‘The Turner Diaries’ Didn’t Just Inspire The Capitol Attack. It Warns Us What Might Be NextHistorians in the News
tags: far right, White Supremacy, militia movement, Kathleen Belew
In the 1978 novel “The Turner Diaries,” an underground revolutionary group of self-proclaimed patriots known as “the Organization” attacks the U.S. Capitol. A car bombing of FBI headquarters kills hundreds. In “The Day of the Rope,” members of “the Organization” publicly hang members of Congress, journalists and others they deem traitors. The goal, of course: to overthrow a federal government they believe is engaged in a vast elitist conspiracy.
When historian and author Kathleen Belew watched a white mob of Trump supporters attack the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, leaving five people dead, she immediately thought of the novel, partly because others have thought about it too: the white supremacists who stormed the Capitol and the law enforcement agencies who monitor them. The FBI has called “The Turner Diaries” “the bible of the racist right.”
The novel was written by William Luther Pierce, head of the Neo-Nazi group the National Alliance, under the pseudonym Andrew Macdonald. “[It] imagines a successful coup by white power activists who take over a homeland, the U.S., then the world,” Belew, author of “Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America,” wrote Thursday in a Twitter thread explaining the connection.
One of the books most widely read and cited by extreme far-right groups like The Order and the Aryan Republican Army, “The Turner Diaries” has inspired hate crimes and terrorism in the U.S. and beyond for more than 40 years. The Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, which killed 168 people, bore striking similarities to events in the book.
Belew spoke to the Times on Friday about Wednesday’s attack and how it felt to watch one of the most infamous and virulent novels in American history come to life.
Where were you when you heard what was happening at the Capitol?
I was watching it live anticipating that something like this might occur. From the beginning, it was clear that protestors were moving aggressively on the Capitol. We had indications from people who were watching those online chat spaces that they were planning an action. And it was clear that the mainstream reporting and the Capitol police were not responding in the way one would think. Even among experts who study this, and perhaps were not surprised by the events of Wednesday, it’s still an astounding thing to see a mob violently storm the Capitol and gain access to the building. It’s an incredibly upsetting moment.
At what point did “The Turner Diaries” come to mind?
It’s clear to anyone who studies this movement that some of the activists at Wednesday’s action were white power activists. What we’re looking at on Wednesday is sort of a broad coalition of Trump fans and QAnon believers and more extremist white power groups. But I think that “The Turner Diaries” really becomes a clear point of reference if you look at the photographs of the action. Activists erected a gallows outside the Capitol and hung up symbolic nooses. I saw another photograph of someone who had smashed a television camera and made the cord into a noose. That’s a reference to “The Day of the Rope,” the systematic hanging of lawmakers and other people they consider enemies. The “Diaries” also features very prominently an attack on Congress that is significantly not a mass casualty attack. Although there are lots of mass casualty attacks in “The Turner Diaries,” what happens at Congress is instead meant to be a show of force that a group of activists can impact even a highly secured target. So what we see there is a really clear alignment [with] the way it’s imagined in the movement.
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