Higher Man

John Sutherland

  • The Turner Diaries by ‘Andrew Macdonald’
    National Vauguard Books, 211 pp, $12.95, May 1978, ISBN 0 937944 02 5

The authorities are always interested in the assassin’s bookshelf. The Israeli police were quick to release the fact that Yigal Amir had a copy of The Day of the Jackal. Before Theodore Kaczynski, the likely ‘Unabomber’, had even been charged, the press had announced that one of his noms de guerre was ‘Conrad’ (the nom de plume of Teodor Korzeniowski) and that there was a copy of The Secret Agent on his bookshelf. In the Oklahoma bombing case, now being tried in Denver, the book in question is The Turner Diaries. The FBI, who have labelled William L. Pierce’s prudently pseudonymous novel ‘the bible of the racist right’, didn’t take long to leak the information that it accompanied Timothy McVeigh on his (alleged) bombing raid on 19 April 1995. Reference to The Turner Diaries was prominent in Rage and Betrayal, the highly prejudicial ABC programme of 12 April 1996, in which the newscaster Peter Jennings called McVeigh a ‘monster’ and cited passages from Pierce’s book. Parallels between bomb-making in The Turner Diaries and by McVeigh were made much of in Joseph Hartzler’s opening address to the jury. The only material evidence produced by the first witness for the prosecution, Charles Hanger, the state trooper who made the arrest, was the fact that, in addition to his gun and knife, McVeigh had in his yellow Mercury copies of a number of tendentious passages from The Turner Diaries (there was some conflict in press reports as to whether they were handwritten, xeroxed or merely highlighted in a copy of the book). Mention has been made of the book on virtually every day of the trial.

It is clear that McVeigh was infatuated with The Turner Diaries and equally clear that it is, prima facie, an incriminating book. According to a leaked ‘confession’, plausibly thought to have been acquired by the FBI while illegally bugging McVeigh’s consultations with his defence attorneys, and subsequently published in Playboy, McVeigh came across Pierce’s novel in 1987-8, just before he joined the US Army. It was, he recalls, a period when his ‘views of the world expanded’. He denies, however, that it was the racism or the survivalist politics which attracted him: ‘I read it as a gun-rights book.’ Ten years ago McVeigh was apparently in the habit of selling The Turner Diaries (then retailing at $10) half-price at gun shows, so keen was he to proselytise. One report has it that he ripped out and sent seven pages of the book to his young sister, Jennifer, just before the bombing. What she told Jennings was that her brother gave her the whole novel to read ‘several years ago’. This is evidently the family line: ‘I know he’s read it, I’ve read it. A lot of people say it’s a racist book. But the point of the book is not racism. The point is the Government taking control of people, taking their guns away.’ In her testimony on 5 May Ms McVeigh confirmed on oath that she had read The Turner Diaries at her brother’s repeated urgings. But now, as a principal prosecution witness (in return for immunity), she seemed less inclined to defend McVeigh’s favourite novel.

You can buy The Day of the Jackal or The Secret Agent at any bookshop. The Turner Diaries was first published 19 years ago, but until 1996 it could only be readily acquired by mail order, from William Pierce’s headquarters in West Virginia. As you would expect with a cult book, a limited number of copies of the illustrated first edition are still ‘available’ at not much under $100. A sub-standard paperback, the current printing is exorbitantly priced at $12.95 (plus $3, P&P). At least $10 of the purchase price represents a hefty subscription to Pierce’s neo-Nazi National Alliance. National Vanguard Books, Pierce’s publishing arm, claim that 198,000 copies had been sold by February 1995; after April that year sales must have made a meteoric ascent.

I don’t think the book could be published in Britain without violating the Race Relations Act. Last year an above-ground American publisher, Barricade Books, acquired the rights and brought out a trade edition at $12, tastefully timed to coincide with the anniversary of the explosion in the Murrah Building. There was outrage from the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the Wiesenthal Center and self-respecting bookshops have boycotted it. I haven’t seen a copy anywhere: even survivalist bookshops seem to have run out. If you want The Turner Diaries and don’t want to buy an Uzi at the same time, mail order is still the easiest way to get it.

The Turner Diaries takes the form of a posthumous memoir by a foot soldier in the ‘Great Revolution’ of 1991-9 (i.e. well in the future when Pierce wrote the book). Earl Turner, an ordinary Joe Q. Public American, is politicised by the Washington DC ‘gun raids’ of September 1991. These have been sanctioned by the ‘Cohen Act’. Posses of deputised blacks (egged on by the Jewish-owned Washington Post) raid the homes of white people, seizing their weapons and violating the women (recent legislation has decriminalised rape and hard-drug use by African Americans).

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