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Turner Diaries: Defining a Movement

Turner Diaries: Defining a Movement
26th January 2021 Brad Galloway
Brad Galloway
In Insights

I first encountered the Turner Diaries in 1999, when a friend shared the book, with the advice that the novel clearly laid out the threat posed by, and a blueprint for the destruction of, the Zionist Occupation Government (ZOG) in North America. Obviously, this was at a very different point in my life, one where I was on the pathway to become involved in the dark world of the violent far-right (VFR) movement. Since leaving the movement in 2011, I’ve had a long-standing desire to write a little bit about the importance of the Turner Diaries within the VFR – the effect it had on people during my time in the movement, and the relevance it maintains to this day. First, a bit of history on the book itself.

History

The Turner Diaries, a fictional novel, was published in 1978 and was authored by long time white supremacist William Luther Pierce, who in addition to being a professor at Oregon State University and a consultant for the aerospace firm Pratt & Whitney, founded the National Alliance, a highly influential white nationalist organisation.

The Turner Diaries was written in the form of a collection of journal entries by the book’s protagonist, Earl Turner, and it tells the story of an imagined race war in the United States. The book’s contents riff off many of the familiar racist tropes that were well known within the movement at that time and encouraged its readers to imagine a dark future of genocide and violence.

In the book, Turner and his counterparts embarked on a guerilla war – led by ‘the Organization’ against what they saw as a Jewish-run system, intent on its destruction, ethnic cleansing, and the restoration of an idealised White America. Throughout the book, scenes of violence are depicted, and his diary ends with the description of a suicide attack by Turner – him flying a plane with a nuclear warhead into the Pentagon. The book’s epilogue – written from the perspective of a historian 100 years after Turner’s attack then describes how ‘the Organization’ went on to kill all non-whites across the earth.

The book’s influence is difficult to overstate. The book has played a role in inspiring a number of attackers around the world – as detailed by J.M. Berger – including most notably Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, who conspired together to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, killing 168 people. The book was also the basis of one of the most notable domestic terrorist organisations in the United States, The Order, which carried out a series of armed robberies, was heavily involved in currency counterfeiting, and the murder of journalist and radio personality Alan Berg and The Order’s members, specifically David Lane and Robert J. Mathews, are often lionised as martyrs by members of the VFR, much in the same way Turner’s legacy was described in Pierce’s book. Mathews died in a gunfight with the FBI in mid-1980s, and Lane is particularly notable for creating the fourteen words: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children,” which continues to be a rallying cry for the movement. Every year on 8 December, white supremacists pay homage to Mathews’ death and at times have gathered on Whidbey Island in Washington State to celebrate his life. It is astounding, given the violence inspired by the book and the ideological energy it provided to the movement, that it continued to be accessible on online booksellers up until very recently.

My Own Experience

The Turner Diaries served as a figurative bible for the movement and, for what it is worth, for me, too. As I mentioned, my first brush with the book was when a friend gave me a well-worn copy and told me to read through it. It is hardly a work of literary genius, and is so poorly written that I struggled to read it.  My first thought after slogging through was: “How the hell are a bunch of drunk skinheads going to go take over the Pentagon?” Obviously, there was a gap between the exploits of Turner and my own, somewhat less inspirational experience in the movement.

Of course, the violent far-right – and its adherents – all suffer from some pronounced delusions of grandeur, but I distinctly remember that reading the Turner Diaries caused me to reflect on my time within the movement. It was obvious that none of this was ever going to happen, but nevertheless the book played an important role in building a shared imagined future and a consistent worldview among the often-fractious elements of the violent far-right. Despite the book’s shortcomings, and our own shortcomings, for me and my peers in the movement, the Turner Diaries was right up there with Mein Kampf and Pierce’s other book, Hunter, on our list of must-reads. Books like these and white power music was the currency our subculture traded in.

It was only a number of years later, when I got to know some members of The Order after they were released from prison, that I came to realise that not everyone in the movement treated the book as a work of fanciful fiction. Members of The Order treated the Turner Diaries as essentially a blueprint for their acts of terror and tried their best to recreate the scenes of violence they read. Looking back now, I find it hard to think of myself leafing through the pages of such a book. However, it is exactly these types of painful memories that motivate me to do the type of education and intervention work I now do, and my experience with this type of literature that helps me build a relationship with clients on the path towards a better life.

Turner Diaries & the Organised Hate Movement

As I spent more and more time in the movement, I started to see that the Turner Diaries was not only influential and popular within Canada and the United States – having sold more than 500,000 copies by the year 2000 – but also that its influence spread across the world. The book was translated into a number of different languages and continues to be printed by racist publishers around the world. Back in North America, profits from the sale of books like the Turner Diaries, alongside other media like racist white power records, not only spread the ideology and financed the white power movement for a generation but also prompted the movement’s early use of the Internet. Back in 1990s, the Internet was a platform with even less moderation and attention from researchers and law enforcement than now, and purveyors of hate were able to circumvent hate crimes legislation and get around state-censorship in many European countries by using this new platform.

Moreover, the Internet presented a new opportunity to attract recruits and advertise the movement. Long before analysts were using the word “slick” to describe the propaganda of groups like Islamic State, those studying the violent far-right were noting how “slick” websites were that sold white power books and music. The availability of this content is a problem that still vexes us today.

While the book’s recent removal from large, online booksellers is a good, albeit long overdue step, it remains readily and freely available across a network of more obscure websites and smaller social media platforms. The ongoing resonance of racist works like the Turner Diaries – despite attempts over the last century to prevent its publication and attempts to make it harder to find online tells us something about extremist content: moderation alone is not enough to prevent violence.

Bradley J. Galloway was a fixture in the North American right-wing extremist movement for 13 years and was the president of a racist skinhead gang for five of those years. It is these lived experiences that play a role in his work in combating violent extremism. Brad currently works as the Coordinator of the Centre on Hate, Bias & Extremism (CHBE) at Ontario Tech University. Brad also works as a Case Manager with Life After Hate (LAH), where he assists others find their way away from violent extremism. He also conducts research and intervention work at the Organization for the Prevention of Violence (OPV). He has been a Research Assistant on a number of projects that are funded by Public Safety Canada and the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society (TSAS). Brad has also served as a consultant for Google, Moonshot CVE, and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), among others. His primary research interests include right-wing extremism and terrorism, preventing and countering violent extremism, and the roles of former extremists in combating violent extremism.