Sunday, November 11, 2007

Reading the Turner Diaries (Miserably)

The Turner Diaries is a 1978 fictional work that was adapted for the worldwide television news audience by Timothy McVeigh in a 1995 production of complete theatre of cruelty in Oklahoma City. In this case, the real story was far worse than the fictional; but they both came from a place of psychopathic resentment against the real, the non-fictional. The book has actually served over the years as inspiration for a number of psychopaths and murderers, perhaps rivaling Sayyid Qutb's text Milestones for popularity in the terrorist market.

The book was originally sold at gun shows and through mail order, but is now readily available on the net, where I read it, as well as through a regular publisher. It was written by William Pierce, the leader of a neo-nazi group called the National Alliance. Pierce was a physicist who later became an extremist. I've often wondered why so many terrorists and extremists come from physical science or engineering backgrounds. Pierce described himself as having, ''a turn of mind that leads me to exaggerate and oversimplify things for the sake of better understanding''. This probably served him well as a racist; I have no idea if it helped with physics.

As far as I know, there have been more warnings published about the book than actual reviews. The fact that it's a malignant hate-text is fairly well-documented at this point. And I agree completely. However, what's fascinating to me is that a book that has inspired such violence is so horribly written. This was not a case of good people being seduced by evil; being seduced by this novel would be like falling under the spell of barbecue pit assembly instructions. I suspect that the people who were influenced to kill by The Turner Diaries were ''looking for a sign'' before they read it, and that, if it wasn't this book, it would have been the neighbor's barking dog or a change in the weather that set them off. It wasn't inspiration so much as validation.

So, let's look at the book, shall we?

The prose is colorless, appropriately enough.

Sample ''I am really uptight. I am so jittery I can barely sit still. And I'm exhausted.'' It goes on like this for several pages. As if mixing adjectives with verbs and nouns was a sort of miscegenation. Adjectives are as rare as punchlines here.

The only rhetorical flourish is a tendency towards strange pseudo-historicizing capitalization. So, this is the story of the Organization, which is fighting the System, which is undertaking Gun Raids, manned by Negroes. This stilted Writing gets to be a Nuisance after about five Pages.

The story takes place in the dystopian future of 1991. The government has taken away citizens' guns by the Cohen Act- nice touch, right?- and arrests people for racism. There is a sort of creeping state surveillance, mollified by mass media and consumerism, while affirmative-action is weakening state institutions. Liberalism is making society effeminate when it needs to be tough to survive. For the first chapters, this sounds like typical right-wing boilerplate. Limbaugh does Orwell.

What you soon realize, however, is that the author intends for this to serve as a sort of training manual for racist right revolutionaries, or even a religious text. There are a number of lines like, ''Only by making our beliefs into a living faith which guides us from day to day can we maintain the moral strength to overcome the obstacles and hardships that lie ahead.'' One can imagine Mohammad Atta saying things like this.

Essentially, this is a book about terrorists and how to commit terrorist acts. The main character is an electrician who joins a racist terror organization and begins killing Jewish store owners. This group, the Organization, moves on to bombing the FBI headquarters, and then to acts of sabotage and assassination. Eventually, they take over Southern California, ethnically cleanse the region, and start a nuclear war. Along the way, we learn how to make fertilizer bombs, secret codes, and slit throats. It's like Boy's Adventure Stories for psychotic children.

Except there's no real adventure, and any tension that the book inspires is akin to having a bad case of constipation and tensely waiting for an eventual end to it. In both cases, the end result is much the same. The plot is mechanical and the characters are cogs- Peg A goes into Slot B, and it just goes on and on and on. To call these characters one-dimensional might exaggerate their dimensionality. Eventually, I skipped at least half of the chapters. My Grandfather didn't fight the Nazis so I could let them bore me to death.

Oh, there are attempts at Higher Meaning- we discover that the Organization cannot fail because they are instruments of God in His Grand Design. There is also a love story, although, since the instruments of God are cardboard cut-outs, it's hard to get involved with their romantic issues. Also, the female character is even flimsier than the rest- one gets the feeling that she doesn't really belong in this boy's club- it's not so much a homosexual world as a pre-sexual one. Like Never-Neverland in which all the parents are murdered for attempting to socialize their children.

Eventually, the main character flies a suicide mission into the Pentagon and dies. Then is hailed as a martyr. One is relieved to reach the end. It's grinding to read the thing. Generally, authors have a fascination with people, but this is a book about tactics. All written in the terrorist voice, that strange prose style that narrates acts of shocking violence in a completely dispassionate way. It's not a particularly hateful work, or a particularly loving one; in fact, it has nothing animating it that one might characterize as human emotion at all.

In fact, as with all of these sorts of extremists, one gets the feeling that they wish for nothing grander than to play army men for the rest of their lives without having to include the children who aren't like them. They resent the adult world and all of its strictures, because it's a place that they haven't adjusted to and probably never will. Terrorists are simply the sullen losers who have had their toys taken away by the adults and want a chaotic non-place where they can live out their childish fantasies. They want to bomb the world back into the pre-adolescent age.

Another Sky.

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