Welcome to the first episode of Turner Tuesday,
our regular feature where we dissect one chapter of the infamous Turner Diaries.
You will remember two weeks ago when I announced
this new feature- an announcement that was met by some interesting reactions
from some interesting people.
In any case, I have not been dissuaded from my plan, so here we go.
In today's inaugural episode we will dissect- big surprise- Chapter 1.
Chapter one serves two main purposes within the overall book. First, it introduces the characters and settings in a cursory way. This provides the reader with a reference point from which to understand the following chapters. Secondly, however, it sets the narrative "hook." The narrative hook is some sort of interesting, or appealing, revelation that holds the reader's interest and keeps them reading. So, like a fish hook, it keeps the victim on the line. This first chapter sets this hook in the very first sentences:
September 16, 1991. Today it finally began! After all these years of talking-and nothing but talking-we have finally taken our first action. We are at war with the System, and it is no longer a war of words.
Of course the preceding sentences will grab one's attention- they're talking about a new war, and the causes of a war and its combatants are always a source of considerable interest.
The first sentences also introduce a convention that will continue throughout the remainder of the book: the use of the term "system." When the Turner Diaries refer to "the system" they are actually talking about the government of the United States of America.
So, understanding that, we can rewrite the first sentence to read: "We are at war with the United States, and it is no longer a war of words."
Or, to be even more accurate, "We are committing open treason against the United States."
William Pierce, the author of the Turner Diaries, uses this convention for a simple reason: he does not want to remind his readers any more than necessary that his book is discussing rebellion against the United States. He wants to divorce his readers from that reality- to target them on a faceless "system" rather than the country they live in. He doubtless believed that doing so would make his message more palatable to his intended audience and he was likely correct.
Shortly after these first sentences, our narrator, who remains unintroduced, begins to recount the events that led to his current situation:
...nearly 18 months after the Cohen Act had outlawed all private ownership of firearms in the United States. It was only because so many of us defied the law and hid our weapons instead of turning them in that the government wasn't able to act more harshly against us after the Gun Raids.
I'll never forget that terrible day: November 9, 1989. They knocked on my door at five in the morning. I was completely unsuspecting as I got up to see who it was.
I opened the door, and four Negroes came pushing into the apartment before I could stop them. One was carrying a baseball bat, and two had long kitchen knives thrust into their belts. The one with the bat shoved me back into a corner and stood guard over me with his bat raised in a threatening position while the other three began ransacking my apartment.
My first thought was that they were robbers. Robberies of this sort had become all too common since the Cohen Act, with groups of Blacks forcing their way into White homes to rob and rape, knowing that even if their victims had guns they probably would not dare use them.
Then the one who was guarding me flashed some kind of card and informed me that he and his accomplices were "special deputies" for the Northern Virginia Human Relations Council. They were searching for firearms, he said.
Several details are notable in the above. First, the disarming of the population is supposedly accomplished under the "Cohen Act." Pierce has a habit of attributing anything he regards negatively to those with Jewish
names. Thus, the violation of American constitutional rights is accomplished via the "Cohen Act." This is not accidental- it is part of Pierce's effort to instill anti-semitism
in his readers. He attempts to do so, however, by simply depicting Jews as evil, rather than by coming out and arguing so. This is an attempt to slip his ideas in through the back door, where his readers are vulnerable, rather than treating them as intelligent human beings. As we will see, this disrespect for the readers is a cornerstone of Pierce's work.
Then again, Pierce probably has no choice since I have a hard time imagining a logical argument that would convince me that all members of an ethnic group are bad.
It is, secondly, worth wondering exactly how the so-called "Cohen Act" could have been enacted, given that the Second Amendment
to the U.S. Constitution protects the right to bear arms. Granted, there is an argument
that the second amendment doesn't guarantee an individual right to arms, but only the right for the States to keep organized militias, but gun ownership is deeply entrenched in U.S. society and that is unlikely to change any time soon. Certainly it will not change by 1991 which, so far as I can tell, was 14 years ago. All this "Cohen Act" nonsense reflects another of Pierce's habits: presenting difficult, improbable events as fact without providing a plausible explanation for how they came to pass. Again, this shows his disrespect for the readers, in essence asking that they just trust him.
Finally, we come to his description of African-Americans which, as always, paints them as violent, stupid, and slovenly. Those in Pierce's description are immediately associated with rape, robbery, and murder and the argument is made that African-Americans naturally commit such crimes whenever their potential victims are not armed and able to defend themselves. Given that many Americans do not own guns, and that most crimes are committed against victims of the same race as the attacker,
this argument makes no sense whatsoever. It is additionally rather silly to depict these representatives of the government as being armed with baseball bats and kitchen knives. In the event that large-scale raids were necessary, I think it vastly more likely that they would be conducted by uniformed National Guard units- not by poorly armed, badly identified people essentially picked up off of the street.
Of course, as it turns out, our protaganist does
have a gun:
Right after the Cohen Act was passed, all of us in the Organization had cached our guns and ammunition where they weren't likely to be found. Those in my unit had carefully greased our weapons, sealed them in an oil drum, and spent all of one tedious weekend burying the drum in an eight-foot-deep pit 200 miles away in the woods of western Pennsylvania.
But I had kept one gun out of the cache. I had hidden my .357 magnum revolver and 50 rounds of ammunition inside the door frame between the kitchen and the living room. By pulling out two loosened nails and removing one board from the door frame I could get to my revolver in about two minutes flat if I ever needed it. I had timed myself.
But a police search would never uncover it. And these inexperienced Blacks couldn't find it in a million years.
After the three who were conducting the search had looked in all the obvious places, they began slitting open my mattress and the sofa cushions. I protested vigorously at this and briefly considered trying to put up a fight.
About that time there was a commotion out in the hallway. Another group of searchers had found a rifle hidden under a bed in the apartment of the young couple down the hall. They had both been handcuffed and were being forcibly escorted toward the stairs. Both were clad only in their underwear, and the young woman was complaining loudly about the fact that her baby was being left alone in the apartment.
Another man walked into my apartment. He was a Caucasian, though with an unusually dark complexion. He also wore a green armband, and he carried an attache case and a clipboard.
In this passage we see, again, a number of elements introduced. First, we receive the first mention of "the organization," which is the band of white supremacist terrorists that Pierce writes about in such loving terms. In addition to an introduction, the above mention serves another purpose: it describes in concept how a potential band of terrorists could conceal a cache of weapons in relative safety. Indeed, this is one of Pierce's favorite techniques: the blending of narrative, and instruction in terrorism, into the same segment of prose.
Our protaganist is also, obviously, quite clever in that he both kept a concealed weapon, secreted it in a secure place, and practiced the steps necessary to get to it quickly. These are all habits that Pierce would doubtless like to instill in his readers- though he certainly hasn't given them reason to do so.
Or has he? The idea of strange people entering your home, threatening you, and then destroying your property would certainly be enough to make most people long for the means to defend themselves. Perhaps Pierce's connection of the weapons to African-Americans behaving in a way very much like robbers is not entirely accidental. Perhaps he means to threaten his audience with the idea that, if they do not arm themselves, they too will be victimized. Ah yes- the sweet, sweet smell of paranoia!
Another theme that makes a strong appearance here is the treatment of common citizens in a heartless and cruel manner by the legal authorities. The young couple Pierce describes had a weapon hidden under a bed and, as a result, are drug into public in their underwear- clearly a humiliating experience. Further, the female member protests this because their baby is being left unattended- something virtually all of us would object to. The scene is approximately as melodramatic
as you could possibly want. The evil, stupid authorities dragging off two good, young kids in their underwear while their little baby cries and suffers in neglect. All we need is a mustage-twirling villian
and the setting will be perfect.
Fortunately, we don't have long to wait as a dark-skinned caucasian man enters. This, additionally, gives us two new themes. The first theme is that, even when working in the service of the "System" (i.e. the U.S. Government) African-Americans are too stupid to operate without the supervision of Caucasians. This assertion is, to put it simply, absurd.
At the same time, however, the description of the supervisor as "dark skinned" serves as a way for Pierce to separate his good, decent white people off from the corrupt and inferior darker skinned peoples. He simultaneously argues for the necessity of white blood to make a good supervisor, while still blaming behavior he disagrees with on contamination from another race. To do both in a single paragraph is no mean feat.
The supervisor pulls out a metal detector and quickly locates the protaganist's weapon, despite his careful concealment, and the narrator finds himself on a cold street while the raid continues. Of course, if the young couple wasn't enough for you, the situation rapidly grows more ridiculous:
In addition to the couple down the hall, there was an elderly man from the fourth floor. They hadn't found a firearm in his apartment, but they had found four shotgun shells on his closet shelf. Ammunition was also illegal.
Our villian has been quite busy
So is to become of our unfortunate criminals? Well, the author explains:
...the Cohen Act made him [another individual mentioned in the narrative] liable to ten years imprisonment in a Federal penitentiary if he kept them [guns].
That was the penalty the four of us on the sidewalk were facing. It didn't work out that way, though. The reason it didn't is that the raids which were carried out all over the country that day netted a lot more fish than the System had counted on: more than 800,000 persons were arrested.
At first the news media tried hard to work up enough public sentiment against us so that the arrests would stick. The fact that there weren't enough jail cells in the country to hold us all could be remedied by herding us into barbed-wire enclosures outdoors until new prison facilities could be readied, the newspapers suggested. In freezing weather!
I still remember the Washington Post headline the next day: "Fascist-Racist Conspiracy Smashed, Illegal Weapons Seized." But not even the brainwashed American public could fully accept the idea that nearly a million of their fellow citizens had been engaged in a secret, armed conspiracy.
All this serves several purposes. First, it asserts that many, many individuals would keep their weapons in violation of a federal law outlawing them. This is, quite simply, done to make the reader feel as though opposition to the government would be widespread and, therefore, safer. Secondly, it argues that most Americans are "brainwashed" by the mainstream media. This second point is a crucial one- since Pierce's intent is to foment
rebellion against the United States, he must first convince his readers to ignore counter-arguments. Since nobody likes to feel duped, once someone has been convinced of the nefarious intent of most media, they will obviously seek out alternatives with a different message- like Pierce's book. This tactic has, sadly, become more and more popular
in some circles.
So, the government has to let most of its detainees go, lacking the space to hold them- an action which, of course, encourages the reader to believe that popular action against the government will be successful. The Organization that Pierce mentioned is divided as to what to do following these raids. Part of its membership advocates for going underground and inactive, but their perspective is not the only one:
The more militant members, on the other hand, were for digging up our weapons caches and unleashing a program of terror against the System immediately, carrying out executions of Federal judges, newspaper editors, legislators, and other System figures. The time was ripe for such action, they felt, because in the wake of the Gun Raids we could win public sympathy for such a campaign against tyranny.
Thus, the core of the book comes clean: the encouragement and waging of a terrorist war against the United States, the "System" that Pierce heaps with so much venom. Yet, despite the clarity of the description, Pierce continues to refer only to the System, and not to the United States, delicately skirting the patriotism of his readers. Indeed, even using it in places to further his treasonous intent:
It is hard to say now whether the militants were right. Personally, I think they were wrong-although I counted myself as one of them at the time. We could certainly have killed a number of the creatures responsible for America's ills, but I believe we would have lost in the long run.
As we began to realize this, we were more discouraged than ever. We had based all our plans-in fact, the whole rationale of the Organization-on the assumption that Americans were inherently opposed to tyranny, and that when the System became oppressive enough they could be led to overthrow it. We had badly underestimated the degree to which materialism had corrupted our fellow citizens, as well as the extent to which their feelings could be manipulated by the mass media.
As long as the government is able to keep the economy somehow gasping and wheezing along, the people can be conditioned to accept any outrage. Despite the continuing inflation and the gradually declining standard of living, most Americans are still able to keep their bellies full today, and we must simply face the fact that that's the only thing which counts with most of them.
So, rather than simply avoiding the admission that he wants his readers to fight their own government, he depicts those that won't as brainwashed sheep who are too satisfied with their full bellies to fight for their liberties. This is a fairly common, and always-dirty, rhetorical
trick: rather than defeat the arguments against you, simply claim that those who support those arguments are deluded or corrupt. This approach, attacking your opponent with ad hominem,
is often a powerfully effective way to avoid having to defend a weak point. In this case Pierce uses it to try to convince his readers that any who disagree with his plan to betray his own government can't possibly be right because they are, themselves, poor examples of Americans.
As you can guess, Pierce's Organization isn't like that:
Discouraged and uncertain as we were, though, we began laying new plans for the future. First, we decided to maintain our program of public recruiting. In fact, we intensified it and deliberately made our propaganda as provocative as possible. The purpose was not only to attract new members with a militant disposition, but at the same time to purge the Organization of the fainthearts and hobbyists-the "talkers."
We also tightened up on discipline. Anyone who missed a scheduled meeting twice in a row was expelled. Anyone who failed to carry out a work assignment was expelled. Anyone who violated our rule against loose talk about Organizational matters was expelled.
We had made up our minds to have an Organization that would be ready the next time the System provided an opportunity to strike. The shame of our failure to act, indeed, our inability to act, in 1989 tormented us and drove us without mercy. It was probably the single most important factor in steeling our wills to whip the Organization into fighting trim, despite all obstacles.
Early last year we began putting a number of new members, unknown to the political police, into police agencies and various quasi-official organizations, such as the human relations councils. They served as our early-warning network and otherwise kept us generally informed of the System's plans against us.
We were surprised at the ease with which we were able to set up and operate this network. We never would have gotten away with it back in the days of J. Edgar Hoover.
It is ironic that while the Organization has always warned the public against the dangers of racial integration of our police, this has now turned out to be a blessing in disguise for us. The "equal opportunity" boys have really done a wonderful wrecking job on the FBI and other investigative agencies, and their efficiency is way down as a result. Still, we'd better not get over-confident or careless.
In reaction to the events Pierce described, his ideal organization molds itself more and more into a violent terrorist group. Here, as before, he provides an introduction to the mechanics of terrorism, showing how only the serious, the committed, the extremists can be allowed in. Similarly, he argues that moles
must be driven into the organs of the state to interfere with its activity, and to report on its movements. He, further, glorifies this process, describing it glowingly as "...whip[ping] the Organization into fighting trim, despite all obstacles."
Of course, once more, those who aren't caucasian are depicted as being unavoidably incompetent, with the inclusion of non-white persons in the FBI rendering it less capable. Again, there is no argumentation here- just implication pretending to argument.
Thankfully, this brings us to the end of Chapter 1. So what has happened so far? Our protaganist has appeared, the future of America has been depicted quite unfavorably, non-Caucasians have been blamed for this future, if only implicitly, and the beginnings of a terrorist organization have been shown. Our would-be terrorists, further, are shown as not being criminals, but as being patriots who are trying to rescue "America" from "the System." All of these are themes that we can expect to see carried over into the following chapters, but that is a subject for another day.
Join us again next time when our "heroes" become petty thieves and murderers. No, seriously, they do. That doesn't make them all bad, though, as the narrator comments: "...if we are going to rob liquor stores we have to do it in a socially conscious way."
I don't know about you, but I can't wait!