Even as monstrous, self-published political novels go, The Turner Diaries is a stylistic wasteland. Written under a pseudonym by the white-supremacist activist William Luther Pierce, The Turner Diaries tells the story of a racist terrorist on a revolutionary crusade against the US government and liberal American society (“the System”). Befitting its role as a kind of how-to manual for kick-starting a race war, the book is written in concrete, simple prose nearly devoid of figurative language. A Jewish shopkeeper is murdered, black teenagers are assaulted, journalists are assassinated, federal buildings are bombed. On page after page, an orgy of violence unfolds, all narrated in flat, declarative sentences, building to a nuclear holocaust and the cleansing of the earth of all nonwhite people. There is only one real recurrent metaphor—cancer. Writes Pierce:
But there is no way we can destroy the System without hurting many thousands of innocent people—no way. It is a cancer too deeply rooted in our flesh. And if we don’t destroy the System before it destroys us—if we don’t cut this cancer out of our living flesh—our whole race will die…. Most [white Americans] hardly ever see a Black or a Jew, and they act as if there’s not a war going on. They seem to think that they’re far enough away from the things that are plaguing other parts of the country that they can keep on with their same old routine. They resent any hint that they may have to halt their pursuit of pleasure and affluence long enough to cut a cancer out of America that will surely destroy us all if it’s not eliminated soon. But it’s always been that way with Boobus Americanus.
The belief expressed here is that the majority of Americans are soft and insulated, ignorant of a long-running war, and that revolutionary racist terror is the only remedy for an American society suffering from a terminal cancer of liberalism and tolerance. This conviction may seem obscure and The Turner Diaries mere fiction, but as the historian Kathleen Belew demonstrates in her compelling new book, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, it has been at the core of decades of white-supremacist organizing and violence.
Meticulously researched and powerfully argued, Belew’s book isn’t only a definitive history of white-racist violence in late-20th-century America, but also a rigorous meditation on the relationship between American militarism abroad and extremism at home, with distressing implications for the United States in 2018 and beyond. Two fundamental insights underpin the book: first, that there exists a profound relationship between America’s military violence and domestic right-wing paramilitary organizations, and, second, that the character of that relationship underwent a decisive change in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
Foreign wars, like racial violence at home, are recurrent features—one might even say defining ones—of the American story, and Belew notes that spikes in domestic white-supremacist terrorism have regularly followed the close of major military hostilities. From the Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan to the activities of the “second Klan” in the 1920s to the violence against the civil-rights movement in the 1960s, Belew observes that “after each war, veterans not only joined the Klan but also played instrumental roles in leadership, providing military training to other Klansmen and carrying out acts of violence.”