A blog exploring the intersection of dystopian fiction and radical politics

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Turner Diaries on PBS American Experience

I spoke with PBS American Experience about the impact and origins of The Turner Diaries, as part of their recent series on right-wing domestic extremism, including films on the Oklahoma City bombing and Ruby Ridge.

For more about The Turner Diaries, check out The Turner Legacy: The Origins of White Nationalism's 'Bible', a major research paper I wrote as part of the Counter-Terrorism Strategic Communications project at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism--The Hague.

Related to that paper, I also penned an article for The Atlantic on how The Turner Diaries shaped the direction of white nationalism in the United States, starting an evolution that has culminated in alt-right movement.

And if you're interested in how dystopian fiction interacts with radical and extremist politics more broadly, click around this site, including some "director's cut" material expanding on works that inspired The Turner Diaries, with additional detail that didn't fit into the paper:


Friday, December 23, 2016

Logan's Run

Before The Giver, before The Hunger Games, before Divergent, there was Logan's Run.

Most people remember Logan's Run from the extremely silly 1976 movie adaptation, in which Michael York played the titular Logan, a "Sandman" who hunts "runners" in a dystopian future society. The premise of the movie is that everyone gets to live until they're 30 in a hedonistic paradise, and when they turn 30, they are sent for "renewal," meaning euthanasia. Those who don't want to be "renewed," run, which Logan himself decides to do in the course of the story.

This scenario was presented as a solution to overpopulation, a popular dystopian theme in the 1970s, most memorably addressed in Soylent Green, which will no doubt be the subject of a future post on this site. But Logan's Run is more memorable for its role in pioneering the genre it arguably spawned, young adult dystopia.

The relationship is clearer in the 1969 book version of the story, which differs substantially from its better known cinematic counterpart. The terminal age is 21 in the book, more squarely framing the story and the dystopian society around children and teenagers.

In the sense that its protagonists are all young adults, or younger, the book is a predecessor to the current wave of YA dystopian novels burning up the best-seller lists. It is not necessarily a book for young adults, however, given that it deals with sexuality among minors in a way that is uncomfortable at best and would probably create a challenge in getting the book accepted by a major publisher today. (tl;dr version, it turns out if you kill off all the adults, very young people get very busy.)

While I am not going to get into a deep analysis of this topic here and now, it is worth comparing the politics of Logan to The Hunger Games -- namely the former has some, while the latter largely does not. The Hunger Games is smarter and more sophisticated than Logan's Run, but it is very much a blank slate as far as a political message.

The Hunger Games never explains exactly what happened to the previous society, our society. A cataclysm is described in very general terms, and sketchy information about the origins of the Games themselves is provided. But the philosophy of the Capitol is not explored in detail, except for its authoritarian nature. There is a strong implication throughout the series that the 12 districts are segregated along racial lines, but this topic is never explored, and it does not feature as a grievance for the rebellion.

Suzanne Collins has stated that The Hunger Game is intended to convey an anti-war message, and this is somewhat visible by the end of the third book, but much less so in the early going. The cruelty of the Capitol is abundantly clear, as is the social stratification of the nation it oversees, but the particulars do not send an especially clear message.

To a greater or lesser extent, this problem plagues many other contemporary YA dystopias as well, to a greater or less extent. Here, it's worth considering the impact of Logan's Run, the movie, versus Logan's Run, the book.

The book is a classical dystopian novel, meaning it's very political. Although the book and the movie are both silly and campy, the book gingerly steps into some analysis of the social dimensions of a society predicated solely on youth. It also explores "the Little War," the crisis that led to the emergence of this dystopian society. While the answers provided are not entirely satisfactory or convincing, they are answers. While its politics are simplistic, they are coherent. Overpopulation plus youth bulge equals purge of the old.

Most of this nuance is lost in movie, which does not provide a backstory in any robust way and instead presages modern young adult dystopia by casting conflict as the young fighting back against the system. What the movie misses is that the system was created by the young, for the young, in revolt against the admittedly terrible adult society described in the book's backstory.

Logan's Run, the book, is a critique of the youth culture and sense of youthful entitlement that produce the dystopian regime in the first place. The progenitor young adult dystopian novel is about the extremism of youth, rather than the power of the young to save us all.

A postscript: Logan's Run spawned a number of sequels, which are on my reading list, but not near the top. But eventually, I will have some more to say on this universe.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Dystopian Robo-Call

My colleague Jonathon Morgan shared the following on Medium:
This week I got another robocall from a white nationalist group, this time claiming to be from the year 2029. Seriously. It describes a world where Hillary Clinton’s actions have led to mass starvation and a world government run by the Jews.
The text of the call, as shared by Jonathon, can be found here. This is a startling testimony to the pervasive power of dystopian fiction -- even in short form -- as a radical political propaganda tool, and one with a long history in white nationalism specifically.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Spook Who Sat by the Door

One of the more interesting questions raised in my new paper, The Turner Legacy, is whether neo-Nazi William Luther Pierce was inspired to write his infamous racist dystopian novel, The Turner Diaries, at least in part, by a black nationalist novel and movie.

The Spook Who Sat by the Door, by Sam Greenlee, bears more than a passing similarity to The Turner Diaries. Both books describe a racially motivated guerrilla insurgency rising up in the United States, and both books include an element of practical advice in how to make that happen. The blueprints for revolution presented in each book are very similar.

Greenlee’s book is not as clearly documented to have inspired violent actors, but that prospect raised alarms with law enforcement. For a time, The Spook Who Sat by the Door was reputedly required reading for FBI trainees.

William Pierce was directly inspired by The John Franklin Letters, but he began writing The Turner Diaries soon after the film adaptation of The Spook Who Sat by the Door was pulled from movie theaters amidst a national controversy. Although Franklin uses a similar narrative conceit (the "found document" format), Turner is in many ways more similar to The Spook Who Sat by the Door in terms of its action-packed pace and high level of violence, although Turner ups the ante to a genocidal and apocalyptic scale.

For more on the relationship between The Spook Who Sat by the Door and The Turner Diaries, check out The Turner Legacy, my new research paper for the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism -- The Hague. And click here for a list of related articles and posts on this site.


Friday, September 16, 2016

The Turner Legacy

My new paper for the International Centre for Counter Terrorism -- The Hague was published today: The Turner Legacy. The abstract:
The Turner Diaries, the infamous racist dystopian novel by neo-Nazi William Luther Pierce, has inspired more than 200 murders since its publication in 1978, including the single deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history, the Oklahoma City bombing.
The book is arguably the most important single work of white nationalist propaganda in the English language, but it is not a singular artifact. The Turner Diaries is part of a genre of racist dystopian propaganda dating back to the U.S. Civil War. This paper will document the books that directly and indirectly inspired Turner and examine the extensive violence that the novel has inspired.
By comparing and contrasting The Turner Diaries to its less-remembered predecessors, this paper analyses the reasons for the novel’s lasting impact, including its focus on rational choices over identity choices, its simplification of white nationalist ideology, its repeated calls to action, and the powerfully persuasive nature of dystopian narratives, which can be understood as a secular analogue for religious apocalyptic texts.
This paper is a milestone in the topic of this blog, which explores the relationship between dystopian fiction and radical politics. While this subject goes well beyond right-wing extremism, the importance of race to the dytopian genre is extraordinary. The earliest modern dystopian novel I could identify was a racist screed against the abolitionist movement, and anti-abolition dystopias helped fuel the genre's popularity. Dystopia is also important to racist extremism, and in a companion piece for The Atlantic, I discuss the role of The Turner Diaries in shaping what we know today as the alt right.

I will be posting more related to these themes over the next week or two, and follow me on Twitter @intelwire for more discussion. In the meantime, here are some related posts from this site:


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Racism and Radiophones

Tomorrow, ICCT -- The Hague will publish my new paper, "The Turner Legacy," which traces the use of dystopian fiction as racist propaganda from the 1830s through the publication of the infamous racist tract, The Turner Diaries. The paper analyzes the impact of Turner by comparing it to the works that directly or indirectly inspired it. 

Dystopian fiction and racism go hand in hand. In fact, the earliest example of a modern dystopian novel I could identify was vituperatively racist anti-abolitionist tract, discussed in the paper. There are so many racist dystopias that I couldn't fit them all into the paper. Here's a look at two of the outtakes: 

The Red Napoleon

William Pierce told his biographer that he had studied library books about race from the 1920s and 1930s, during the period of his radicalization. One notable entry from that era was The Red Napoleon, a 1929 dystopian novel by renowned Chicago Tribune newsman Floyd Gibbons. The novel was well-known in racist circles, and Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler fondly remembered discovering it at the age of 11.

In the book, the Soviet Union is seized in a coup by a mixed-race Mongol named Karakhan of Kazan, who proceeds to conquer America and most of the world, before finally being defeated by the author himself, who is also fictionalized as the book’s protagonist and first-person narrator. Many of the book’s characters are drawn from the real world, including fictionalized (and generally unflattering) renditions of Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, Alfred E. Smith, Herbert Hoover and Douglas MacArthur.

Karakhan is not simply a megalomaniac. Behind his quest to take over the world lies another goal – racial equality, which he believes can only be accomplished by forcible miscegenation. His army’s policy is “conquer and breed.” Although Karakhan’s army is eventually defeated, he achieves his goal, as his forces sweep through North America carrying out a campaign of mass rape before being driven back. Gibbons writes:

…the thousands of Eurasian, mulatto, mestizo children, half-yellow, half-black, half-brown, or half-red, born to white women in the wake of his conquering armies in Europe and the Americas, he holds that they constitute the lasting mark he has made upon the population of the world and calls them the first step toward the "deliverance of mankind from the curse of race prejudice."

I looked at the Red Napoleon in more detail here.

Sown in Darkness 2000 A.D. 

Another obscure entry in the annals of racist dystopias, this one from 1941, is Sown in the Darkness, 2000 A.D., a bizarre airships-and-radiowaves sci-fi novel about white nationalists reclaiming America from oppressive non-white domination.Written by William Twiford, a frustrated inventor whose love for speculating about future technology was superseded only by his fears of miscegenation, as he explained in the forward:
Two FORCES now at work are certain to result in the downfall of the white race unless checked at once and combated until overcome. The greater of these two menacing developments is the abject failure of our intellectual classes to adequately reproduce their kind as against the tendency of people of low mentality to overproduce their kind through the rearing of large familics. Western civilization is slowly but surely breeding out its brains. The statistical proof of this is overwhelming. 
The other menace is "the rising tide of color" resulting from the subtle interbreeding of the white with the yellow, brown and black races which already outnumber the Caucasian peoples of the earth more than two to one. In other words, Oriental civilization is now in the ascendancy while Occidental culture is on the retrograde.
The book's characters are Gatsby-like white socialites known as Separatists, trying to achieve a political victory over the multicultural Cosmocrat party that rules America in the year 2000, while navigating their complicated social lives, including a romance between the leader of the white nationalists, Robert Truman, and Niza Malay, who hides her gypsy parentage as the two fall in love, later tearfully confessing it, and still later revealed to be a pure-blooded white foundling who had merely been raised by gypsies, allowing for a racially pure happy ending. After winning various challenges against the Cosmocrats, including a beauty contest and a national election, the Separatists are forced to take up arms against the corrupt system. 

The book includes several illustrations and a lengthy appendix detailing the author's various ideas about the future, including "radiophones," a futuristic alphabet, an "interest-free" currency, a revised calendar system, and ideas for wind and hydro power systems. 


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Unparalleled Invasion

Jack London is best known as the adventure writer who penned "Call of the Wild," but he was also the author of a 1907 pro-socialist dystopian novel, The Iron Heel, which is often cited as a possible inspiration for The Turner Diaries.

There are a number of similarities, including the format of a fictional diary (discussed at more length in my new paper The Turner Legacy, available here on Friday, September 16), the inclusion of a forward by a future historian praising the discovery of the novel's "found document" text, and the general plot line of America's fall and redemption through violent revolution. The Iron Heel describes the takeover of America by an oligarchy, and the seeds of a socialist insurgency.

It may be hard to reconcile The Iron Heel's socialism with the far-right themes of The Turner Diaries, but its protagonist is described as “superman, a blond beast such as Nietzsche had described.” Scholars tend to characterize his views on race as “complicated.”[i]

London was no stranger to dystopian race-baiting. In 1910, London wrote a short story called The Unparalleled Invasion, foretelling the rise of an imperial China, which spread its racial menace the old-fashioned way -- its citizens procreating prolifically and migrating to European colonies, parroting popular racial stereotypes of the day.[ii] As London wrote:

The real danger lay in the fecundity of [China’s] loins, and it was in 1970 that the first cry of alarm was raised. … there were more Chinese in existence than white-skinned people. … There were two Chinese for every white-skinned human in the world … and the world trembled. 

In the story’s conclusion, which William Pierce may have admired, an American scientist invents a potent biological weapon, which is employed to genocidal effect by the U.S. and its European allies. The population of China is decimated by an engineered plague, and most of the few survivors are butchered by an invasion force, leaving the empty country to be resettled “according to the democratic American programme.” 

This theme is echoed in a later work published by Pierce's neo-Nazi National Alliance. Serpent's Walk is attributed to an author called Randolph D. Calverhall, although some have speculated that Pierce may written it under a pseudonym (as he had his previous racist novels, Turner and Hunter). Written in the 1990s, Serpent's Walk is a science-fiction dystopia set in the early 21st Century, featuring the return of the Nazi S.S., wielding lasers and helped by a holographic artificial intelligence. But the major plot thread involves a multipolar biological warfare campaign that wipes out much of the world's population, paving the way for a new global Nazi Reich. 

For more on the literary and political strains that shaped The Turner Diaries, read my new paper for ICCT -- The Hague, The Turner Legacy, available here.

[i] Reesman, Jeanne Campbell. Jack London's Racial Lives: A Critical Biography. University of Georgia Press, 2011.
[ii] e.g., “Race Suicide in America.” San Francisco Chronicle. May 10, 1905. http://ddr.densho.org/ddr/densho/69/31/



The Turner Diaries, the infamous racist dystopian novel by neo-Nazi William Luther Pierce, has inspired more than 200 murders since its publication in 1978, including the single deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history, the Oklahoma City bombing.

The book is arguably the most important single work of white nationalist propaganda in the English language, but it is not a singular artifact. The Turner Diaries is part of a genre of racist dystopian propaganda dating back to the U.S. Civil War. A new paper from J.M. Berger documents the books that directly and indirectly inspired Turner and examine the extensive violence that the novel has inspired.




The Turner Diaries on PBS American Experience

Logan's Run

Dystopian Robo-Call

The Spook Who Sat by the Door

The Turner Legacy

Racism and Radiophones

The Unparalleled Invasion

The John Franklin Letters

Coming Friday: The Turner Legacy

Bitch Planet


J.M. Berger is an author, consultant and analyst studying extremism. He is an associate fellow with the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism -- The Hague and a fellow with George Washington University's Program on Extremism. For more about Berger, click here.


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