Dystopian fiction and radical politics
Monday, September 12, 2016
The John Franklin LettersNational Alliance leader William Pierce told his biographer that he was inspired to write The Turner Diaries by an earlier novel, The John Franklin Letters, published in 1959, which describes America's apocalyptic fall to Communist infiltration due to the corrosive influence of the New Deal, and its redemption through a violent revolution staged by an underground army known as the Rangers. The book's plot is described in more detail in The Turner Legacy, my new paper for the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism -- The Hague, available here on Friday, September 16 (a preview of the paper can be found here).
The John Franklin Letters was one of the first major works distributed by the John Birch Society, founded in 1958 as a radical right-wing lobby with conspiratorial trappings. Predicated on a platform of anti-Communism, the Society was an incubator for extremism, in response to both the Cold War and the rising civil rights movement.
The John Franklin Letters directly inspired early leaders of the modern American militia movement and the closely related anti-government “Patriot” movement. Adherents of these movements have diverse beliefs, but most endorse a regimen of training and preparation for the eventual necessity of fighting a tyrannical U.S. government.
In other words, they believe in the imminent onset of a crisis very much like the one described in The John Franklin Letters, and they see themselves as directly analogous to the Rangers organization described in the book. Whether Franklin inspired the creation of the Patriot movement or whether it helped popularize a nascent movement already in the works, the book and the rise of the movement are intimately connected.
In 1960, just one year after Franklin was released, a former John Birch Society member named William P. Gale formed a group called the Rangers, joined by several other breakaway Birchers and military veterans. Members of the real-world Rangers explicitly cited The John Franklin Letters as a “tactical guide, or manual of arms for the future.”[i] The California attorney general determined that the Rangers was a “secret underground guerilla force” advancing an explicitly racist agenda.[ii] Under scrutiny for the purchase of illegal weapons, Gale soon abandoned the project, but he continued to work for decades within racist ideological circles and later created an anti-government ideology that foreshadowed the sovereign citizen movement.
One of Gale’s associates was Robert DePugh, another Birch breakaway who formed the Minutemen militia group very soon after Gale created the Rangers. Like the fictional Rangers, and reputedly modeled on Gale’s group, the Minutemen group was a secret underground organization composed of loosely connected cells, which amassed gigantic stores of weapons and ammunition in anticipation of the day Communism, or something like it, would take over the United States. A manifesto written by DePugh in 1966 echoed Franklin’s condemnation of bureaucracy and its prediction that bureaucrats, specifically, would enable the rise of tyranny.
Adherents of the Patriot movement would proliferate over the next 30 years. It is not clear how many of these armed groups drew inspiration directly from Franklin, but most of them followed in the methodological footsteps of Gale and DePugh, and many were directly connected to one or both of the men. Although The John Frankin Letters itself is now remembered primarily for its role inspiring The Turner Diaries, the movement it inspired continues to survive in a variety of forms.
[i] Dick Russell. The Man who Knew Too Much. Carroll & Graf, 2003. pp. 111, 494.
[ii] Daniel Levitas. The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right. Macmillan, 2004. pp. 66, 359.
RESEARCH STATUSBooks/short stories read: 95
Films and TV series watched: 124
THE TURNER LEGACY
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.
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ABOUTJ.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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