Timothy J. McVeigh is said to have slept with one book under his pillow for two years or more: "The Turner Diaries." No one you would want to lend your ear would suggest the substance of that novel seeped into McVeigh's cranial cavity while he dozed. Devotion is a passion that yearns for nourishment and thrives on ritual.
According to the indictment under which he is now awaiting trial, McVeigh's devotion drove him to perpetrate the April 19 bombing in Oklahoma City that left 168 people dead, among them 95 employees of the government and 19 children.
Along with faithful attendance at gun shows and punctilious care of his camouflage fatigues, McVeigh's rituals centered on reading from and extolling the messages of "The Turner Diaries." This obsession has been cited, in detailed interviews, by a number of fellow gun-show regulars and by Roger L. Barnett, a close Army buddy of McVeigh, published in the New York Times and beyond.
I have just read "The Turner Diaries." I do not recommend it.
It is repellent. Finally, for all its nauseous offensiveness, its rancid hatefulness, it is a pathetic rant, bespeaking a terrified tribal defensiveness. It is a sustained wail of desperation, of unbearable smallness and worsening diminishment. Laid naked is a contempt for self so searing that it must find and strike alien targets or collapse in self-destruction.
But the book is much smarter than I am comfortable in confessing. And, in its perversity, it celebrates brilliance.
The author is the much-written-about William L. Pierce, a neo-Nazi who publishes books, pamphlets and comic books and does broadcasts from an isolated hillside in West Virginia.
He affects the title "Dr. Pierce," from a Ph.D. in physics earned at the University of Colorado in 1962. A college professor and researcher, he became a full-time hate merchant almost 30 years ago. He avers that 200,000 copies of the Turner book have been sold since 1978, none in legitimate book shops.
Literature, it is not. Unpretentiously, its form, style and dynamics are those of a thriller novel. If one could put aside its core - and I am not able to - it would be of no lesser general quality than lots of best-sellers. Espionage stuff, spy stuff, apocalypse stuff, social-commentary sci-fi: You know the genre, or genres.
What's it about? Well, to begin with, it begins:
"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."
That, of course, could have come from a 1968 quadrangle Maoist, or a Bob Dylan ballad. But no. The unrelenting purpose of this war is the obliteration of "The Problem," defined thus: "The corruption of our people by the Jewish-liberal-democratic-egalitarian plague which afflicts us is more clearly manifested in our soft-mindedness, our unwillingness to recognize the harder realities of life than in anything else."
And how is that problem solved? Suffice one example, "The Day of the Rope," on which in California tens of thousands of men and women - Aryans all - are left dead and hanging from lamp posts, street lights, trees. Around each neck, besides a noose, there is a placard, which reads either "I defiled my race" or "I betrayed my race."
The former are "race mixers" - by marriage or cohabitation. The latter: "the politicians, the lawyers, the businessmen, the TV newscasters, the newspaper reporters and editors, the judges, the teachers, the school officials, the 'civic leaders,' the bureaucrats, the preachers, and all the others who, for reasons of career or status or votes or whatever, helped promote or implement the System's racial program. The System had already paid them with their 30 pieces of silver. Today we paid them."
After trudging through years of terrorist plots and perpetrations, the book ends with a major nuclear war that, an epilogue instructs, led to the elimination of virtually everybody on earth who was not of "pure" white European stock. Hitler's dream is fulfilled.
In the novel, Earl Turner, the narrator, is a modest revolutionary cog, who dies, with the last entry in his diary, in an act of martyrdom. The leadership of the movement is anonymous, invisible, total in its authority and brilliant.
The book thus focuses its appeal on the yearning for evil genius. And that, I would estimate, is the source of its principal power among its pathetic fans.
My friend and colleague Terry Teachout enjoys the thesis that all of us, good or bad, have deep appetites for evil supermen: Jack the Ripper, Dr. Moriarty, SMERSH, Dracula, et al. Dr. Hannibal Lecter of "The Silence of the Lambs" is a polymath polyglot super-intellectual. The yearning to make generally stupid Mafiosi smarter than they are gave "The Godfather" confection a sunami of success.
Hannah Arendt faced and conquered that yearning in "Eichmann in Jerusalem," with her immortal recognition of the "banality of evil," that the most horrendous collaborative act of evil in recorded history plodded out in mundane, dreary routine.
That is a horror with which almost no one can ever be comfortable. But as I finished reading "The Turner Diaries," reflecting on that truth suddenly and beautifully lifted my heart.
These people are stupider than you are.