06.08.12

The Patriot Movement’s New Bestseller Tests Their Anti-Racism

Years after the racism of The Turner Diaries inspired Timothy McVeigh, the Patriot Movement has embraced a new bestselling series. J.M. Berger reads closely to see what they say about race and government in America.

An American Nazi Party volunteer recently produced a three-minute online video promoting the group’s platform. It spotlighted issues like the national debt, gas prices, domestic oil drilling, and America’s wars.

Almost as an aside, it mentions affirmative action. And despite some provocative imagery, the video never mentions the words Jew or black, or any related ethnic slurs. A white nationalist blogger praised the video for not “spamming people with inane Holocaust statistics or endless dry arguments over whether or not gas chambers existed.” Many militia groups now explicitly tell would-be members that they can’t also belong to a hate group.

Racism just doesn’t sell like it used to.

The paint is peeling on the mythical age of white hegemony that once provided a strong backbone for the Patriot movement, a diverse collection of loosely connected anti-government groups and ideologies that motivated Timothy McVeigh and many others.

Groups under the Patriot umbrella have often, but not always, embraced racial politics. The movement’s origins were heavily influenced by racist activists such as white nationalist William Pierce, author of the infamous 1978 novel The Turner Diaries, a dystopian novel about a racist revolution, which inspired a slew of imitators and successors.

Since the 1990s, some within the movement have tried to sideline or redefine its racial politics—whether out of sincere conviction or to avoid an inconvenient stigma—and focus on other issues such as gun rights, survivalism, individual liberties, traditional morality, and Constitutional hyper purity.

This process has gone far enough to suggest the outlines of what a post-racial Patriot movement might look like. Consider Enemies Foreign and Domestic, a Patriot-themed novel self-published by former Navy SEAL Matthew Bracken in 2003. Known to fans as EFAD, it’s the first in a trilogy of political thrillers. The plot goes like this: A rogue ATF agent stages a terrorist attack and blames it on an alleged racist militia (which turns out to be neither racist nor a militia). The attack is used as a pretext for repressive gun seizures by misguided liberals, while the ATF villain foments more trouble, killing innocent gun owners, and framing them as racist terrorists. In response, a series of individuals and small groups rise up to carry out acts of resistance and/or terrorism, culminating in a direct confrontation with the villain. 

While spotlighting several Patriot memes, the first book in the trilogy has an almost militant multicultural drumbeat. EFAD’s heroes come from almost every imaginable ethnic background—white, black, Arab and Jewish. Between its serviceable writing and self-inoculation against charges of racism, EFAD is probably as close to a mainstream recruitment tool as the Patriot movement could hope for.

During February and March of this year, Bracken made the book available for free as an Amazon Kindle e-book, and several Patriot blogs and Twitter feeds spent significant time promoting it, resulting in a brief stint as the No. 1 free Kindle book on Amazon. The idea was to break into the mainstream of conservative media (talk radio and the like). That effort fell short, but an online posting by organizers said more than 30,000 copies were downloaded.

[I]n a recent online posting, Bracken advised people who want to be safe from a possibly impending civil war to analyze where they live based on a spectrum of rich vs. poor, urban vs. rural–and lighter skin vs. darker skin.

EFAD represents a sharp break from its Patriot Lit forefathers, most infamously Pierce’s The Turner Diaries. That book has inspired at least dozens of admirers who tried to realize its concept of a revolution born from a campaign of terrorism, Timothy McVeigh among them. Told from the first-person perspective of a terrorist named Earl Turner, “Diaries” drips with racial animus from its opening pages, in which “negroes” armed with baseball bats forcibly disarm white Americans to enforce a repressive gun control bill. This inspires a general uprising targeting the government, Jews, and blacks and culminates in the use of nuclear weapons to ethnically cleanse New York, Washington, D.C., and Tel Aviv. White encampments are constructed in what remains of the United States; “race traitors” (such as those who intermarried with minorities) are summarily lynched.

In short, it is not a pleasant book, either for its values or its mind-numbing prose, reading more like a nasty after-action report than a story. Despite its limitations, The Turner Diaries spawned a legion of badly written dystopian future tales of race war, which are distributed online and in self-published tomes.  

Unlike EFAD, The Turner Diaries and many of its imitators preach exclusively to the racist choir, aiming to inspire existing racists to action rather than trying to attract new blood for a broader anti-government movement. But EFAD’s depiction of a racially egalitarian, pro-gun, anti-government groundswell may be more evolution than revolution. The trilogy’s second and third books Domestic Enemies: The Reconquista released around 2006 and Foreign Enemies and Traitors in 2009—continue to separate racial hate and love for liberty, but they do so while drawing ever deeper from the well of white racial paranoia.

Book two describes the takeover of the American Southwest by illegal immigrants, specifically Hispanic racists out to reclaim their historic lands from the “gringos.”

This dramatic shift toward racial politics is offset by the fact that the book’s major protagonists are all brown people, from a Lebanese Arab heroine to a half-Cuban FBI agent to a crypto-Jewish-Hispanic-American former journalist. (The author’s olive branch to people of color does not, incidentally, extend to Muslims, gays, college professors, or people with piercings).

Book three, featuring a corrupt president who invites foreign mercenaries to run rampant on U.S. soil, sees Bracken’s continued stipulations against racism slowly but surely shouted down by the arrival of Earl Turner’s world. After an earthquake demolishes Memphis, black refugees turn into a seething mob of gang-rapists and cannibals—characterizations that feature memorably in The Turner Diaries—while urban blacks loot a path from Baltimore to Washington, D.C., where they demand and receive a new Socialist constitution engineered by a thinly veiled caricature of President Obama. The narrative disclaimers continue—one character condemns white racist killings in the chaos after the quake, and a battle-weary white racist girl near the end of the book accepts a hand of comfort offered by a black Army medic.  But these and other moments of individual race grace are hard pressed to counterweight the vivid, lengthy depiction of African-Americans en masse as cannibal rapists directly responsible for destroying America’s Constitution.

EFAD perhaps illustrates both how far and how not-far the Patriot movement has come over the years. Inasmuch as the movement coheres, it has shifted from fairly open and aggressive racism to a more ambivalent, conflicted posture.  It’s not uncommon for Patriot movement members to vehemently deny they are racists, even as they speak in hushed, reverential tones about Turner author William Pierce. Bracken doesn’t have that particular problem. In response to an email requesting an interview, he called The Turner Diaries a “racist screed” and insisted it brooks no comparison to his series, angrily declining to answer questions.

On the other hand, in a recent online posting, Bracken advised people who want to be safe from a possibly impending civil war to analyze where they live based on a spectrum of rich vs. poor, urban vs. rural—and lighter skin vs. darker skin.

Racism has been the Achilles’ heel of efforts to unify the Patriots for as long as the movement has existed, with different factions embracing wildly different views about whether to embrace it and to what degree. The Patriot subset that declines to accept racism continues to cope with the issue unevenly and defensively. As in mainstream politics, those who wish to participate or influence the direction of the movement face pressure to cater to the radical base.

The result is a muddled message in which racism may be vocally condemned, but race war is deemed inevitable. Traditional racist language is avoided as taboo, but racial stereotyping is seen as “facing facts.”

It is a rarified vision of a non-racist “realism” that can alienate white nationalist insiders while looking to outsiders like a distinction without a difference.