Skip to main content

Imitations of Terror


The Cambridge Companion to Religion and TerrorismChapter summary

My day’s work started a little before five o’clock yesterday, when I began helping Ed Sanders mix heating oil with the ammonium nitrate fertilizer … We stood the 100-pound bags on end one by one and poked a small hole in the top with a screwdriver, just big enough to insert the end of a funnel … It took us nearly three hours to do all 44 sacks, and the work really wore me out … Finally, I ran the cable and switch from the detonator through a chink from the cargo area into the cab of the truck.

[We then drove to the site, and] George and I headed for the building in the car, with Henry following in the truck … until we found a good spot to park. [Finally, we left and hit the detonator.]
[T]he pavement shuddered violently under our feet. An instant later the blast wave hit us – a deafening ‘ka-whoomp,’ followed by an enormous roaring, crashing sound, accentuated by the higher-pitched noise of shattering glass all around us.

Overturned trucks and automobiles, smashed office furniture, and building rubble were strewn wildly about – and so were the bodies of a shockingly large number of victims. Over everything hung the pall of black smoke burning our eyes and lungs and reducing the bright morning to semi-darkness … we gaped with a mixture of horror and elation at the devastation.
All day yesterday and most of today we watched the TV coverage of rescue crews bringing the dead and injured out of the building. It is a heavy burden of responsibility for us to bear, since most of the victims of our bomb were only pawns who were no more committed to the sick philosophy or the racially destructive goals of the System than we are. 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.

Nevertheless, every time the TV camera focuses on the pitiful, mutilated corpse of some poor girl – or even an FBI agent – being pulled from the wreckage, my stomach becomes tied in knots and I cannot breathe. It is a terrible, terrible task we have before us.

Passages from a Timothy McVeigh letter? Excerpts from the diary of Terry McNichols? A fictionalized version of events written in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing on 19 April 1995? While the parallels to the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building are eerie, this prophetic description of events comes from the 1978 novel, The Turner Diaries. The narrative of this piece of dark fiction is built around an apocalyptic race war that culminates in the extermination of all non-White peoples. The tale is told through the eyes of Earl Turner, a White revolutionary who eventually bombs the Pentagon in a final act of suicidal martyrdom. Not coincidently, Timothy McVeigh made a living selling survival items and copies of The Turner Diaries at gun shows.

An underground ‘classic’ within North America’s White racialist subculture, The Turner Diaries supplies both a rationale and a prophetic blueprint for White supremacist terrorists. While not especially well-written, there is some strange appeal about this narrative that has helped inspire a number of different right-wing extremists to take direct, violent action against ‘the System’. The bombing of the Oklahoma Federal Building is merely the most dramatic case in point. Also of note are the activities of The Order, a.k.a. The Silent Brotherhood, a group of White revolutionaries similarly inspired by The Turner Diaries. In 1983–84, The Order engaged in a crime wave, mostly in the West, preparatory (they anticipated) to launching attacks on the federal government. Between 1984 and 1986, members of the Order were captured and tried, and its leader, Robert Matthews, was killed in a shootout with the FBI.

While William L. Pierce, the presumed author of the Diaries, might not have intended such literalistic readings of his fiction, it is clear that he did envision a future race war for which he wished his Aryan brethren to be prepared. Although not fitting the stereotype of the robed and bearded recluse familiar from Hollywood adaptations of Judeo–Christian scriptures, he was, in a sense, a modern prophet. The major difference was that, rather than simply predicting events, Pierce provided what might be termed a ‘mythological’ model that would eventually inspire a number of quasi-ritualistic acting out of events.

You might also like: