July 25, 2011 | National Post

Anders Breivik and The Turner Diaries: How a 2011 Norwegian Massacre Echoes a 1978 American Novel

July 25, 2011 | National Post

Anders Breivik and The Turner Diaries: How a 2011 Norwegian Massacre Echoes a 1978 American Novel

Anders Behring Breivik, the 32-year-old Norwegian man who slaughtered 76 people, is not only a terrorist and a murderer, but also a plagiarist: Sections from his 1,500-page manifesto were copied directly from that of the “Unabomber,” Ted Kaczynski. And even the material he wrote himself is derivative: From the parts of the rambling and disjointed manifesto that I have been able to read thus far, his bigoted and paranoid worldview seems to have originated — either directly or indirectly — with The Turner Diaries, a hack science fiction novel written 33 years ago by an American white supremacist named William Luther Pierce. The Turner Diaries feature prominently on a Swedish Nazi Internet forum called Nordisk, of which Breivick was a member.

Like Breivick, Pierce’s terrorist protagonist (“Earl Turner”) was a do-it-yourself bomb-builder who attacked a large public building with a car bomb largely consisting of ammonium nitrate fertilizer-based explosives, and then used firearms to kill innocent people randomly. As with Breivick, Pierce casts Turner as a revolutionary patriot, attacking a decadent and race-treasonous government. Like Breivick, Turner sought to set off an apocalyptic race war that would cleanse his society of “foreign” elements.

Breivick seems to have absorbed a variety of plot details from The Turner Diaries. For instance, Turner is described in Pierce’s book as being the leader of one of 12 terrorist cells in the Washington, D.C. area. After successfully blowing up the FBI building in Washington, he and other loyal cell leaders are inducted into a secret terrorist society called The Order, which is pledged to the eradication of blacks and Jews. Breivick claims to have been part of a similarly clandestine group whose goal was to “seize political and military control of Western European countries,” killing or wounding more than a million people in the process. He describes a Turner-style council of exactly 12 cell leaders from different parts of the Western world, which (he says) met in London in 2002 to create their own secret society — a reinvention of the Knights Templar. (He signs off his letter with the title “Justiciar Knight Commander for Knights Templar Europe and one of several leaders of the National and pan-European Patriotic Resistance Movement.”)

Many commentators are calling Breivick “Norway’s Timothy McVeigh” — a reference to the right-wing American terrorist who bombed the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995. There is some basis to this: McVeigh called The Turner Diaries his “bible,” and sold copies of it to like-minded extremists. His criminal plot, like Breivick’s, was almost identical to the one described in Pierce’s book.

Yet there are also important differences between Breivick and McVeigh, between the pre-9/11 era of right-wing extremism and the post-9/11 variety on tragic display in Norway. And they are worth exploring, through the lens of The Turner Diaries, which — though largely unread and unknown in mainstream Western societies — has become an immensely influential underground inspiration for two generations of white-supremacist murderers.


The Turner Diaries is a backward-looking fantasy: In a brief introduction to the diaries, a narrator (“Andrew Macdonald”) writes from the perspective of 2099, a utopia in which the world has been purified of Jews and non-whites. (Interestingly, Breivick also jumps forward about a century: His own manifesto is titled 2083: A European Declaration of Independence.) The narrator describes Turner as a hero “whose name has been inscribed in the Record of Martyrs.” Macdonald also tells us that Turner “gained immortality for himself on that dark November day 106 years ago when he faithfully fulfilled his obligation to his race [by launching a suicide attack on the Pentagon], and to the holy Order which had accepted him into its ranks. And in so doing he helped greatly to assure that his race would survive and prosper … and that the Order would spread its wise and benevolent rule over the earth for all time to come.”

To read The Turner Diaries is to understand that the worldly beliefs of right-wing terrorists such as Breivick are not nearly so different from Islamic terrorists as some might believe. Members of both groups imagine themselves to be “martyrs” fulfilling some ordained and holy purpose, for which civilization will one day thank them. (In his manifesto, Breivick repeatedly references his upcoming “martyrdom.”) Both groups imagine they are propelling society toward some post-apocalyptic paradise, a New Jerusalem of the type described in the Book of Revelation. And both imagine that their evil crusades lend drama, dignity and cosmic meaning to their lives. “Whenever danger is especially imminent and we might be captured, we are to remove the [suicide] capsules from the pendants and carry them in our mouths,” Turner declares in his Diaries. “And if we are captured and can see no hope of immediate escape, we are to break the capsules with our teeth. Death will be painless and almost instantaneous. Now our lives truly belong only to the Order. Today I was, in a sense, born again. I know now that I will never again be able to look at the world or the people around me or my own life in quite the same way I did before.”

The Turner Diaries is a badly written and tedious book. Most of it focuses on the technical aspects of building bombs and other munitions, creating terror cells, running logistics, weapons training and maintenance, and counterintelligence (themes that, by comparison, comprise only about 20% of Breivik’s manifesto) — with some tacked on character-development and a romantic subplot. The most interesting nuggets of the book are those dealing with Turner’s political views.

In the 1990s-era USA described in The Turner Diaries, the United States is ruled by the “System,” a Jew-controlled quasi-fascist bureaucracy that controls popular opinion through its mass-media minions. The Jews’ defining evil, in Turner’s eyes, is the passage of the “Cohen Act,” which requires that Americans give up their firearms, thereby rendering themselves defenseless. The government also operates a “Human Relations Council,” which persecutes white American patriots on the pretext of fighting racism. In Turner’s world, the Jews and Blacks are in league to destroy America, with the former controlling the government and banks, while the latter act as street enforcers, rapists, and petty criminals. Like Breivik, who fretted in his manifesto that “our major cities are completely demographically overwhelmed by Muslims,” Turner is obsessed with demography: He believes that Blacks will multiply until America consists of “a swarming horde of … mulatto zombies.”

On Sunday, I went back and forth between re-reading The Turner Diaries and sections of Breivik’s manifesto. Many of the sections in the two works — in particular, those centered on the decay of urban life in Western societies and the proliferation of crime — are essentially interchangeable if you simply replace the words “Black” with “Muslim.”

Of course, Breivik didn’t kill Muslims: He killed random Oslo passers-by and government workers, and then teenagers and young adults at a political youth camp — his strategy being to slaughter those he imagined to be the enablers of his country’s multicultural policies. He has described these murders as a “gruesome but necessary” step toward preventing Europe’s enslavement by Muslims — and his massive manifesto seems to have been created to defend these indefensible actions.

In this regard, the document echoes Chapter 6 of The Turner Diaries, in which the protagonist surveys the awful carnage that the bombing of the FBI building has produced — 700 dead and many more wounded, with very few of these victims being either Black or Jewish. His eyes eventually come to rest on a “pretty” 20-year-old woman, her leg wrecked by the explosion; and he begins to consider whether the killing and maiming of these innocent white, gentiles — people “no more committed to the sick philosophy or the racially destructive goals of the System than we are” — can truly be justified. But in the end, he reasons that “there is no way we can destroy the System without [such tactics]. [The System] 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.” Such are the lies that allow people like Breivik to sleep at night.

By using such cancer imagery, Pierce knowingly echoes Mein Kampf and the Nazi propaganda literature that followed it, which depicted the Jews as a parasitic disease infecting an otherwise healthy white society. At one point, for instance, Pierce describes Jews “as the ferment of decomposition of races and civilizations.” But as with Hitler himself, Pierce’s white supremacy has very little to do with any sort of Christian “fundamentalism” — and the same is true of Breivik. While leftist commentators jumped on the initial description of Breivik as a Christian “fundamentalist,” his manifesto declares: “I guess I’m not an excessively religious man. I am first and foremost a man of logic.”

Breivik also promises that in his future utopia, “Embracing Christendom will be voluntary … People who choose to be atheists will enjoy the same rights” (though he also seeks a return to the religious policies of the mid-20th centuries, when Christian faiths had the status of official state creeds in many Western countries). This almost precisely follows the pattern of McVeigh, a lapsed Catholic-turned-agnostic who declared “science is my religion.”

The same was true of the fictional Turner, who is described as someone who “has never been religious.” Though, like Breivik, Turner is made to occasionally throw around vague references to God and the divine order, he never cites Bible verses or Christian theories of holy war to justify his terrorism. In fact, his attitude toward Christianity is negative: “The Christians are a mixed bag. Some of them are among our most devoted and courageous members … But all the ones who are still affiliated with major churches are against us.” (In 1978, the same year he wrote The Turner Diaries, Pierce abandoned Christianity for a self-created pantheistic religion called “Cosmotheism” based on the principle of eugenics, white racism and National Socialism.)

The idea that right-wing extremists such as Pierce, McVeigh and Breivik are simply the Christian version of Osama bin Laden is entirely wrong, in other words. Islamist terrorists take (misguided) inspiration from their religious texts in the act of slaughter — explicitly linking their motivation to religion. Mass murdering terrorists with a Christian background (and this includes the IRA, incidentally) typically do no such thing, even if the religious-inspired themes of martyrdom and purification tend to animate their doctrines. Not that this makes mass murder any less hideous or destructive — but it does show it to be a different kind of animal.

In a general sense, Breivik can be seen as a Norwegian, Islamophobic version of Pierce, McVeigh and the other right-wing hatemongers that populated the fringes of American life until the Clinton administration cleaned up the Midwest’s various White Supremecist quasi-Christian militia sects in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. But there is also something very new in Breivik’s attack.

For one thing, he represents the first mass-casualty post-9/11 terrorist attack purportedly committed in the name of stopping radical Islam. In this sense, it is Europe’s equivalent to the 1995 slaying of Yitzhak Rabin, whose perpetrator, extremist Orthodox Jew Yigal Amir, also imagined that he could protect his nation from Islamic encroachments by staging a murderous terrorist attack on his own government.

Breivik’s sick mythology also shows another new post-9/11 element: the changing role of the Jew in the narrative of the West’s right-wing extremists.

The Jew traditionally has been the primary target of such extremists because it was imagined that his evil hand lay behind those forces — capitalism, Marxism, globalization, financial speculation — once deemed to be most threatening to the traditional Western order that Breivik says he wants to defend. The creation of Israel in 1948 added a new excuse for anti-Semitism: The Turner Diaries are full of references to American foreign policy being controlled by Israel (an accusation that, of course, has now been taken up by the left).

With 9/11, that changed: The greatest cultural and military threat now is seen to be militant Islam, with the Jew — and Israel — now instantly cast as a defender of the established Western order. To quote something I wrote in my recently published book, Among The Truthers: “The Jew [is now seen as] the perfect anti-Islamist, whose zeal and reliability in the war on terrorism was hard-wired into his political DNA thanks to six decades of Israeli warfare against Islamic terrorists in the Middle East. For the first time in the history of Western civilization, the Jew’s ‘foreignness’ and mixed loyalties-to the United States, Israel, world Jewry- became a source of respect and trust rather than suspicion.”

Thus, in Section 2.93 of Breivik’s manifesto, we get the sort of words that, pre-9/11, no one could ever have dreamed would be typed by a right-wing hatemonger: “We demand that all financial support to the Palestinian Authority should cease immediately. It is proven beyond any doubt that this has in the past been used to finance campaigns of Jihad terrorism against Jews in Israel and against Christians in territories under PA control. A public statement in support of Israel against Muslim aggression should be issues, and the money that has previously been awarded to Palestinians should be allocated partly to Israel’s defence [and] partly to establish a Global Infidel Defence Fund.”

In any other context, a reduction in right-wing anti-Semitism would be an unreservedly welcome development. But as we mourn the innocent victims of Breivik’s attacks, we understand that evil minds inevitably will channel their hate somewhere — if not toward innocent Jews, then toward innocent Muslims, or members of the political party that represents them.

The senselessness and tragedy of that hatred: this hasn’t changed, and never will — for all time to come.