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Apocalypse of Reason
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
I'm a pretty hard guy to shock, but I have to admit I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw a copy of The Turner Diaries at the Allen County Public Library last month. I'd heard about this white-supremacist manifesto for years now, but never expected to find a hard copy of it anywhere, unless, of course, I took to vacationing in Montana. But there it was, in the "New Arrivals" section of the main library, a glossy, red-covered novel with the title letters printed in an almost retro-70's, band poster style.
As surprised as I was by the book's appearance, though, I think I was even more surprised that nobody had snapped it up yet. The Turner Diaries has a rabid following and almost seems like a piece of contraband, a hot property whose supply never meets its demand. I have friends who work in bookstores in Fort Wayne, and they've told me that people constantly ask if it is in stock. As the copy on the back of the jacket proclaimed, this was one of the most controversial books in American history, a highly discussed, dystopian narrative that describes an apocalyptic race war in the future that ends with the genocide of non-Whites and the destruction of the American government. It is the Bible of the White Separatist Nation, and has sold over 200,000 copies since its publication in 1978.
Of course, I checked out The Turner Diaries as soon as I saw it. I had no choice. I felt a challenge emanating from the book, right there, on the shelf, a physical challenge to prove that I love the First Amendment as much as I claim. It wasn't easy, though — I picked the book off the shelf and immediately looked around, trying to see if there were any witnesses. Usually I don't give a damn what anybody thinks but here I was spooked, cautious, paranoid. I held the book to my chest so the title couldn't be seen and made my way out. Thank God the library has that auto-check out machine so I wouldn't have to face any humans. When I got to my car I made sure the book was face down, and I covered it up with a sweatshirt.
It was the oddest sensation for me, to be intimidated by a book. Books have always been sacred to me, as important as food or companionship. Even when I haven't had utensils or furniture, I've had books, hundreds of books, swamping my apartment. Yet in the library, and out to my car, I felt physically uncomfortable holding that novel. I know there are hundreds of awful, laughable horror stories about "evil" books that summon demonic forces just by having their pages read, but this was no joke to me. For the first time in a lifetime of reading I felt I was touching something that was truly damned.
But here it was, and here was my resolve. I read The Turner Diaries in two days, and was relieved to discover that in the end, it was just a book, after all. As so often in life, you build up a monster-sized fear only to realize that the source never warranted it. I'm not going to review the book here because, frankly, that would be a pointless — an abstract exercise, like reviewing an oil spill or an autopsy. I will tell you, though, that much of the book is boring like a Tom Clancy book is boring — techno/gizmo jargon about wiring devices and blowing stuff up, endless paragraphs about communication systems and transmitters and ammunitions. The graphic violence in the novel — which ought to be appalling — is so obviously the work of an adolescent-minded revenge fantasist that it becomes cartoony and impossible to take seriously. After a while, the book becomes unintentionally humorous. I laughed out loud when the author described an insane love scene between the hero and heroine, two gun-toting commandos humping outdoors in an Aryan Garden of Eden. Damn! Wish I thought of that one! The passage (sorry) is so redolent of loner/adolescent sex dreaming that I find it almost impossible to believe that it was written by a grown man in his forties.
But it was, and The Turner Diaries continues to sell well. And that, I think, is what ultimately dries my laughter up. We're in a precarious position right now, in our country, and I have a sneaking suspicion that books that cry for the destruction of the government are going to become increasingly popular. (Remember, The Turner Diaries helped inspire Timothy McVeigh.) The mix right now is as volatile as I can remember — bad economy, unemployment, paranoia, hatred of government, rising gun sales, increased intolerance. "Mainstream" commentators like the apocalypse freak Glenn Beck are getting completely unhinged, and the rhetoric for revolution and cathartic action is reaching a fever pitch. I know The Turner Diaries is just a book, and of course I'll always fight for the right to read it — still, I wonder if the people who are on the library's waiting list to get it think the same thing.