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'The Turner Diaries' Influence On White Nationalists

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The mass shooter in Christchurch, New Zealand, last month wrote the number 14 on his gun, a reference to a 14-word phrase that's popular among white nationalists about securing a future for white children. The phrase was coined by a terror group known as The Order, which took its name from a book of fiction called "The Turner Diaries." NPR's Andrew Limbong reports on why that book continues to have such a lasting effect.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: "The Turner Diaries" is a piece of dystopic fiction that ends in a nuclear war after which all nonwhites are killed. It was written by a man named William Luther Pierce.

J M BERGER: Pierce had come out of the neo-Nazi movements of the '60s and early '70s.

LIMBONG: That's J.M. Berger. He studies extremism of all types at Swansea University School of Law and has published a paper about "The Turner Diaries" for the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism. Berger says Pierce wanted to broaden the appeal of white nationalism.

BERGER: The ostentatious display of Nazi paraphernalia, for instance, was counterproductive and made it harder to recruit ordinary people. His goal was to radicalize ordinary white people.

LIMBONG: Here's how.

BERGER: The book opens with a cabal of Jews and black people who disarm white Americans, take away their guns so that they can't resist the government.

LIMBONG: So Pierce appealed to those who fear gun control as well as minorities.

BERGER: What follows is a description of a long guerrilla campaign and battle back and forth with this minority government.

LIMBONG: Told through the diaries of a man named Earl Turner. Janet Wilson teaches postcolonial literature at the University of Northampton. She's written about the language used in "The Turner Diaries." She says there's a powerful effect to have this story be told specifically through fictional diary entries.

JANET WILSON: Well, a diary gives immediacy, as the first-person point of view always does. But with the diary, you have reflections.

LIMBONG: You're not with Turner when he commits various acts of horrendous violence. You're with him as he processes, rationalizes and justifies them.

WILSON: You feel the struggle. You don't feel sympathetic, particularly, towards this person, yet you recognize that he's in a cause.

LIMBONG: The main fear in the book is demographic change, particularly through race mixing. There's one chapter devoted to hanging thousands of white people, mostly women, for being in relationships with a nonwhite person. Turner notes in his fictional diaries that this was, quote, "a grim and bloody day, but an unavoidable one." The violence, how they systematically raid houses and pick who lives and who dies, is plainly laid out in instructional detail. But the ideology is more broad says, J.M. Berger, to appeal to different branches of white nationalism - religious, atheist, pagan.

BERGER: So that you can kind of come through it and bring your own ideology and take away a plan of action.

LIMBONG: Berger's research lists a number of terrorists who have been inspired by "The Turner Diaries," including the Oklahoma City bomber. And he says the novel's influence has only grown as the text became widely available and discussed online, including the same message board where the Christchurch shooter first announced his plans. And Berger says the book's influence will continue online in part because we treat it differently from other extremist content. For example, ISIS.

BERGER: There was nobody who was going to go out and argue that ISIS had a right to free speech. There was nobody who's going to complain about ISIS content being taken down off the Internet, whereas white nationalism is much more ingrained in our societies and our governments to the point that, you know, we have elected officials who are almost openly white nationalists in this country. In European countries, we have whole governments that are oriented toward white nationalism.

LIMBONG: "The Turner Diaries" ends with Earl Turner murdering himself for the cause of white nationalism. The fictional book is one of the most important texts of white extremist propaganda, and it will likely continue to be a useful recruiting tool.

Andrew Limbong, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.