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"Do you think we're moving towards civil war?"
Tucker says it's coming, Trump says maybe, Vivek says we're already there.
“September 16, 1991,” Earl Turner writes. “Today it finally began! After all these years of talking-and nothing but talking-we have finally taken our first action. We are at war with the System, and it is no longer a war of words.”
Turner, the book’s introduction tells us, was born in the Old Era. In his diary, he chronicles the moments before the Great Revolution was ignited. He writes how deputies from the Northern Virginia Human Relations Council arrived at his door to rough him up and seize his guns. How the Washington Post ran headlines about him like: "Fascist-Racist Conspiracy Smashed, Illegal Weapons Seized." How he, and a small cell of revolutionaries, began planting bombs to take down a government that was both corrupt and oppressive to the core.
The book’s epilogue tells us that the "dream of a White world finally became a certainty” thanks to Turner.
As a novel, The Turner Diaries is a nearly-inscrutable, schlocky mess. But as a political manifesto, it became a remarkably powerful piece of fantasy for those convinced that the Western world was on the precipice of collapse.
A copy was found in the Ryder truck used to carry out the Oklahoma City bombing. David Copeland quoted from the book after he was arrested for carrying out a string of bombings that targeted immigrants and Queer people in London. (Dispatch #37) It was an inspiration for The Order, which sought to provoke a race war as described in the book.
The New York Times wrote in 2021 that the Turner Diaries “incites white supremacists.” But I’m not sure that’s quite right. There’s no doubt that current far-right culture borrows references and even inspiration from the book. But the book is merely one of the symbolism of allegiance to the cause, albeit a very popular one. The book is the outgrowth of a deep feeling in the American (and, to a lesser degree, Western) psyche. It resonates. In times of substantial change, when disagreements get particularly severe and compromise seems impossible, the most alienated feel like a clash is coming.
Tucker Carlson, it seems, feels like a clash is coming. He posed that possibility to Donald Trump during their debate-night one-on-one yesterday. Vivek Ramaswamy feels that America is already in some kind of cultural civil war, and he said so during the chaotic sideshow of a Republican primary debate. In Europe, the surviving members of the Wagner Group are contemplating the possibility of a very real civil war.
This week, on a very special Bug-eyed and Shameless, the new fatalism around our supposedly coming strife.
When the war comes, you’ll want to be a Bug-eyed and Shameless subscriber. I have some excellent bean-based recipes.
Tucker Carlson: Do you think we're moving towards civil war?
Donald Trump: There’s tremendous passion and there’s tremendous love. You know, January 6 was a very interesting day because — they don’t report it properly. I believe it was the largest crowd I've ever spoken to before. And you know, some of the crowds I've spoken before, like July 4 on the mall, I think they had a million people there. But I think that the biggest crowd I've ever spoken to before was on January 6. And people that were in that crowd — a very, very small group of people. And we said: ‘Patriotic and peacefully.’ ‘Peacefully and patriotically.’ Right, nobody ever says that. ‘Go peacefully and patriotically.’ But people that were in that crowd that day, a very small group of people went down there. And then you there are a lot of lot of scenarios that we can talk about. But people in that crowd said it was the most beautiful day they've ever experienced. There was love and that there was love and unity. I have never seen such spirit and such passion and such love. And I've also never seen simultaneously, and from the same people, such hatred of what they've done to our country.
Carlson: So do you think it's possible that there's open conflict? We seem to leading towards something
Trump: I don't know, I don't know. Because I don’t know what- you know, I can say this: There's a level of passion that I've never seen. There's a level of hatred that I've never seen. And that's probably a bad combination.
Carlson: Donald Trump, thank you. Thank you very, very much.
Trump: Thank you. That is a bad combination.
That exchange came at the culmination of a rambling 45-minute sit-down interview that has already — according to Twitter’s metrics, anyway — racked up 168 million views. (Whenever you read this, that number is certain to be much higher.)
It’s revealing of both parties. But I want to start with Tucker Carlson.
The ex-Fox anchor’s descent into the fringes of the far-right has been intense and unapologetic. Earlier this year, he already warned that mass gun confiscation could “end in civil war.” He has explicitly traded in the white supremacist “great replacement” theory. Even earlier in his interview with Trump, he insisted — after trying to goad Trump into accepting that Jeffrey Epstein was murdered — the enemies of the nation were coming for Trump next.
“It started with protests against you — massive protests, organized protests by the left,” Carlson said. “And then it moved to impeachment, twice. And now: indictment. I mean, the next stage is violence. Are you worried that they're going to try and kill you? Why wouldn't they try and kill you? Honestly.”
This is the dour dystopia found at the heart of The Turner Diaries. The idea that the left is mounting an escalating campaign that can only end in tyranny and violence.
The book’s author, Andrew Macdonald, is a nom de plume. It was actually penned by William Luther Pierce: One of the most prominent post-war Nazis in America.
Pierce wrote the screed in 1978, during his time running the National Alliance, a white supremacist organization born out of the ashes of George Wallace’s segregationist 1968 presidential campaign. It was written out of a deep bitterness with the victories of the civil rights movement. Pierce’s organization euphemistically promised that there would be a period of "temporary unpleasantness" in America, should his organization seize power. The murderous race war described in his book provides a glimpse into his real political project.
Pierce was, in the end, a miserable failure. The National Alliance, best as we can tell, never expanded beyond 2,000 members. He delivered a last miserable speech to his angry rump of racists in 2002 and died of renal failure a few months later. His group of thugs were tied to a couple dozen violent crimes over its two decades in existence, but has since fallen defunct.
He was, ultimately, too racist to achieve mainstream success. But he was a sign of where the American hard-right was headed.
“All in all, it has been depressingly easy for the System to deceive and manipulate the American people,” he writes in The Turner Diaries. “Whether the relatively naive ‘conservatives’ or the spoiled and pseudo-sophisticated ‘liberals.’ Even the libertarians, inherently hostile to all government, will be intimidated into going along when Big Brother announces that the new passport system is necessary to find and root out ‘racists’ namely, us.”
It is both paranoid and fatalist. It describes a world where there is an entrenched and monolithic ruling class. (Pierce believed, surprise, it was the Jews.) And the people, ignorant to this idea, were being manipulated by the state’s agents in the media and culture. And that society was, slowly then all at once, moving towards a totalitarian control, under the guise of progress.
Even if it was categorically, and unsurprisingly, false — Western society has only become more free, prosperous, and fair over the past half-century — that deep anxiety at the core of the American extreme right has come in waves. And we are witnessing a serious rise today.
They tend to fall into two camps: Accelerationists, and preppers. (It bears noting that there are non-right wing accelerationists, and non-extremist preppers.)
The accelerationists are convinced that conflict is inevitable and must therefore be provoked to avoid strife and subjugation. The preppers believe civil war is likely or inevitable, and that they must therefore prepare to defend themselves.
You’ve likely heard of some groups that move in this space. The Oath Keepers and III%ers, in particular, have gained considerable attention because they were heavily represented at the Capitol on January 6. The Oath Keepers were started as a quasi-militia movement to maintain order when martial law is, they believe, inevitably invoked; whereas the III%ers take their name from the (myth) that only three percent of colonists rose up to overthrow the British — and that they will soon be in a position to do the same. (In practise, both groups are a mix of accelerationist and prepper.)
Smaller, even more radical groups have emerged. Members of the Boogaloo Bois — which talks in more direct, albeit meme-y, language about the coming race war — have been arrested for, amongst other things, opening fire on a police station with an AK-47. Many of these smaller groups hope to run their terror attacks as false flags, using them to point blame at an innocent group to provoke conflict. (If this sounds familiar: It was Charles Manson’s concept of Helter Skelter.)
The number of individuals willing to commit acts of violence is, somewhat luckily, low. Even still, they present one of the most significant national security challenges for the West. One of the most severe recent examples was the mass shooting in Buffalo, targeting a predominately Black neighborhood, was committed with the explicit aim of provoking a race war.
But these domestic terrorists are not — for the time being — a threat to our politics more broadly. They are, by their very nature, isolated groups that have not managed to extend their political connections beyond the most die-hard fringe figures in Congress.
What is a threat, however, is mainstreaming their paranoid role playing. Which is precisely what Carlson is in the process of doing.
“They're savage animals,” Trump responded to Carlson. “There are people that are sick, really sick.” They “hate our country.” And America is a country “that’s very fragile right now.”
In 1963, George Wallace was sworn in as governor of Alabama. Standing at the dais, he warned that “ungodly government” and the “pseudo-intellectual” were set to impose the federal government on all Americans and encourage “everything degenerate.” Those liberals “seek to persecute the international white minority to the whim of the international colored majority.”
There have been ample Trump-Wallace comparisons written over the years. But one thing often overlooked is just how dour their brands of pessimism are. For Wallace, the American state — the one which dispatched the national guard to allow Black students to attend school — was one that “clanks its chains upon the South.” For him, the cure was obvious: “Segregation today. Segregation tomorrow. Segregation forever.”
Trump’s ideology isn’t race-obsessed, like Wallace or Pierce. Trump’s solution is even simpler: Trump.
But that dystopian outlook that Trump has unlocked within his party, particularly as he has successfully convinced an overwhelming majority of his supporters that the entire democratic process is rotten, bears a lot of similarities to that paranoia that captured the 1960s. In his world, disagreements are not differences to be resolved, but fights that must be carried out until one side can’t get up.
Upstart Republican challenger Vivek Ramaswamy has tried hard to tap into that feeling. At the debate last night, Ramaswamy struck a sombre chord: “We live in a dark moment,” he said. “We need to recognize that we’re in a sort of cold, cultural, civil war.”
It was an odd comment from a young, brash, generally annoying candidate who is trying to play the outsider. His war, not unlike Wallace’s, is not just against the opposing party: It’s also against his own. He spent most of the night launching withering attacks at his debate partners, giving him plenty of airtime and, eventually, eliciting boos from the audience.
Ramaswamy’s bold debate tactics match with his pitch to Republican voters: He would, as the Times put it, essentially rule by fiat. He would attack the U.S. government until little remains, and dispatch the military to do his bidding. It is unserious, but worrying in its tone. Polls consistently put him in third, even second, place in the crowded field.
While you could forgive Ramaswamy’s proposals as being somewhere between painfully naive and ideologically libertarian, Trump’s campaign platform — Agenda 47 — has the hallmarks of a tinpot dictator. He is proposing an expansive and arbitrary imposition of the death penalty, a witch hunt to fire any government employee deemed insufficiently loyal, and launch a full-scale attack on the judiciary.
His supporters, unsurprisingly, have taken up Agenda 47 with great eagerness, seeing it as their chance to enact the real change which had, they believe, been thwarted by the deep state in Trump’s first term. His most loyal fans, in QAnon, have kept up promising that “the storm is coming” — a belief in this coming civil war, slathered with evangelical second coming imagery — and Trump has been only too happy to endorse the message.
Ron DeSantis, who has deployed some of these authoritarian tactics while governor of Florida, has pledged to do the same on the national level. One of his campaign staffers recently released a social video boosting his candidacy which boasted the looming iconography of the Sonnenrad, a literal Nazi symbol. That staffer has ties to Nick Fuentes, the Trump-friendly insurrectionist neo-Nazi.
None of the Republican candidates, nor Carlson, are neo-Nazis, and they’re not taking their cues directly from The Turner Diaries. But, some of their fans are.
And there is, clearly, an electoral strategy in speaking to the most online and committed extremists. In a primary contest, grassroots might — even if it comes from neo-Nazis — is incredibly useful.
But this is also a narrative realignment, and it is a worrying one. It is a borrowing of a reactionary, anxiety-fuelled, fear-inducing worldview that warns the best is behind us and autocracy looms behind even liberal and progressive. Trump, Carlson, DeSantis, Ramaswamy are attempting to quickly raise the temperature, increase the stakes, and force the American public to act to avert civil war. Or, worse yet, to pick a side in the early stages of that war.
Not only does this toxicity the entire political process, but it emboldens the radicals and makes new ones. Last week, a man shot a California woman in her shop, because she displayed a pride flag. This Spring, her killer posted a video on Gab entitled “when should you shoot a cop.” He commented: “There will come a time that we have to do this.” That shooting came just after two unidentified men opened fire at a Minneapolis punk venue, seemingly targeting Queer people.
It seems unlikely that any of these figures will step back from the edge, so long as this fatalist rhetoric works. All we can do is hope that people step back from them.
That’s it for this week!
Enjoy the dying days of August.
As always, paying subscribers can comment — I’m always keen to hear your thoughts, comments, book recommendations. Once the lazy summer is over, I’m keen to hold some more subscriber chats and open threads.
Until next time.