History holds important lessons, if only we are willing to hear them. This moment — men and women breaching the Capitol’s barricades, entering the chambers of Congress and demanding the nullification of the presidential election based on nothing more than lies and conspiracy theories — is a culmination, but it is not an ending. It is not, as some pundits have suggested, white supremacy or Trumpism’s “last gasp.” It is the manifestation of a long-held right-wing fantasy. Opponents of democracy stormed the nation’s seat of power. They walked out, many unscathed and uncuffed, to fight another day.
They told us they were going to do it, and they did.
It’s useful to remember the story of Earl Turner. He is 35, white, unemployed, racist and angry. The world is changing too fast for him: The economy is in shambles, Jewish people wield more power than he thinks they should, Black Americans incite chaos, and the government is cracking down on civil liberties, including the right to bear arms. Turner refuses to sit by, so he joins a movement plotting to overthrow the government. He wants to install right-wing rule by any means necessary. He is frustrated by those he judges to be merely “conservative,” people who talk but don’t act. Turner and other zealots go to Washington to do their part, and violence ensues.
Earl Turner wasn’t one of the people who stormed the Capitol on Wednesday. He isn’t even real. He is the titular character of “The Turner Diaries,” a racist dystopian novel published by a white supremacist named William Luther Pierce in 1978, in which right-wing guerrilla operatives terrorize the streets of Washington, bomb the FBI and commit atrocities against fellow citizens. Still, Turner was very much present on Wednesday. The plot, symbols and language of Mr. Pierce’s novel have seeped into the right-wing imagination, influencing generations of extremists. “The Turner Diaries” is so influential, in fact, that experts on white nationalism sometimes refer to the book as the movement’s bible.
Think I’m overstating? A gallows was erected in front of the Capitol on Wednesday. As Hannah Gais, a senior researcher for the Southern Poverty Law Center, noted on Twitter, some of the more than 5,000 viewers of a livestream hosted of the siege proclaimed “hang all the congressmen” and “give them the rope.” These were allusions to an event in the “The Turner Diaries” known as the “day of the rope,” when the terrorists lynch their enemies: “the lawyers, the businessmen, the TV newscasters, the newspaper reporters and editors, the judges, the teachers, the school officials, the ‘civic leaders,’ the bureaucrats, the preachers.” And, yes, “the politicians.”