Loose talk about breaking up the United States has become increasingly common. While quixotic secession campaigns for California or Texas are more amusing than threatening, there seems to be something different about the right-wing movement for a “peaceful separation” or “national divorce.” If you look closely, there’s an undercurrent carrying the threat of political violence. Or even full-scale civil war.
“It’s Time For The United States To Divorce Before Things Get Dangerous,” the Federalist’s Jesse Kelly argues. Citing deep cultural divides on religion, gun rights, and immigration, Kelly warns that “sooner or later, the left-wing rage mob will start coming for the careers (and lives) of any normal American who sees things differently.”
Trump supporters face genocide or ruin, he writes in “America Is Over, But I Won’t See It Go Without An Epic Fight.” In that essay, Kelly asks readers to imagine themselves as native Lakota tribesmen who must choose between life on a reservation—“in the liberal utopian nightmare of 57 genders and government control over everything”—or glorious, doomed resistance: as the Lakota who fights back and holds his enemy’s scalp in his hands.
You killed him, won the day, carved off the top of his skull, and now you’re standing over him victorious on the now-quiet field of battle, with a quiet breeze blowing through your hair. Your adrenaline is still pumping with that primal feeling of victory and the elation of having survived when others didn’t.
“Be the Lakota,” Kelly concludes.
This is just a bit from an aspiring TV pundit, right? Merely a winking step-across-the-line for clicks and attention?
Over the weekend, Iowa Rep. Steve King (last seen losing his committee assignments over white nationalist-friendly comments) shared a meme joking that the right would win the next civil war because his supporters are stockpiling ammunition while the other side obsesses about gender and bathrooms.
Such discussions aren’t limited to fringe outlets or marginalized congressmen. National Review’s Victor Davis Hanson takes the likelihood of violent conflict almost as a given. “How, when, and why has the United States now arrived at the brink of a veritable civil war?” he asks. “We are now nearing a point comparable to 1860, and perhaps past 1968.”
Maybe Hanson is just being hyperbolic and we should take him seriously, and not literally, when he says that the divisions of 2018 are comparable to the divisions of 1860? After all, Hanson’s list of grievances—displacement from a globalized economy, cultural and campus radicalism, immigration, and the legacy of Barack Obama—is familiar enough, and reasonable arguments can be had about all of them. And one of his solutions—“we need to develop a new racial sense that we are so intermarried and assimilated that cardboard racial cutouts are irrelevant”—seems much less arduous than any of the pathways out of the antebellum years. Hanson’s view, while it gives a frisson of danger, would probably disappoint the white nationalists who see civil strife as both necessary and desirable.
The president, of course, has long indicated his support for political violence, threatening protesters with beatings at his rallies and approving the assault of a journalist by a congressional candidate. But last week, Trump took that openness to violence in a new direction, suggesting he could unleash the police, military, and “Bikers for Trump” on “the left.”
After Trump’s moral equivocation between those who marched with neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and their opponents, some conservatives began to take the threat of the alt-right more seriously. Whether their concern was genuine or self-interested, actions such as the Daily Caller’s cutting ties with Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler signaled that there was a line that would be held.
However, conservatives probably underestimate the extent to which the racism of the alt-right has insinuated itself into their movement. What is presented as a plea for peacefully dissolving the union appears to be driven by paranoia about white genocide and a belief that a war between the races is all but inevitable.
At American Greatness, Christopher Roach complains that “The Left Won’t Allow a Peaceful Separation,” drawing a clear link between the left’s “totalitarian” racial agenda and the impulse toward separation. “[For the left] it is not enough for France or Germany to destroy themselves with mass Arabian and African immigration,” he argues. “Poland and Hungary must be punished for refusing to do so.”
Robert Curry, a director of the Claremont Institute, makes a similar connection between fears of racial transformation and civil conflict. In an essay analogizing the 2018 and 1864 elections, Curry warns that “if a Democrat-controlled Congress can prevent the President from building the wall and keep him tied up long enough for them to get their demographic transformation of America past the point of no return, it might well be game over for the regime of liberty.”
It’s not hard to see how this narrative of fear and victimization could lead to ideas about resistance and vengeance.
The Turner Diaries is probably the most influential fictional account of an American race war. Written in 1978 by neo-Nazi leader William Luther Pierce (under the pen name Andrew MacDonald), the book tells the story of Earl Turner, a terrorist who joins a revolutionary insurgency against the U.S. government that leads to global white domination. It became notorious in 1995, when excerpts were found with Timothy McVeigh upon his arrest in connection with the Oklahoma City bombing.
In the book, national gun confiscations inspire a white supremacist group called the “Organization” to begin a campaign of terror against a Jewish-controlled U.S. government, called the “System.” The Organization works its way from assassinations, to the truck bombing of the FBI, to a mortar attack on a Joint Session of Congress, to full-scale civil conflict, and ultimately global nuclear war. Genocide is waged against Jews and blacks.
It’s chilling to revisit The Turner Diaries and see that its themes are now being repeated as right-wing tropes.
Take the opening scene which involves the gun raids following passage of the “Cohen Act,” a (fictional) federal law banning all private gun ownership. The idea that powerful Jews are conspiring to restrict gun rights was promoted (for real) by Ted Nugent in 2016, when he posted an image of 12 Jewish-American leaders that asked “Who is really behind gun control?” Each picture was accompanied by an Israeli flag. Nugent apologized, but he still serves on the board of the National Rifle Association.
The belief that gun seizures could spark an all-consuming race war was also shared by the terrorist who massacred at least 50 Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand. The gunman wrote in his manifesto:
this conflict over the 2nd amendment and the attempted removal of firearms rights will ultimately result in a civil war that will eventually balkanize the US along political, cultural and, most importantly, racial lines.
The Turner Diaries describes a human trafficking ring that sounds eerily like the QAnon or “Spirit Cooking” conspiracy theories popular among some Trump supporters. Young women are sold by Jews to “exclusive clubs in New York where the wealthy go to satisfy strange and perverted appetites . . . [or] sold to a Satanist club and painfully dismembered in gruesome rituals.”
It is just as disturbing to see specific aspects of the book, as well as its extreme violence and racism, channeled by more mainstream figures.
Kurt Schlichter, a California trial lawyer and retired Army colonel, is a columnist at Townhall and fills in as a host on Hugh Hewitt’s nationally syndicated radio show. Schlichter has also written a series of books on a post-divorce America.
His self-published Kelly Turnbull series imagines a red state/blue state split, the latter now a progressive dystopia called the People’s Republic of North America, where whites have been impoverished and left homeless by reparations taxes.
The divorce is anything but amicable. It is a brutal race war. Most unsettling are the numerous parallels between the Turnbull series and The Turner Diaries.
Both describe a tyrannical government that takes blacks off government assistance and gives them police powers, which they use to terrorize sympathetic white characters and seize their guns.
In The Turner Diaries, the gun raid that opens the story is conducted by the “Northern Virginia Human Relations Council”, which has “deputized [blacks] in large numbers from the welfare Rolls”:
I opened the door, and four Negroes came pushing into the apartment before I could stop them. One was carrying a baseball bat, and two had long kitchen knives thrust into their belts. The one with the bat shoved me back into a corner and stood guard over me with his bat raised in a threatening position while the other three began ransacking my apartment.
In Schlichter’s books, People’s Republic and Indian Country, gun raids are also conducted by black former welfare recipients deputized into a police force whose slogan is “Diversity Is Our Strength.” Before a weapons seizure operation, an agent in one of Schlichter’s books declares “I’m gonna shoot me some redneck, ride their asses back here tied to my hood.”
The Turner Diaries depicts an oppressive government cracking down on “racists, fascists and other anti-social elements.” Posters are displayed “urging citizens to ‘help fight racism’ by reporting suspicious persons to the political police.” In the first chapter of Schlichter’s People’s Republic, a billboard commands “REPORT HATEMONGERS, DENIERS AND SPIES TO YOUR PEOPLE’S BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION.”
Insurgents in The Turner Diaries use a truck-borne fertilizer bomb to attack FBI headquarters in Washington. In Schlichter’s Indian Country, insurgents use a truck-borne fertilizer bomb to attack a military installation.
Even the names of the protagonists, Turner and Turnbull, are strikingly similar.
Beyond these obvious parallels, Schlichter’s books and The Turner Diaries share the same paranoia that progressive governments, aided by white collaborators, are empowering blacks to enable them to rape white women and ultimately exterminate the white race.
In The Turner Diaries a “Day of the Rope” is observed during which race traitors—politicians, businessmen, and journalists who supported the System—are summarily executed.
The race traitor aspects of Schlichter’s books are remarkably well-imagined. The chief villain in People’s Republic, for instance, is Martin Rios-Parkinson—the “Rios” is self-applied to gain minority “privilege” status—who is a high-ranking official said to have once had “white boy dreadlocks” and a history of supporting Black Lives Matter. He eventually takes command of the “Patrice Lumumba Battalion” and takes a VA facility as his headquarters (after evicting the elderly veteran residents).
Another character in Indian Country is a small business owner named Dale Chalmers. Chalmers is ordered by the government to hire a man named Leon Williams, who is among “the drug convicts granted blanket pardons as part of the criminal justice reforms.” Williams is lazy and inattentive, and eventually stops showing for work. Nevertheless, Chalmers is commanded by the government to keep paying him.
Later in the book, Chalmers and his family are filling their car at the gas station when a government militiaman called Do-Rag steals his gasoline and beats him with a rifle. A member of Do-Rag’s gang then sexually assaults a woman named Becky Collins. The hero, Kelly Turnbull, tells the victimized community, “I guess you can all get your teeth bashed in. Your women can get groped. Or worse. You can live that way, if you want.”
Do-Rag later leads his militia into a church, intent on robbing parishioners. “Get your wallets out bitches, I’m taking a collection!” he yells. When confronted, Do-Rag shoots a man named Will Collins and his wife Sarah. Ultimately a dozen worshippers are massacred.
In retaliation, a white insurgent sets fire to a People’s Republic government building. Inside the building, which houses an agency called the Inclusiveness Bureau, Schlichter describes a poster depicting “a cartoon crew of multicultural children dancing on some prostrate Scandinavian-looking guy.”
The white genocide conspiracy theory is advanced again when a government leader with the Jewish-sounding name “Darin Kunstler” declares his plan to exterminate the civilian population under his command, with the exception of minorities (and possibly children, “who can be reeducated”).
Naturally oppressed peoples will not be harmed, since they are obviously victims themselves. I’ve studied this area, Colonel. These people are reactionaries, terrorists. They insist on living on their own terms… Their attitudes and foolish religious beliefs were themselves an act of violence to progressive peoples everywhere… They defied us and they must pay.
As the uprising intensifies, the book describes how “sixteen men in uniforms leapt out, waving their rifles and swearing in incoherent rage at the ‘cracker motherfucker’ driving the truck blocking their way.” Schlichter describes the killing of one of these government agents in distinctly racial terms:
Skinny’s bladder and his legs were freed from their slavery to his faraway brain when Turnbull’s rounds severed his spinal column. His legs went in opposite directions as his sphincter relaxed. Skinny collapsed face-first in the dirt of the soft shoulder, his urine turning it to mud, his dignity taken along with his life. [emphasis added]
I include all of this so that you understand that the white genocide paranoia and race-war fantasy Schlichter is peddling are fairly explicit.
In the foreword to Indian Country, Schlichter makes clear that he is not merely writing speculative fiction for entertainment. His objective is to awaken the reader to the existential threat posed by the American left:
[W]e have seen blue state governments allow conservatives to be silenced, to be intimidated, and to be beaten, in the full view of blue state law enforcement. My worst fears are slowly coming true, much to my regret. The Left is using all its governmental, political, and cultural power to marginalize and repress its opponents. If you want to see the true frothing hatred of the Left, jump on social media. Don’t worry—the leftists will tell you exactly what they think.
Nothing I write in People’s Republic or in this book is beyond their aspirations; in fact, my dystopian vision may well be too optimistic. The bottom line is that the 2016 election did not render People’s Republic moot. There is still more story to tell and still a warning to be issued. That’s what I hope to do here.
One is tempted to say that, like Hanson, Schlichter wants to be taken seriously and not literally. Does he literally believe that his dystopian vision of a national race war may be “too optimistic”?
But then, maybe he does. If you go to Schlichter’s personal Twitter account you see quite a lot of fear-mongering about political violence, white genocide, and race war. Just two months ago, he tweeted that Democrats do not value American lives and are scheming to “replace” them with “a massive wave of foreigners.”
This language is strikingly similar to the Christchurch terrorist’s manifesto, which was titled “The Great Replacement”:
All through immigration. This is ethnic replacement. This is cultural replacement. This is racial replacement. This is WHITE GENOCIDE.
Another tweet contrasts “people in red Indiana” to “savages in blue Chicago.”
Each of his Townhall columns concludes with a plug for the Kelly Turnbull series, including Amazon links. Of People’s Republic, Hugh Hewitt blurbs, “Schlichter puts a whole flight of Black Swans in the air—each of them plausible—and the result is a riveting page-turner, and a demand from Schlichter for . . . more.” The Washington Examiner’s Salena Zito urged her followers to buy People’s Republic, though it’s unclear if she had finished the book.
A recurring theme in civil and race war literature is contempt for “responsible” conservatives. Jesse Kelly, in his Lakota warrior essay, criticized NeverTrump conservatives who are:
scolding the dullards who were too stupid to just believe everything printed in the New York Times. They lecture us to this day. They live for compromise with the Left, always ignorant of the fact that just a little more big government is still big government. They are the Choctaws. “Just trust the U.S. government. I’m sure they’ll treat us well in the end if we’re nice.”
American Greatness’ Christopher Roach notes that
[u]ntil Trump, the GOP saw itself as one wing of a responsible governing class. All the talk of shrinking the government and the culture war was just overheated rhetoric that no one in power seriously believed. The party’s leadership functioned to divert its voters discontent into an agenda more palatable to the ruling class. Thus, every campaign sounded like the second coming of Paul Revere, but in the end, the practical outcome was some work on the margins related to tax cuts.
These complaints about Republicans collaborating with oppressors and failing to deliver on their rhetoric explain the demand for a new, revolutionary narrative. The reactionary’s portrait of a bygone golden age—Make America Great Again!—will always have romantic and nostalgic political appeal, but as the perception deepens that the forces of cultural “progress” are inexorable, then standing athwart history yelling “Stop!” can begin to look more like a hopeless plea.
In The Turner Diaries, a “responsible conservative” named Henry Powell is executed as a traitor once “it became clear that he was a conservative, not a revolutionary”:
He simply could not accept the fact that the path to our goal cannot be a retracing of our course to some earlier stage in our history, but must instead be an overcoming of the present and a forging ahead into the future—with us choosing the direction instead of the System.
What then must the responsible conservative do today? An easy first step would be to stop promoting the spread of racist and insurrectionist literature. It shouldn’t be difficult for the party of Lincoln to purge itself of civil war agitators.
It’s more important, however, to understand how the disappointed reactionary can be tempted by radicalism. Establishment conservatives tend to think the culture war is waged “over there” against the left, and that by defeating progressives they will enjoy the spoils of power. This is, at best, an incomplete view.
The rise of militant populism and its contempt for prudent conservatism is blowback from an increasingly vicious culture war that has neither a plan for victory, nor an exit strategy. If conservatism is to survive the challenge of white identity politics and nationalist populism, it must return to its classically liberal roots and stop harboring extremists.