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© St. Petersburg Times, published July 28, 2002
Organized American hate has lost its greatest hero ever.
On July 23, William Luther Pierce died of cancer at his home in Hillsboro, W.Va. He was 69.
When I told a friend that I considered Pierce a hero -- at least to American hate groups -- he protested and asked me to explain. "A hero is a person who does good," he said. "Pierce did nothing good, and he wasn't a hero of any kind."
I did not argue but consulted the works of Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., humanities and history professor and adviser to two U.S. presidents.
In his 1958 essay "The Decline of Heroes," published in the Saturday Evening Post, Schlesinger argued that his age was devoid of heroes, which he also called "great" people, and that the nation needed great people in a democracy because they enable us "to rise to our own highest potentialities."
"Ours is an age without heroes -- and, when we say this, we suddenly realize how spectacularly the world has changed in a generation," Schlesinger wrote. "Most of us grew up in a time of towering personalities. For better or for worse, great men seemed to dominate our lives and shape our destiny. In the United States we had Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt. In Great Britain, there were Lloyd George and Winston Churchill. In other lands, there were Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Clemenceau, Gandhi, Kemal, Sun Yat-sen. Outside of politics there were Einstein, Freud, Keynes.
"Some of these great men influenced the world for good, others for evil; but whether for good or for evil, the fact that each had not died at birth made a difference, one believed, to everyone who lived after them. ... Whatever one thought, whether one admired or detested Roosevelt or Churchill, Stalin or Hitler, one nevertheless felt the sheer weight of such personalities on one's own existence."
No, the name William Luther Pierce is not on the lips of every American, but I can bet that it is on the lips of every American who hates Jews, ethnic minorities and members of select religions. I dare say that this nation's worst act of domestic terrorism -- the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City -- would not have happened if Pierce had died at birth.
And doubtless, the bombing fundamentally changed our nation, ending forever the innocence that had come to define the American character.
For those who have not heard of him, William Luther Pierce wrote The Turner Diaries under the pseudonym Andrew Macdonald. This 211-page polemic has been the bible for the white supremacists and survivalist groups since the late 1970s. It depicts the day of Armageddon between the white race and everyone else -- most prominently blacks and Jews. During the war, hundreds of thousands of blacks and other minorities are exterminated.
Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh said The Turner Diaries inspired him to action. About ammonium nitrate, the material used in his real bomb, this is what McVeigh read on Page 36 of the novel: "Sensitized with oil and tightly confined, it makes an effective blasting agent." The narrative goes on to describe McVeigh's bomb in minute detail.
The novel also inspired the assassination of Alan Berg, the Denver radio talk show host who challenged hate groups on the air. Further, the blueprint for the famous Brink's armored-car robbery in California can be found in The Turner Diaries.
McVeigh was not the only hater Pierce inspired. Buford Furrow, the supremacist who shot three small children, a teenager and a 68-year-old woman at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, Calif., studied Pierce's writings. When asked why he had gone on his rampage, Furrow told a reporter that he "wanted the shooting to be a wake-up call for America to kill Jews." He spoke the words of Earl Turner, protagonist of The Turner Diaries.
Although many average Americans have not heard of Pierce and have not read The Turner Diaries, others, such as KlanWatch founder Morris Dees, recognize Pierce's power and have tried to no avail to keep the novel off the nation's bookshelves.
In death, Pierce's influence will increase. And as the awful memory of the World Trade Center tragedies fades, the acolytes of Earl Turner will recommit themselves to hate. Already, hate sites on the Internet, while mourning, are re-energizing. Even though the organized militia movement has lost steam, its hate has not taken a holiday.
Schlesinger said that great men seem to dominate our lives and shape our destiny. I will add that we need not know that our lives and destiny are being shaped by such personalities. Whether we know it or not, every American's sense of security had been shaped to a large degree by Pierce before Sept. 11.
Again, Schlesinger: "Great men live dangerously. They introduce extremes into existence -- extremes of good, extremes of evil -- and ordinary men after a time flinch from the ultimates and yearn for undemanding security."
Does this, the yearning for undemanding security, sound familiar and contemporary? It should. Welcome to the age of Homeland Security. Welcome to the age of the Justice Department's new agency called Terrorism Information and Prevention System (TIPS), which uses a hand-picked group of workers, some with access to private information, to spy on fellow Americans.
Although Americans, like peoples elsewhere worldwide, are obsessed with Osama bin Laden, William Luther Pierce's domestic legacy of evil will stay with us, changing how we live, changing how we view ourselves as a people and as individuals. Organized hate is aware.