In 1978, a physics professor published his first novel, The Turner Diaries. Written in installments for a racist tabloid, William Pierce tells the story of Earl Turner, an underdog who successfully leads a violent race war, revenging himself and fellow whites against the socio-political order that would relegate them to a disenfranchised second-class. But for all the lasting influence of his novel—cited by figures from Timothy McVeigh to Richard Spencer—Pierce was hardly the first author to envision mass lynchings as the ultimate white supremacist corrective. In fact, Pierce was simply writing his generation’s Clansman.
The 1905 Thomas Dixon novel that served as the foundation for The Birth of a Nation, The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan hit all the right sentimental notes, as deployed to such different ends by Harriet Beecher Stowe and cut down in James Baldwin’s critique of sentimentality. Dixon masterfully describes the threat to white virtue by the emboldened post-Civil War blacks, lust-crazed and power-hungry. Compared with Dixon’s account of the South, overrun with Reconstruction-era black barbarism, Pierce’s novel offers us a vision of Dixon’s landscape left unchecked, of the risks posed to virtuous whites when “the day of the rope” is too long deferred.
French novelist Jean Raspail’s The Camp of the Saints (1973), an apocalyptic account of France overrun by a criminal class of African refugees, was lauded by one American reviewer as “the first significant racialist novel since” The Clansman, and is seeing renewed relevance through Steve Bannon’s invocation of Raspail’s dystopia as the threat against which his immigration policies are designed to defend. Raspail’s dystopia acts as an imaginative bridge from Dixon to Pierce. This paper looks to put all three novelists—Dixon, Raspail, and Pierce—in conversation, uncovering how the sentimental romance of Dixon’s anti-Reconstruction screed is appropriated and transformed into the Jewish throat-slashing rage of William Pierce, and how the 1970s affinity for Raspail’s novel anticipates the cross-Atlantic reliance on a shared economy of racist ideas and imagination.