Make-believe world inspires US terror

Ex-Python Terry Gilliam's anti-bureaucracy satire 'Brazil' is a cult for America's far right, Nick Toczek writes

AT THE beginning of April this year a caller identifying himself as "Tim Tuttle" left three urgent messages with a telephone answering service in Arizona that is operated for a group called the National Alliance.

The caller's real name was not Tuttle, but Timothy McVeigh, who ran an army surplus business in the Midwest with a friend, Terry Nichols. These two men are now awaiting trial on charges relating to the Oklahoma City bomb blast later that month, in which at least 168 people died. The telephone messages - among thousands of scraps of evidence thrown up in the aftermath of America's worst-ever terrorist outrage - provide important clues to the the character of the extreme right in America today. They link McVeigh in specific ways to a kind of fiction and fantasy that acts as a powerful drug to the scattered groups and embittered individuals who embrace racism and bigotry.

The name "Tuttle" was not an improvised nom de guerre: McVeigh had been using it for two years. In 1993, for instance, he used the name when he advertised an anti-tank weapon for sale in the racist newspaper Spotlight. According to Phil Morowski, a friend and neighbour of the Nichols family, McVeigh told him that he "needed an alias to protect himself from people at gun shows who disagreed with his political views".

Why Tuttle? The original Tuttle was a character in the 1985 film Brazil, directed by Terry Gilliam, the American in the Monty Python team. In the film, Harry Tuttle is a working man who rises up against blind bureaucracy and becomes the leader of an armed militia.

Played by Robert de Niro, the character is now a hero to the American far right. It seems that Gilliam's Python eye for the absurd spotted something that would acquire a more sinister meaning for Americans in the 1990s. The organisation that McVeigh was calling two weeks before the Oklahoma bombing, the National Alliance, also has one foot in the world of fiction, for it is run by William Pierce, the author of a novel described by the FBI as "the Bible of the racist right".

Tens of thousands of copies of The Turner Diaries have been sold since it first came out in 1978, and it is still selling well - this spring, before the Oklahoma bomb, Pierce received a fresh run of 21,000 copies from the printers. The book describes a future race war intended to ethnically cleanse America. One short passage gives an indication of its influence:

"At 9.15 yesterday morning our bomb went off in the FBI's national headquarters building. Our worries about the relatively small size of the bomb were unfounded: the damage was immense. Before five o'clock yesterday, I began helping Ed Sanders mix heating oil with the ammonium nitrate fertiliser . . . Meanwhile, George and Henry were out stealing a truck . . ."

The similarities to the real bomb that exploded in Oklahoma City are chilling: it went off just after 9am; it was planted outside a federal building; it consisted of ammonium nitrate fertiliser soaked in diesel oil; and it was packed into a hired truck. Tim McVeigh is known to have read The Turner Diaries while he was in the US army. Fellow soldiers remember him talking enthusiastically about it and encouraging them to read it. Indeed, he is reported to have given his copy to John Fulcher, a friend serving in his company, with the admonition to "keep it quiet" because he didn't want to get into trouble over it.

If the Oklahoma bombers drew direct inspiration from The Turner Diaries, they would not have been the first. The book served as a blueprint for a gang in the 1980s led by Robert Mathews, who bombed, murdered, robbed and forged in the name of right-wing ideology and distributed millions of dollars in booty to racist groups including the National Alliance. Though they were known to outsiders as The Order, they liked to refer to themselves as The Organisation, after the book's fictional group. Mathews spoke at the National Alliance's 1983 convention, calling for war against "the filthy, lying Jews and the parasitical usury system". A year later he was burned to death during a siege by federal officers and became a "race martyr" of the extreme right.

Pierce has made no attempt to distance himself from the Oklahoma attack. Indeed, he boasts of the possibility - already accepted by the FBI - that it was the "inspiration" for the bombing. Just five days after it, a speech by him appeared on the Internet. In it, Pierce called the US administration "gangsters", adding: "When a government engages in terrorism against its own citizens, it should not be surprised when some of those citizens strike back and engage in terrorism." He went on: "You are the real terrorists . . . the ones responsible for this bombing, for the deaths of these children."

While The Turner Diaries is down-the-line bigotry, the case of Brazil is different. It is an Orwellian tale, told through black comedy, in which the story of Harry Tuttle is a sub-plot. It was also made and set in Britain. What nerve has it touched in extremist America?

It opens with an urban bombing. A TV shop explodes, killing a passer- by pushing a pram. As a pile of televisions burns, one screen still functions. On it, a government representative talks of combating a wave of terrorism that has broken out in response to excessive taxation.

Tuttle, a heating engineer, commits the "crime" of repairing state-run home-heating systems and ends up an outlaw, or "freelance subversive". At one point, he complains that "the whole country's sectioned off - can't make a move without a form".

Many Americans - and not just those on the extreme right - can identify with Tuttle. Anti-tax protest and opposition to excessive government regulation run deep in American political culture, and the far right has simply taken them to extremes. To take just one example, last year the leader of the extremist Idaho Militia declared that America was on the verge of a new civil war and told his followers: "Go up and look legislators in the face, because some day you may have to blow it off." Brazil is the world as seen by these people. The state, they feel, is at war with them.

Of the bomb suspects, we know that Terry Nichols kept a library of anti- tax and anti-government literature and video tapes. He kept weapons too, and had three empty ammonium nitrate sacks, the fertiliser used in the bomb.

To such people, Harry Tuttle is a role model, and McVeigh is not the only one to have adopted his name. One Idaho Militia spokesman identified himself to reporters recently as Bill Tuttle. The connection between film and fact has come as a surprise to playwright Tom Stoppard, who co-wrote Brazil with Gilliam and Charles McKeown. "The subject-matter and the tone seem to me very distant from the agenda of the American right," he said. For him the association was with Orwell: "I used to say to Terry, 'Isn't this a bit of a retread? Isn't it Nineteen Eighty Four?' It wasn't until some time later that Terry [who wrote the first draft of the script] said to me that he had never seen or read Nineteen Eighty Four."

Robert de Niro, for his part, dismisses the link. "It's a long reach to make the connection between a role and actions of a madman 10 years later," he told one reporter.

It may be a long reach, but the connection has clearly been made, and perhaps we should not be surprised. From Disneyland to plastic surgery, Americans have been raised on the notion that fantasy can become reality. That is why an innocent black comedy like Brazil can be hijacked by extremists in this way - and why The Turner Diaries is now causing such concern. With the heavily-armed right-wing militia movement to which McVeigh was close reported to be three million strong in the US, the warnings of a new civil war seem less and less like fantasy. The last word goes to Pierce, who, describing his vision of the future in the aftermath of Oklahoma, foresaw "real terrorism - planned, organised terrorism - before too long . . . Americans will begin engaging in terrorism on a scale that the world has never seen before."

Nick Toczek is the author of 'The Nazi, the Klan and the Aryan Man', a history of the Anglo-American far right, to be published by AK Press at the end of the year.

Suggested Topics
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine