When suspense novelist Stanley Ellin had his potential mass murderer create a manifesto about his plans and actions, he was making things up. The book that resulted, The Dark Fantastic, appeared in 1983. Perhaps Ellin drew inspiration from the letters that David Berkowitz, the ‘Son of Sam’ killer left. I don’t know. But there was no tradition of killers speaking this way, trying to justify themselves beyond the gun or the bomb.
Today, The Dark Fantastic is a chilling, prescient book.
Ellin’s potential mass murderer is a retired New York college professor whose mediocre career had left him with little sense of accomplishment. All he has is a house and apartment building he had inherited in a Brooklyn neighborhood now almost entirely African American. He is a bitter, angry, sexually repressed man who has stripped off the liberal veneer he had lived his life under to strike back at those he sees as having ruined his life.
Just as, in 1963, Eudora Welty was able to delve into the mind of Medgar Evers’ killer before knowing anything at all about him, Ellin provides us with a look inside those of the modern mass murderers who feel it necessary to leave what they call “manifestos,” though he was writing before any of them existed (the first major one was probably that of the Unabomber in 1995).
In his manifesto, a series of cassette recordings, Ellin’s character Charles Kiirwan says, “Destruction of life on any such scale will be a lesson burned deep into the public consciousness. An instantaneous, raging, fiery course of study in the social history of this time and this place” (6).
Chilling words. More so, today, as I read what El Paso killer Patrick Crusius posted. Like Kirwan, he blames his victims for his having to kill them: “They are the instigators, not me.” To Kirwan’s mind, he was simply living his life, a life buffeted, through no fault of his own, by invading Irish, Italians, and then African Americans. He saw, “the ancients trying to hold the world together… confronted by the upstarts driven to smash it apart” (268). That dovetails neatly with Crusius’ “America is rotting from the inside out, and peaceful means to stop this seem to be nearly impossible.”
“My whole life I have been preparing for a future that currently doesn’t exist” wrote Crusius. Kirwan, too, was raised to expectations that diminished and disappeared. His once prosperous family had started its decline before his own birth. He was unable to follow the family tradition to Princeton not for lack of ability (he was accepted) but lack of money. For both Kirwan and Crusius, the American Dream had burned down to ashes—and even those had been scooped up by ‘invaders’ whose lives were beyond their understanding.
Kirwan, though he does recognize his grandfather’s business incompetence, sees the first step to the disaster he believes is around him in his widowed mother’s marriage to an Irishman when he was five. That first invader literally made the others possible, for it was he who convinced the grandfather to build the apartment building in their house’s spacious yard. Kirwan’s feelings concerning his stepfather are complicated, however, as are his feelings towards African Americans, who he finds sexually desirable, though in a debasing fashion. Crusius’ statement, “I am against race mixing because it destroys genetic diversity and creates identity problems,” could have come from Kirwan even as he lusts after the young black women he peeps at through binoculars.
From what I understand, eleven American publishers refused The Dark Fantastic before The Mysterious Press published it. Kiirwan’s racism probably put them off and they likely claimed that any such screed as he had created was preposterous. They should have paid attention; all of us should have.
Racism in America has bubbled to the surface frequently in our country’s past. It is doing so again in part because we (whites and even quite a number of blacks) have tried to repress it, refusing to look at it, denying it because, having repressed it, it couldn’t be so easily seen. Yes, ease of access to high-powered, rapidly firing guns is part of the problem, but we will never solve our racial problems until we directly face the racism within white America, within all of “us.”
I did not want to read Crusius’ “manifesto.” I did so only because I had already been writing on Ellin’s book. But I should have done so because I care about fighting the racism once more on the verge of destroying our country. We can’t turn away from it any more than those publishers turned away from The Dark Fantastic only to find themselves in a position akin to what Tom Wingfield describes in The Glass Menagerie: “Their eyes had failed them or they had failed their eyes, and so they were having their fingers pressed forcibly down on the fiery Braille alphabet” of, in this case, American racism.
We ignore, and push all blame onto others, at our peril.