Mike Harvkey's novel In the Course of Human Events, just out in paperback, takes a scathing, provocative look at American extremism with the story of a regular man lured into the orbit of an extreme right-wing group and its charismatic leader. While researching his novel, Harvkey discovered the darker side of literature. Here's what he found.

The last time I saw my best childhood friend, we got in a fight over a book. We were standing around outside the community center, taking a break from the high school reunion I’d flown back to Missouri to attend. I’d long known that my friend was an extremist. He was the first of us to drink, to smoke weed, snort crank; he wanted everything, in heaping helpings. While most of us dabbled, he dove, hard head first. Being his wingman through high school and for a few years after was dangerous and fun. By the time of this reunion, though, he’d beat all of his addictions with God—for starters. Standing in the cold so he could smoke (his only remaining vice), he wanted to convert me, and his secret weapon was a book. But it wasn’t the Bible.

The book was Behold a Pale Horse, a dense, sloppy mess that warns, among other things, of the U.S. government’s secret plan to force every American to get a bar-code tattoo for tracking purposes (I guess Apple beat them to it). As my friend relayed the book’s warnings with palpable dread, I couldn’t help but ask, “How can you fall for this crap?” Our argument ended with both of us walking away angry, followed by an entire decade without contact. When I started writing my first novel, about an angry young man drawn into the patriot movement, it was my friend’s unsettling conversion that inspired it most.

In order to really understand the mindset of the foot soldiers of the patriot movement, I had to read the books they read, polemics masquerading as novels and cheaply-printed nonfiction farragoes that were traded or bought at gun shows, or downloaded from websites. Though some of the titles I read may be familiar to the average American, few outside the patriot movement have any idea what they actually propose.

It’s easy to forget the impact that a book can have on an individual—especially on a young, impressionable, marginalized, pissed off, typically male individual. What I learned over the course of reading over 2,000 pages actually frightened me.

The Turner Diaries by Andrew Macdonald, pen name of William Luther Pierce (1933-2002), the former head of the white separatist organization National Alliance (Vanguard was founded by members of the National Alliance).

Published in 1978 by National Vanguard Books.

This novel, written in diary form, traces the social awakening of Earl Turner, a law-abiding gun owner who joins the resistance after the U.S. government abolishes the 2nd Amendment and begins house-to-house gun raids. After nuking modern day Gomorrah New York (plus many other major American cities) and taking out the federal government, the resistance goes global, dropping Nuclear bombs on one non-white country after another in an ultimately successful effort to hang a big “whites only” sign on Planet Earth. Obviously, the book is aggressively racist and incredibly offensive. It’s also the most competently written of these four books, with a propulsive plot and a character arc in the form of Turner’s transformation from skeptic to believer. Until it goes off the rails near the end, it’s a real page turner, which probably explains its lasting impact.

No one illustrates this novel’s special place in the patriot movement better than Timothy McVeigh, who sold copies of it off the trunk of his car just outside the police barrier in Waco, TX., during the siege. He also had pages of the book in his pocket the day he bombed Oklahoma City, two years after Waco to the day. In an interview he gave while awaiting trial, McVeigh said, “If people say The Turner Diaries was my Bible, Unintended Consequences [published the year after the Oklahoma City bombing] would be my New Testament…. It might have changed my whole plan of operations if I’d read that one first.”

On Amazon, The Turner Diaries has 307 customer reviews (“A bit more upsetting than your average idealist book;” “Fascinating, but not for everyone.”). Sales-to-date, via Nielsen BookScan, are 30,597, though the actual number of copies in circulation is certainly much, much higher, since this book is mostly acquired at gun shows and anti-government rallies, or downloaded.

Unintended Consequences by John Ross

Published in 1996 by Accurate Press (publisher of “books of interest to the gun culture and libertarians”).

Written by John Ross, a financial advisor who lost a bid for a U.S. Congress seat in my home state of Missouri in 1998. Fun fact: Ross sells a custom designed, limited edition .500 large bore Magnum handgun, “for those circumstances where there is no such thing as too much power.”

At 800 pages, this door stopper novel fictionalizes everything from the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising to, yes, the Oklahoma City Bombing, turning history into one big polemic against gun control. The plot pits renaissance übermensch Henry Bowman against crooked ATF agents. To kill as many agents as possible, Henry pairs up with a Lisbeth Salander male fantasy in the form of Cindy Caswell, a Mob sex slave turned gun-toting lesbian sidekick.

On Amazon this book has 472 customer reviews, with a 4.5-star average (a sliver higher than the average for All the Light We Cannot See, winner of this year’s fiction Pulitzer Prize). The top most helpful customer review is titled, “A life-changing book!!” Others proclaim, “It Changed My Thinking”; “Fiction Based on Fact?”; and “AN ABSOLUTE MUST-READ” (this reviewer makes liberal use of ALL-CAPS). Sales-to-date, via Nielsen BookScan are on the low end at 14,116. But chances are many readers bought this directly from the publisher or downloaded a PDF.

On his blog, “Ross in Range,” the author claimed to be working on a sequel.

The White Man’s Bible by Ben Klassen

Published in 1981 by the Creativity Alliance.

Written by Ben Klassen, Ukraine-born real estate developer, entrepreneur, and white supremacist who left the John Birch Society because it wasn’t radical enough. He was briefly a member of the Florida House of Representatives and founded Church of the Creator, whose belief system states that race, not religion, is the embodiment of absolute truth. In 2003, Church of the Creator changed its name to Creativity Alliance for legal reasons.

This is the most popular of three books published by the Church of the Creator chronicling Klassen’s beliefs about and hopes for the white race. As stated in the foreword, the first book—Nature’s Eternal Religion—was “basically concerned with race and religion as it applied to the White Race”; the second volume shifted focus inward, to address “our physical health and well being” (white men are urged to adopt the raw food diet, for instance). The book unfolds as 73 “Creative Credos” that tackle—with liberal use of bold formatting—specific areas of concern to the health of the white race. Fight or Die! “We Can’t Win!” – The Most Common Alibi of the Cop-Out Mentality is one example. Life, Death, and Immortality, another example, explains the Church’s rejection of the Christian belief in an afterlife, urging white people to instead address their challenges in this life. “Whereas we have no concern whatsoever for the time in which our sun might become an ice ball,” Klassen writes, “we are very much concerned about the survival of our race, especially in the present generation, probably the most critical period in the history of the White Race in the last 100,000 years. We are acutely aware that in order to survive we must first overcome our deadly enemies, of which the tribe of Judah is No. 1.”

Like The Turner Diaries, the central argument of The White Man’s Bible—that the white race, facing extinction, needs to fight back—has inspired real-world violence, including the 1992 murder, by a “Creator” (as members call themselves) of an African-American Gulf War Veteran.

On Amazon this book has just 30 customer reviews, with a 4-star average. One satisfied customer writes, “Good read.” Since bookstores don’t stock this, there’s no way of knowing how many copies are in circulation. I downloaded a PDF from the publisher’s website. In 1993, at the age of 75, Klassen killed himself.

Behold a Pale Horse by William Cooper

Published in 1991 by Light Technology Publishing.

One of the main arguments Cooper makes in this crazed emporium of conspiracy is that in 1954 Dwight D. Eisenhower negotiated a treaty with extraterrestrials and the Illuminati to secretly run America. Now the state we’re in finally makes sense.

Over the course of 500 pages Cooper repeatedly claims (claims that have been repeatedly challenged) to have held top-secret clearance with Navy Intelligence in Vietnam, where from his gunboat he “noticed that there was a lot of UFO activity" "especially in the DMZ.” At times the book looks like a high school student’s art project, with fonts and formatting changes chapter to chapter, and some sections consisting of nothing more than near incoherent text followed by a line from Cooper akin to “Makes you think, don’t it!” In addition to UFOs and bar-code tattoos, there are warnings about FEMA, the New World Order, the government HIV conspiracy, the coming Ice Age and more. Much more.

On Amazon this book has 608 customer reviews, with a 4-star average. “Knowledge is power,” writes one reviewer. “A must read!!!” says another. For one customer Cooper seems to recall Steve Martin: “A Wild and Crazy Guy.” Sales-to-date, via Nielsen BookScan, are 254,442 (including over 3,000 so far this year). Let’s just take a moment here. This book has sold over a quarter of a million copies. It continues to sell steadily. I actually bought the audiobook of this, read by Cooper himself. “There exists a great army of occupationally-orphaned children,” he states in his awkward, resonant baritone. “They are attending government-controlled daycare centers. There are latchkey kids who are running wild in the streets, and the lopsided emotionally wounded children of single welfare mothers, born only for the sake of more money in the monthly check.”

After publishing this book, Cooper aligned himself less with aliens and more with patriots. In 1998 he was charged with tax evasion. Cooper ignored the charges (like Terry Nichols, currently serving 161 consecutive life sentences in a Colorado Supermax for assisting McVeigh, Cooper probably thought of the IRS as a rogue agency). In late 2001, Cooper got into a standoff with authorities outside his Arizona home and was shot to death.