A thoroughly researched and incredibly expansive true crime text about a recent case and its social, political, and geographical contexts, Dick Lehr’s White Hot Hate (Mariner Books 2021) is perfect for readers interested in the US justice system and the complex consequences of fanaticism and misinformation.
Lehr’s book is a deep-dive into a 2016 case of domestic terrorism. As the 2016 election stirred up debates around immigration that led to hate speech, racism, and white nationalism, certain groups were emboldened to form quasi-militias in preparation for what they saw as the inevitable race war. One such group called themselves the Crusaders, and, as they heard a presidential candidate take nearly every opportunity to espouse his racist and Islamophobic ideologies on public platforms, they became emboldened to prepare to act on their belief that immigrants were fundamentally evil and preparing to dismantle the country from the inside out. The Crusaders targeted the growing Somali community in Garden City, Kansas.
For the Crusaders, having meetings to talk about their racist values wasn’t enough; the men hatched a plot to bomb a mosque in order to kill hundreds of people and, hopefully, inspire other militia groups to do the same. The book itself centers around Dan Day, a self-identified Republican who recognized the facial and racist foundations of the Crusader’s beliefs as deeply flawed and damaging. For eight months, Day infiltrated the group and fed information to the FBI in an effort to monitor the group and, eventually, stop them. White Hot Hate focuses on Day’s complex and often endangered position within the group, profiling the people and events that surrounded the case as a symptom of a wider cultural context and the dark turn of the US’s political climate in 2016.
Lehr’s text is expansive. He leaves no stoned unturned in his account of this case and the subsequent fallout. Anything from this history of Kansas as a state to the history of the FBI is explored here as it is relevant to Day’s position in the Crusaders. This is due partly to the fact that Lehr never wants the reader to forget that this case is symptomatic of a larger cultural shift in America around this time—and one that the US is still coping with. A presidential candidate gave public licence to people like the Crusaders to treat others as though their lives had no value, and Lehr underscores that this case is symbolically represents the dangers of a post-Trump world. Lehr’s expansiveness in this text, however, is also indicative of the amount of material he was forced to contend with in this book. As he points out in the introduction,
“White Hot Hate is a work of nonfiction about real people, real events, and a real place. No one’s name has been changed. The book is based on thousands of pages of sworn testimony and documents from a federal district court trial, a federal appeals court review, and investigatory reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Department of Justice. The latter includes at least a hundred hours of secretly recorded (audio and, at times, video) conversations involving the FBI informant Dan Day, the FBI undercover agent ‘Brian,’ and the three crusaders.”
Lehr’s work here seems monumental. In synthesizing thousands of pages and records into a coherent narrative, the text unspools slowly. While the pace may seem tedious for some, it was critical in the thematic development of White Hot Hate. Lehr’s research is accompanied by a unique degree of specificity that is truly admirable. He widens the scope of his text to make significant connections between this bombing plot and the current social climate. However, he also points out that there is light at the end of the tunnel by providing the perspectives and thoughts of several key Somali-American residents who could have lost their lives had things gone differently. This aspect of the book was very refreshing, as it sharply illustrated the dissonance between the militia’s views and the reality of the world without diminishing the significance of the racism encountered by Somali residents every day.
I was particularly interested in the complicated character of Dan Day. Lehr spends a significant amount of time detailing Day’s life history, his social position, and his motivations for informing on the Crusaders, as well as the emotional, psychological, and even physical toll this position took on him. His move from an average Kansas resident to FBI informant is a startling one, and it is one that we are asked to cope with alongside Day. Furthermore, it is obvious that Lehr himself was forced, to some degree, to contend with the dark and confused world of the Crusaders as well, as he recounts incidents of shocking racism, evil vocabulary, and dangerous plots. This book is not for the faint of heart in this respect; it truly is a descent into the worst aspects of a human’s mind—spurred by the encouragement of a group. As Day and Lehr, and, consequently, the reader encounters the inner workings of a militia group like this, it introduces us to a whole new (and very flawed) vocabulary that was terrifying at times.
If you’re interested in domestic terrorism, Trump’s America, and a thorough exploration of just a fraction of what these kind of ideologies can generate, White Hot Hate is the book for you.
Please add White Hot Hate to your Goodreads shelf.
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About the Writer:
Rachel M. Friars (she/her) is a PhD student in the Department of English Language and Literature at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. She holds a BA and an MA in English Literature with a focus on neo-Victorianism and adaptations of Jane Eyre. Her current work centers on neo-Victorianism and nineteenth-century lesbian literature and history, with secondary research interests in life writing, historical fiction, true crime, popular culture, and the Gothic. Her academic writing has been published with Palgrave Macmillan and in The Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies. She is a reviewer for The Lesbrary, the co-creator of True Crime Index, and an Associate Editor and Social Media Coordinator for PopMeC Research Collective. Rachel is co-editor-in-chief of the international literary journal, The Lamp, and regularly publishes her own short fiction and poetry. Find her on Twitter and Goodreads.
A digital copy of this book was graciously provided to True Crime Index from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.