“The Anarchist Cookbook should go quietly and immediately out of print,” its author William Powell told NBC news this week. “It is no longer responsible or defensible to keep it in print.” The book, first published in 1971 contains, among other things, instructions for bombmaking, sabotaging communications devices and manufacturing illegal drugs – though it also includes urban myths and, according to many, it is full of errors. It’s one thing a cookbook getting the recipe for scones wrong; something else when the “recipe” is for TNT.
It has been linked to numerous incidents of terrorism and failed plots. The first was in 1976, with the book said to have inspired the group of Croatian nationalists who hijacked a plane and planted a bomb at Grand Central Station, New York. Most famously, the book has been linked to the Oklahoma bombing, and the Columbine high school killings. A classmate of Karl Pierson, who opened fire in a high school in Colorado last week, claimed he had been reading it.
Powell, now in his 60s and working as a teacher trainer, wrote the book when he was a teenager, taking most of the information from military manuals at the New York public library. When it was published, the copyright remained with the publisher, not Powell, who has no rights over his work. He wrote in the mid-70s to ask for the book to be withdrawn but the publisher refused. Since then, the rights have been sold on.
The name of the book has also been taken by others who have written their own updated versions and posted them on the internet, which makes it hard to know if those found in possession of material have Powell’s original or a newer “book” often distributed online. Material said to have come from the Anarchist Cookbook was discovered on broken CDs in a flat used by the 7 July bombers. In April three members of a Birmingham terror cell were jailed for planning an attack, with another eight members also sentenced; one of the ringleaders, Irfan Naseer, was found to have a copy. In 2010, when a white supremacist, Ian Davison, was jailed for making ricin, a chemical agent, the judge said Amazon should stop selling the book in the UK (Davison had circulated its bombmaking instructions).
In 2000, Powell posted a message on the book’s Amazon page. He wrote it, he said, when he was 19 “and the Vietnam war and the so-called ‘counter culture movement’ were at their height. I was involved in the anti-war movement and attended numerous peace rallies and demonstrations. The book, in many respects, was a misguided product of my adolescent anger at the prospect of being drafted and sent to Vietnam to fight in a war that I did not believe in … The central idea to the book was that violence is an acceptable means to bring about political change. I no longer agree with this.” That teenage action clearly haunts him, and has had bigger consequences than he could ever have foreseen.
[Molotov cocktail via Shutterstock]