Ken Kesey’s Crypto-Nazi Numerology

Two days ago, a couple of skinheads were arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate Barack Obama an many other African-Americans.  After breathing a sigh of relief that these idiots got caught, one thing stood out: the neo-nazis have their own numerology!

In all, the two men whom officials describe as neo-Nazi skinheads planned to kill 88 people — 14 by beheading, according to documents unsealed in U.S. District Court in Jackson, Tenn. The numbers 88 and 14 are symbolic in the white supremacist community. […] The numbers 14 and 88 are symbols in skinhead culture, referring to a 14-word phrase attributed to an imprisoned white supremacist: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” and to the eighth letter of the alphabet, H. Two “8”s or “H”s stand for “Heil Hitler.”

Aside from being momentarily surprised that these guys could even count to eight, this sort of coded message doesn’t surprise me. Numbers have been used for centuries as short-circuit references to emotionally-charged subjects: 666, 911, hell, even 69.

Regarding the number 88, I was even more surprised to pick up Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion last night and read on page 76:

I half rose from my seat to demand of the grinning giant looming above me in a sweat shirt, number 88, “Whither wilt thou lead me?” fixing him with the most withering Shakespearean gaze my goof-balled eves could muster.

This is Leland Stanford Stamper, dreaming of a reunion with his older half-brother Hank, who has his own views about racial purity. On page 89, Hank brings up the “Family Anthem”, of which part is:

I figured … that we’re a family first, and that’s the most important. We got to keep ourselfs free of racial pollution. We ain’t some bunch o n——s or J–s or ordinary people; we’re Stampers.

Also interesting: On the bus trip home to confront the psychological mess he’s made of his relationship with Hank, Leland passes a road sign that says “88 Miles to Eugene’s Second Market”.

Could this 88-means-Hitler nonsense have been around in the early 1960’s when Kesey wrote his book? Could he have been aware of it and used it as a hidden shorthand for Hank Stamper’s racial attitudes, or of rural Oregonians in general? I suppose anything is possible.

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