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Context of '1928 and After: Objectivist Philosopher Touts Child Murderer as ‘Ideal Man’'

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Ayn Rand in her youth.Ayn Rand in her youth. [Source: Heritage American]“Objectivist” philosopher and burgeoning novelist Ayn Rand writes admiringly of one of her heroes, serial killer William Edward Hickman. She admires Hickman’s stated credo, “What is good for me is right.” In her journals, Rand writes in response, “The best and strongest expression of a real man’s psychology I have heard.” Rand is planning a novel, The Little Street, to feature a character based on Hickman, who she considers her “ideal man.” In her journals, Rand writes that Hickman “is born with a wonderful, free, light consciousness—[resulting from] the absolute lack of social instinct or herd feeling. He does not understand, because he has no organ for understanding, the necessity, meaning, or importance of other people.… Other people do not exist for him and he does not understand why they should.” Later in her journals, she clarifies her idealization of Hickman: “[My hero is] very far from him, of course. The outside of Hickman, but not the inside. Much deeper and much more. A Hickman with a purpose. And without the degeneracy. It is more exact to say that the model is not Hickman, but what Hickman suggested to me.” (Rand will never complete The Little Street.)
Torturer and Killer - According to author and biographer Michael Prescott, in 1928, Hickman is one of the most notorious criminals in America, a forger, armed robber, child kidnapper, and multiple murderer. As a child, he enjoyed torturing and killing small animals. As a young man, he engaged in a crime spree beginning in the Midwest and ending in California, robbing gas stations and drug stores, allegedly murdering a girl in Milwaukee, and murdering the grandfather of his crime partner in Pasadena. That partner later told police that Hickman often talked about his desire to kill and dismember someone someday. In 1927, he kidnapped a 12-year-old girl, Marion Parker, from her school and began taunting her wealthy father with ransom notes. (He called himself “a master mind” and “not a common crook” in those notes, and signed himself “The Fox,” writing, “Fox is my name, very sly you know.” After days of exchanging letters, Hickman accused the father of lying about his intention of paying the ransom and strangled Marion Parker with a towel. After she was dead, he dismembered the body with a pocket knife, wrapped up the separate remains, packed the remains into a car, and drove to meet the father, tossing body parts out of the car along the way. The father, believing his daughter to still be alive, gave $1,500 to Hickman. In return, Hickman threw the girl’s head and upper torso out of the car at the father’s feet and sped off. Hickman fled to Oregon, where he was arrested. He quickly confessed to the murder, at least one more murder, and the robberies. After failing to pin his crimes on another man (presumably his former partner), and unsuccessfully claiming his innocence by reason of insanity, Hickman will be executed at San Quentin Prison. Prescott will write of Hickman, “Hickman reportedly ‘died yellow’—he was dragged, trembling and fainting, to his execution, his courtroom bravado having given way at last.”
Idealizing a Sociopath? - In 2005, Prescott will ask if Rand’s “ideal man” was, in reality, a criminal sociopath, and if so, what that says of Rand’s own values and judgment. In 1928, Prescott notes, Rand is still in her twenties and heavily influenced by the egocentric philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche. Rand writes of Hickman that he represents “the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatsoever for all that a society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul.… Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should.” Hickman, she writes, is “a brilliant, unusual, exceptional boy” filled with “immense, explicit egotism.” (Some newspaper writers at the time compare Hickman to Nietzche’s “Superman,” writing that Hickman twisted Nietzsche’s teachings to suit his own ends.) Her defenders might argue, Prescott will write, that as Rand matures, she will grow out of her fascination with Nietzsche, and, by extension, Hickman, and evolve a more rational outlook. (Michael Prescott 2005; Ames 2/26/2010)
Anti-Social, Amoral Characters in Later Books - However, Prescott uses quotes from Rand’s later novels to show her ongoing fascination with amoral, self-centered characters and the philosophies that inform their worldviews. She will write in her notes for The Fountainhead: “One puts oneself above all and crushes everything in one’s way to get the best for oneself. Fine!” Her notes on her novel’s hero, Howard Roark, say that Roark “has learned long ago, with his first consciousness, two things which dominate his entire attitude toward life: his own superiority and the utter worthlessness of the world.… He was born without the ability to consider others.” In the original version of her first novel We the Living, the character Kira, whom Prescott characterizes as “Rand’s stand-in,” says, “What are your masses [of humanity] but mud to be ground underfoot, fuel to be burned for those who deserve it?” Prescott notes that the statement will be altered in subsequent publications. In her journals, Rand will write that man “is man only so long as he functions in accordance with the nature of a rational being. When he chooses to function otherwise, he is no longer man. There is no proper name for the thing which he then becomes.… When a man chooses to act in a sub-human manner, it is no longer proper for him to survive nor to be happy.” In her longest novel, 1957’s Atlas Shrugged, she will refer to a crowd of poor and starving people as “savages,” “refuse,” “inanimate objects,” and “imitations of living beings,” all patently beneath the heroes and heroines of her story. In the novel, a wealthy citizen striking against progressive taxation causes a train crash, and Rand will make it clear that the people who die in the crash deserve it because they supported the taxation policies that triggered the attack. Rand will continue to write admiringly of the Nietzschean concept of the “Superman” throughout her career. Columnist Johann Hari will write: “Her heroes are a cocktail of extreme self-love and extreme self-pity: They insist they need no one, yet they spend all their time fuming that the masses don’t bow down before their manifest superiority.” (Michael Prescott 2005; Hari 11/2/2009; Ames 2/26/2010)
Rand Admired by Many Modern Republicans - In 2010, liberal columnist Mark Ames will go farther than either Prescott or Hari and label Rand “a textbook sociopath,” adding: “In her notebooks Ayn Rand worshiped a notorious serial murderer-dismemberer, and used this killer as an early model for the type of ‘ideal man’ she promoted in her more famous books. These ideas were later picked up on and put into play by major right-wing figures of the past half decade, including the key architects of America’s most recent economic catastrophe—former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan and SEC Commissioner Chris Cox—along with other notable right-wing Republicans such as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Rush Limbaugh, and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.” Ames will note that many politicians aligned with the “tea party” movement, such as Representatives Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN) are outspoken Rand admirers. (Ames 2/26/2010) Hari will ask: “What I do find incomprehensible is that there are people—large numbers of people—who see her writing not as psychopathy but as philosophy, and urge us to follow her. Why?” (Hari 11/2/2009)

The Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) interviews David Barstow, the New York Times reporter who just published a front-page research article about the “tea party” movement (see February 15, 2010). Barstow says the article was sparked by the raucous, sometimes-violent events of the “town halls” of the summer of 2009 (see July 23, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 5, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6-7, 2009, August 6-8, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 11, 2009).
Joined Tea Party Express Bus Tour, Stayed in Spokane Afterwards - He joined the Tea Party Express bus tour (see August 28, 2009), and covered over 30 tea party rallies in a little over two weeks. Barstow realized, he says, that the Tea Party Express (TPE) was but one of many distinctive tea party organizations. TPE’s goal is to gain seats for Republicans in Congress, and the tour organizers “were not really representative of the tea party movement as a whole, which was very much a grassroots creation that was drawing in lots of newcomers who were extremely concerned about preserving their independence and not being co-opted.” Some tea party organizers agonized over whether to host the TPE tour in their towns. But, Barstow goes on to say, the bus tour itself was incidental to the final story. He was far more interested in the stories of ordinary Americans like Pam Stout, an interview subject who went from being completely uninvolved in politics to becoming president of her local tea party chapter. So many Americans’ lives have been impacted by the recession, Barstow says, and many of those people have turned to their local tea parties to try to get involved in a movement to express their frustrations and perhaps do something about the government that they blame for allowing the economy to fail. The other driving force behind the tea parties, he says, is the members’ overwhelming fear of “impending tyranny.” Most tea partiers fear that American democracy will disappear, perhaps during their own lifetimes, to be replaced by some form of dictatorship or “one-world government” (see February 4-8, 2010). After the TPE bus tour concluded, Barstow stayed in Spokane, Washington, for the month of October 2009, interviewing many tea partiers and affiliated people. He chose the area because of its history of anti-government activism. He says he wanted to cover not just formal tea party organizations, but other groups with connections to the tea parties, including the 9/12 movement (see March 13, 2009 and After), the John Birch Society (JBS—see March 10, 1961 and December 2011), the Campaign for Liberty, and groups with strong ties to white supremacist militia organizations. From time spent in and around Spokane, he learned that the area’s tea parties are quite disparate and factionalized, though “you can make too much of that. If you spend enough time talking to people in the movement, eventually you hear enough of the same kinds of ideas, the same kinds of concerns, and you begin to recognize what the ideology is, what the paradigm is that they’re operating in.… There’s a fear that both parties have been complicit in this giant charade that has done enormous damage to ordinary Americans. It’s very complex, and yet at the same time there is something coherent about it.”
Increasing Militia Influence - Barstow says the influence of far-right, white supremacist militia groups on the tea party organizations in the Northwest and other areas is increasing. Even tea partiers who do not belong to or support militias often accept the idea of militias and civilian paramilitary training (see April 8, 2009, May 8-15, 2009, January 14, 2010, February 2010, July 23, 2010, August 24, 2010, August 24, 2010, and May 5, 2011).
Understanding the Tea Parties - To understand the tea parties, Barstow says, one must read the literature that informs the movement. He recommends reading books such as W. Cleon Skousen’s The 5000-Year Leap, a radical reinterpretation of the US Constitution; Edward Griffin’s The Creature from Jekyll Island, a book purporting to prove the Federal Reserve is a fraudulent institution; and Atlas Shrugged, the novel by Ayn Rand that explicates her “objectivist” social philosophy. Barstow says the tea party movement is informed by “a robust intellectual subculture” that helps shape members’ world views. According to Barstow, the tea parties are not, as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has maintained, becoming the activist conservative wing of the Republican Party (see April 21, 2010), but something more. “They are seeking a bigger transformation than just nudging the Republican Party a little bit to the right,” Barstow says. “A lot of the coverage is about how these people want smaller government and less taxation. That’s true, and yet it doesn’t completely get what’s going on.” (Marx 2/18/2010)

Billionaire oil magnate David Koch, who with his brother Charles Koch has become one of the driving financial forces behind the US conservative political movement (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1997, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, November 2009, December 6, 2009, April 2010 and After, July 3-4, 2010, June 26-28, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011, and February 14, 2011), gives an interview to the Palm Beach Post’s Stacey Singer. Koch, who rarely gives interviews, chose to meet with Singer because of her background as a health and science writer, according to Koch spokesperson Cristyne Nicholas. The interview focuses in part on the cancer research underway at the University of Texas’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, where Koch is being treated for prostate cancer. However, the interview also touches on the Koch brothers’ political participation. Singer begins her report of the interview by informing her readers of the media portrayal of the “secretive” brothers and their construction of what she calls “a clandestinely built political machine that disdains government regulation and taxes, obfuscates the science on global warming, and now pulls the strings of decision-makers at every level, from Florida Tea Party members to Wisconsin state senators—even US Supreme Court justices.” She writes that Koch seems “baffled” by that perception, saying: “They make me sound like a bully. Do I look like a bully?” According to Singer, Koch wants to improve his media image. The Koch brothers have given, Singer reports, “many millions to far-right organizations dedicated to spreading an Ayn Rand-infused ideology, one in which a benevolent business class flourishes, unfettered by taxes and regulations. Some have called it free-market fundamentalism.” Nicholas says Koch wants to be remembered more for his philanthropy than his political involvement. “That’s what his legacy will hopefully be: finding a cure for cancer,” she writes. “That is his goal in life right now and it far exceeds any political views he has. Which are strong.” Koch is proud of his political activism, admitting without restraint his organizations’ involvement in protecting Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) from being recalled. “We’re helping him, as we should. We’ve gotten pretty good at this over the years,” he says. “We’ve spent a lot of money in Wisconsin. We’re going to spend more.” The “we” in his statement is primarily Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see Late 2004), the “astroturf” lobbying and advocacy organization that is spending some $700,000 on a single advertisement buy in Wisconsin on Walker’s behalf, an ad that makes statements many union members and public workers say is filled with false and misleading praise for Walker’s policies. In a now-famous prank phone call, a blogger posing as Koch got Walker to say that his goal was to “crush” Wisconsin’s unions, a goal Koch may share, though he is more circumspect in his language. “What Scott Walker is doing with the public unions in Wisconsin is critically important,” Koch says after an expansive dinner featuring salmon and white wine. “He’s an impressive guy and he’s very courageous. If the unions win the recall, there will be no stopping union power.” Nicholas later “clarifies” Koch’s remarks, saying: “Koch companies support voluntary associations, and where they so choose, we recognize employees’ rights to be represented and bargain collectively. We think the best workplace relationships are fostered when the employer works directly with its employees. It is a mischaracterization of our principles to say this means we oppose unions or want to dismantle all unions.” Singer writes that Koch’s usage of the term “union power” seems as biting as one might have said “Bolshevik” in an earlier time—“a new red scare for a new century,” she writes. Besides funding such organizations as AFP, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Republican Governors Association, the American Legislative Exchange Council (where, Singer writes, “copycat conservative legislation is passed among conservative state politicos”), and others, the Koch brothers are one of the most powerful and influential financial forces behind the “tea party” movement, largely through AFP. Singer conducts the interview on February 11; the Palm Beach Post publishes the report based on the interview on February 20. (Singer 2/20/2012; Nichols 2/20/2012) Koch’s public admission of support for Walker could constitute a violation of the laws administering such “nonprofit” organizations as AFP, according to one journalist (see February 20, 2012).

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