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Fatwah / February 26, 2010
rand family3a
This article first appeared in Alternet.

There’s something deeply unsettling about living in a country where millions of people froth at the mouth at the idea of giving health care to the tens of millions of Americans who don’t have it, or who take pleasure at the thought of privatizing and slashing bedrock social programs like Social Security or Medicare. It might not be as hard to stomach if other Western countries also had a large, vocal chunk of the population who thought like this, but the US is seemingly the only place where right-wing elites can openly share their distaste for the working poor. Where do they find their philosophical justification for this kind of attitude?

It turns out, you can trace much of this thinking back to Ayn Rand, a popular cult-philosopher who plays Charlie to the American right-wing’s Manson Family. Read on and you’ll see why.

One reason why most countries don’t find the time to embrace her thinking is that Ayn Rand is a textbook sociopath. Literally a sociopath: Ayn Rand, in her notebooks, worshiped a notorious serial murderer-dismemberer, and used this killer as an early model for the type of “ideal man” that Rand promoted in her more famous books — ideas which 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.

The loudest of all the Republicans, right-wing attack-dog pundits and the Teabagger mobs fighting to kill health care reform and eviscerate “entitlement programs” increasingly hold up Ayn Rand as their guru. Sales of her books have soared in the past couple of years; one poll ranked “Atlas Shrugged” as the second most influential book of the 20th century, after The Bible.

rand family protest3

So what, and who, was Ayn Rand for and against? The best way to get to the bottom of it is to take a look at how she developed the superhero of her novel, Atlas Shrugged, John Galt. Back in the late 1920s, as Ayn Rand was working out her philosophy, she became enthralled by a real-life American serial killer, William Edward Hickman, whose gruesome, sadistic dismemberment of 12-year-old girl named Marion Parker in 1927 shocked the nation. Rand filled her early notebooks with worshipful praise of Hickman. According to biographer Jennifer Burns, author of Goddess of the Market, Rand was so smitten by Hickman that she modeled her first literary creation — Danny Renahan, the protagonist of her unfinished first novel, The Little Street — on him.

What did Rand admire so much about Hickman? His sociopathic qualities: “Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should,” she wrote, gushing that Hickman had “no regard whatsoever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He can never realize and feel ‘other people.'”

This echoes almost word for word Rand’s later description of her character Howard Roark, the hero of her novel The Fountainhead: “He was born without the ability to consider others.”

(The Fountainhead is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s favorite book — he even makes his clerks learn it.)


I’ll get to where Rand picked up her silly Superman blather from later — but first, let’s meet William Hickman, the “genuinely beautiful soul” and inspiration to Ayn Rand. What you will read below — the real story, details included, of what made Hickman a “Superman” in Ayn Rand’s eyes — is rather gory reading, even if you’re a longtime fan of true crime “Death Porn” — so prepare yourself. Because you should read this to give Rand’s ideas their proper context, and to repeat this over and over until all of America understands what made this fucked-up Russian nerd’s mind tick, because Rand’s influence over the very people leading the fight to kill social programs, and her ideological influence on so many powerful bankers, regulators and businessmen who brought the financial markets crashing down, means that it’s suicide to ignore her, no matter how dumb, silly or beneath you her books and ideas are.

Rand fell for William Edward Hickman in the late 1920s, as the shocking story of Hickman’s crime started to grip the nation. His crime, trial and case was a non-stop headline grabber for months; the OJ Simpson of his day:

Hickman, who was only 19 when he was arrested for murder, was the son of a paranoid-schizophrenic mother and grandmother. His schoolmates said that as a kid Hickman liked to strangle cats and snap the necks of chickens for fun — most of the kids thought he was a budding maniac, though the adults gave him good marks for behavior, a typical sign of sociopathic cunning. He enrolled in college but quickly dropped out, and quickly turned to violent crime largely driven by the thrill and arrogance typical of sociopaths: in a brief and wild crime spree that grew increasingly violent, Hickman knocked over dozens of gas stations and drug stores across the Midwest and west to California. Along the way it’s believed he strangled a girl in Milwaukee, and killed his crime partner’s grandfather in Pasadena, tossing his body over a bridge after taking his money. Hickman’s partner later told police that Hickman told him how much he’d like to kill and dismember a victim someday — and that day did come for Hickman.

One afternoon, Hickman drove up to Mount Vernon Junior High school in Los Angeles, and told administrators that he’d come to pick up “the Parker girl” — her father, Perry Parker, was a prominent banker. Hickman didn’t know the girl’s first name, so when he was asked which of the two Parker twins — Hickman answered, “the younger daughter.” And then he corrected himself: “The smaller one.” The school administrator fetched young Marion, and brought her out to Hickman. No one suspected his motive; Marion obediently followed Hickman to his car as she was told, where he promptly kidnapped her. He wrote a ransom note to Marion’s father, demanding $1,500 for her return, promising that the girl would be left unharmed. Marion was terrified into passivity — she even waited in the car for Hickman when he went to mail his letter to her father. Hickman’s extreme narcissism comes through in his ransom letters, as he refers to himself as a “master mind [sic]” and “not a common crook.” Hickman signed his letters “The Fox” because he admired his own cunning: “Fox is my name, very sly you know.” And then he threatened: “Get this straight. Your daughter’s life hangs by a thread.”

Marian Parker (1915-1927) by peril61

Hickman and the girl’s father exchanged letters over the next few days as they arranged the terms of the ransom, while Marion obediently followed her captor’s demands. She never tried to escape the hotel where he kept her; Hickman even took her to a movie, and she never screamed for help. She remained quiet and still as told when Hickman tied her to the chair — he didn’t even bother gagging her because there was no need to, right up to the gruesome end.

Hickman’s last ransom note to Marion’s father is where this story reaches its disturbing apex: Hickman fills the letter with hurt anger over her father’s suggestion that Hickman might deceive him, and “ask you for your $1500 for a lifeless mass of flesh I am base and low but won’t stoop to that depth.” What Hickman didn’t say was that as he wrote the letter, Marion was already several chopped-up lifeless masses of flesh. Why taunt the father? Why feign outrage? This sort of bizarre taunting was all part of the serial killer’s thrill, maximizing the sadistic pleasure he got from knowing that he was deceiving the father before the father even knew what happened to his daughter. But this was nothing compared to the thrill Hickman got from murdering the helpless 12-year-old Marion Parker. Here is an old newspaper description of the murder, taken from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on December 27, 1927:

“It was while I was fixing the blindfold that the urge to murder came upon me,” he continued, “and I just couldn’t help myself. I got a towel and stepped up behind Marian. Then before she could move, I put it around her neck and twisted it tightly. I held on and she made no outcry except to gurgle. I held on for about two minutes, I guess, and then I let go. When I cut loose the fastenings, she fell to the floor. I knew she was dead. Well, after she was dead I carried her body into the bathroom and undressed her, all but the underwear, and cut a hole in her throat with a pocket knife to let the blood out.”

Another newspaper account dryly explained what Hickman did next:

Then he took a pocket knife and cut a hole in her throat. Then he cut off each arm to the elbow. Then he cut her legs off at the knees. He put the limbs in a cabinet. He cut up the body in his room at the Bellevue Arms Apartments. Then he removed the clothing and cut the body through at the waist. He put it on a shelf in the dressing room. He placed a towel in the body to drain the blood. He wrapped up the exposed ends of the arms and waist with paper. He combed back her hair, powdered her face and then with a needle fixed her eyelids. He did this because he realized that he would lose the reward if he did not have the body to produce to her father.

Hickman packed her body, limbs and entrails into a car, and drove to the drop-off point to pick up his ransom; along his way he tossed out wrapped-up limbs and innards scattering them around Los Angeles. When he arrived at the meeting point, Hickman pulled Marion’s head and torso out of a suitcase and propped her up, her torso wrapped tightly, to look like she was alive–he sewed wires into her eyelids to keep them open, so that she’d appear to be awake and alive. When Marion’s father arrived, Hickman pointed a sawed-off shotgun at him, showed Marion’s head with the eyes sewn open (it would have been hard to see for certain that she was dead), and then took the ransom money and sped away. As he sped away, he threw Marion’s head and torso out of the car, and that’s when the father ran up and saw his daughter–and screamed.

marian body1

Marion Parker’s discarded limbs

This is the “amazing picture” Ayn Rand — guru to the Republican/Tea Party right-wing — admired when she wrote in her notebook that Hickman represented “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.”

Other people don’t exist for Ayn, either. Part of her ideas are nothing more than a ditzy dilettante’s bastardized Nietzsche — but even this was plagiarized from the same pulp newspaper accounts of the time. According to an LA Times article in late December 1927, headlined “Behavioralism Gets The Blame,” a pastor and others close to the Hickman case denounce the cheap trendy Nietzschean ideas that Hickman and others latch onto as a defense:

“Behavioristic philosophic teachings of eminent philosophers such as Nietzsche and Schopenhauer have built the foundation for William Edward Hickman’s original rebellion against society…” the article begins.

hickman hanged

The fear that some felt at the time was that these philosophers’ dangerous, yet nuanced ideas would fall into the hands of lesser minds, who would bastardize Nietzsche and Schopenhauer and poison the rest of us. Which aptly fits the description of Ayn Rand, whose philosophy developed out of her admiration for “Supermen” like Hickman. Rand’s philosophy can be summed up by the title of one of her best-known books:The Virtue of Selfishness. She argues that all selfishness is a moral good, and all altruism is a moral evil, even “moral cannibalism” to use her words. To her, those who aren’t like-minded sociopaths are “parasites” and “lice” and “looters.”

But with Rand, there’s something more pathological at work. She’s out to make the world more sociopath-friendly so that people like Ayn and her hero William Hickman can reach their full potential, not held back by the morality of the “weak,” whom Rand despised.

That’s what makes it so creepy how Rand and her followers clearly get off on hating and bashing those they perceived as weak–Rand and her followers have a kind of fetish for classifying weaker, poorer people as “parasites” and “lice” who need to swept away. This is exactly the sort of sadism, bashing the helpless for kicks, that Rand’s hero Hickman would have appreciated. What’s really unsettling is that even former Central Bank chief Alan Greenspan, whose relationship with Rand dated back to the 1950s, did some parasite-bashing of his own. In response to a 1957 New York Times book review slamming Atlas Shrugged, Greenspan, defending his mentor, published a letter to the editor that ends:

Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should.

Alan Greenspan

As much as Ayn Rand detested human “parasites,” there is one thing she strongly believed in: creating conditions that increase the productivity of her Supermen – the William Hickmans who rule her idealized America: “If [people] place such things as friendship and family ties above their own productive work, yes, then they are immoral. Friendship, family life and human relationships are not primary in a man’s life. A man who places others first, above his own creative work, is an emotional parasite.”

ayn rand2

The Psychohead

And yet Republican faithful like GOP Congressman Paul Ryan read Ayn Rand and declare, with pride, “Rand makes the best case for the morality of democratic capitalism.” Indeed. Except that Ayn Rand also despised democracy, as she declared: “Democracy, in short, is a form of collectivism, which denies individual rights: the majority can do whatever it wants with no restrictions. In principle, the democratic government is all-powerful. Democracy is a totalitarian manifestation; it is not a form of freedom.”

“Collectivism” is another one of those Randian epithets popular among her followers. Here for example is another Republican member of Congress, the one with the freaky thousand-yard-stare, Michelle Bachman, parroting the Ayn Rand ideological line, to explain her reasoning for wanting to kill social programs:

“As much as the collectivist says to each according to his ability to each according to his need, that’s not how mankind is wired. They want to make the best possible deal for themselves.”

Whenever you hear politicians or Tea Baggers dividing up the world between “producers” and “collectivism,” just know that those ideas and words more likely than not are derived from the deranged mind of a serial-killer groupie. When you hear them threaten to “Go John Galt,” hide your daughters and tell them not to talk to any strangers — or Tea Party Republicans. And when you see them taking their razor blades to the last remaining programs protecting the middle class from total abject destitution — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — and brag about their plans to slash them for “moral” reasons, just remember Ayn’s morality and who inspired her.

rand family kids

William Hickman’s wet dream come true.

Too many critics of Ayn Rand would rather dismiss her books and ideas as laughable, childish, hackneyed, lame, embarrassing–“Nietzsche for sorority girls” was how I used to dismiss her. I did that with the Christian Right, like a lot of people who didn’t want to take on something as big, bland and impervious as them. Too many of us focused elsewhere–until it was too late and the Christian fundamentalist crazies took over America. So this time I’m paying more attention–late as usual, but maybe there’s still time to head off the worst that’s yet to come–because Rand’s name keeps foaming out of the mouths of the Teabagger crowd and the elite conservative circuit in Washington. Ayn Rand is the guru, and they are the “Rand Family” followers carrying out her vision. The only way to protect ourselves from this thinking is the way you protect yourself from serial killers: smoke the Rand followers out, make them answer for following the crazed ideology of a serial-killer-groupie, and run them the hell out of town and out of our hemisphere.

Mark Ames is the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine.

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Add your own

  • 1. haha  |  May 1st, 2012 at 10:58 am

    Notice how Hickman used to kill only girls and defenseless old men, that’s cuz he was too much of a pussy to take on someone his own size, i don’t call that a sociopath i call that a fucking pussy and for Rand there’ll always be some retarded masochistic bitch to worship pussies like Hickman.

  • 2. EA  |  June 1st, 2012 at 2:05 am

    Ayn Rand’s philosophies are the articulations of what I’ve believed all along. We are born and die alone– why not live out the space between in pursuit of singular, transcendental greatness? The world’s greatest thinkers and artists have frequently been selfish, cruel people.

    Writing or creating art is one of the most selfish acts imaginable to begin with. The pure indulgence of an individual’s thought processes, the realization of them and materialization of them isn’t a philanthropic venture.

    It’s every man for himself. Or woman, in my own case.


  • 3. EA  |  June 1st, 2012 at 2:08 am

    And as for the article. Of course, I am a Randroid cultist who grew up a teased nerd and wanted revenge on the world, just like Ayn did.

  • 4. SW  |  July 5th, 2012 at 10:07 am

    @EA: You say “We are born and die alone– why not live out the space between in pursuit of singular, transcendental greatness?”

    It is the definition of singular, transcendental greatness that is the subject of debate. If greatness means the ability to accumulate large sums of money, then the leaders of drug cartels, murderous dictatorial tyrants and lottery winners would all be deemed so.

    I have read all Ayn Rand’s writings and the best of her philosophy is that an artist needs to create according to their own voice. That does not mean all art is “good”, likeable or even a great achievement. It does mean people viewing the art are required to think, and in my mind that is a good thing.

    After many additional years of living, I have come to understand while there is such a thing as an absolute, e.g.: death, the indifference of the planet to the survivial of our own (or any) species; it does not logically follow that hard work, intelligence and talent lead one to a life of fabulous income, power and independence.

    If the government does not understand that ensuring our most vulnerable people do not fall into lives of unrelenting poverty and illness… we are lost. Desperate circumstances create panic and that is the exact opposite of rational thought processes.

    The US is slowing disintegrating under the weight of economic decline, yet the loudest, most vociferous voices are those clamouring for rollback of healthcare. These are not rational, disinterested minds, they are emotionally overwrought misanthropes.

  • 5. dr. Corbet  |  July 27th, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    ea…art is selfishness? wow. there are selfish people in every pursuit. then there are devouted artists who give up so-called money or power career options in the pursuit of the art itself. why? because they believe they are contributing to their culture, to the goodness of the community, to the art itself. they are one with humanity by serving their art and spend every creative second to that path. these artists are kind and loving, giving individuals who teach and sacrifice for others…far from the Rand philosophy. very very far.

  • 6. Bunny  |  August 11th, 2012 at 10:38 am

    The concept of each man for himself can make sense in certain situations, but I believe that most people are hard-wired to look out for one another. I’ve lived in socialised countries and it’s great to know that, no matter how rich or poor someone may be, everyone has access to the same healthcare.

    I’m considered upper-middle class, and don’t mind if my taxes increase provided that they go toward ensuring that needy children don’t go without seeing the doctor, and that there’s plenty of food and shelter for the homeless. Isn’t that why we have a society, so that we’re not lone wolves? To me, caring for one another is our greatest strength, and most certainly isn’t a weakness.

  • 7. chris  |  September 27th, 2012 at 9:23 am

    Then why not blame Russian socialism for the creation of Ayn Rand monster?

  • 8. Bill  |  September 28th, 2012 at 3:40 am

    Shouldn’t you be concerned that this bit of universally available self-embarrassment can be refuted… simply by reading what Rand actually wrote, which is also universally available? I bet you’re concerned. If I was not an Ayn Rand groupie, I’d be concerned too.

  • 9. Bruce Majors  |  December 4th, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    What sad little feces you are. FYI: this is my son, “Reason”:

  • 10. thor  |  January 5th, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    Ad hominem attack me please. I need it.

  • 11. JohnR  |  January 18th, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    So check this…Jews invented Marxism AND Liberterianism. YOu know why? That’s simple: because they are JEWZ-E and they get to be CHEW-Z. Ana Rosenbaum is her name another deceptive tribe member, what a horrifying writer and subverter. Chris as far as Communism goes it’s not that hard to figure out. Karl Marx = Moses Mordecai Levy. “The Communist soul is the soul of Judaism. Hence it follows that, just as in the Russian revolution the triumph of Communism was the triumph of Judaism, so also in the triumph of fascism will triumph Judaism.” (A Program for the Jews and Humanity, Rabbi Harry Waton, p. 143-144).

  • 12. Jamie  |  February 6th, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    Someone asked, and the apartment building this happened in was at 1170 Bellevue Street over by Dodger Stadium. It was specifically apt. 315. I believe the place has been turned into condos since, according to some of the online true crime sites.

    Good luck; hope it’s not your place!

  • 13. Equality 7-2521  |  May 10th, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    Sounds like I’m a commentard trolling your site. Must mean that I’m one of Ayn Rand’s superheroes.

  • 14. Equality 7-2521  |  May 10th, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    Can I write a comment in favor of Atlas while still wearing my Spock Convention ears, or must I take them off? Nanu-nanu!

  • 15. Saulius Muliolis  |  November 26th, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    You need to improve my retarded comment because all I want to do is give Master Koch a blow job. My life is a bunch of lies, built around a few half truths.

    Ayn Rand in my dreams still calls me a degenerate and a “purposeless monkey”.

    Look up, on “Retarded Commenter”, “Monkey Ayn: I Go On Comments Sections, and my comments are improved. I read Nietzsche and I am a Purposeless Monkey”.

    The fact that I have to rely on the Censor to improve my retarded comments simply shows that I should probably dunk my head in a vat of acid and end it quickly.

  • 16. 60srad  |  December 28th, 2013 at 8:53 am

    Atlas sucked and still does. So does craporate crapitalism and the conartistive propaganda that endorses it.

  • 17. Arturo  |  January 26th, 2014 at 6:20 am

    @ 3 and 13:

    Murray Rothbard, Maximum Leader of the “additions to the money supply always and everywhere constitute inflation” cult

  • 18. S  |  March 12th, 2014 at 8:50 pm

    It’s hard to believe that people take this wacko and her half-baked philosophy seriously. The article got it right about how she bastardized her “idolized” writers…that wacko totally twisted their work.
    Plus the fact that in her writings, she fantasizes about rape, and pretty much condones the rape of women, makes me sick. Only a psychopath could think that they think for us all.
    She is a crackpot and nothing more. I am wondering if her ideas have had such an impact as they appear to have had. I mean, a lot of those ignorant right wing “teabaggers” are her “parasites” anyway. Did they even read her books?
    Ron Paul even named his son after her…sick sick sick sick sick!
    #43 comment is wrong…Oh how it is so disturbing how people don’t understand simple economics.
    Wish I had the time to read all the comments but most are correct, or good.
    I think this wacko’s ideology is misunderstood and misinterpreted, and she’s glorified as something she isn’t…

  • 19. Abhilash Krishnamurthy  |  June 19th, 2014 at 2:23 am

    I was not aware of Hickman being her inspiration.If it is true,then I will throw Fountainhead into trash bin,but the only thing that the left can do is oppose, administration and governance, is beyond them.

  • 20. Jeff  |  June 26th, 2014 at 10:39 am

    In my opinion, she was right about democracy–it’s formalized mob rule, basically. Fortunately the US Constitution has built-in safeguards that protect the minority from abuses by the majority.

    Rand was as smart as a whip, no doubt about that, but I also believe she was a bit crackers…

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