Fifteen years ago conspirators Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols bombed the Alfred P Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City claiming 168 lives including 19 children. The April 19, 1995 terrorist attack was the most destructive act of terrorism in American history until the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Terrorism was not a familiar word to me at that time. There had been the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, but to a kid from the Midwest, New York was more a place of fiction than of reality-a backdrop for television shows and movies. Oklahoma City was a known entity. A real place with real people.
In the 1980s my grandparents had worked on several Native American reservations preparing young Navajo and Hopi children for a life in an America just beginning to accept them as citizens. The anti-federal sentiments of many I met in those impressionable years echoed the anti-patriotic rhetoric I heard from fringe elements within my own family. From family members that more closely aligned themselves with the militias and the Klu Klux Klan of the Midwest than with my grandparents thirst for a more egalitarian society. I began to view both the Native Americans, wronged by state sponsored racism and hatred, and the racism of my extended family similarly. Both were disillusioned and felt betrayed by the federal government; but both were ignorant of how to affect the necessary change that they sought without anger and violence.
In the spring of 1995, I was on my way to graduating from High School. And as the details of the Oklahoma City bombing came to light, it became apparent that the rhetoric of the assailants was similar to the anti-federalism I had heard as a child. It was a familiar sentiment.
Unlike the anger felt by the Native Americans over their horrific treatment, the anger perpetuated and preached by the fringe elements of my family had no validity. They were simply angry about a changing world moving towards a more equal playing field for all members of society-not just the white members of American society. While I feel for the economic and personal struggles of anti-federalist whites they are simply fighting a losing battle against the progression of time. The world is not stagnant and ignorance is not bliss. The 21st century will not be kind to people based upon race, but upon merit. However it is inevitable that some losers may feel the need to lash out against whatever forces they feel are responsible.Many are asking if we are headed down the same road, towards a new resurgence of home-grown anti-government terrorism fueled by the bad economy and the political diatribes and anti-government rhetoric that dominates talk radio, the blogosphere, and 24-hour television news channels.
In an April 16th interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN, former President Bill Clinton said he sees parallels between the political climate of 1995 and today. “There’s the same kind of economic and social upheaval now…then, you had the rise of extremist voices on talk radio. Here, you have a billion Internet sites,” Clinton said.
Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh fired back at Clinton last week saying that Clinton was unjustly blaming him for the Oklahoma City terrorist attack. “I’m going to state right now: If there is a future incident such as Oklahoma City, the blame is squarely … on the shoulders of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who I’m sure is coordinating Clinton’s appearance on this,” Limbaugh said, according to the show transcript posted on his website.
At the Chicago Tea Party Patriots and the Chicago Republican Party event this weekend Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann called President Barack Obama’s cabinet a “gangster government” that has used the George W. Bush TARP funds to purchase and take over America’s private industry. She also accused them of creating the bad publicity against Toyota in order to prop up the American automotive companies that received money from the Federal Government. “To the Democrats, violence is what the American people want to topple them from positions of political power,” said Bachmann to an enthusiastic crowd.
Adding to concerns is the dramatic growth of extremist militia groups, which according to the Southern Poverty Law Center have more than tripled in the last year from 149 to 512 today. Many speculate that this increase is fueled by the racism and xenophobia surrounding President Barack Obama’s non-white Kenyan father and the ‘birthers’ movement.
“We can’t put a dome over our country. We can’t guarantee there won’t be another attack,” Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said Monday morning to attendees of a ceremony at the Oklahoma City National Memorial. “But we are a strong and resilient country. And we can resolve that even a successful attack will not defeat our way of life.”
Hopefully the American way of life can be maintained-where freedom of speech continues to allow even the most uninhibited and vitriolic of sentiments to be expressed openly. However with the right and left caught in an uncompromising and beserk tug-of-war over predominantly politically manufactured non-substantive details, there is growing concern. The loudest, most officious and outlandish comments get the best ratings. And the realities of the economy, terrorism, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan become nothing more than background in a televised political play.
“There is a line that divides legitimate criticism from the advocacy of violence,” Clinton told CNN. “And the closer you get to that line, and the more responsibility you have, the more you have to think about the echo chamber in which your words resonate.”
John Helton, Clinton draw parallels between ‘upheaval’ of 1995, today, CNN
Rush Limbaugh, Bill Clinton Links Talk Radio, Tea Party to Non-Existent Terrorism, Rush Limbaugh Show
YouTube, Beautiful Patriot & Congresswoman Michele Bachmann speaks in Chicago
Peter Grier, Oklahoma City Bombing: Is 1995 Repeating Itself Today?, Christian Science Monitor
Bradley Blackburn, Ceremony Marks 15th Anniversary of Oklahoma City Bombing, ABC News