Today marks the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, the single worst act of domestic terrorism faced in this country’s history. 168 people were murdered, including 19 children in a day-care center in what Timothy McVeigh would later describe as retaliation for an overreaching government and in particular to the sieges on Waco and Ruby Ridge. It was, in many senses, a declaration of war on the federal government and inspired by elements of the radical right.
The anniversary comes at a time when our country is battling many of the same domestic extremist forces that motivated Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols, and Michael Fortier. “Patriot” and militia movements have gained attention for their increasingly visible and violence presence in American life tripling in numbers over the course of the past ten years. As was the case fifteen years ago, the movement has ebbed back into relevance due in large part to a swell of populist anger and alienation. A fear of out of control immigration, the rise of a black president, economic recession, and unencumbered Wall Street greed are the common mantras of these groups. And the Republican party has taken notice.
Take U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) for example. She routinely speaks of a “gangster government” and insists that the Obama administration is building political reeducation camps for American children. Her district in Minnesota has the highest foreclosure rates in the state and her constituents face staggering unemployment, yet rather than offer solutions to these problems she has suggested, along with political personae Sarah Palin, that what the people need to do is “reload” and take aim at the federal goverment. Or Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) who suggested that, after a plane was flown into a Texas IRS building in another act of domestic terrorism, the solution was to get rid of the IRS, not to condemn the violence. Or Governor Rick Perry of Texas who flirts with the seditious act of secession as part of a national political campaign. Terrifying rhetoric indeed.
Not only is the rhetoric terrifying, it shows a total abrogation of any leadership by these members of the Republican party and a vaccuum within the GOP where any reasonable politician gets chased out. The solutions offered by Democrats to a stagnant jobless rate, insatiable Wall Street greed, and a broken health care system have been far from perfect, yet the Republicans have chosen to incite populist rage rather than engage in constructive political discourse. To that end, we all fall victim to the rage on the right.
Let’s hope that this country remembers the lessons of Oklahoma City and comes together, rather than fractures further, as we mark this somber occasion. As former President Bill Clinton remarked, when noting the parallels between the current political tensions and those of fifteen years ago, “[w]e can’t let the debate veer so far into hatred that we lose focus of our common humanity.”
So on the anniversary of a senseless act of violence aimed at symbols of our collective civic humanity let’s hope the standard-bearers on the right can find the strength of will to condemn those in their own party pandering to the most violent of their fringe now before we find ourselves facing yet another act of domestic terrorism. We’ve witnessed warning shots in the form of the Hutaree militia arrests and the slurs slung at members of Congress in the wake of the passage of health care reform. What these incidents, and others like Oklahoma lawmkers introducing legislation to resurrect a state militia to defend against federal troops all share is a foundation of fear. And fear is what the right has currently chosen to lead with in terms of vision and in terms of platform.
A day like today is a sober reminder of why fear never inspires true leadership. No one can predict if the current level of rage on the right will result in another tragedy like Oklahoma City, but it is clear that the radical right’s agenda is to divide the nation further, not find political and cultural common ground. But now, more than ever, common ground is exactly what we need.
photo courtesy of eschupal via Flickr