Another April 19, and what have we learned? Today is the 15 year anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, which left 168 dead and many others injured. The attack was the worst act of domestic terrorism in our nation's history.
While many saw the attack as a single act of extremism, I have argued throughout my research on the militia/white supremacist/white nationalist movement that we need to situate this movement on a continuum, seeing it as intimately interconnected with what we call the "mainstream." According to Eric Ward, of the Center for New Community, "What America couldn't accept was that rather than an isolated incident the bombing of the federal building was simply the latest eruption of a growing political movement opposed to a multiracial America built on the principles of a democratic republic."
As we reflect back upon the horror of that day, we should simultaneously reflect upon the current threats of domestic terrorism facing our nation. A recent report released by the Southern Poverty Law Center confirms that we are once again experiencing a resurgence of militia movement activity, and an overall rise in hate groups across the country. They counted 932 active hate groups in 2009, a 54% increase since 2000.
Why? They describe the pervasive "anger seething across the American political landscape" fueled by fears of immigration, changing racial demographics, high unemployment, the dismal economy, and increased distrust of the government. This increase is hardly surprising. It is driven, in fact, by increasing fear and hatred among the more mainstream right. Ellis Cose insightfully highlighted these links in his Newsweek article, "Drowning in Hate: Ugly Rhetoric Perverts our Politics." It's a symptom of "what happens when [the citizens of] a country can't talk to one another constructively," said the spokesperson for African-American Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, who was recently spat upon by tea-party protesters.
When a majority report that Obama "wants to turn over the sovereignty of the United States to a one-world government," it is not surprising that some would feel compelled to resort to violence. What is most disturbing is the refusal of the mainstream press to correct these misperceptions, and their reinforcement by many right-leaning media outlets. The characterization of the Obama health plan as "socialist" demonstrates a total lack of knowledge about what socialism actually is among many citizens, and the shameful reinforcement of this link by many who do know better. "Precisely because it is so faintly damned by on-air pundits and other prominent figures, much of this poisonous talk is absorbed, undiluted, into the body politic" writes Cose.
These views heighten the possibility for violence, as we have witnessed in recent weeks. Members of the Hutaree Militia in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana were recently indicted for plotting to kill a police officer and use the funeral as an opportunity for more widespread destruction and murder. The Hutaree Militia, whose MySpace profile proclaimed "violence solves everything," had previously been identified as a possible threat by the SPLC. "According to the indictment, Hutaree members view local, state and federal law enforcement as an enemy "brotherhood" that they were preparing to engage in armed conflict." Like McVeigh 15 years ago, and so many more people today.
We need to confront the frequent, feverish cries that the government is the enemy. We need to accept accountability for our words. Words have consequences. They had deadly consequences fifteen years ago today. And as the plans of the Hutaree Militia reveal, there are people still listening and preparing to act.