Oklahoma is so far from the mayhem in Charlottesville, and yet so close.
The Oklahoma City Public School System has already responded to the rightwing violence by consulting with the patrons of four schools named after Confederate generals about changing their names. Given the district’s financial challenges, it is no surprise that some fret about the estimated $50,000 per school price tag for changing the names.
But Oklahomans have more to worry about than monetary deficits. The III%ers who helped provoke the bloodshed in Charlottesville have a worrisome presence in our state. After the violence spun out of control, these anti-government rightwingers issued an official statement that it will “stand down” in that conflict, predicting that “these protests will continue to spill over into the days to come, as well as into other cities around the nation.”
Sure enough, Oklahoma City then got a wake-up call. The Daily Oklahoman reports that Jerry Drake Varnell, who “admitted to holding III% ideology and wanted to start the next revolution,” was arrested for attempting to blow up a downtown Oklahoma City bank with a half-ton explosive. However, the III% says Varnell was not a member of their movement.
Varnell has a history of mental illness and violence against his former wife. Regardless, he is alleged to have attempted a bombing along the lines of Timothy McVeigh’s murder of 168 people. Even if this terrorism attempt is due to Varnell’s personal demons, he’s not alone in turning to the extreme, violent Right in response to his inner pain.
The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies two Oklahoma III% groups as “anti-government” and “patriot” groups espousing anti-Muslim rhetoric. And this is not the first time III% ideology has made state news. The Oklahoman reported that Jeremy Doss Hardy, who faces murder charges for a high-profile highway shooting, is “alleged to identify with The Three Percenters.” Hardy “is accused of fatally shooting two drivers, firing at four others and trying to ram another from behind on I-40 in western Oklahoma the night of Dec. 16, 2015.”
We will combat all those who are corrupt. We are America’s insurance company. We will not see America fail. We are everywhere.
Three Percenters – Oklahoma also asserts:
We do not seek after violence, but if violence is ever called for, WE are the III% of the population that will stand and fight against a tyranny.
Even as they claim they are distancing themselves from the carnage in Charlottesville and the attempted mass murder last week in Oklahoma City, III%ers called for hundreds or thousands of protesters to go to Las Vegas to protest a federal judge’s ruling in the case of Eric Parker. During the armed resistance by the followers of Cliven Bundy in the Idaho Bunkerville case, Parker was photographed pointing a rifle from an Interstate overpass as protesters faced off with Bureau of Land Management agents. They charge that the judge in the case “boldly and intentionally violated Parker’s constitutional rights,” and conclude, “We, The People, have had enough of an overreaching and oppressive government.”
It’s no surprise that Oklahoma City exemplifies the best and the worst of this tumult. The OKCPS learned important lessons as it recently changed the mascot of a high school which was known as the “Redskins.” There is a very good chance that the OKCPS will build on that victory and successfully appeal to the patrons’ better angels. But, the predictable responses of many are already being expressed.
The Oklahoman accounts of the first steps towards possible name changes first prompted the comment, “Keep our schools as they are and TEACH THE KIDS READING, WRITING, AND ARITHMETIC, not social issues.” This commenter responded to a person who disagreed by calling her “sweety” but, before long, people who support the name changes were compared to Hitler, Isis, the World Trade Center bombers, and Marxists, as well as advocates for a “cupcake society.”
The proposed removal of the names of Confederate generals was condemned as “a racial ‘divide and conquer’ strategy.” It was claimed that the civil war “wasn't primarily about slavery” because “only the very rich could afford slaves.” It was also asserted, “We've been respecting the dignity of Black Americans for Decades. When are YOU gonna start respecting White Americans?” (Most of the comments have been removed.)
I suspect the national press has been slow about investigating the terrorism attempt in Oklahoma City because they have so much on their plates reporting about the hatred which has been on display in Charlottesville and around the country. I expect that the attempt to replicate Timothy McVeigh’s mass murder will soon attract investigative reporters. If so, I bet we’ll learn that Oklahoma is not alone in treading perilously close to the worst that white supremacy and the Alt-Right can offer.