In the wake of two New York City officers being slain over the weekend, and another police officer from Florida dying in a confrontation with a criminal, critics have been blaming liberals for the killings. Both sides would do well to remember the 1990s, when a wave of anti-law enforcement rhetoric led to one of the worst cases of domestic terrorism in the United States.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was on the offensive early, criticizing liberals for their police critiques in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, as well as the choking death of Eric Garner in New York City. He said:
The war of words between both sides brought back memories of the 1990s, when a target was clearly placed on Federal Law Enforcement. After the Ruby Ridge shootout, the killing of several agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) during a gun battle with the Branch Davidians, and the final storming of the doomsday cult's compound that led to so many deaths, a few conservatives were pretty mad.
During that charged political atmosphere, NRA leader Wayne LaPierre wrote to millions of his members the following note in March of 1995, calling law enforcement agents "jack-booted government thugs" and claimed "if you have a badge, you have the government's go-ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law-abiding citizens."
It was language so hateful that former President George H. W. Bush withdrew his membership in the NRA. Other members told me how much that LaPierre did not speak for them.
A month later, former National Rifle Association member Timothy McVeigh parked a truck with a massive fertilizer bomb in the back. The resulting explosion killed 168 adults and kids at the Alfred Murrah government building in Oklahoma City.
"I reached the decision to go on the offensive - to put a check on government abuse of power...I decided to send a message to a government that was becoming increasingly hostile, by bombing a government building and the government employees within that building who represent that government."
In May of 1995, La Pierre issued a partial retraction, saying he only meant some law enforcement officials. But it was too late. Nor did it really distinguish between good and bad law enforcement, leaving it up to the discretion of extremists to decide for themselves.
While running for president for the 2008 campaign, Giuliani spoke at the site of the Murrah Building in 2007 to a crowd of 500. He spoke of the evils of terrorism, foreign and domestic, and the need to prevent such killings before they occurred.
Then Giuliani spoke before the National Rifle Association, seeking their endorsement and votes, later that same year. It was particularly interesting, given that he backed the 1994 Democratic crime bill that banned assault weapons and put more police officers on the street.
There's nothing undemocratic or evil about critiquing Grand Jury decisions or actions by just a tiny number of officers that led to the unfortunate deaths this year or in the 1990s. But it's good for both sides to recognize this dark time in American history, when words could do more than break bones.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at email@example.com.