April 19th marks the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people. It was, until the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the worst terrorist attack in United States history. Timothy McVeigh was convicted, and ultimately put to death, for this crime which he described as motivated by a deep antipathy for the federal government because of the events at Waco and by his reading of The Turner Diaries, a white supremacist dystopian novel.
Literally thousands of extremists from around the country, many of them armed, plan to march in the capital and in Virginia to “celebrate” the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. In fact, white supremacists, white nationalists and assorted militia groups have a whole roster of events scheduled for today, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), including:
- Longtime Georgia militia organizer Jim Stachowiak reportedly has called on his fellow militiamen to discharge their weapons at midnight, thereby causing a flood of citizens to call 911 and overload emergency services.
- Members of the Patriot movement, for whom the specter of gun restrictions is a recurring theme, will join gun rights advocates for a “Second Amendment March” in Washington, D.C. Speakers will include: Stewart Rhodes, founder of Oath Keepers, a conspiracy-minded, antigovernment organization composed mostly of active-duty police and military officers and veterans.
- An open-carry rally to “Restore the Constitution” will be held at Ft. Hunt National Park near Mount Vernon, Va. Designated a “call to muster,” those rallying want the federal government to know that they “will not be ignored anymore.” Daniel Almond, who believes the federal government is “bringing totalitarian socialism to America” and is a member of the Georgia chapter of the Oath Keepers, organized the event.
These types of “celebrations” are, of course, a threat to democratic society because they valorize a lawlessness. They also demonstrate a remarkably callous disregard for the continuing impact of the bombing on the victims that survived, many of them toddler in the day care that operated in the building. Of the 168 people killed in the attack, 19 were children in that day care center. Incredibly, 6 children survived and are now teenagers and young adults. Here are a few of their stories, from CNN:
P.J. Allen, now 16, was 18 months old when the bomb brought the building down on top of him, forcing him to inhale hot air and smoke. …. Brother and sister Brandon and Rebecca Denny were hurt in the attack, although it was the older brother who received the more permanent injuries. … While then 2-year-old Rebecca Denny required 240 stitches to patch her up, her brother — then 3 — suffered severe brain injuries, leaving the right side of his body weak. …. Chris Nguyen, now a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma in nearby Norman. “I’ve been given like a gift, you might say, and if I don’t make something of my life to succeed and make a difference of some kind, then I would have wasted my life,” Nguyen said. “I think about the other parents — all the other day care children and families — who’ve lost someone … but I feel guilty almost that Brandon, Rebecca, P.J. and I, we get to live our lives … and the other people, they don’t get that opportunity,” he said.
Despite calls by prominent people involved in the case, such as the prosecutor, to focus on the victims this anniversary, no doubt much of the mainstream news coverage will lead with stories about Timothy McVeigh and the reported rise in white supremacist, white nationalist, and militia groups. While it’s important to discuss these aspects of the anniversary, it would be a mistake to think about McVeigh and the time just before the bombing as somehow anomalous. In fact, white supremacist groups are an enduring feature of the American political landscape.