Why the Oklahoma bombing continues to cast a shadow over America
Timothy McVeigh’s actions and ideas have inspired a new generation of radical Right extremists
More than 25 years ago, on 19 April 1995, Timothy McVeigh launched an attack against a federal building in Oklahoma using explosives. This came to be known as the Oklahoma City bombing, and resulted in the death of 168 people, including 19 children, along with several hundred more injured.
The bloody attack continues to influence the radical Right. This is clear in later terrorist attacks, like those committed by Anders Brevik and Dylann Roof, who praised McVeigh. This influence also appears in radical Right propaganda material, recruitment tactics, as well as the stockpiling of guns, ammo, and explosives.
Whether through lone actors or groups, the radical Right is passionate about a plethora of issues. In the US, many radical Right groups are concerned about taxes, the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms), the US government’s perceived overreach on land and property rights, the prison overcrowding, the perceived naivety of elected officials, and a potential race war. Some of these concerns are echoed in letters McVeigh wrote in 1992.
In fact, before his attacks, McVeigh read ‘The Turner Diaries’ a novel about the violent overthrow of the federal government that eventually leads to a race war. The novel plays a crucial role in solidifying white dominance by glorifying violence and continues to be a source of inspiration for radical Right organisations and lone actors today. It provides the narrative for a race war and a ‘blueprint’ for an attack.
White supremacist groups, like the League of the South (LOS) and the Order, and some militia movements, like American Patriots USA (APUSA), sometimes require members to read ‘The Turner Diaries’ as part of their training. Other self-proclaimed militia groups focus on some parts of McVeigh’s tactics, like using explosives to target vulnerable populations to show the government that no one is untouchable, including children, in the hopes of inspiring others to do the same and start a race war.
Extremists such as Dylann Roof, Timothy Wilson, Jerry Varnell, Jeremy Christian, Anders Breivik, and others have also turned to a dangerous combination of McVeigh and ‘The Turner Diaries’ for inspiration, as shown in their manifestos, tactics, and justifications for their attacks.
McVeigh is known as “the most ruthless domestic terrorist in US history,” which is a coveted title to some on the radical Right. Organisations like the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, and other ‘patriot’ militias take great pride in being called domestic terrorists and idolise McVeigh’s ability to cause massive destruction to a US government building in a way that continues to be talked about to this day.
The making of a terrorist
The Ruby Ridge standoff began in 1992 and lasted 11 days between Randy Weaver and federal law enforcement, who came to arrest him for failing to come to court concerning several firearms charges. It resulted in the deaths of the Weaver family, as well as several members of law enforcement.
In 1993, another violent standoff took place in Waco, Texas, between law enforcement and David Koresh’s Branch Davidians. Law enforcement surrounded the Waco compound for 51 days until the compound burned down with many members still inside.
Both incidents were broadcast on live television, where McVeigh and other Americans watched. For many on the Right, what these events proved was that the government is wrongly cracking down on Second Amendment rights with a war-like response. Both Ruby Ridge and Waco are often cited as pivotal incidents that solidified the radical Right’s views on government infringement.
More recently, two incidents have similarly inspired violent responses: the 2014 Bundy Ranch Standoff, and the death of LaVoy Finicum following the 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.
In 2014, the Bundy Ranch standoff between cattle rancher Cliven Bundy, militia members, and law enforcement occurred over a legal dispute in which Bundy was directed to pay over 1 million dollars in fines for unpaid cattle grazing. People arrived in droves because they believed it was going to be another Waco-style event, where the government officials on the scene were going to open people gathered there. Self-proclaimed patriots believed that if they did not come to support their fellow activists, the government would get away with atrocities against them. At the conclusion of the standoff, Cliven Bundy and his sons were charged with federal felonies, but the charges were later dismissed.
One of Bundy’s followers, Norm Olson, referenced McVeigh specifically, saying: “The battle for the rights of the people rages on and it should be assumed that lone wolf patriots may be planning another response to the central government's abuses. Once the fuse is lit, it will be hard to extinguish. There's a place that we all should think about: Oklahoma City.” Olson was a founder of the same militia that McVeigh’s co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, attended a meeting of one year before the Oklahoma City bombing.
Lone actors and small-cell groups, including those who consider themselves to be members of leaderless radical Right groups like the Boogaloo Movement and the Three Percenters, often see McVeigh’s attack as the best way to gain notoriety for their version of a ‘revolution’ and their shared anti-government beliefs. An attack is usually intended to be a catalyst event, with others potentially following months or even years later.
Many white nationalist groups are fascinated by the bombing in Oklahoma City because they believe McVeigh committed a great act of ‘necessary violence’ using intelligence tactics that could inspire further actions. They desire to create a situation where one attack – like a bombing – triggers further events that ultimately have a significant historical impact.
The Boogaloo Movement, a conglomerate of radical Right, Left, and small-cell groups, is one such movement. Its members, known as the Boog, have developed violent plans, like a bombing or the Capitol Riot, and intend to use these to incite future attacks. The attacks may include a militia-style operation on federal buildings, shootings of those considered by the Boog to be traitors to the movement and to the Constitution, and targeted attacks on politicians.
Individuals or groups who work for or support federal and local law enforcement, who advocate for gun control legislation, or who otherwise go against what the Boogaloo believes in are considered by the Boog to be traitors. The Boogaloo Movement views those who died at Waco as the first movement martyrs and has talked about the need to have the government fire first.
During the June 2021 investigation into Travis Owens, a US Marine who created a Facebook page called “Right Wing Death Squad”, the page was discovered to make frequent references to McVeigh. “Just fucking McVeigh the DNC,” a member of the group emphasised when referring to bombing the Democratic National Committee, the headquarters of the US Democratic Party..
The content on the Facebook page contained violence and detailed plans of harming minorities. Many of the individuals in the group came from military backgrounds like McVeigh, so they have the training and capability to carry out a large attack.
It is alarming that individuals with military training hold extremist ideologies and make references to attacks against the homeland they are tasked with protecting. Many radical Right groups are greatly concerned about taxes and the US government’s perceived overreach about land and property rights. Their concerns are a threat to US national security because – as McVeigh’s case shows – they have acted upon them in the past.
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