[H/t to Gordon Skene at Newstalgia for the archival footage]
Yesterday was one of those anniversaries many of us try to put out of our minds. Conservatives these days seem to be trying especially hard.
But for some of us, those memories still burn:
It was 14 years ago when Doris Battle's parents were killed in the Oklahoma City bombing, just two of the 168 people who died during the nation's worst domestic terrorist attack.
Battle was among 400 people who gathered Sunday to observe the 14th anniversary of the bombing of the nine-story Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, an attack that also injured hundreds of people. The explosion of a truck loaded with 4,000 pounds (1,800 kilograms) of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil tore the face off the building and caused millions of dollars in damage to other downtown structures.
"I can't go home and see him anymore," Battle said of her father, Calvin Battle, who died with her mother Peola when the Oklahoma City federal building was bombed on April 19, 1995. And Battle said the passage of time has not diminished the loss she still feels.
And yet, erasing the very memory of the worst act of homegrown terrorism ever committed on American soil -- and until 9/11, the worst such act ever -- seems to be what movement conservatives have been doing all week.
Ever since word emerged earlier this week about the Department of Homeland Security's internal-assessment bulletin about domestic terrorism, the mainstream right has been wallowing in paranoia about the possibility the report might have meant them.
Moreover, no amount of rebuttal -- even from the DHS secretary herself -- is good enough for them.
Yet if you read the report, it couldn't be clearer that it is concerned almost exclusively with far-right extremists: neo-Nazis, skinheads, anti-abortion bombers, and their assorted fellow travelers. What the teeth-gnashing from the right suggests is that they recognize themselves, and their influence, all too readily in the thugs and terrorists who take their beliefs and twist them into something violent.
Prime example: There was Bill Bennett, that right-wing moral icon, telling John King's "State of the Union" panel yesterday on CNN that DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano's clear explanation wasn't good enough.
It's bad enough that he can't even get his facts straight. What's especially noteworthy is the way he airbrushes out the very real existence of actual domestic right-wing terrorist groups:
KING: Bill, she says they have intelligence and active investigations of this possibility. Do you take her at her word?
BENNETT: She wouldn't give you one bit of evidence. You asked her for the names of any groups, any organizations. You pressed her on it -- nothing.
When they put out a report on certain left-wing organizations back in January, there were some specifics. There are no specifics here, except they target veterans. They say look out for veterans being recruited and look out for people who are opposed to abortion and immigration.
Of course, as we explained recently:
[Bennett] is right that the DHS was much more specific in its similar bulletin about left-wing extremists. But there's a reason for that: Far-right extremists absurdly outnumber eco-terrorists, by an exponential factor. It's easy for DHS to list ELF and a handful of other far-left groups capable of acts of terrorism because that's about all there are. On the other hand, there are over 900 hate groups in the SPLC's database, including a large number of them outfits fully capable of (in fact, some essentially built around) inflicting violence on the public. If [Bennett] (and Michelle Malkin, who's made a similar claim) wanted more specifics in this bulletin, there'd have been quite a bit of ink and space wasted listing them all. If [Bill] wants a few, let me give him just those in New York state... There are 25 of them there. Or just look around a little: Do the names National Socialist Movement, or National Alliance, or Stormfront, or White Aryan Resistance, or Aryan Nations ring a bell anywhere?
Finally, and most on the tip of wingnut tongues, is the claim that the report "singles out" all returning veterans as potential recruits for right-wing extremists. In reality, the report only singles out returning veterans who become active in violent hate groups.
Does the report say to "look out for people who are opposed to abortion and immigration"? No. Here's what it does say:
Rightwing extremism ... may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.
Bill Bennett seems to believe this is beyond the pale, as though such a statement is not thoroughly based in reality. Apparently, he's never heard of the Army of God, or American Border Patrol. Somehow, Eric Rudolph has escaped down the memory hole, along with those Alabama militiamen who were planning to slaughter Latinos just last year.
Either he's forgotten about these cases and the many others like them, or he wants everyone else to.
Because forgetting about it gives him a handy excuse to whip up a little more paranoia among the troops:
Boy, I better check my mail. I better check, you know, my -- my bathroom. This was a real overstep. She almost has apologized for this. I know they have to realize they went too far.
I hope the secretary of homeland security realizes that radical Muslims in this country, people who were associated with Al Qaida, are a much more serious threat than people who oppose abortion and illegal immigration.
Well, there's no doubt that Al Qaeda is the far more lethal threat. However, that doesn't mean domestic terrorists aren't a threat to the life and limb of hundreds if not thousands of Americans as well:
It's true that, generally speaking, domestic terrorists are neither as competent nor as likely to pose a major threat as most international terrorists, particularly Al Qaeda. ...
Nonetheless, given the right actors, the right weapons, and the right circumstances, they remain nearly as capable of inflicting serious harm on large numbers of citizens as their foreign counterparts. This is especially true because they are less likely to arouse suspicion and can more readily blend into the scenery.
Most of all, what they lack in smarts or skill, they make up for in numbers: Since the early 1990s, the vast majority of planned terrorist acts on American soil -- both those that were successfully perpetrated and those apprehended beforehand -- have involved white right-wing extremists. Between 1995 and 2000, over 42 such cases (some, like Eric Rudolph, involving multiple crimes) were identifiable from public records.
Some of these were potentially quite lethal, such as a planned attack on a propane facility near Sacramento that, had it been successful, would have killed several thousand people living in its vicinity. Krar's cyanide bomb could have killed hundreds. Fortunately, none of these plotters have proven to be very competent.
As the SPLC reported a few years ago, they were able to count over 60 serious cases of homegrown, right-wing domestic terrorism in the 10 years after Oklahoma City.
-- May 20, 2005: Two New Jersey men, Craig Orler and Gabriel Garafa, who allegedly belong to neo-Nazi and skinhead groups, were charged with illegally selling to police informants guns and 60 pounds of urea to use in a bomb.
-- Oct. 25, 2004: FBI agents in Tennessee arrested Demetrius "Van" Crocker after he allegedly tried to purchase ingredients for deadly sarin nerve gas and C-4 plastic explosives from an undercover agent. Crocker, who was involved with white supremacist groups, was charged with trying to get explosives to destroy a building and faces more than 20 years in prison.
-- April 10, 2003: The FBI raided the home of William Krar, of Noonday, Texas, and discovered an arsenal of more than 500,000 rounds of ammunition, 65 pipe bombs and remote control briefcase bombs, and almost 2 pounds of sodium cyanide, enough to make a bomb that could kill everyone in a large building. Krar, reportedly associated with white supremacist groups, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for possession of a chemical weapon.
From almost the day after Oklahoma City, mainstream right-wingers have tried their damnedest to downplay the meaning of the bombing. The conventional wisdom on the right now is that it was an "isolated incident" involving a mentally disturbed man (though there was never any evidence Tim McVeigh was psychiatrically ill), rather than the logical end result of more than a decade's worth of fearmongering about the federal government on the part of the American Right generally, and particularly fevered rhetoric from the "Patriot" Right. The denial has been especially thick insofar as any discussion of how the bombing reflected on the irresponsibility of their own reckless rhetoric. Shortly after the bombing, Bill Clinton said this:
In this country we cherish and guard the right of free speech. We know we love it when we put up with people saying things we absolutely deplore. And we must always be willing to defend their right to say things we deplore to the ultimate degree. But we hear so many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other. They spread hate. They leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable. You ought to see -- I'm sure you are now seeing the reports of some things that are regularly said over the airwaves in America today.
Well, people like that who want to share our freedoms must know that their bitter words can have consequences and that freedom has endured in this country for more than two centuries because it was coupled with an enormous sense of responsibility on the part of the American people.
If we are to have freedom to speak, freedom to assemble, and, yes, the freedom to bear arms, we must have responsibility as well. And to those of us who do not agree with the purveyors of hatred and division, with the promoters of paranoia, I remind you that we have freedom of speech, too, and we have responsibilities, too. And some of us have not discharged our responsibilities. It is time we all stood up and spoke against that kind of reckless speech and behavior.
If they insist on being irresponsible with our common liberties, then we must be all the more responsible with our liberties. When they talk of hatred, we must stand against them. When they talk of violence, we must stand against them. When they say things that are irresponsible, that may have egregious consequences, we must call them on it. The exercise of their freedom of speech makes our silence all the more unforgivable. So exercise yours, my fellow Americans. Our country, our future, our way of life is at stake.
For saying that, Clinton was denounced by Rush Limbaugh and a host of right-wing talk-show hosts for ostensibly trying to "blame conservatives for the Oklahoma City bombing." Indeed, the claim that he did so is now an established part of right-wing lore.
But Clinton was right, and they were wrong then, and remain wrong today. There is too much at stake, and their frivolous fearmongering over the serious work of keeping Americans safe from all kinds of terrorist acts must not be permitted to stand.