15 Years After Oklahoma City, Does Domestic Threat Remain?

Comparing today's anti-government sentiment to that of the 1990s

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As they reflect on the Oklahoma City bombing--the deadliest domestic terrorist attack in American history--many commentators are casting a wary eye at today's rising anti-government sentiment. These writers include former President Bill Clinton, who warns that "the current climate" risks another incident of violence, which would cross "the bright line that protects our freedom." Some are reading that as a warning about the resurgent militia movement, while others are accusing Clinton of a veiled reference to the Tea Party movement. Here's what he and others are saying about whether there are parallels between the anti-government militancy of the 1990s and of today.

  • Clinton: The Dangers of Stoking Fear  He writes in the New York Times, "We are again dealing with difficulties in a contentious, partisan time. We are more connected than ever before, more able to spread our ideas and beliefs, our anger and fears. As we exercise the right to advocate our views, and as we animate our supporters, we must all assume responsibility for our words and actions before they enter a vast echo chamber and reach those both serious and delirious, connected and unhinged. ... In the current climate, with so many threats against the president, members of Congress and other public servants, we owe it to the victims of Oklahoma City, and those who survived and responded so bravely, not to cross [the line] again."
  • Pew: Gov't Distrust Spiraling  A Pew report finds "a perfect storm of conditions associated with distrust of government – a dismal economy, an unhappy public, bitter partisan-based backlash, and epic discontent with Congress and elected officials." They note many worrying statistics, including, "Just 22% say they can trust the government in Washington almost always or most of the time, among the lowest measures in half a century."
  • Poll: 24% of Tea Partiers Approve Violence  The Nation's Gregory Mitchell notes, "On McVeigh day, worth remembering that the NYT/CBS poll found 1 in 4 tea partiers saying violence against gov't can be justified." According to the poll, 24% of self-identified Tea Party members answered yes when asked, "Do you think it is ever justified for citizens to take violent action against the government?"
  • Today Not As Bad--But It Could Be  Time's Mark Halperin writes, "The atmosphere today may be less poisonous by some measures, but it still should cause grave concern. The combination of the nation's severe joblessness, an incumbent President who has, in some ways, become more polarizing than his two predecessors, 'an enormous psychological disorientation' (in Clinton's words), and a new-media age that spreads the most inflammatory language wider and faster than before, has set off a new round of alarm bells. Waco and the McVeigh bombing may have been instigated by sociopaths and madmen, but they nevertheless served as a manifestation of the rising polarization that turned healthy political debates first into violent talk and then into violent behavior."
  • The Common Thread  Politico's Aitan Goelman writes, "This vitriol was fanned by incendiary sentiments from relatively mainstream figures on the right. They explicitly encouraged nutty theories about Clinton and his administration, including crackpot theories blaming him for the 'murder' of Vincent Foster. There are striking similarities between the tenor of that political discourse and today. Again, we have a relatively liberal president who is despised and feared by the far right. Again, we have controversial legislation described in apocalyptic terms by some mainstream conservatives."
  • Don't Confuse Tea Party With Militias  The Plum Line's Greg Sargent shrugs, "Media obsession with the Tea Party distorts our political discourse and grotesquely inflates the movement’s relevance and historical significance. But the 'militia movement' is much, much angrier than the Tea Partiers."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.