Lessons of the Oklahoma City Bombing

Bill Clinton and others explain today's relevance on the attack's 15th anniversary

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On this day 15 years ago, Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb in front of a federal office building in Oklahoma City, OK, killing 168 people. The deadliest act of homegrown terrorism in American history--committed two years after the disastrous siege at Waco--the attack is widely seen as the worst of the anti-government violence that pockmarked the 1990s. Today, observers are reflecting on the horror of the attack and on its lessons.

  • Clinton: Lessons Relevant Today  In the New York Times, Bill Clinton writes, "we should never forget what drove the bombers, and how they justified their actions to themselves. They took to the ultimate extreme an idea advocated in the months and years before the bombing by an increasingly vocal minority. ... Fifteen years ago, the line was crossed in Oklahoma City. 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 it again."
There was, [President] Clinton has reminded us, rampant social unrest at the conclusion of the Cold War, questions about America's economic place in the world, gang violence, rising immigration problems and a plethora of societal pathologies. As a new young President, charismatic and complicated, he himself sparked a manic loathing from some fringe groups on the right that spread into a revulsion for the government as a whole. These sentiments were further inflamed by the dark drama and federal role surrounding the deaths of David Koresh and his followers at Waco, and the violence involving Randy Weaver and his companions at Ruby Ridge.
  • Militia Movement on Rise Again?  MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, promoting her special report on McVeigh, says of the now resurgent militia movement, "It doesn't have to lead to violence, but it can and it has. ... We ignore this, our own very recent history of antigovernment violence and the dangers of domestic terrorism, at our peril."
  • Why 9/11 Overshadows OK City  Politics Daily's Andrew Cohen deplores "the bombing's disappearance from our national narrative. ... It's been overshadowed by the much larger and much more complex attacks of Sept. 11, 2001." Oklahoma's "awful story had a startling beginning, an instructive middle, and a comfortable end -- just like all those made-for-television movies. No such script yet exists for the 9/11 crime. The hijackers all died instantly -- they never received their due justice in this realm." He worries that, as a result, we are today forgetting Oklahoma's lessons.
  • The 'McVeigh Tapes' As Warning  The New York Times' Alessandra Stanley reviews the MSNBC special report on tapes recorded of McVeigh during his prison stay, which "comes at a time when right-wing militia groups are on the rise, or at least more audible, and heightened anti-government talk is heating up anti-anti-government fervor. McVeigh’s descent into violence is presented as much as a cautionary tale as a commemoration."
  • Are Today's Militias a Threat?  Eileen Pollack writes in the New York Times about the movement in Michigan. "I don’t usually feel threatened by the militias. Most members are just indulging their fantasies of being warriors without having to sign up for the Army." However, "I can’t help but be grateful that the federal government has the power to keep an eye on extremists of all kinds. I only hope it remains able to figure out which members of which militias are harmless, and which are serious about assassinating police officers or shooting people like me."
  • Survivors Still Grappling  Newsweek's Eve Conant writes, "Diane Dooley probably won't watch on Monday night. Dooley was on the stairwell of the third floor of the Murrah Building when the explosion went off. Bloodied and in shock, she made it to the hospital, her foot damaged, her hand crushed, her arm broken in 12 places. After six surgeries, months of physical therapy and 15 years, she still can't read about McVeigh. ... Dooley says there is an awkwardness among survivors, some thinking everyone should move on, others understanding the need to talk."
  • The OK City Conspiracy Movement  In early September 2001, Gore Vidal wrote in Vanity Fair about the then-burgeoning movement of conspiracy theorists who believed that "McVeigh is simply a 'useful idiot,' a tool of what might be a very large conspiracy, involving various homegrown militias working, some think, with Middle Eastern helpers, then the F.B.I.’s refusal to follow up so many promising leads goes quite beyond its ordinary incompetence and smacks of treason." That movement remains alive today, as David Kramer reports.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.