I was only 10 years old on the day that Timothy McVeigh parked his fertilizer bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. At the time, I didn’t know what it meant to have witnessed the “deadliest terror attack to date” on U.S. soil; all I knew was that 168 people had died, and from my ten year-old perspective, that seemed like everyone in the world.
Twenty years later, my perspective has matured. I’ve seen skyscrapers explode and fall down, and high school students run screaming from armed gunmen. I’ve seen videos of beheadings and shootings and massacres, and yet there’s something still very raw associated with my memories of of the Oklahoma City bombing.
Today marks the 20 year anniversary of the attack, and hundreds of people gathered together at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum on the former site of the Murrah building to pay tribute to those lost.
President Bill Clinton, attending the annual ceremony for the sixth time, thanked the people of Oklahoma for their resilience and outpouring of compassion that followed the bombing — a reaction to the tragedy that became known as the “Oklahoma standard.”
“You turned away all of the petty squabbles in which we engage, leaving only our basic humanity,” Clinton said. “I mostly came here to thank you today.”
“There’s still people who somehow think they can matter more and they can make a statement by killing innocents and snuffing our possibility,” Clinton said. “They’re wrong. As long as people like you make the right decisions with their mind and their heart.”
United States Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson echoed the former president, saying: “Today is a day to mourn and remember those who died here 20 years ago, but this is also a day to say to those who plan to terrorize us, ‘no, you cannot.'” Oklahoma embodied that message, Johnson said.
The bombing still holds the record as the deadliest domestic terror attack ever committed on U.S. soil, and its anniversary has predictably motivated fresh “discussions” on the dangers of domestic (although they say “right wing”) terrorism.
In other words, right-wing violence today is actually at or very close to levels during the days of the Oklahoma City bombing.
These statistics illustrate that “homegrown violent extremism” is not limited to extremism motivated by radical Islam. The anger and hate that generated the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 is still around in 2015—and still dangerous.
The 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing provides a new opportunity for us to ensure that its significance does not disappear from the public eye. What the tragedies of 1995 and 2001 together teach is that the United States faces threats from multiple sources of extremism, all of which must be taken seriously.
Consequently, Americans must have the wisdom to respond effectively and intelligently to ideological violence stemming from all sources. That would be the most positive way to pay homage to the victims of April 19, 1995.
The full article linked above twists together acts of domestic terrorism with “hate crimes” and presents them as one neat package—which presents a huge problem for actually combating both domestic terrorism and crime motivated by some sort of ideological hair-trigger.
Terrorism is a very specific grey area of violent crime. What motivates a terrorist—even a homegrown one—is very different than what motivates your average criminal. To suggest—and those peddling think pieces like the one clipped above are most certainly making suggestions—that they are one in the same does more than dishonor the memories of those who died at the hands of Timothy McVeigh. It endangers efforts both at home and abroad to stop terrorists from committing increasingly brutal acts of violence.
What happened in Oklahoma City is not identical or even analogous to the hate crimes we see plastered across the front page of the local newspaper. It’s an easy narrative to spin, but it’s a narrative that does nothing but shift attention away from what matters most: working every day to make life harder for those who seek to commit acts of terror.DONATE
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