Let’s Learn From History Before We’re Condemned To Repeat It
by James Frye
There will be a quiet ceremony on Monday, April 19th. It won’t get national media coverage. There will be no presidential proclamation. People attending will pass through a gate with the time “9:02” inscribed on it and will hear remembrances of victims and stories of survivors. They will place flowers on 168 empty chairs made of bronze, glass and steel. It is a memorial to hatred and its costs and stands where the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City used to before Timothy McVeigh set off a large bomb and killed 168 of the people who worked there on that date in 1995. It’s a memorial to the worst act of domestic terrorism in the history of the United States.
We can thank President Bill Clinton acting swiftly and reassuring the nation that 4/19 isn’t as well known as 9/11. Clinton did not use the terrorist act to scare the country or take us to war. He said in his address at the first memorial service that this was a singular act by individuals and that the nation was still safe. He did not use it to restrict constitutional rights or allow anyone to ramp up fears of white supremacist Christian military veterans. Among the accomplishments of the Clinton presidency, his reaction to the Oklahoma terrorism has to rank in the top 5 if not #1.
Oklahoma City happened at the height of anti-Clinton hatred by the far right. Radio hate hosts were proclaiming daily that government was the enemy and that Bill Clinton was everything from a sexual predator, an outright traitor to a serial killer of at least 45 people. This hate directed at a Democratic president was something new on the national stage at the time, or at least in the lifetime of those around at the time. To be certain, there’s always been crackpots willing to push outlandish and unbelievable conspiracies about any president but they’d been laughed at and dismissed. This time was the first time that the craziness went mainstream among a sizable minority of Americans.
Enter Timothy McVeigh. A veteran of the first Gulf War, he had come home to hook up with white supremacists and the extreme right. His education was the white supremacist wet dream of good: white Americans rising up against liberals and nonwhites and retaking “our country” set into print in the book, The Turner Diaries. Then came the standoff at Waco, Texas with the Branch Davidian cult. McVeigh was actually there, watching in horror at what he perceived as the Democrats murdering a Christian group over their guns in a huge, live-on-TV fire. That theme was picked up by the radio haters as well. The rest, as they say, is history.
And here we are, 15 years later, and the same dynamics that set in motion the mass murder of people whose only “crime” was that they went to work and their employer was the federal government are setting up again. There’s even more radio and television haters now than then preaching the gospel of hatred toward the federal government and another Democratic president.
If there’s a hopeful sign in any of this, it’s in the fact that the people who initially turned up the heat over an election defeat on the right to a boil are now trying to tone it down. Late certainly, but there are voices in the Republican Party and even the head of a “Tea Party” who are speaking out against the violent rhetoric before it gets worse and moves into more actual violence than what’s already happened. We don’t need history to repeat or another date to commemorate.Click here for reuse options!
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