The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Fifteen Years Later: A Grim Anniversary in Oklahoma

By Mark Potok on April 14, 2010 - 2:05 pm, Posted in Extremist Crime, Patriot Groups

Next Monday, Americans will mark the 15th anniversary of the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City — the worst single act of domestic terrorism in our nation’s history and a grim reminder of the fruits of right-wing radicalism.

Although Timothy McVeigh and confederates Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier were not card-carrying members of militias, they unquestionably were deeply influenced by the ideas of these paramilitary groups and the larger antigovernment “Patriot” movement. Their murder of 168 people, including 19 children in a day-care center, was in many ways the culmination of the movement’s blind anger and conspiracy theories about evil elitists in the government intent on suppressing American freedoms and forcing the nation into a socialistic “New World Order.” They also believed they were exacting vengeance on the government for its role in the deaths exactly two years earlier of nearly 80 Branch Davidian religious cultists.

The anniversary comes as the nation witnesses a dramatic resurgence of militias and other Patriot groups — a comeback driven by widespread populist anger at racial changes in the population, soaring public debt and the terrible economy, the bailouts of bankers and other elites, and an array of initiatives by the Obama Administration that are seen as “socialist” or even “fascist.” The return of the Patriots was first documented last August in a Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) report entitled “The Second Wave: Return of the Militias” and quantified and analyzed in SPLC’s March report, “Rage on the Right.” Today, the SPLC is releasing another report profiling key leaders of the resurgent Patriot movement and their enablers — people like U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who has suggested that Obama is building political reeducation camps for our children, and Fox News host Glenn Beck, who helped refloat conspiracy theories about secret government concentration camps and has called Obama an anti-white racist who is comparable to Hitler. Along with these profiles, we are releasing a timeline of the Patriot movement detailing its origins, its heyday in the 1990s and current resurgence, and its long history of violence.

The Patriot comeback already has been accompanied by political crime, most dramatically seen in recent days with the arrests of nine Midwestern members of the so-called Hutaree Militia. This self-described group of “Christian” warriors, which equated a world government with the coming of the Antichrist, is accused of plotting to murder a police officer and then use bombs and missiles to kill hundreds more drawn to the funeral in a bid to set off a national insurrection. A few days before those arrests, Mike Vanderboegh, a long-time Alabama militiaman and a current leader of the Patriot group Three Percenters, called on followers to smash windows at Democratic Party offices as a protest against health care reform. In the next 48 hours, a rash of window-breaking and other criminal attacks, including a gas line cut at what was thought to be a congressman’s house, occurred across America. These attacks were just the latest in a long string of actions — detailed in SPLC’s “Terror From the Right” — that are linked to Patriot beliefs since the 1995 bombing.

The motives of those who carry out attacks like these and even Oklahoma City are difficult for most mainstream Americans to fathom. This Monday, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow will present an insightful two-hour documentary, “The McVeigh Tapes: Confessions of an American Terrorist,” that helps to answer questions about McVeigh’s motivations and those of others like him. The film draws extensively on audiotapes of the two reporters who interviewed McVeigh at length before his execution and features computer-generated recreations of the interviews and the bombing. It also includes interviews with many people involved in the case, including myself. I speak in the documentary based on my experiences as a reporter, covering the bombing and McVeigh’s subsequent trial, and my SPLC work monitoring the radical right.

The appearance of the Patriot movement in the 1990s was driven by anger at the federal government, which was then in the hands of another relatively liberal Democratic administration, particularly with regard to such things as land use and environmental regulation; gun control measures imposed by that administration; and more proximate events like the deadly 1992 standoff in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, between federal agents and white supremacist Randy Weaver, and the standoff the following year between federal agents and Davidian cultists in Waco, Texas. Ironically, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing actually helped swell the movement because many Americans came to believe Patriot conspiracy theories about the Clinton Administration bombing its own building in order to so frighten Americans that they would accept draconian anti-terrorism legislation. Later in the 1990s, however, the Patriot movement began to shrink because of revulsion over terrorist plots, a long string of arrests for weapons and other violations, and a loss of energy among adherents. Ultimately, after militia leaders wrongly predicted social collapse at the turn of the millennium (the so-called “Y2K” scare), the movement seemed to fade away.

Today, resurgent anger at the federal government has again caught fire, fueled by an array of factors. The face of the federal government, which is the primary enemy of the Patriot movement, is now a black one — a fact that has exacerbated rage and fear among many whites who resent ongoing racial changes in the American population. The economy, and the deep misery it has brought to millions of the unemployed, has sparked fury that is in many cases being directed at the government. And a large number of ostensibly mainstream politicians and media commentators, apparently willing to pander shamelessly to the extreme right in a bid for votes or ratings, have recklessly and violently demonized enemies like “liberals” and Latino immigrants and helped to push utterly false conspiracy theories into the mainstream. Together, these factors and others have created a kind of perfect storm favoring the growth of groups on the radical right. Evidence suggesting the rapid spread of these ideas and conspiracy theories can be found in the Tea Parties, many of whose members have adopted them. In many ways, anger at the government seems more entrenched and widespread now than it was during the run-up to the Oklahoma City bombing.

Whether the current Patriot resurgence will lead to another tragedy on the scale of Oklahoma City is impossible to predict. What seems certain, however, is that the antigovernment Patriots and the rest of the radical right are likely to push the nation even further away from any kind of constructive political dialogue. That is the last thing we need as we face a critical moment in steering our country’s future course.

  • Claudia Pogreba

    Looking for data that compares the acutual numbers of deaths committed by white racist groups (home grown) here in America since Okalahoma bombing.

  • Edie

    Right now on PBS there is a doc about My Ly and the slaughter our troops perpetrated against over 5,000 innocent and helpless old men, women and babies!

    It is clear to me that Americans enjoy nothing more than killing; especially, those who are not white.

    Some one just mentioned the sainted John Wayne; who made sure he did not have to serve in any of our wars he glorified on screen. In other words the great man was a draft dodger!

  • Evil White Person

    Snorlax, don’t forget that our government murdered pre-schoolers during its attack on Waco. It was the Waco massacre that inspired Timothy McVeigh to carry out his act of terrorism. What goes around comes around. But Waco happened while Clinton was President and Janet Reno was attorney general. So no mention of that horror will be made by the lefties at the SPLC.

  • Nessus

    “At 11 am Sunday morning….we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation.”

    Martn Luther King, Jr

  • Lene

    Dave, I am listening to what you said about Timothy being in North Dakota on the base. That is really wierd. I will be watching the documentary to see if it is mentioned. We should all be leary of these people who profess to be such “PATRIOTS”. Patriots don’t plot to take down their own Government. These people need to have their eyes opened to the truth. But they are haters and you can’t get them to listen to the truth. They have been brainwashed by the filthy rich who use them to justify their own means. IGNORANCE… “THE MOST VIOLENT ELEMENT IN SOCIETY IS IGNORANCE” Author, Sabet

  • Sybil

    When I read the comments here, I feel the deepest discouragement that I have experienced in a long time.

    Here, of all places, I would expect more from those who have the advantage of the lessons learned – and taught – by the SPLC: a deeper awareness of the kind of dialogue needed to conduct oneself in a social and political context.

    Instead, I find many of the comments to be ill-informed and unconstructive, much like the rest of the internet blather a la Glenn Beck style.

    I am, however, looking forward to the special on Monday about Timothy McVeigh, glad that the comparisons are being thus underscored.

    I am frankly quite frightened about what I am observing in the media and on the internet: the seething, mindless hatred and (as a former Republican), the silent, seeming endorsement of it all by the Republican Party. I am alarmed that few have chosen to distance themselves and condemn those enemies within who are clearly endangering the peace and security of this nation. Much of the blame and responsibility will rest on their shoulders if any of the worst case scenarios come to pass.

  • Edie

    As long as our government continues to sell fear, useful in keeping keeping the war service happy, the sheeple w/do as told.
    This country was founded by the Timothy McVeighs of their day; this land we claim was ripped from the native peoples and soaked in innocent blood.
    Our very Capitol built with the blood, sweat and tears of black slaves.
    The right-wing is howling out of racism; though they will deny it; lying comes so easily to them.

  • dave

    I note that my comment about Mcveigh being on base 18 months after officially being out of the military….went right over overyones head….

  • http://davideberhardtpoetryandprose david eberhardt

    folks may accuse me of espousing the same tactics as the right- but- as a veteran of the civil rights and peace movement- i say- why not use the same militant non-violent tactics against a beck or a palin or a bachman as we did in the 60-s?

    non violence can be very militant (i’m not talkin RAF here)

    it doesn’t seem like the spokespeople for the right get much kick back- and they should- maybe it’s that the youth of today don’t face a draft?

    study edward abbey

    study the weatherpeople- whose bombs destroyed no one but in the town house explosion- think about it

    luckily, the t party movement is made up of old farts like we leftees- will not go anywhere

  • rima segal

    The myth dies hard that this continent was once empty with good land for the taking with a gun required to protect oneself against marauding bears, and to bring down a deer or turkey for food, not to mention the passenger pigeon. I think this is how to self-styled “patriots” and “teabaggers” see what they want to return America to. But their immigrant ancestors’ descendents and mine filled the land and made it a society quite different, none I hope true Patriots recognize requires us to look beyond our own personal self-interest, making compromises for the common good, rather than shooting those with whom one disagrees. Our society will indeed fail if we continue to be at loggerheads, instead of seeking ways in which we can all win something.

  • Frank

    Amen to that. They also don’t fly their planes into buildings full of innocent working people like the nut who killed himself and an IRS worker. He was just as sick as the Arabs who flew planes on 9/11

  • Snorlax

    I’m putting my flag at half staff on Monday.

    Real Patriots don’t blow up preschoolers.

  • Janet LC

    It seems a lot of Americans think that American history started when their ancestors arrived by boat. They should remember that America was created at the expense and lives of the people that God Himself put on this continent. In the end, we are all children of the same Creator and are all equal in HIS eyes. America IS turning brown again, as it once was. Your ancestors were immigrants too, so you need to learn to play in the same sandbox with all the other children, or go the hell HOME! Our govt isn’t perfect – so get involved or don’t sit around and gripe. America is the beacon of hope and freedom to the world. If you don’t appreciate what has been created here, GTFO!

  • bryony1

    It’s no coincidence that two hate-filled groups of marchers will approach the Capitol as close as they can get on April 19, the anniversary of the Oklahoma City tragedy. Since it’s illegal to bring weapons anywhere near the seat of our government, those in the group who want to openly brandish their guns will have to satisfy themselves by gathering in Virginia.

    The second group, supposedly unarmed (every one of its members should be patted down for weapons by the Secret Service before they get as far as the Washington Monument), will get as close to the Capitol as they can.

    It will be interesting to see who joins these groups to spout hate: Likely Our Lady of the Tea Bags, AKA “Ms. Reload,” AKA failed governor, AKA 2008 vice-presidential loser-turned-Fox TV show host Sarah Palin, and very likely the apparently developmentally challenged Michelle Bachman, R-Minnesota, who has publicly announced she wants Minnesotans “armed and dangerous.” “Armed and dangerous” for WHAT?

    Why hasn’t Congress censured her inciting violence while “serving” in that elected body?
    Because too many on her “side of the aisle” agree with her, although they aren’t stupid enough to say so in public.

  • Hatewatch


    More on JDL is available in the Intelligence Files

  • charles13850

    I visited the Mura Building Exhibit/Museum in 2002 and found it brilliantly disturbing. At the end we viewed a computerized reference kiosk and, clicking on a reference to domestic terrorism, were shocked to see that the redactors had the twisted gall to try to show that there were almost half of these type of events linked to the repudiated JDL (Jewish Defense League). That scary lie prompted us to leave Oklahoma City right away. Are they all loony tunes or what? Does this hideous distortion of the truth still exist?

  • Mike Magruder

    I think these issues have a lot to do with social class. Wealthy criminals have managed to creep into the paranoid daydreams and nightmares of the McVeigh and company types of Americans. The creep rich have laminated themselves together with the US Government in the minds of these unfortunate and expendable spartans. Then, when the programmed and self destructive “patriots” are fully charged, the loon wealthy aim them toward the government etc. This sort of human stereotype appears frequently in movies like Deja Vu with Denzel Washington. It’s significant, I believe, that the theme is sci fi. After all, sci fi is based on REAL science.

  • John Molina

    Although is must be stated here and acknowledged, that Timothy McVeigh was certainly more complex than any of the present day gun toting yahoos. He had some imortant things to say, and the were quoted in one of Gore Vidal’s eye-opening nonfiction book.

  • Mitch Beales

    It’s hard to imagine how the Spaniards who pillaged Bolivia and enslaved its people managed to end up with “pretty much all the best lands… all the businesses, etc.” but my guess is that if 10% want to violently take on 90% they will end up as an even smaller minority. If you think the racists in Rhodesia or South Africa “allowed anyone to pull a Mugabe on them” you’re apparently not old enough to remember how they fought to preserve minority rule. If you think your ancestors built America without enslaving Africans and exploiting immigrants you’re just plain wrong. If you think it’s bad to live in a neighborhood that’s becoming a barrio you should try living where the law does nothing to prevent lynching and rape is not a problem because it isn’t called rape if a woman is your chattel. A change is gonna come. If you want to avoid the fate of South Africa’s Boer extremists and Zimbabwe’s white farmers you had best get on board to help make it a peaceful change.

  • dave

    Mcveigh was caught on film a full 18 months AFTER he officially left the military (director Bill Bean was allowed on base in North Dakota iin August 1993)….this base trains soldiers in demolitions…

  • Snorlax

    These anti-government nuts all have guns, and they’re all marching on Washington next Monday.

    Probably to show their support for the murder of 168 innocent Americans by their terrorist pals.

    Teabaggers are fellow travelers with McVeigh.

    Call in federal troops and put down this insurrection.

  • Emmett

    “rage and fear among many whites who resent ongoing racial changes in the American population.”

    Ahh, yes. Them evil whiteys are witnessing how their WASPy, all-American-as-an-apple-pie neighborhoods are being transformed right before their very eyes, and turning into cess and crime-ridden barrios. How dare they be angry about that?!?!
    I mean, seriously, why would the prospect of becoming a minority in the country that their forebearers built and bled for, is so scary for them? I know, the thought of becoming a “white minority” may seem bleak. But any concerned white Americans should not let negative things, like the vicious attacks on white farmers and their property in Zimbabwe or the gruesome racially motivated murders of Boers in South Africa and their raped/mutilated dead wives and children, deter them. Rather, in the face of changing demographics, they ought to learn how to roll with the flow. Prepare to adapt themselves to a life as a minority, if you will. Of course, the meek and defenseless white farmers in Zimbabwe and S.A are not good role models for America’s future “White Minority.” Obviously, a much better example for this sort of thing would be the white minority of Bolivia. This the aftermath of the attempted “land reform” there;

    Even though they make up just 10-15% of Bolivia’s total population, with the rest being Indigenous and Mestizo people (a standard for any corrupt, crime-ridden Latin American backwater), they own pretty much all the best lands, run all the businesses, and are the country’s brightest, most educated elite. And that’s despite Bolivia having elected a hard-left president who’s also a pure blooded Indian. Being a teeny-tiny minority makes the Bolivian white folks (who’re mostly of Spanish, and to lesser extent, Italian, German and French descent) defend their own community’s best interests even more ferociously, and this video shows. And considering how feisty and aggressive “güeros” are there in Bolivia, it’s obvious that this is one white minority that won’t allow anyone pull a Mugabe on them :)

  • Tezuka fan

    Oh, and it’s Holocaust Remembrance Week/Day. Any news on deniers?

  • Tezuka fan

    MSNBC? Shoot, I was hoping for a PBS Documentary so, you know, more people could watch it. I don’t watch cable news – except C-SPAN, but who could call that news – because there is a large amount of unbelievable ignorance (if you frequent fact-checking sites, this becomes unbearable) and hate (“these guys hate/are going to destroy America” and name-calling) coming from certain channels (note the plural).
    Anyway, I remember telling someone that something scary might happen on the 15th (besides – and probably because of – taxes) and asked if it was an anniversary of something, like how the Columbine shooting was Hitler’s birthday (though the shooting had almost nothing to do with Hitler). I had a feeling it was an anti-government event.

  • Nagayoshi Nagai

    “What seems certain, however, is that the antigovernment Patriots and the rest of the radical right are likely to push the nation even further away from any kind of constructive political dialogue.”

    Well put. That nicely sums it up right there. Education and tolerance seem to be the remedy for a lot of this insanity. I have been researching this ‘movement’, among others, for years now and have always been interested in it. Call it a morbid fascination I guess, but also one that is constructive because in order to potentially affect any positive change one must understand the psychological and ideological make up of this ‘movement’s’ adherents. I’m excited to see this documentary as well!

  • Difluoroethane

    Maybe you should add Brian “Sonny” Thomas to your list: