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

Oklahoma City Bombing Anniversary: Disturbing Parallels to Today’s Climate

By Heidi Beirich on April 19, 2011 - 12:28 pm, Posted in Antigovernment, Extremist Crime

Today marks the 16th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, the terrorist attack that showed Americans how domestic extremism can lead to violence on a massive scale.

On this sad anniversary, there are disturbing parallels to the years leading up to the bombing, when the antigovernment militia movement first arose. That, too, was a time of economic peril, particularly in the West, where the movement got its start. It was also a time when a Democrat was elected to the presidency, setting off a wave of antigovernment furor much like we are seeing today.

As we first reported in August 2009, the antigovernment “Patriot” movement – encompassing militias and other conspiracy-minded groups that see the federal government as their primary enemy – has come roaring back since the election of President Obama. We’ve now documented 824 groups in the U.S. – more than five times the 149 we found in 2008, the year Obama was elected. This movement had been dormant in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

While nothing has approached the scale of Timothy McVeigh’s April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building, which killed 168 people, we’ve seen a spate of criminal violence and conspiracies to commit violence from the radical right. In March, several members of the ironically named Alaska Peacekeepers Militia were arrested in a plot to kidnap or kill state troopers and a Fairbanks judge. That plot was reminiscent of the arrest, a year earlier, of nine members of Michigan’s Hutaree militia for planning an attack on police officers that the Hutaree hoped would spark a militia war against the government. Last May, two police officers were murdered by antigovernment “sovereign citizens” in West Memphis, Ark., during a routine traffic stop.

In March, a white supremacist was arrested in the attempted bombing of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Spokane, Wash. And in January, a neo-Nazi was arrested for a bomb plot on the Arizona border (for a detailed listing of major terrorist plots and racist rampages that have emerged from the American radical right in the years since Oklahoma City, read here).

The Patriot movement is just one part of a surge in right-wing extremism. Earlier this year, we documented 1,002 hate groups operating in the U.S., the most since we began counting them in the 1980s. In just the past decade, the number of hate groups has risen more than 40%, from 602 in 2000.

The dramatic rise in these groups is driven primarily by the changing racial demographics of the country, something symbolized by the Obama presidency. Other major factors are the anger generated by the lousy economy and the demonizing propaganda and conspiracy theories that increasingly are being injected into the mainstream culture by politicians and pundits.

McVeigh was motivated by The Turner Diaries, a racist fantasy novel written by a neo-Nazi in which nonwhites and Jews are exterminated. He had attended at least one militia meeting and shared with the Patriot movement a deep-seated hatred of the federal government. His bombing of the federal building was the worst single act of domestic terrorism in our nation’s history.

Today’s anniversary serves a grim reminder of the fruits of right-wing radicalism and the dangers of this growing extremism.

  • hardhat

    This is the darndest place that I have ever expored. Only about 1/3 of your post are ever posted, so, therefore, nothing makes sense.
    I have a question…does this site profile for fusion centers?

  • barbara brandt

    Fear makes it hard to identify the real threat; terrorism is a serious threat but today it can include anyone that ends up on a list made available to community volunteers. If a person has been a witness (for example) and the case prosecuted, things can become extremely upsetting because of the lack of a disposition of a high crime. Yet, there is no way to protect witnesses or individuals from data-mining and the destruction of a life. When we need to focus on the serious terrorists of any kind, we should not forget that law enforcement trained to deal with these threats is the important factor and volunteers are not to be involved in dangerous scenarios. They should also not be involved with the lives of Whistleblowers at any time violating their rights as witnesses.

  • Jonas Rand

    Neither the Libertarian Party (USA) nor the militia movement, nor the Teabaggers, are anarchists. They practice that hyper-competitive, alienating form of “libertarianism”, which values unrestricted capitalism and amoral exploitation through “free trade”. The “small government” crowd of Teabaggers favor corporate dominated government, which is still not anarchism. Anarchists are anti-authoritarian (libertarian) and left-wing.

  • http://www.ucs.louisiana.edu/~fdc7442/ Daniel Cring

    As an anthropologist it’s clear that social conflict is a global phenomenon and that anarchy, whether it be the Libertarian Tea Party or militias, is not uniquely American. What is scary however is how some political groups have manipulated human social behaviour for political gain. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, anti-communism hysteria was easily replaced with anti-government hysteria and ever since Reagan’s first inaugural speech, the Republican Party has made anti-government sentiment their mantra.

  • Jonas Rand

    @Leslie, I think it’s a patriot’s duty to criticize their government when they feel that it is doing something wrong, or when it is behaving in an unjust way. This is what Aung San Suu Kyi (who I see as very patriotic) did, and it brought attention to the suffering of the Burmese people. Could you imagine the ignorance about the oppression of Burma’s quasi-fascist government had she not spoken up?

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    @Todd “Right wing extremism is bad. We all agree.

    Now. Show us some stories on left wing extremism”

    No Todd, YOU show us some stories on left wing extremism. You see you are far from the first on this blog to make that argument, and yet you COULD be the first to actually give us some examples of left-wing terrorism in America.

    @hardhat- No, I am not from the Ukraine.

  • hardhat

    Ruslandie, are u from the Ukraine?

  • Leslie

    I seem to remember about 2 years ago that if anyone criticized the U.S. government and its foreign policy they were labeled a terrorist sympathizer by some people. Wow, things have changed a lot. Now, those same people think it is a patriot’s duty to criticize the government as loudly as possible. Interesting 180 degree turn around.

  • Jonas Rand

    Beverly – I think Israel is an apartheid state – and so does the Jewish, non-bigoted Dr. Norman Finkelstein, son of Holocaust survivors. Zionists have instilled in so many people the idea that opposing Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, or goodness forbid, the idea of displacing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to build a Jewish colony, is somehow anti-semitic. No Jews were in danger in Europe once they were liberated by the Allies and fascism was defeated. A small number of Jews who believe that Jews are superior to the Arab Palestinians, has managed to convince so many that they represent Judaism as a whole. Supporting the Palestinian people, supporting Hamas, or even opposing Israel’s existence (which the Zionists love to accuse anti-Zionists of) does not make one a member of a hate group or an anti-semite. Doubtless many hate groups are anti-semitic, and are opposed to Zionism/Israel’s existence because it was founded by and is run by Jewish people. But they probably hate the Palestinians equally, neither of which are characteristic of most anti-Zionist or pro-Palestinian organizations.

  • Jonas Rand

    Where are the left-wing radicals who are terrorizing people, encouraging hatred, or perpetrating violence at the rate the right-wing extremists are?

    I am a radical leftist. It is not a crime to be on either end of the spectrum. But by far, terrorists and hatemongers are right-wing. Even outside the USA (extremist Islamism, fascist European parties, extremist Zionist settlers, etc) the terrorism is mostly right-wing.

    The SPLC has a right to criticize any extremists they want, as long as it is not libelous. What left-wing terrorists do you think they are ignoring?

    And what does this nonsense even mean, a threat?:

    “Ever heard of freedom? Freedom is NOT free…”

    Opinions, that are not assertions of truth or fiction, can neither be wrong nor right.

  • REBEL

    Strange, you mention extremist yet only attack one side of the issues. If there was only one side, there would be NO extermes.
    Those in federal offices today are FORCING the polarization of opinions on us today, much like the one-sided nature of SPLC has for years by their telling us how bad those who do not agree with them are.
    While too many of the Dependent Class are buying this line of propaganda, not all do, nor are we going to idley accept being told what we must do. Ever heard of freedom? Freedom is NOT free and comes with RESPONSIBLITIES. If you wish to not be told you are wrong, then perhaps YOU need to stop forcing YOUR opinions on others as the only answer.

  • A.D.M.

    “…dark-skinned PR’s…”

    You mean black or African-descended Puerto Ricans.

  • Walt

    I agree that many groups today have more rights than they had in the 50s – 70s, that being said I think our rights have been eroded since the passage of the Patriot Act and the Military Commisions Act, specifically 1st, 4th & 5th amendment rights and the right of Habeas Corpus. We live in a world full of security cameras, High School and pre-employment drug screenings (with tests that have an unacceptably high “false positive” rate), intrusive airport security (including impounding laptops cell phones or flash drives w/out warrant, along w/the “nude scanners” and “junk grab” searches). insurance companies legally able to inspect private medical records and etc. The age of Big Brother is dawning – I hate to be an alarmist but that’s the reality.

  • Todd

    Right wing extremism is bad. We all agree.

    Now. Show us some stories on left wing extremism.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    “SLPC: We the people of the states (not an American corporation), SEE the fraud and spin that this site, ATTEMPTS, to write. whatever! your deceptions are very clear, the eugenic admin’s and other crooks are really behind funding this site. folks, slpc is lying to you, because really, they know they are a false paid for spin machine, funded by thugs. so you think you are a “hate watch monitor” whatever! “LOVE, CONQUERS ALL” ,and your journalism, STINKS”

    That’s it, Mr. I now renounce my previous political ideology and embrace….whatever the hell this pitch is for. You have TOTALLY convinced me.

  • xxodettexx

    couldnt resist commenting but “Mr”‘s pathetic rant is too funny to pass up! how sad that people like you exist [adding robert/hardhard to the list of sad pathetics]

    @A Walkaway: thanks for sharing; i personally have experienced racism but nothing to the degree my siblings and parents have [siblings are very dark skinned PR's, my parents have very thick hispanic accents]; and even then, i cannot imagine what it must be like for you and your family; i often wish everyone would take a second and realize we are ultimately all human! HUMANS, period… we all eat, sleep, dream, hope, take shits [each to varying degrees] and just get over the damn childishness of xenophobia! grrr

    okay, rant over

  • Charles Austin

    President Obama may have to deal with these hate groups much like President Johnson did and make sure that they had no private meetings. Every word and action was observed and recorded by the F.B.I. for the protection of the public and I think that we have reached a point after the assassinsation attempt against Congresswoman Giffords that this is not a bad thing. I personally don”t see this is a negation of their rights as citizens.
    Someone ask me about the name of my email. For anyone else interested its about existentialism being the foundation of material philosophy scientific existence and what it can tell us as humans.In other words its that part of philosophy which deals with our existence and what we can do as humans.

  • Mr

    SLPC: We the people of the states (not an American corporation), SEE the fraud and spin that this site, ATTEMPTS, to write. whatever! your deceptions are very clear, the eugenic admin’s and other crooks are really behind funding this site. folks, slpc is lying to you, because really, they know they are a false paid for spin machine, funded by thugs. so you think you are a “hate watch monitor” whatever! “LOVE, CONQUERS ALL” ,and your journalism, STINKS.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    “Strings pulled by the Marxist/Socialists fan club in Washington”

    Yeah, there’s lots of Marxists and Socialists in Washington. That’s why they’ve been gung ho about deregulation, bailouts, free trade, and privatization for the last 30 years or so.

    Jesus. Read a BOOK on Marxism some day.

  • Tree

    Unfortunately, April 19 is also the anniversary of the attack on the Mt. Carmel Church compound in Waco, Texas. Even though the Branch Davidian sect members did violate the law, actions by the FBI, ATF and US Marshall Service were extreme, completely out of proportion to the seriousness of the charges. Ramsey Clark, former U.S. Attorney General, wrote:

    “History will clearly record, I believe, that these assaults on the Mt. Carmel church center remain the greatest domestic law enforcement tragedy in the history of the United States.”

    Misconduct by the ATF, FBI and US Marshall Service at Ruby Ridge a few years earlier is undeniable. A report issued after congressional hearings and investigations recommended many reforms and changes to attempt to “restore public confidence in federal law enforcement.” The US Government paid millions to settle a wrongful death suit by the survivors to prevent more exposure of misconduct by federal employees and probable higher monetary awards. Criminal charges against federal agents were dismissed based on ‘grounds of sovereign immunity.’

    There was good reason to distrust the US Government in the 1990s. To paraphrase the original article,

    Today’s anniversary serves a grim reminder of the results of a government not accountable to the people.

  • A walkaway

    I can tell of rights gained since the 50s and 60s. For many people, things got a lot better.

    Until 1980, it was against the law for my people (Native Americans) to just EXIST in large parts of the southeast. We finally gained freedom of religion at the same time. In fact, it took a federal law (that the “Good Christians” and right-wing bigots viciously opposed) specifically granting Native Americans the right to practice their religion/culture before the other laws were repealed. One law in particular (Georgia) declared us incompetent to testify in any court case involving whites or African-Americans. 1980 – I was an adult then, was a watershed year for my tribe and others.

    In 1970, some of my tribal elders were threatened with one-way bus tickets to Oklahoma. The Trail of Tears law also was still on the books.

    We’re still the invisible minority in most areas. People don’t realize we still exist, and we’re finally starting to come out of hiding. I know of families who STILL keep their identity hidden, for fear of a return to the “old days”.

  • Beverly Kurtin

    No, bigots, National Socialism is not the governing politics in Israel. I wonder why the ONLY democratic country in the Middle East is so bad mouthed by some people. Christians are murdered in most of the Middle East with the exception of Israel. The State of Israel is the ONLY country that has such things as freedom of religion (yes, that includes Islam), women’s rights, and just about every freedom we enjoy in the U.S. is present in Israel. About the only people who think badly of Israel are ignorant hate mongers. Oh…yeah…it has a lot of “them Jews” in it too.
    The folks who want “our country back” REALLY MEAN, get that nigger out of the White House. Obama will go down in history as one of the best presidents this country has ever had and I voted for him and plan to vote for him again.
    The hate groups need to have wheels soldered to their rings so their rings won’t spark as they go across concrete. The only qualification for membership in a hate group is that you must be a looser, have an IQ below 75, and be illiterate. Also, to qualify as a full-fledged bigot, you have to be afraid of anyone who is not you and on election days you stay as far away from a voting booth as possible and for your god’s sake NEVER THINK RATIONALLY!
    You will probably think that you are a Christian, but you’re nothing like a Christian. You can’t be a bigot and hate your neighbor and be a Christian, you do the opposite of what Jesus said, but then again, since Jesus was a Jew you have to hate him too. Nope, if you’re a member of a hate group you are in no way a Christian so stop saying you are, it is embarrassing to Christianity to lie about being one.
    But the biggest thing you must be is a miserable low-life coward. You are afraid of your own shadows. You think that being white is something really special and important. It was just that a sperm and an ovum got together. You could have been born Hispanic, Black, Asian or heaven forbid a Jew! Oh how HORRIBLE!
    No, I don’t hate any of you, to hate someone means that you think they’re important and you bigots are certainly not important to anyone but yourselves. And, in closing, if you hate this government so much LEAVE. Nobody is forcing you to stay in this country. We have open borders unlike so many other countries. Maybe you’d enjoy Libya or perhaps Egypt, just get the hell out of this country if you don’t love it. Go where hate is appreciated, it isn’t in the United States of America.

  • hardhat

    I seriously doubt that Timothy pulled this off by himself. I doubt if he did it at all. When our gov’t wants something passed, something traggic suddenly happens so that our rights can be taken away. Strings pulled by the Marxist/Socialists fan club in Washington.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    Mitch, I think we’re being too hard on our conservative guest, Rob. I learned that when a right-winger shoots off a sound bite, for example, something about our lost rights, reverse racism, political correctness, or welfare moms, you’re not supposed to demand evidence or question anything. You’re supposed to get angry and join their side.

  • Mitch Beales

    “For starters” I presume Rob is referring to Kelo v. New London in which the Supreme Court decided that the provision in the fifth amendment “No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation” allowed land to be taken for “redevelopment.” The fact that there was a Supreme Court decision in the matter makes it quite clear that there was “due process of law.” The only question in that case was whether “redevelopment” constituted “public use.” The court decided that, under the Constitution, it did. So, since the Constitution restricted property rights in that way they did not exist in the 50s, 60s, or 70s.

    Any more Rob?

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    “Can’t you people bring yourselves to say National Socialist?
    I mean it is the governing politics of Israel isn’t it?”

    Ok this cryptic message is definitely fitting a name like Herp Derpington.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    “Eminent domain SCOTUS decision, for starters.”

    Please elaborate. I’m not sure this is enough to say that we have significantly fewer rights than in the 50′s and 60s. The rights gained by black Americans alone far outweigh something like eminent domain. Then there’s the Miranda ruling, Roe v. Wade…I could go on for some length.

  • Herp Derpington

    Can’t you people bring yourselves to say National Socialist?
    I mean it is the governing politics of Israel isn’t it?

  • Linnea

    The militias are seriously scary. So glad someone’s keeping a close eye on them.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    Yes, what rights? Was it the right for black people to go where they pleased? Because they didn’t have those rights in the 50s. Was it the right for people to be open about their sexual identity? Nope, because they didn’t have those rights. Which rights were they, specifically?

  • Rob S.

    Eminent domain SCOTUS decision, for starters

  • Reynardine

    And who is this “we”? You got a mouse in your pocket?

  • Scott Klug

    The rights to legal discrimination, telling racist jokes in public, beating up queers…you know, the fun stuff that “Angry White Men” remember wistfully.

  • Mitch Beales

    What rights Robert?

  • Robert

    The only reason that some fear the Federal government is they see rights we had in the 50s and 60s and 70s gone.

  • The Panic Man

    The climate of hatred in this country won’t be taken seriously until there’s another large-scale attack. By that time, it’ll be too late, and the same guilty parties will have their roles in it glossed over in favor of focused anger against a few people and short-term revenge.

    And then we’ll all go right back to saying that it’s harmless… until the next time.