04/19/2006

Oklahoma City 11 Years Later

Some worry lessons of deadliest terror attack forgotten

Eleven years after the Oklahoma City bombing left 168 people dead, those who study the American radical right worry that the lessons of the nation's deadliest domestic terror attack are being forgotten.

"The great lesson of the Oklahoma City bombing was that the domestic radical right poses extremely serious threats," said Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups.

"It showed us that not all terrorists come from different countries, speak different languages or worship different gods than most Americans."

In the aftermath of the April 19, 1995, bombing, American law enforcement recognized the serious threat that was posed by violent elements of the domestic radical right. The FBI hired close to 500 new agents, most assigned to domestic hate groups, and government agencies monitored the radical right closely.

But in recent years, and especially since the Sept. 11, 2001, Al Qaeda attacks, the attention of much of the nation -- and many leading law enforcement officials -- has swung heavily to foreign threats. In addition, officials of both the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have asserted that left-wing "eco-terrorists" pose the No. 1 domestic terrorism threat, as opposed to criminals of the radical right.

But in fact the American radical right has produced some 60 major domestic terrorist plots since the Oklahoma attack, while animal rights and environmental extremists have killed no one. One of those, a 1997 Klan bomb plot in Texas, might have killed 30,000 people if it had been successful ý more than 10 times the number murdered on 9/11. In addition, the number of hate groups has steadily risen in recent years. In 2005, the Southern Poverty Law Center found 803 hate groups operating in America, up 33% over the five years since 2000, when there were 602.

"Americans ignore the threat of these groups at their peril," Potok said. "Eleven years ago, a pair of extremists carried out a mass killing that included the murder of 19 children. If we're not careful, it could very well happen again."