Twenty years ago this month (April 19, 1995 to be exact), a truck laden with explosives, 13 plastic barrels of ammonium nitrate fertiliser and nitromethane fuel, blasted the entire complex of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma. This explosion devastated the building in which the truck bomb was located, damaged downtown Oklahoma City, killing 168 people including 19 children. Five hundred were injured.
Initial speculation in the American and Australian media pointed the finger of blame at Islamic suspects. The attack was actually carried out by white, American radical rightist extremists, former soldier Timothy McVeigh and his accomplice Terry Nichols. Both of these men were stepped in the conspiratorial and hateful ideology of ultra-rightist sovereign citizens and patriot movement militia, a form of domestic terrorism that receives little, if any, coverage outside of specialist circles.
You can read an extensive list of terrorist bombings, conspiracies and plots arranged and executed by the ultra-right at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
While the bombings perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalist groups and individuals tend to receive saturation coverage in the corporate media (such as the Boston marathon bombing), domestic terrorism carried out by ultra-right hate groups are not only subject to passing commentary, but the causes of the right-wing violence is rationalised away as the actions of mentally disturbed individuals, lone wolves cut off from the rest of society and unable to find healthy avenues to express their grievances. While the entire Islamic community is held responsible for the criminal actions of minuscule fundamentalist groups within its midst, and expected to repeatedly apologise for their actions, the criminal enterprises of the ultra-right are almost always dismissed as the unfortunate aberrant actions of disturbed individuals.
Through the media’s prejudiced lens
The sub-title above comes from an article in the Socialist Worker, published in April 2013, elaborated on the anti-Islamic hysteria that swept the United States in the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing. Politicians of all stripes, media pundits and self-proclaimed experts on the subject of Islam were on the television and radio airwaves explaining how this bombing was the result of a clash of civilisations, the Muslim population representing a unique and direct threat to ‘our western way of life’. There was little questioning of the suspects’ motives, their actions or their reasoning – the Boston marathon bombing was an assault on us by Islam. The Muslim community experienced a new wave of hostility, repression and surveillance.
Let us look clearly though, at ultra-rightist violence – no less an authority than the United States Department of Homeland Security issued a report back in 2014 called ‘Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment’. A summary of the report, and an examination of its findings, was elaborated in an article published by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. The report’s author, Charles Blair, stipulates that the government had ample warnings about the rising tide of, and increasing recruitment to, sovereign citizens ultra-rightist groups. The anti-immigrant and far-right political groups have attacked a range of targets, not just federal buildings, but ethnic community centres, mosques, religious places of worship, courthouses, the parade for Martin Luther King day, African American institutions, inter-racial couples – the list goes on.
The ultra-right and its underlying ideology
Since the Oklahoma City bombing, ultra-right groups have grown in number, media reach, community appeal and organised violence. For instance, there has been an expansion of patriot militia groups, many of them having links to white supremacist and Confederate organisations. The combined ideology of white separatism and hostility to the federal government is a useful breeding ground for ultra-rightist organisers and activities. The gradual intermingling of white racist views, anti-government sovereign citizen militias, nostalgia for the separatist Confederacy, and fascination with guns has produced a toxic cocktail of hate that periodically explodes.
However, white supremacist attacks are usually dismissed as ‘mass shootings’, and the ideological motive behind those actions is almost always downplayed. No matter, the numerically inferior crimes perpetrated by Islamist groups (however vague or tenuous their links to Islam) are recycled constantly – the media has moved on to the Charlie Hebdo killings, repackaged and marketed as yet another Islamic problem for the self-righteous West.
In Australia, we have the December 2014 Sydney siege crisis – immediately publicised as a brazen Islamist terrorist attack – to preoccupy ourselves. Maintaining an atmosphere of hysteria only serves those who wish to increase the powers of the corporatist state at the expense of civil liberties. The narrative was unrelenting – a counter-terrorism operation was required to deal with this Islamist outburst on our free society, even though the attacker in question had no links to ISIS, Al Qaeda or any organisation, let alone an Islamist group.
In the meantime, there is a terror threat that is increasing in frequency and volume. The Department of Homeland Security has highlighted the ultra-rightist domestic sovereign citizens movement as the main concern of its personnel. That was from assessments published in February 2015. As the summary published by CNN states:
Some federal and local law enforcement groups view the domestic terror threat from sovereign citizen groups as equal to — and in some cases greater than — the threat from foreign Islamic terror groups, such as ISIS, that garner more public attention.
CNN quotes Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, who explained that deteriorating economic conditions have created a reservoir of poor and disaffected people that the sovereign citizen militia groups can attract. Persons facing foreclosure on their homes, or bankruptcy, find a friendly and welcoming presence in the patriot movement, the latter encouraging them to defy the federal government. Their grievances are channeled away from purely economic issues into a wide-ranging opposition to supposed government tyranny. There is a government tyranny – the financial aristocracy that is protecting its wealth and privileges from the demands of the increasingly impoverished population. Hospitals and schools are closed, jobs cut back, people thrown out – but the ruling class, a financialised aristocracy, continues to rake in enormous profits.
Twenty years on from the Oklahoma city bombing, the time to acknowledge that the United States has a serious terrorism problem is way overdue. However, over and above the need to confront the ultra-rightist threat, there is another extremist ideology that has seized the highest levels of economic and political power. The damage inflicted by this ideology’s proponents is brutal and lasting. What is this ideology? The ideology of capitalist corporatisation, the dogmatic and fundamentalist belief that everything public should be privatised and subject to corporate control. The extremists who propound this ideology sit on company directorships, university boards, chair political parties, and devise economic policies in the IMF and World Bank. This free-market fundamentalism condemns millions to poverty, squalor, and immiseration. The people marginalised by this extremism, end up on the streets, vulnerable and desperate. They lash out in various ways, against a system that has abandoned them. It is time for all of us – white, black, Muslim, Christian, – all of us representing the diversity of the human experience, to unite and fight this extremist ideology, before another Oklahoma City explosion shakes up our collective conscience.