(Photo Caption: High school students across Pittsburgh held demonstrations against gun violence in solidarity with students in Parkland, Florida. (Photos: WTAE)
By Gabriel McMorland
April 19th marks the anniversary of the deadliest domestic terrorism attack in the US, the 1995 bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City by a man martyring himself for a white nationalist fantasy. Timothy McVeigh’s truck bomb killed 168 children and adults, injured more than 600, and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to buildings in downtown Oklahoma City. The Oklahoma City Bombing was explicitly motivated by some of the same paranoid theories that animate the “alt-right” movement today, and this tragedy deserves a more central place in our collective memory.
Timothy McVeigh intentionally mimicked the bombing of a US Federal Building described in the 1978 dystopian novel The Turner Diaries, which remains a cultural touchstone of white power groups and militia movements today. Created as a work of insurrectionary propaganda, The Turner Diaries follows an epic saga of second amendment rights, the persecution of white Christian American patriots, and their eventual triumph in a global race war.
McVeigh’s clean-cut, white mugshot contrasts strikingly with the depictions of brown Muslim terrorists that dominate the popular imagination and mainstream media in the US. We know that white men carry out the vast majority of mass shootings and acts of terror, frequently driven by fundamentalist Christianity, by the same right-wing paranoia that led to the Oklahoma City bombing, or by gender violence spiraling into attacks on the wider public. Media coverage of these incidents often portrays the killers as “lone wolf” anomalies and neglects the larger ideological, cultural, and historical context.
It’s worth reflecting on how this violence, and the ideologies that drive it, fit coherently into the dominant culture of US society. Certainly, most people will not engage in domestic terrorism or evangelize theories of US Federal Agents confiscating guns on behalf of a global Jewish conspiracy. Still, the underlying themes of white supremacy and patriarchy remain firmly embedded in US institutions, media, and progressive institutions. The largely rural and semi-underground right-wing patriot movement of the 1980s and 90s now appears increasingly connected with the online world of white-collar suburban men railing against “political correctness.” The Tea Party movement and the larger racist backlash against the first black president also brought more socially respectable white people together with extreme right-wing subcultures. We should see the Oklahoma City bombing as the result of a movement, not a man, and we should ask honest questions about how that movement relates to mainstream society.