Unearthing the Roots of the Oklahoma City Bombing

The Intersection of Right Wing Populism, Scapegoating, Conspiracism, Government Misconduct, Anti-Government Terrorism, the Far Right, and Neonazi Ideology

by Chip Berlet

The 1995 Oklahoma City bombing took place in the political, historic, and cultural context of the growing Patriot and Armed Citizen Militia movements. The aftermath of the bombing and the trial in Denver have raised issues and claims that for many observers seem almost surreal. Scapegoating and conspiracist allegations abound. There is confusion about various sectors of the US political right and how they interact.

Most persons who join right-wing populist movements are not acting out of some personal pathology, but out of desperation--grasping at straws in a vain attempt to defend hearth and home against the furious winds of economic and social change threatening their way of life. They feel abandoned. No one in power is listening. No one cares except others in the same predicament. Their anger and fear are frequently based on objective conditions and conflicts--power struggles involving race, gender, ethnicity, or religion; falling buying power and economic hardship, transformations in the society that cause confusion and anxiety. Yet whether or not their grievances are legitimate (or even rational) they sometimes direct their anger at false targets--scapegoats--on which to blame their problems.

The scapegoats are often pointed out by demagogues, who are williing to use emotionally-manipulative appeals. The simplistic and subjective explanations the demagogues use to demonstrate the culpability of the scapegoats may seem obviously artificial, but given the unresolved anger and frustration of the persons turning to right wing populism, any attempt at resolving the conflict seems better than inaction.

One way demagogues portray the scapegoat as not just culpable but evil, is to claim the scapegoat is involved in a sinister conspiracy that threatens to sabotage the entire society. Allegations of a conspiracy on the part of scapegoats is common. Variations on the conspiracist scapegoating theme in the US include charges of Salem witches in league with Satan; a freemason conspiracy to undermine church and state; a conspiracy of Catholics to deliver the country to Papal control; a cabal of British and/or Jewish bankers manipulating the economy; conspiracies of immigrant anarchists and Bolsheviks to collapse the government into revolutionary chaos; a web of red subversion menacing our national security; communists hatching the civil rights movement to foment discord; a secular humanist conspiracy of liberals to take God out of the public schools; pagan environmentalists envisioning anti-technology terrorism; lesbian femi-nazis bent on emasculating men and destroying the traditional family; and an elite conspiracy to create a One World Global Government under the control of the United Nations.

"Conspiracism serves the needs of diverse political and social groups in America and elsewhere," writes Mintz, "it identifies elites, blames them for economic and social catastrophes, and assumes that things will be better once popular action can remove them from positions of power." We would expand this by adding that conspiracism not only identifies and blames elites, but also identifies and blames subversives and parasites from groups that have relatively lower social or economic status.

Conspiracism in the US rests on three pillars: as a dynamic process of scapegoating; as an historic persecution narrative based on the conspiracist Illuminati Freemason texts or the hoax document the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and its progeny; and as an institutionalized ideology with two flag bearers, the John Birch Society and the Liberty Lobby.

With the collapse of communism in Europe, hard right conspiracists in the US turned their attention to subversives inside the government, as they had during the McCarthy period. This time the alleged subversives were not Soviet-backed communists, but liberal internationalists and collectivists seeking a one-world government and new world order to be imposed under the authority of the United Nations.

Let's assume the Oklahoma City federal building was blown up to protest the government misconduct, excessive force, and abuse of power that were evident in the attacks on the Weaver family at Ruby Ridge, Idaho and the Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas. In several hard right and extreme right scenarios, Ruby Ridge and Waco were pre-planned conspiracies by government officials to create an atmosphere where the government could justify taking away guns from average citizens in preparation for imposing martial law and eventually establish UN control.

Was the Oklahoma City bombing the act of an average member of the Militia movement? No. It was an act of terrorism from the extreme right designed to not only punish a government seen as illegitimate, but to move the Militia movement further to the right ideologically, and to push the Militia movement from defensive armed dissent to agressive armed revolution to topple the government.

Terrorists see themselves as heroes. They act while others talk. They are convinced that their violence will provide the spark for an uprising aimed at throwing off the yoke of oppression. They expect others will quickly join them, and that history will record their deed as noble and justified. They are wrong, and their acts are despicable, but their acts usually have an internal logic.

So the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building was carried out by persons allied with the extreme right in the US, and in addition to McVeigh and Nichols, there were probably several other participants who most likely had ties to the neonazi underground, Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Christian Identity, or the Christian Patriot movement. These extreme right movements are to the right of the Patriot and Armed Militia movements, but overlap and interact with them. Members of the extreme right occupy the right-wing of the Patriot and Armed Militia movements, constantly attempting to pull these movements further to the right. 

More on the Bombing

Read a chapter: Battling the New World Order: Patriots and Armed Militias from the book Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons Guilford Press

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