Storming of U.S. Capitol is the Final Warning
I remember the day well. April 19, 1995.
I was one month away from graduating. It was just after 10:00 a.m. in Ohio, a windy, spring day, and I was relaxing in the lounge area at the University of Toledo College of Law. Televisions had been installed months earlier in the main gathering room because of the never-ending O.J. Simpson murder trial.
I don’t remember what program was playing on the TV screens the moment it happened, but the news soon broke to interrupt whatever was on. The Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City had just been bombed.
Tom Brokaw announced that a car bomb had just exploded, killing children and federal employees — destruction and bodies everywhere. I remember the shocking footage. It was to be the single largest domestic terrorist event in my lifetime. Trump’s hero Andrew Jackson, who ordered the slaughter of 186 Native Americans in 1814, where his men bragged about shooting them like dogs, gets credit for the largest domestic terror act in American history in case you were wondering.
While I never imagined at the time it would lead to horrifying destruction and loss of life in Oklahoma, the five years prior had seen a nerve-shaking, massive rise in virulently angry white militia antigovernment groups. It was their view that the sky was falling down, and they were determined, clad with American and Confederate flags and armed to the teeth, to take their country back from the intrusive anti-American liberals.
Peppered throughout many of the groups’ rhetoric were the typical blame the Jews, Blacks should stop playing the race card, our guns will be confiscated, war on Christmas, and culture war choruses. Even an occasional Nazi flag. You know, the one the American military ironically defeated in World War II. One of these angry groups even produced a video detailing the 100 people supposedly murdered by Bill Clinton.
The extremist marches, newsletters, land confiscation, conspiracies, government standoffs and rallies were filled with an anger I had not seen before. Ruby Ridge and Waco were the loudest unheeded warnings of what was about to be unleashed on our young country.
As frightening as these militias seemed, most of us Americans just chalked it up to crazies. Extremists. Rabble-rousers. Nobody really paid attention or believed things would turn as dark as they did. After all, these were just a few fringe groups with no real power. So we thought, and did little to address them.
I cried that April day. The hateful rhetoric, anger and conspiracies had turned into action, and 168 mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters were murdered as a result. The youngest victim was 18 months old. I visited the beautiful and meaningful OKC memorial in 2018 and the pain and anguish were still in the air. I could hear the “how could this happen in America” murmurs from others visiting that day some twenty plus years later.
Just so we’re clear though, Timothy McVeigh didn’t just become a terrorist from dust. He developed an obsessive love of guns and antigovernment sentiment, starting with the novel The Turner Diaries written by a white nationalist who depicted a right-wing insurrection against a government out to get its people. A government seeking to take away its people’s rights. McVeigh was part of a growing group of angry white men who were convinced that they should be fed up with a government telling them what to do and controlling their lives.
Sound familiar by any chance?
These past six or so years we again are witnessing this same vicious rhetoric. More Confederate and Nazi flags this time. More blaming the Jews. More racist comments against people of color. More anti-immigrant sentiments. More guns. And most of all, more anger. Makes the early 1990s militias seem tame. More virulent complaints about the government telling us to do things like wear a mask or avoid large gatherings. More anger about people simply asking society to make Black lives matter, as if that somehow harms anyone.
This time around, though, let’s not take things for granted. Let’s not ignore the signs and symbols of the McVeigh sequel in the making.
You’ve seen the rallies, marches and now Capitol insurgence with the angry looks on their faces. You’ve heard the screams with vile in their eyes. Lock her up, referring to Hillary Clinton and later the governor of Michigan Gretchen Whitmer. Then “lock ’em all up,” referring to all Democrats. Fire Fauci. “Send her back” (U.S. citizen and Rep. Ilhan Omar). “Destroy the GOP,” they chanted when Republicans refused to go along with Trump’s unsubstantiated election fraud allegations. And of course, “the Jews will not replace us,” the good ole Charlottesville chant.
Side note. I personally would love to be one of the Jews to replace these nuts. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of us to replace anyone.
You’ve seen the conspiracy theories. Everything from the COVID hoax to hundreds of Republican and Democrat officials all conspiring to perpetrate multi-state election fraud, to the QAnon Jewish Hollywood elite running a pedophile ring. The list of other conspiracies is long.
Oh, and you’ve seen the mobs. From angry armed men storming the Michigan state house, which the FBI later determined had plotted to kidnap the governor. To the armed men who broke into the state capitol building in Oregon. To an armed militia group in New Mexico standing off against the government. To yesterday’s horrific occupation of the U.S. Capitol, some marching with Confederate flags. A Hitler salute and one Nazi flag even made its way into the angry crowd. This list is long, too.
You’ve seen the hate. More alt-right conferences. More Nazi marches. More Confederate and Nazi flags. More Charlottesvilles. More Holocaust denial. More racist tweets. And retweets. Proud Boys wearing shirts that read 6MWE, an acronym about Hitler and the Jews that stands for “Six Million Wasn’t Enough.”
Extremism also has crept into our military more than ever. In January 2020, a coast guard lieutenant was sentenced to 13 years in prison for plotting white supremacist–motivated violent attacks on journalists and Democratic politicians. In June 2020, a plot by a soldier to coordinate with a neo-Nazi group to attack his own unit was uncovered. New charges against white supremacists were occurring two to three times a month in the military for a good chunk of 2020. The Military Times reported that over one-third of active-duty soldiers witnessed white supremacist nationalism and racism among its ranks.
Hate crimes are up a staggering amount in the past few years. Nearly 18,000 hate crimes in 2018 and 2019 alone, mostly against people of color. Hate crimes against Jews also continue to rise. Nearly 1,000 per year now, and the most Jews killed because of their religion and identity in over half a century.
I drove through Phoenix on December 28, 2020, and passed a flag stand selling “Fuck Biden,” white supremacist, Confederate and black American flags alongside each other. This isn’t political discourse folks. This is extremism.
Make no mistake. The extremists aren’t lone wolves. They have their support, fueled by wealthy suburban talk-show hosts like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham who incessantly stoke the flames of this unfounded anger among the already angry masses. Newsmax and OAN go even further. Encouraging extremists to buy into the COVID “hoax” or “mass voter fraud” of which no judge or elected official can find any evidence, or trying to egg people on with the absurd notion that the Democrats are taking us to the same place Hugo Chávez took Venezuela.
These are scary accusations, and it’s common sense that they could increase the retaliation thermometer every time people spew these and other lies. All these words, symbols and anger have natural consequences. OKC bombing type consequences. So much anger that it’s not even clear what the anger is about anymore. It’s just us versus them now.
Certainly most of these people, most without high-paying jobs, BMWs or healthcare, aren’t livid that some politicians want to expand public access to healthcare? Or fuming mad about taxing the rich? Or pissed some want us to stop burning coal into our air? I mean I could handle honest political disagreement on the issues, but are folks really so angry about these things to express it through gun-toting and Confederate-flag-waving? To talk about “taking America back?”
Indeed, these issues aren’t what’s driving the anger.
It’s the extremist, false rhetoric that is getting people unjustly worked up. “They’re coming for your guns” crap. They’re taking away your rights nonsense. They’re going to have open borders lies. They’re going to turn us into Venezuelan or Cuban tyranny bullshit. They don’t want you to have Christmas anymore. Shit, even as a Jew I love the celebrations, decorations and songs. What’s not to like about Rudolph and sparkly lights?
The more people say these anger-laden things, the more worked up people get.
We might never know why Anthony Q. Warner bombed Nashville, but there’s a new violent smell in the air and, whatever our political persuasion, we ought to take it seriously this time. The U.S. Capitol incident this week was your little preview of what’s going to go down if we don’t take action now.
This needs to be our unifying rally cry. To in one voice stand against extremism.
Republicans and Democrats, right and left, must come together to vocally stomp out the growing disease of extremism among us. Forget defunding the police. We need to extra-fund the blue lives FBI to prevent what will be OKC all over again if we remain complacent this time.
Timothy McVeigh was put to death by lethal injection on June 11, 2001. I would prefer we not bring him back to life.
Jeffrey Kass is an award-winning author, lawyer, speaker, diversity trainer and thought leader on race and society. His newest book, The Rona Diaries, journals through the last year of COVID and racism. He can be reached at jeffreykassglobal.com.