The political consequences of the bombing in Oklahoma City on 19 April 1995 show how the two sides of the American political system, liberal and conservative, work together. Since the Republican takeover of both houses in November '94, the general trend has been to the right: social spending is being cut, prison building has been increased etc.. This article examines the complementary and simultaneous agenda followed by the liberal wing of the state, reinforcing state power by promoting fear of an imaginary extreme right-wing threat.
Both partieslaw and order policies have been boosted. Republicans have dropped their opposition to gun control in return for Clinton's help in restricting appeals to the death sentence. Meanwhile Congress and the President used the angry aftermath of the bomb to pass a draconian set of anti-terrorism measures, giving the FBI additional powers of investigation, and the President the power to decree any group illegal at will. Congressmen have claimed that some of the unofficial militias supported the bombing. This is an outrageous lie, but as we explain below, there has been an attempt to create a climate in which it could be believed. The National Rifle Association grovelled before the gun-grabbers. The media kept up a barrage of innuendo against the accused, which no jury can be immune to.
We haven't a clue who planted the bomb, nor why. Neither have all the people who have been quick to draw political conclusions from it. We should maintain a sceptical attitude to the prosecution case, as we should whenever the police are under enormous pressure to get someone. "The FBI zeroed in on the two men with remarkable speed" (Oregonian, 22 April 95). Though the worst crime in US history, it doesn't have much of a long-term significance in itself. It is not part of an ongoing wave of right-wing violence. There have been no more bombings. What is significant is what has been made out of it.
The fact that the government are the main beneficiaries does not mean they did it. Another beneficiary has been the liberal establishment, that is: the liberal wing of the state and its hangers-on. This includes journalists, the publishers of most "alternative" papers, anti-racist politicians, most feminists and some Zionists. Its outer fringes include the publishers of anarchist papers. The role of the liberal left is not just to stir up moral panics in order to strengthen the state ideologically. It also materially helps the pigs. The Southern Poverty Law Center, for example, spies on people it considers to be "hate groups" and gives the information to the police. The Anti-Defamation League considers any group critical of Israel as anti-Semitic and adds them to the files.
On the basis of a few vague rumours that the alleged bombers may have attended a meeting of one of the militias, an attempt has been made to generate a climate in which "anti-government" sentiment is equated with mass murder. Even verbal opposition was explicitly condemned by Clinton as contributing to the bombing by spreading "hate".
The Southern Poverty Law Center has remarkable foresight. Last year, its director demanded that Attorney General Janet Reno, following her Waco victory, turn her attention to "unorganized militias". Covert Action Quarterly, a Washington DC magazine that claims to oppose the government, was also ahead of the game with a major article on the threat of a fascist uprising in America, published before the Oklahoma tragedy in the Spring '95 issue. On the case of Randy Weaver, the white separatist besieged by the FBI in an Idaho cabin in 1992, Covert Action concedes that "The behavior of federal law enforcement agencies merits criticism": they shot dead Weaver's 14-year-old son, and killed his wife whilst she held their baby in her arms. This mild rebuke is a mere footnote in a fourteen-page feature, "Angry White Guys With Guns", linking gunnies, militiamen, pro-lifers and Nazis, whom it claims are on the brink of kindling an American fascist movement. These strange bedfellows are considered more dangerous than the Federal Bureau of Immolation and the BATF. Paradoxically, part of Covert Action's definition of paranoid right wing groups is their tendency to "perceive a global conspiracy in which key political and economic events are manipulated by a small group of elite insiders", exactly the position defended in every issue of Covert Action.
The Village Voice (23 May) attacked the right to bear arms as a wacky idea dreamed up by right-wing extremists. The June issue of the Progressive claims that forming a citizen's army to overthrow the government is "criminally treasonous". In their self-induced hysteria, these liberal democrats forget the Second Amendment and the Declaration of Independence which the US state claims to be based on. Not only did the authors of the Constitution see fit to bar any infringement of the right to bear arms, the colonial upstarts explicitly guaranteed the option of violently overthrowing the government in their founding document. Of course, whatever the constitutional rights, no government will tolerate its own destruction. It was not the right to bear arms that drove the police off the streets of LA in May 92, but the act of bearing arms.
Calling for the rigorous enforcement of laws against paramilitary activity, (p27) the Progressive comes as close to supporting the Waco massacre as you can get without actually saying so. The victims of so much FBI provocation and terror in the not too distant past now support the strengthening of the secret police in the name of anti-terrorism. Remembering this, it condemns attacks on civil liberties... when used against the left. It supports freedom of expression for those who agree with it. As for Presumption of Innocence, the Progressive finds Timothy McVeigh guilty, not only of the bombing but, as if this were not enough, of being a heterosexual (how do they know?) white male. Love and Rage desperately tried to demonstrate that the government is really on the side of the militias, complaining that it has given them airtime with the Waco hearings (L&R Nov/Dec 95). It could hardly add that these hearings were a victory for the liberals, who skilfully manipulated the prejudices of the current political climate by washing Reno's bloody hands with emotive allegations of child abuse, since L&R's politics are part of that climate.
The scare-mongering is not confined to the fringes of the liberal establishment. Here is the New York Times, 30 March, describing the investigations of an abortion clinic: "Planned Parenthood began to uncover a co-mingling of anti-abortion extremists, new world-order paranoids, Waco wackos, Reconstructionist Christians, white supremacists and assault-weapon fanatics in a national paramilitary subculture. Abortion turned out to be merely the come-on issue, designed to attract followers to a rabid, anti-government crusade".
The nearest liberals come to an analysis, as opposed to a panic, is to reduce the arguments of the right to a distorted response to economic hardship. There is a material basis to the right-wing libertarian movement. Over-grazing, logging and mining have damaged the environment so much that powerful interest groups have forced sweeping environmental legislation. Not only environmentalists want to rest the West: hunters, fishermen and the tourist industry need to preserve Nature as a resource. Farmers and loggers have a more immediate need to survive. Small farmers have come into conflict with public land managers. The libertarian right, which denies federal authority to drive cows and chain saws off public land, is, roughly speaking, the political expression of this fight. But fear of the FBI, the DEA and the BATF after Waco is a judicious response to a massacre, not a substitute for complaining about economic hardship. Anti-abortion campaigners are simply people who take the not completely irrational view that an unborn child is a human being to its logical conclusion, a position which is no more (or less) crazy than animal liberationism. In other words, economic interest explains people's behaviour, except when it doesn't.
It's important to see the target of the current campaign as reasoning people, rather than the goose-stepping fanatics portrayed in the demonology of liberalism. You have to understand something in order to defeat it. The new McCarthyism of the left is not aimed at demolishing the more conservative section of American society, but at diabolising it. A discourse which contains old FBI newspeak words like "hate groups" is calculated to advance its promoters, not solve the problems which led to the formation of the militias.
The law-and-order lobby of the left is our enemy, a far more significant one than the Ku Klux Klan. Overestimating the importance of the extreme right is an attempt to frighten people who would normally oppose the state into supporting it. When asked, members of racial minorities in America usually say they are more threatened by the police and other state agencies, and are almost completely indifferent to "hate groups" (PDXS 7 Nov 94). We should certainly defend the "right" against slander and murder, because misrepresentation does not help us understand them, because we care about the "Waco wackos" and their kids, and because giving the feds the right to wipe out any organisation the President takes a dislike to, is against our interests and the interests of the working class. Whereas another Oklahoma City is unlikely, another Waco, or Philadelphia, or Pine Ridge, is almost certain. This should be obvious, but anti-fascism is so prevalent that it needs spelling out. Even the Fifth Estate added an anarchist "analysis" to the official line:
"McVeigh and his buddies obviously wanted to rip flesh. Whether or not there was direct involvement, it is clear the perpetrators came out of the extensive network of heavily armed militias, neo-nazi and Klan formations, and the violent wing of the anti-abortion movement" (FE 346).
Rather than join the prosecution, we must reject this latest version of the perennial anti-fascist crusade.
Footnote, Jan 1998. This was written before the Oklahoma bombing trials. Here is an update.
FE Summer 1997 contains a letter from us about this magazine's response to the arrest of a suspect in the Unabomber case.
Massacres and the Media (II)
Following the Trafalgar Square riot
of 1990, there was a debate about the role of photographers. Much of the
evidence used by the police to convict people was obtained from newspaper
photographers, and there was a brief discussion about the possibility of
excluding all photographers from demos. The Trafalgar Square Defendants'
Campaign was very much against this idea, not because it was impractical,
but because some of them were film-makers and so on, and wanted to use
films and photos to help the defence by showing police brutality, etc..
In Central America during the eighties,
the issue was more serious. For example, Jeremy Bigwood, a lefty photographer
who covered the war in El Salvador, provided numerous photos of major figures
and political events and so on to New York photo agencies. Bigwood looked
through the files of one of the agencies, and "to his horror", discovered
that the State Department had been buying all his pics up to 20 rolls
a week. He then got the State Department's Central America desk to admit
that the pictures are sent down to the embassies. The embassies used them
for "intelligence" in other words, gave them to death squads to identify
Our spy met Bigwood in Chiapas. Bigwood
gave them an article from the Village Voice from 1988 explaining
the story. He's still at it, snapping away, obviously thinking that having
exposed the photo agencies is enough. No wonder the Zapatistas wear ski
In Central America during the eighties, the issue was more serious. For example, Jeremy Bigwood, a lefty photographer who covered the war in El Salvador, provided numerous photos of major figures and political events and so on to New York photo agencies. Bigwood looked through the files of one of the agencies, and "to his horror", discovered that the State Department had been buying all his pics up to 20 rolls a week. He then got the State Department's Central America desk to admit that the pictures are sent down to the embassies. The embassies used them for "intelligence" in other words, gave them to death squads to identify subversives.
Our spy met Bigwood in Chiapas. Bigwood gave them an article from the Village Voice from 1988 explaining the story. He's still at it, snapping away, obviously thinking that having exposed the photo agencies is enough. No wonder the Zapatistas wear ski masks.