The events of this past week may have been the most instructive in America’s political history. Although it is not clear whether new revelations concerning Donald Trump’s apparent mishandling or outright theft of classified American nuclear intelligence (for purposes that remain murky, and in details that are still breaking at the time of this writing) will give Republicans some pause in their knee-jerk and vehement condemnation of the FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence, what they’ve already done speaks volumes about what the GOP has become.
In the space of a week, the mask has completely dropped: Far from simply alluding (in “dog whistles” or other stochastic methods) to acts of retaliatory violence against their fellow Americans for imagined and baseless grievances, nearly all Republicans, eagerly and collectively—and in the space of just a few hours—have fulsomely embraced and advocated the values, rhetoric, and tactics of one of America’s most loathed domestic terrorists. He’s the one chiefly responsible for the single most deadly act of violence ever perpetrated by an American citizen: Timothy McVeigh.
On April 26, 2001, 33-year-old McVeigh addressed a letter to Fox News, where he sought to explain his rationale for perpetrating the most lethal act of terroristic violence in the history of the United States: the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and the resultant deaths of 168 people, including 19 children (whom he infamously described as “collateral damage”). As McVeigh saw it, the deaths were all justifiable for the purpose of sending an unmistakable signal that true patriots, such as himself, would never bow to what they considered to be a government that overreached in its efforts to enforce the law.
McVeigh, who (while in custody) had previously written a 1200-word manifesto explaining his motivations, evidently felt that a letter to Fox News would provide a receptive forum for him to further clarify and amplify his beliefs.
As McVeigh wrote:
[T]the bombing was a retaliatory strike; a counter attack, for the cumulative raids (and subsequent violence and damage) that federal agents had participated in over the preceding years (including, but not limited to, Waco.) From the formation of such units as the FBI’s “Hostage Rescue” and other assault teams amongst federal agencies during the ’80’s; culminating in the Waco incident, federal actions grew increasingly militaristic and violent …
Knowledge of these multiple and ever-more aggressive raids across the country constituted an identifiable pattern of conduct within and by the federal government and amongst its various agencies…For all intents and purposes, federal agents had become “soldiers” (using military training, tactics, techniques, equipment, language, dress, organization, and mindset) and they were escalating their behavior. Therefore, this bombing was also meant as a pre-emptive (or pro-active) strike against these forces and their command and control centers within the federal building. When an aggressor force continually launches attacks from a particular base of operation, it is sound military strategy to take the fight to the enemy.
On June 11, 2001—one and a half months after sending his letter to Fox News—McVeigh was executed for his leading role in bombing the Murrah building. He was the first federal prisoner to be executed in this country since 1963.
Timothy McVeigh’s radicalization in the early 1990s stemmed in large part from his reading of The Turner Diaries, which is aptly described by Encyclopedia Brittanica as an “anti-government, Neo-Nazi tract” authored by William Pierce. Pages of the book were found in McVeigh’s car at the time of his arrest.
The book, which details the truck-bombing of the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), fueled McVeigh’s paranoia about a government plot to repeal the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right “to keep and bear arms.”
This tract has been (and still is) credited with influencing the behavior of nationalists and neo-Nazi groups; Brittanica characterizes the book as the “Bible of the racist right.” Of course, The Turner Diaries and similarly themed apocalyptic, racist anti-government fountainheads had their incipience during the age before the internet and social media. As a consequence, their loyal adherents represented a relatively discrete, if still significant, segment of the U.S. population.
But now, the views McVeigh represented have gone fully mainstream.
The Oklahoma City bombings were the first to draw significant national attention to the militance of so-called militia groups in the U.S.; however, as explained in 2020 by Andrew Buncombe, writing for The Independent, that ideology spread exponentially over the next 20 years, until it found admirers and adherents in the Republican Party: “‘The ideology that once put Timothy McVeigh on the violent fringe of American political thinking is now much closer to Republican Party mainstream.”
Notably, In the ensuing decades since the Oklahoma City bombing was perpetrated, Republicans have become increasingly reticent about that event, coyly avoiding the subject of anti-government domestic terrorism, or deflecting instead by speciously comparing it to the Black Lives Matter movement and uprisings or so-called antifa protests.
As reported by conservative Peter Wehner, writing for The Atlantic, the rhetoric Republicans immediately employed in reaction to the execution of a search warrant this week by federal agents on the Florida residence of former president Donald Trump is, for all intents and purposes, identical to the rhetoric espoused by Timothy McVeigh in his attempt to justify his 1995 act of mass murder.
As Wehner observes:
MAGA-world denizens have called for violence and civil war, so much so that the phrase civil war was trending on Twitter Monday night. One user on Trump’s social-media platform, Truth Social, said, “Fuck a civil war, give them a REVOLUTION. We out number all of the 10 to 1.”
The Gateway Pundit, a pro-Trump outlet, wrote “This. Means. War”—which was “quickly amplified by a Telegram account connected to Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s onetime political adviser,” according to The New York Times. Bannon called the FBI “the Gestapo” and said, “We need to choke down the FBI and choke down the Justice Department.” Another former Trump adviser, Michael Caputo, said, “With this militant raid on President Trump’s home, we have become Russia. The FBI is the KGB.” And Fox’s Dan Bongino called the FBI’s action “some third-world bullshit.”
As Wehner notes, this paranoid, violent rhetoric is being echoed by some of the most familiar faces in the Republican Party.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich suggested that the FBI might have planted evidence against Trump. When asked by Charlie Kirk, a talk-show host, why the FBI would do this, Gingrich said, “We’d be better off to think of these people as wolves”—wolves who “want to eat you, wolves who want to dominate.” According to Gingrich, the FBI has “declared war on the American people at such a level and with such total dishonesty.” We are seeing “the ugly face of a tyranny.”
For comparison purposes, here are some similar words by Timothy McVeigh, as compiled in 2016 by David Alpher for The Washington Post:
Those who betray or subvert the Constitution are guilty of sedition and/or treason, are domestic enemies and should and will be punished accordingly. It also stands to reason that anyone who sympathizes with the enemy or gives aid or comfort to said enemy is likewise guilty. I have sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic and I will.
As Wehner notes, this inflammatory, McVeigh-flavored rhetoric now appears to have permeated all levels of the Republican Party. He cites current Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, who opined that an “illegitimate, corrupt regime hates America and has weaponized the entirety of the federal government to take down President Donald Trump.” Former Trump advisor and proponent of that administration’s child kidnapping policy, Stephen Miller, suggested that the “FBI has become a Praetorian Guard from Rome where they take it unto themselves to decide who wields power in this country.” Likewise, as Wehner observes, the sack of rotten fish that calls itself Steve Bannon got into the act as well, suggesting that the “deep state apparatus” was not beyond “try[ing] to work on the assassination of President Trump.”
And actual, elected Republicans, who doubtlessly know better, have been no less sparing in their incendiary, over-the-top, violent rhetoric. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul proved himself a worthy heir to his unbalanced father, declaring the FBI’s execution of the search warrant as “an attack on our constitutional republic,” while Texas Sen. Ted Cruz called it a “corrupt” abuse of power. As Wehner reports:
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis claimed, “The raid of [Mar-a-Lago] is another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents.” On and on and on it goes.
What these virulent, reckless, and hyperbolic statements all have in common is that none of them have any factual basis. They are being spewed solely for their political impact, in an opportunistic environment where apparently—in the minds of Republicans—anything is acceptable as long as it incites hatred and violence toward their political enemies, i.e., those who oppose Donald Trump.
Whether these Republicans actually believe these assertions is debatable, but frankly irrelevant: None of this verbiage, and the violence it explicitly encourages, would be out of place coming directly out of Timothy McVeigh’s mouth. It all draws from the same well of apocalyptic, anti-government delusions.
Over a quarter century ago, McVeigh’s story was seen by most Americans as a horrific, cautionary example of a diseased, deluded mentality gone awry. The one constant that most Americans had in common (at least it seemed at the time) was their sense of revulsion at what McVeigh had done, what he espoused, and what he claimed to believe. He was viewed as an anomaly—a freak and an aberration—as most mass murderers are.
But now we’re all being treated to McVeigh wannabes, it appears, at every level in the Republican Party. But wherever the bottom is with these people, it seems clear we haven’t quite reached it yet.
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