The Oklahoma City Bombing took place on 19 April 1995, in the morning. The target of the bombing was AlfredP. Murrah Federal Building. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 168 people died in this attack while 500 others were injured. The attack was a case of local terrorism on the American soil.
Timothy McVeigh was the mastermind of the attack. He had parked a truck that was carrying an ANFO (ammonium nitrate fuel oil) bomb. McVeigh was a militia movement sympathizer who enlisted the support of Terry Nichols to destroy the federal building. McVeigh was motivated by the federal government’s handling of the Waco Siege, which had taken place two years earlier.
The bomb resulted in progressive structural collapse of the structure. This attack became the deadliest act of terror to ever hit America in time of peace. The attack is considered to be unique in that Americans were believed to have been responsible for this heinous act. Immediately after the attack, the largest criminal investigation process in U.S’s history, known as OKBOMB, began.
Meanwhile, in light of all available facts, historians were left grappling with the question of whether it is the nature of Americans to be inherently violent. In an instant, Americans found themselves grieving, healing and memorializing. Other than cultural criticism, the bombing invoked a debate on the national psyche of Americans.
Historical and contemporary causes of the Oklahoma Federal building bombing
Initially, the FBI had three theories for describing the cause of the bombing: first, international terrorists who carried out the World Trade Center attack in 1993 were thought to have carried out this attack. Secondly, the FBI suspected that a drug cartel out on a revenge mission on the federal government could have carried out the attack. Thirdly, Branch Davidians, a cult with all characteristics of a right-wing militia movement was suspected to have carried out the attack in order to avenge the Waco siege that had taken place exactly two years earlier. This historical background of Branch Davidians traces its origin in 1930 when a reform movement grew from within the Seventh Day Adventist. The members of this movement referred to themselves as Davidian Seventh Day Adventists. Divisions within the movement led to formation of Branch Davidians Seventh Day Adventists (The Branch). This was in 1955 (Newport, 2006:28).
Davidians Seventh Day Adventists located their place of worship at a hilltop, a few miles to the west of Waco. This historical insight into the origin of this cult is important for the understanding of Timothy McVeigh’s ideological standing; he was a staunch sympathizer of Branch Davidians. He carried out the attack on the second anniversary of the deadly standoff between federal agents and Branch Davidians.
The attackers wanted this bombing to coincide with WACO siege. WACO Siege was a deadly encounter between The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and Branch Davidians on grounds that the latter party was stockpiling illegal arms. The ATF had raided and burnt down WACO exactly one year earlier. Timothy McVeigh, the mastermind of the attack, was convicted for first-degree murder in 1997, sentenced to death and executed through a lethal injection. Terry Nichols was sentenced to life imprisonment.
This white-supremacist movement was comprised of right-wing hardliners who engaged in controversial standoffs with left-wingers. They accused left-wingers of being tyrants who are out to pave way for a phenomenon that they refer to as the New World Order, which they are opposed to. The ideology upon which this movement is based leads some of its adherents to commit heinous acts of crime.
People who conform to the ideologies of rightwing militia movement consider Davidians as martyrs (Anthony and Robbins, 1997:272). This is why people like McVeigh and Terry Nichols were willing to avenge the deaths of Davidians on the anniversary of the Waco Siege.
Investigations and historical interpretations of the Oklahoma Bombing
Many observers relate the Oklahoma bombing to the September 11th 2001 attack. First, the report prepared after each attack indicated that outsiders were responsible for the damage. Secondly, the same engineers prepared reports and handed them to the federal government. Thirdly, these reports were in support of the explanations that the government had given soon after each attack.
The progressive collapse of the federal building is a rare phenomenon that resulted into disproportionately severe damage and loss of lives. Some months after this attack, explosive experts from the US air Force based at Eglin Air Force Base conducted a litmus test on the official explanation by doing a study on a three-storey building that was structurally identical to MurrahBuilding. The EBES (Eglin Blast Effects Study) report that came out of this test indicated that it was not possible for the explosive force of a bomb of ANFOvariety to cause the destruction pattern that MurrahBuilding suffered.
Representative Charles Key chaired the Oklahoma Bombing Investigation that looked into the mystery behind this bombing. In a report released to the media by Representative Key, it was clear that majority of Americans had expressed feeling of distrust against the government, and even against the government’s investigation the more. Key was chosen to head this investigation for many reasons, most important among them that he was an eyewitness who even suffered the loss of his first secretary in the incident. Among the tasks assigned to Key was to spend as much time as possible holding meetings with and listening to all constituents who had lost their loved ones in the blast.
Loss of trust on the federal administration resulted from the manner in which the federal investigators interfered with Key’s investigations, mainly through pressure tactics. The same tactics were being employed by establishment media. The administration was trying to sweep Key’s cover-up theory under the carpet, but it was unsuccessful. He went on to participate in different talk shows on those radios and televisions (most of then small and alternative media) that were still giving the unfolding story an objective angle in terms of both reporting and analysis. Supporters of his theories also posted information on the internet and majority of Americans stayed tuned.
Oklahoma Judge Owens turned down a request to have the county grand jury impaneled. The judge even declared null and void a state constitutional provision that was clear. Oklahoma newspapers were also ganging up against him, trashing him with headlines that were clearly subjective and provoking. When Key went to court to demand that the manner in which the federal government was handling the Oklahoma City bombing be investigated, the court of appeal ruled against him.
Two months before the Oklahoma Federal building bombing, the federal administration had information that white separatists were threatening to engage in bombings, mass shootings and assassinations. This is according to a newspaper article written by John Solomon, an Associated Press writer on Wednesday 12 February 1995. According to this article, the FBI had already interviewed a witness who was familiar with plans relating to an attack on Alfred P. Murray building. Indications in the article were that other agents had already their hands on a book that was in support of a terrorist attack on the Oklahoma federal building.
The U.S government was already in possession of all appropriate intelligence before this bomb was detonated but failed to give warning to managers of the federal building. Similar miscommunications and intelligence failures were blamed for the September 11 2001 attacks. According to the documents that contained the intelligence, supremacists who were living nearby were contemplating attacking government buildings in the state.
It worth noting that the pattern in which the Oklahoma bombing was executed is very similar to the one that was followed by the bombers of the World Trade Center two years earlier. In both cases, explosives had been loaded into a rental truck. The detonations used were identical and in both cases, the truck had been driven towards the target.
Circumstantial yet serious evidence has been used to link the bombing to Middle Eastern Connections. It was established that Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind and convict of the 1993 WorldTradeCenter bombing had been staying in CebuCity, Philipines. In addition, his phone records showed that in the previous three months, he had been communicating with in-laws of Terry Nichols who live in Queens. Terry Nichols was one of the two prime suspects of bombing who had been arrested only two days after the attack, and who was eventually convicted of the terrorist attack.
The OKBOMB, as the FBI investigation into the Oklahoma City bombing was referred to, was very labor intensive. The investigation commenced on the fall of 1995. In 2001, it was discovered that some FBI field officers had not handed over some 700 additional documents that were relevant for the discovery process. This triggered a wave of criticism on the FBI.
Analysts say that the hasty execution of Timothy McVeigh in 2001, six years shy of the typical stay for death row convicts, which is usually 10 years, could have shed more light on the truth. Perhaps the documents that had been discovered would have swayed the investigations in another direction. These words ring true considering that FBI investigators had even failed to uncover a second stash of deadly explosives that lay in his home for 10 years since the Oklahoma Bombing.
An evaluation of later consequences of the Oklahoma bombing
Many people, including those who agree with the politics that were played by McVeigh consider his actions counterproductive because instead of assassinating specific leaders, he ended up killing many innocent civilians, including children. Only weeks after the bombing, the federal administration gave an order that all federal buildings in the country should be protected using prefabricated jersey barriers in order to prevent the likelihood of another attack.
Politically, this attack caused former U.S president Bill Clinton to regretting having stormed the compound of Branch Davidians. Mc Veigh claimed that the attack resulted in the resolution of standoff involving Montana Freeman. The construction of Oklahoma City National Memorial was completed in 2000 and dedicated by former U.S president Bill Clinton.
The Effective Death Penalty and Anti-Terrorism Act of 1996 bill was passed in order to address acts of terrorism. The WorldTradeCenter bombing in 1993 was the source of initial impetus for the passing of the bill. The Oklahoma federal building bombing two years later gave this bill bipartisan support (Ackerman, 2004: 20).
Civil liberties groups and gun right organizations were opposed to passing of this bill. In what was popularly known as an “unusual coalition”, civil liberties organizations teamed up with gun rights groups to hold up the passing of the bill by Senate in June 1995 (Linenthal, 2003:6). The Libertarian movement formed was unable to prevent the bill that had been introduced on the floor of the senate by Joe Biden, a Democratic Party senator from Delaware, from being made into law.
Members of the libertarian movement say that the new law infringes on the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. They are also concerned that presidential powers were expanded in that he can label any organization “terrorist” without any provision for federal appeal. During Bush administration, the dangers of allowing the president to have such powers became apparent. The civil liberty activists were proved right when President George Bush plunged the country into an unnecessary mess with the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The invasion was part of the ongoing efforts by his administration to weed out Al Qaeda terrorist threats. Iraq was accused of stockpiling weapons of mass destructions and giving them to Al Qaeda terrorists who were threatening to attack America.
The bill also seems to be criminalizing lawful activities. Permanent resident aliens risk being deported for their political activity or affiliation without any judicial review being carried out.
In other words, activists are concerned that during times of fear and tragedy, some people are often targeted for harassment based on their political views, race, speech, national origin and religion. A good example is the Palmer Raids of 1920, where thousands of people were arrested and jailed improperly in response to the frightening bombings. Another example is during the world war, in which case Japanese-American citizens were incarcerated. The list goes on to the time of soviet threats and Vietnam War.
The counter-terrorism bill concentrates many powers on the police to an extent that makes the police look like the local version of National Security council. More importantly, activists have always objected to the provision that authorizes secret trials involving immigrants and citizens accusing of offering support to local or international organizations that the president has declared to be of terrorist nature. The accusations may be leveled by informers who can choose to retain their anonymity.
After this bombing, many Americans started feeling that they are not safe in their own country. The country suffered untold national conscience setback owing to the fact that this act of terror was a domestic affair. It is not wonder that the federal administration was not willing to conduct further investigations since they would only expose the country’s ugly side of its religious history and supremacist extremism.