Issue 187 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published June 1995 Copyright © Socialist Review
Shortly after 9am on 19 April, a 1,000 lb car bomb exploded in the Alfred P Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It killed 167 people, mostly workers from the many offices housed in the nine story building. The dead included 19 of 41 children who were in the building's childcare centre--one of the areas most damaged by the blast.
Within minutes of the explosion, police investigators pronounced it the work of Islamic terrorists. They based their conclusion on the word of a witness who claimed to have seen two men of 'Middle Eastern appearance driving away from the Federal Building shortly before the bomb exploded--a suspicious act undoubtedly committed by thousands of white people in the morning rush hour traffic. Representative Dave McCurdy declared that 'very clear evidence' pointed to 'fundamentalist Islamic terrorist groups'. And Representative Henry Hyde whipped up the anti-Arab hysteria still further, arguing, 'We should keep them from getting into the country in the first place.'
Federal investigators unleashed a two day witch hunt against Arabs. The police rounded up anyone of 'Middle Eastern appearance' who had been seen in the vicinity of the Federal Building around the time of the bombing. One man, Abrahaim Ahmad, was placed under suspicion simply because he flew from Oklahoma City to London hours after the bombing. British police seized, questioned and harassed him when he arrived at Heathrow airport. They then turned him over to FBI agents, who forcibly returned him to the United States. 'I was treated like dirt, like a dog', said Ahmad, a US citizen born in Jordan. While under arrest, racist vigilantes poured trash all over his front yard and spat on his wife.
Other racists attacked the home of Iraqi refugees Haider and Saher Al-Saidi. The racists surrounded their house, breaking the windows with stones, as the couple fled from one room to the next in fear for their lives. The trauma suffered by Saher, who was seven months pregnant, caused her to deliver a stillborn baby.
Not to be deterred by lack of evidence, the media immediately jumped on the anti-Arab bandwagon. One terrorism 'expert' after another delivered pearls of wisdom like this one by Steven Emerson on the CBS Evening News: 'This was done with the intent to inflict as many casualties as possible. That is a Middle Eastern trait.' And the New York Times pointed out that Oklahoma City is 'the home to at least three mosques', to help explain why Islamic terrorists would strike there.
But these assertions couldn't have been more wrong. The real trail of evidence led directly to far right extremist Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh is linked to a paramilitary network known as the Patriot Movement which has grown up over the last two years, mainly in rural areas. The Patriot Movement is a loosely affiliated alliance of far right groups united in their hatred towards the federal government, formed into armed militias to prepare for battle. Within it, more mainstream arch conservatives overlap with armed Nazis and white supremacists. But the Nazi presence is strong: one of the founders of the militia movement, for example, is Bo Gritz--who ran for vice-president in 1988 as neo-Nazi David Duke's running mate. Gritz believes that the Federal Reserve is controlled by eight Jewish families.
The first militias were formed in the aftermath of the Clinton administration's deadly attack on the Branch Davidian religious sect in Waco, Texas, in 1993. Since Waco, the militia movement has grown to tens of thousands of members, with a much smaller armed core, who are organised into cells of no more than eight. McVeigh is in all likelihood a member of one such cell. And the Oklahoma City bomb exploded on the second anniversary of Waco.
Clinton rushed to Oklahoma City to take advantage of every opportunity to be photographed embracing the bereaved families. But he also wants to use their grief to help him push through 'anti-terrorism' legislation designed to beef up the repressive powers of the federal government and the FBI. Clinton plans to rush through the 'Omnibus Anti-Terrorism Act'--a bill making it easier to deport foreign born people under the guise of fighting terrorism.
And two weeks after the bombing, the Clinton administration announced plans to expand the powers of the FBI. According to FBI director Louis Freeh, the new guidelines allow FBI agents to begin broad investigations into individuals and groups 'if that group advocated violence or force with respect to achieving any political or social objectives.' That sweeping definition would certainly include the African National Congress, now the government of South Africa--which once advocated force in overthrowing apartheid. And it would include virtually every organisation on the left.
The Clinton administration claims that the FBI needs more power in order to prevent disasters like Oklahoma City. But the authorities learned of the growing militia movement many months ago before the recent bombing. Last October, Morris Dees of Klanwatch, which tracks white supremacist groups across the US, warned Janet Reno that there was 'substantial evidence that white supremacists are infiltrating the leadership of these organisations'. The justice Department did nothing.
The FBI already maintains files on thousands of people. But it rarely uses its powers to stop right wing violence. In 1965 an FBI agent drove the car from which a Klansman shot civil rights activist Viola Luzzo in Selma, Alabama. In 1979 an FBI agent was part of a group of Klansmen who murdered five anti-racists in broad daylight in Greensboro, North Carolina.
The FBI has always used its power primarily against the left--and decades of abuse are well documented, particularly during the years when J Edgar Hoover was FBI director. The most notorious abuses took place during the 1960s and 70s, when the FBI used its surveillance powers to undermine and discredit the civil rights movement, to plant false information aimed at turning black organisations against each other, and to harass people who opposed the Vietnam War.
Anti-terrorism legislation will do nothing to make people safer. It will simply make it easier for the FBI to wiretap and harass people who hold views that it opposes.