The Common Good

The Oklahoma City Bombing Anniversary and Home-Grown Terrorism

Today, April 19, is the 15th anniversary of one of the most heinous acts of domestic terrorism -- the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building -- which killed 168 people, many of them civilian government workers, and injured 500 others. The casualties included 19 children, 15 of them in the building's day care center. Timothy McVeigh showed little regret about the casualties in the war of his home-grown militia movement against the American government. In a 1999 taped interview with his biographers, he said, as if speaking to the survivors:

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The specific details may be unique, but the truth is you're not the first mother to lose her kid. You're not the first grandparent to lose a granddaughter or a grandson. I'll use the phrase...and it may sound cold but...it's the truth: Get over it.

He is also heard saying, "Kids are fair game. Women are fair game ... I feel no shame for it."

Tonight at 9 p.m. ET, a documentary on the anniversary of the bombing based on those interviews, "The McVeigh Tapes: Confessions of an American Terrorist," airs on MSNBC. I intend to watch it. The promos of this important documentary say that extreme "anti-government" sentiments and rhetoric don't always lead to violence, but they can and have.

Sunday morning after church, I happened to meet a retired member of the congregation who used to work for an Oklahoma lawmaker and knew some of the people who were killed on that terrible day, and one whose young son was severely injured. I could still feel the emotion in her voice as she told me the story in the church parlor over coffee. It was like talking to friends and family of the victims of 9/11. But do we really see it that way?

On this terrible day, I have to ask: Are we concerned about the clear history and threat of domestic terrorism, or just foreign-based terrorist attacks? Are we as concerned about potential terrorists who are home-grown Americans with white skin as we are sometimes obsessed with darker-skinned suspects of Middle Eastern descent? And are we willing to focus our attention on the white right-wing violence of so-called American or even "Christian" militias, like we are now seemingly ready to unleash the forces of law enforcement against the mostly harmless but very vulnerable people who crossed the border illegally? Those are some of the questions we should ask as we watch the MSNBC documentary tonight.

It's time we make it clear that different views of the role of government are legitimate and essential to a robust democratic discourse; but the hateful and even violent rhetoric that has been employed in the past, and is now having a resurgence again, is dangerous and destructive and should be renounced and rejected by people of faith and good will across the political spectrum.

portrait-jim-wallisJim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, CEO of Sojourners and blogs at www.godspolitics.com.

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