Last December while flying to France, I brought along a book by David Neiwert – Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump. The title says it all. The book works as a history, but moves quickly, talking through long-standing organizations like the John Birch Society and the KKK., but pinpoints the rise of the alt-right on the rise of private militias in the 1990s, which largely occurred as a result of government standoffs – Ruby Ridge and Waco – and a growing concern that the United States government was both anti-gun and becoming increasingly authoritarian. These beliefs can be traced back to various conspiracy theorists – see: New World Order.
Timothy McVeigh was inclined to fall in line with extreme right wing political ideology, and it became the gunpowder for his explosive predispositions, crystallized in the bombing of the Murrah building in Oklahoma City. PBS ran an excellent documentary on the Oklahoma City Bombing, which includes a lot of primary source material from McVeigh, and it’s as sad as it is harrowing. There is an unmistakable connection between gun shows and the spread of right wing extremism. McVeigh – like many right wing zealots – was largely radicalized by the rhetoric and ideas in The Turner Diaries, a book by White Nationalist and Neo-Nazi William Luther Pierce that established many of McVeigh’s beliefs, and became the jump off point for creating the bombs used in the Oklahoma City Bombing. You don’t have to go far to see how pervasive this book was in Radical Right conversations – Christian Picciolini mentions it explicitly as a major influence for his tenure in white power punk groups in his book White American Youth: My Descent into America’s Most Violent Hate Movement–and How I Got Out, as do many other contemporary neo-nazis. To his credit, Picciolini abandoned those beliefs and projects, since dedicating his life to deprogramming and de-radicalizing right wing extremists with organizations like Life After Hate and the Freed Radicals Project.
This is to say that when McVeigh was selling copies of the Turner Diaries at gun shows he was touching a lot of hands, traveling back and forth across the United States, establishing a rapport that continues in right wing extremist circles. This legacy continues fiercely today. It’s impossible to make a blanket statement about people who attend gun shows, but there is a loud segment of anti-government show attendees who just love America. The irony is not lost on me, and would be funny if it weren’t so legitimately scary.
What’s more scary is the fact that one radicalized person caused the deaths of 168 people in Oklahoma City, injuring 680 more, and destroying a third of a building because of a book and confirmation bias. While he was in the military during Operation Desert Storm, McVeigh had a profound realization after being told to execute prisoners – he was part of an unjust war. In fact, the United States was an international bully rather than an international savior. Ruby Ridge and Waco – for McVeigh – were corroboration that the United States government was a domestic bully to boot, and he wanted to hit them where it hurt.
These are anxiety-inducing times. Perhaps they all are. The amount of violence – domestic terrorism, school shootings – in our country is shocking, and it’s something I couldn’t put into perspective until I went abroad so consistently. Other countries don’t have this – this unending, outwardly-focused rage. Why?
There’s something telling in the fact that McVeigh and his cohorts were appalled when Clinton ennacted the Brady Bill in 1993, requiring gun manufacturers and sellers to conduct background checks on purchasers of handguns. Furthermore, they were incensed that the United States would ban assault weapons (1994). Why would you need assault weapons? Why would you be opposed to requiring these background checks? This contingent believes it is at war and as a result needs weapons for war. McVeigh – at one point in an interview – says the FBI is at war with the American people, but the reality is that McVeigh and people like McVeigh are the ones at war with the American people, and they’re in it for the long haul.