MSNBC’s Airing the McVeigh Tapes: Sensationalism or Timely Reminder?

On April 19th, on the fifteenth anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing, MSNBC will televise live footage of interviews with Timothy McVeigh, the right wing mastermind of the attack. In light of all the turbulence and controversy surrounding the administration of Barack Obama, is this just another case of crass sensationalism or does it serve as a timely, in your face, reminder of what constitutes an extreme threat to public safety?

In my last two articles: Coming Unhinged on the Far Right and Hutaree Militia: Foiled Fantasy of a Citizen’s Uprising, I pointed out what I believe to be an undeniable trend towards a violent confrontation between the government and the far right. I experienced some degree of pushback from conservatives who fell back on the argument that the left had committed plenty of violent acts in the sixties, as if that were somehow relevant today. Nowhere in either of these articles did I ignore, condone or endorse left wing violence. In fact I roundly deplored all political violence:” It is time for Progressives to stand up to thugs and fanatics of any stripe, be they far to either the left or right, and to no longer tolerate threats of violence on the part of those who having lost out in the political arena, have chosen to attempt change through extra legal means.”

Many conservatives would point to an incident of labor thuggery by SEIU members, the Weathermen Bombings or the Seattle World Trade Organization anarchist riots as being somehow equivalent to the damage done in Oklahoma City or on par with the numerous deaths thus far committed by anti-government extremists since the inauguration of Barak Obama. In doing so, they are deliberately ignoring the facts that currently exist. Some critics went so far as to label the recent reports by the Southern Poverty Law Center as just a bunch of “liberal propaganda” for having pointed out the exponential growth in hate groups and anti-government “patriot” organizations since the Obama election. This argument, that past left-wing terror is somehow relevant to dealing with today’s clear and present danger, is a straw man argument being made by people who are fooling themselves with a historically challenged analysis in assessing the present situation. Its either that or they are so heavily invested in an anti-Obama crusade that they have become complacent in accepting this threat as it has yet to produce another Oklahoma City. Thus far it serves to support their anti-government animus so they have implicitly accepted the rhetoric while not actually endorsing violent acts.

I spent the last week with my reserve unit where I am part of an armed maritime security / law enforcement team. One of our team leaders is also a U.S. Marshall and SWAT team member with a background in having dealt with anti-government groups. We got on to the topic of domestic terror and his name and office will remain anonymous. I asked him if he had witnessed a significant rise in the number of anti-government organizations and he answered yes to that question. I asked him if they were predominately right wing and he said while there are some on the left, there were more on the right. Furthermore, I asked him if the findings of the Southern Poverty Law Center constituted legitimate research, again he agreed with me that their findings are consistent with what he was seeing from with inside the Marshall’s Service. He went on to say that the Secret Service was working overtime to keep up with all of the potential threats that have emerged in the last six months.

On this Sunday’s Chris Matthews Show the topic of domestic terror was front and center and Matthews presented two quotes from right wing extremists to underline his point that this is a serious problem. Michael Savage on his April 9th Savage Nation Show said: What we need is a vigorous right-wing movement in America, not a Tea Party. And you need to face off against those scum on the left and then you’ll have a nation. Then there was Mike Vanderboegh of Freedom Radio on March 17 who advocated going for the throats of the country’s elites. Finally, Nora O’Donnell pointed out how Sarah Palin starts off so many of her speeches with “Do you love you freedom.” implying that the current administration is bent on taking it away. If anyone can claim, that at least the Savage and Vanderboegh quotes are not an incitement to violent behavior that would to me constitute an act of outright self-denial.

If individuals are being complacent in their implicit acceptance of this incendiary rhetoric, what then is the position being taken by the Republican Party? I found it interesting that every one of Matthews’ panelists pointed out that to date, the G.O.P. has said very little in the way of condemning those on the far right who have put forth politically violent and vitriolic commentary. A salient point made by the commentators was that Fox News had allowed both Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck to run wild with their comments and that the G.O.P. of today lacks the moderating forces of thirty years ago who would have distanced the Party from the likes of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann. Joe Klein, having looked up the meaning of sedition said, the current language of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin “came up against the seditious.” Even Kathleen Parker who is listed on the conservative TownHall.com website of conservative columnists said:” The Republican Party must distance itself from the far right otherwise it will be seen as complicit.”

In the final analysis, when you take in to account the totality of the present situation, I think the MSNBC airing of the McVeigh Tapes should serve as a reminder of just how dangerous and incendiary rhetoric can become. That said, it is impossible to deny that there is an element of the sensational in the airing of McVeigh’s interviews. But it is also hard to deny that there are those among us who in their deep dislike of Barak Obama and dynamic social change are silently endorsing the very language on the part of leading right-wing politicians and media personalities, which could lead us, God forbid, down the road to another Oklahoma City.

Steven J. Gulitti
April 18, 2010

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