April 19 is a day with a lot of historical resonance.
It was when the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord to signal the start of the American Revolution. In 1933, the U.S. went off the gold standard on this date. Tens of thousands of Jews living in the Warsaw ghetto in 1943 began to rise up against the Nazis. The Red River flood and fire destroyed a good portion of downtown Grand Forks, N.D. on this date in 1997.
But what has driven recent attention to this particular date more than anything else is April 19, 1993, when the standoff at the Branch Davidian compound ended in Waco, Texas. An assault on the compound by federal officials sparked a fire, which killed 76 people.
Timothy McVeigh later claimed that motivated him to bomb the federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. Because of the blast, 168 people died.
It’s a date I approach every year with the memory of having covered the Militia of Montana in its nascent stage, before the Oklahoma City bombing brought it notoriety. John Trochmann, the Montana group’s leader, sat in a remote cafe and lectured me for most of a day about the group’s philosophy, including the particular resonance of April 19. (McVeigh was a militia supporter in Michigan, and the Michigan-Montana militia connection was strong.)
A lot of big media later invaded western Montana, including the New Yorker, the Washington Post, ABC News and others. Most of the stories, except for television, never made it to the rural readers of Noxon, Mont. in those pre-Web times. But they heard about the coverage, so it had the ironic effect of giving the group even more notoriety and they used the coverage as a recruiting tool.
After his peripheral involvement in a criminal case of the Montana Freemen, and a blip at the end of 1999 when the mail-order militia made money selling end-of-times paraphernalia, Trochmann took a significantly lower public profile. At last report, he remains in the mountains of western Montana, sure that his survivalist philosophy will win the day, on some April 19.