What Americans can do to discourage future McVeighs
The upcoming 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people in the nation's worst act of terrorism before Sept. 11, 2001, has prompted renewed concerns about growing anti-government sentiment.
Is the political environment becoming so toxic that we could see another Timothy McVeigh emerge?
No one knows the answer, but fears that anger could escalate into action beyond the ballot box are not misplaced. Ninety-nine percent of angry Americans might be perfectly satisfied to rail at their television sets -- or to show up at a Tea Party rally -- but it takes only one.
The biggest concern for security folks in Washington is the lone operator, the John Hinckley, who tries to take out a president for his fantasy girlfriend. Or some variation thereof.
This is why "Don't retreat. Reload," Sarah Palin's recent imperative to her Tea Party audience, felt so off. Obviously, she wasn't suggesting that people arm themselves, as she has explained several times since. Hunting and military vocabulary are hardly new to politics. We "target" audiences or "set our sights" on policies and politicians all the time. In the world of healthy competition, trophies are victories, not dead people.
But words matter, as we never tire of saying. And these are especially sensitive times, given our first African American president and unavoidable fears about the worst-case scenario. If Jodie Foster could bestir the imagination of Hinckley, a Sarah Palin in the Internet age could move regiments.
Such fears are not unfounded. I hear daily from dissatisfied Americans who feel their duty is not only to protest but to fight if necessary. Here is one recent example, in response to a column I had written about America's true centrist nature:
"Sorry, honey, but we don't need the squishy middle right now. We need the hyper patriots, the combat vets ready to defend the constitution with arms if necessary."
The distance between such thinking and recent examples of overt hostility seems too little. In this space, the unthinkable becomes plausible.
After the health-care bill's passage, Democratic members of Congress were threatened. The brother of one had his home's gas line cut. At a Tea Party rally in Washington, some claim that racial slurs were aimed at, of all people, Georgia Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights hero. Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank was also targeted, so to speak, with language denigrating to gays.
All of the above have put the nation ill at ease. Add to the mixture of organic anger and grass-roots momentum the heckling language of Beck, Limbaugh & Co., and one fears that volatility could become explosive. What's next, militias?
Well, yes, now that you mention it. In Oklahoma, un-ironic legislators are sympathetic to a proposal to form local voluntary militias to thwart unwanted federal initiatives and to preserve state sovereignty.