Opinion – Never Forget the Lessons of Oklahoma City: Election Misinformation and The Danger of Far-Right Wing Extremism

By Jody Allen

At precisely 9:02 a.m. on April 19, 1995, a massive bomb erupted beneath the Murray Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people (including 19 children) and wounding hundreds more. It was, and still is, one of the worst acts of terrorism in U.S. History. The terrorist bomber—Timothy McVeigh—distrusted the Federal Government, sympathized with white supremacy, and was obsessed with guns. McVeigh was particularly motivated by what he viewed as the oppression of the Federal Government in the standoffs at Ruby Ridge and Waco. Since 1994, right-wing terrorism has accounted for the majority of all acts of terrorism in the United States, more than left-wing terrorism and Islamic-jihadist terrorism combined.

I began writing this article on November 10, 2020, shortly after the presidential election and upon witnessing the growing conspiracy theory, led by President Trump, that the election was rigged. Militia groups had already mobilized in advance of the election in response to Trump’s predictions that the election would be rigged, and Trump had recently signaled his support for groups like the Proud Boys and Qanon. I was infuriated by what I was witnessing for many reasons, but chief among them was what I viewed as a complete disregard for what happened in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. The same groups which had been endorsed by Trump and that were spreading his election lies online as the gospel truth—militias, Proud Boys, Qanon, etc.—are the kinds of groups that could produce another McVeigh. Oklahomans, more than most, know the horror that can result from this kind of extremism. 

Then, on January 6, 2021, following speeches by Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and other minions, urging them to “fight like hell” and calling for “trial by combat,” a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol. The mob disrupted certification of the election and beat one police officer to death while injuring others. Pipe bombs, guns, homemade napalm, and Molotov cocktails were found near the scene. In total six people died (including two police officers, one on January 6 and the other by suicide the following day). 

The mob that stormed the Capitol has been labeled in the media as “rioters”, “insurrectionists”, and “terrorists”. These labels are an oversimplification. To be sure, among the mob was a who’s who of loathsome groups of people: white supremacists, anti-government, and conspiracy groups including the Proud Boys, Boogaloos, and Qanon. But many of the people who stormed the Capitol were simply vehement Trump supporters who hold a sincere belief that the 2020 election was “stolen” from Trump. They may represent a more extreme wing of Trump supporters, but these people aren’t terrorists. They aren’t murderers. They aren’t like McVeigh. In their minds, by storming the Capitol to block the certification of the election results, they weren’t overthrowing democracy. They were saving it. 

That’s what makes lies and conspiracy theories so dangerous. They have the power to drive otherwise good people to do bad things, and to drive bad people to do horrific things. That is what the chief perpetrators of the 2020 election fraud conspiracy—Trump, Giuliani, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and others—failed to understand (or understood but didn’t care). In their hubris, these liars believed they could control the consequences of the lie they created. They believed that their lie would motivate people to elect them, or to give them money, or to give them power—with the hope that they in turn would “stop the steal”. But Trump, Giuliani, Cruz, Hawley, and others knew that they couldn’t actually overturn the election. What then did they think would result from all this? After convincing millions of people that the President of the United States was being ejected from office by a cabal of election-stealing leftists in what amounts to a literal coup-d’etat, what did they think would happen? 

That’s the problem with creating a lie of this magnitude. Because its creators knew that what they were saying is untrue, they underestimated the lengths to which the people who actually believe the lie would go. Most Trump supporters aren’t extremists – they want to live their lives in peace. And they have every reason to distinguish themselves from the extremists in their ranks. But that can’t happen if they continue to participate in and propagate the rigged election conspiracy. And it may not be possible to unring that bell. 

Millions of Americans now believe that the election was stolen, despite there being no evidence that it was. It’s been two months since the election and 61 of 62 of Trump’s election lawsuits have been thrown out of court, including some by Trump appointed judges. Republican election officials have contradicted Trump’s election fraud claims. Despite alleging the existence of millions of fraudulent votes, Trump and his allies haven’t identified even a handful. Any specific allegations of fraud by Trump or others have been debunked. Despite all of this, millions of people continue to believe that the election was stolen. It’s unreasonable to think these individuals could ever be dissuaded of that belief. Most of these millions are decent people who have been misled by a leader who they trust and care deeply about. But some of them are not innocent. A few of them are dangerous. 

This to me is why the votes of Oklahoma’s representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives against certification of the 2020 election results were so egregious. Like all the congressmen and women who voted against certification, they were aware that the 2020 election fraud conspiracy inspires mayhem and violence. They had just witnessed it minutes before casting their votes. Yet they still voted to fan the flames of this dangerous lie. Our representatives can claim some procedural or process-based reasoning for their votes against certification, but that isn’t what those votes signify to the election conspiracy believers. 

Even more disappointing is the fact that they are Oklahomans. They know first-hand what can happen when an unhinged person becomes convinced that the government has been corrupted, turned against him, and that he has no alternative to violence. They have forgotten the lessons of Oklahoma City. They’ve helped sow the seeds of discord and violence in our country. They should have known better.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Sapulpa Times.

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