chapter  10
22 Pages

American terror: From Oklahoma City to 9/11 and after


At 9:02 on the morning of 19 April, 1995, a bomb went off at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The bomb not only killed 168 people and injured hundreds more, but it also shook the illusion held by many Americans of a nation safe from the political unrest and terrorism outside its borders (an illusion that would be shattered for good on 9/11). In the hours and days following the bombing, the media and law enforcement authorities focused on the Muslim terrorists they believed were responsible,1 including a Muslim Oklahoma City resident detained at Heathrow Airport in London. On 20 April, one day after the bombing, another Oklahoma City resident, Iraqi refugee Suhair al-Mosawi, was attacked in his home as retaliation for the bombing.2 When Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols – two white, Christian, home-grown anti-government activists – were arrested, what became evident was that these were ‘American’ terrorists. In spite of the initial shock of the bombing and focus on Muslims, this was far from a new phenomenon. For many experts who had been researching and monitoring the extreme right, the bombing was the culmination of a fifteen-year trajectory of violence. In response to the bombing, hearings were held, anti-terror legislation was passed, arrests were made and numerous books written and films made about the phenomenon. Yet, following the events of 9/11, Oklahoma City and the domestic extreme Right were pushed to the margins of history and memory, as terrorism and terrorists were redefined as Islamic or Islamist, and Christianity and patriotism were evoked in America’s defence.