Comments on Timothy McVeigh

by Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst
Political Research Associates
April 14, 2001

{revised and updated from original comments published June 2, 1997)

Now is an appropriate moment to reassess what has happened to the Patriot and armed citizen militia movements that were publicized after the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.

There has been a tendency to treat a series of overlapping right-wing political and social movements as a single monolithic entity. The Patriot and armed militia movements include tax protesters, gun rights activists, anti-abortion militants, Christian nationalists, revolutionary right terrorists, and more. Perhaps as many as five million of our fellow citizens accept the Patriot contention that our government is manipulated by secret elites and planning to impose some form of tyranny. Many believe there is a conspiracy to build a global one world government and new world order, perhaps under UN control. A few even believe this plan is Satanic and related to the apocalyptic end times prophesied in the Bible's book of Revelation, an analysis that flourished with the calendar millennium.

All these groups embrace various forms of populism, a political organizing style that seeks to mobilize ordinary people against entrenched corrupt elites in power. Populism has been growing in the US and around the world. While there are progressive populists who promote democratic values, the vast majority of US populists promote right-wing views that are anti-democratic; and they tend to be affiliated or loosely allied with the Patriot movement. It is, however, a mistake to lump all right-wing populist dissidents together. It is counterproductive to dismiss these movements as a lunatic fringe of radical right extremists--these phrases are labels that demonize not describe. The Patriot phenomenon is hardly fringe, it has allies who are elected representatives in the US Congress and several state legislatures. The Perot and Buchanan candidacies in part tapped into the deep sense of alienation, anger, and frustration among right-wing populists.

Is Timothy McVeigh part of this right-wing populist revolt? Yes, but of the most aggressive and ideological variant. While terms like fascist and nazi have been widely misused, they are the precise terms to describe the revolutionary right movement in the US. Timothy McVeigh is a man who handed out copies of the Turner Diaries, a book written by a US neonazi that extols fascist violence in support of antisemitic White supremacy, and even describes as heroic the terror bombing of a federal building. McVeigh passed through the Patriot gun show circuit and militia movement, but he is more accurately described as a neonazi, whose act of terror was designed not just to punish the government he saw as evil, but also to recruit persons in the militia movement toward his more zealous viewpoint. The Turner Diaries was available at gun shows and survivalist emergency preparedness seminars before the bombing, but but few militia members had ever read it or even heard of it until after the bombing.

Where did the Patriot movement come from? Actually Patriot-style right-wing populist movements have flourished throughout US history, usually during periods of social or economic stress. Following the collapse of Soviet-backed communism in Europe the major villain for some militant sectors of the US right shifted from the Red Menace to a caricature of a liberal big-government secular humanist conspiracy to undermine our traditional values. For years right-wing populist groups such as the John Birch Society claimed that the same shadowy "Insiders" were behind both Moscow communism and Wall Street capitalism.

After government abuse of power at Ruby Ridge and Waco, an armed wing of the Patriot movement formed. Clearly some hard-core white supremacists and neonazis encouraged and assisted the formation of the militia movement, but to claim that all members of the Militia Movement are neonazis or terrorists is simply false. However, the Patriot and armed militia movements are still dangerous in their own ways. The scapegoating conspiracist thinking in these movements undermines the fundamental premise of democratic discourse. And while it is frequently unconscious, many of the theories promoted by the Patriot movement come out of White supremacist segregationist state's rights constitutional legal theories, or antisemitic conspiracist fears of secret elites that falsely blame a Jewish banking conspiracy for our societal woes.

Armed vigilantes cannot be tolerated, and the government has a right to enforce its jurisdiction against those who claim some fictional sovereignty. The Militia Movement with its militancy and conspiracist suspicions create situations where armed confrontations are likely, and this is dangerous. Some Patriot types are bullies, threatening local government officials and even clerical workers. If these people break the law let's prosecute them. Let's enforce the state laws that already restrict paramilitary training and regulate possession of certain weapons and armaments.

At the same time let's pay attention to civil liberties. Recent anti-terrorism legislation was promoted as addressing the problem of the armed militias. This claim was nonsense, and the potential erosion of civil liberties is substantial. There is already evidence that government informers are entrapping right-wing dissidents in the Patriot and armed militia movements by suggesting the use of bombs and bullets, and then seeking indictments for conspiracy. This same process was used by FBI infiltrators to entrap leftist antiwar activists during the 1960's. We decried these tactics then, and we should decry them now.

We must confront the history of scapegoating in this country with its conspiracist allegations of subversion--witches in Salem, alleged plots by freemasons and Catholics, fears of immigrants that turned ugly during the Palmer Raids. We must also discuss economic dislocation and downsizing, and the wisdom of a global economy designed to primarily benefit large trans-nation corporations with little regard to the human costs and societal disruption. We must talk about White racism, antisemitism, xenophobia, and other forms of supremacy and scapegoating that have spilled over out of the Patriot and Armed Militia Movements into more mainstream political debate.

By addressing the social and economic basis for the angry right-wing populism our country is experiencing, we will reduce the recruitment pool for the neonazi demagogues who are waiting in the wings to exploit and channel unresolved anger toward bloodshed and terror.


Attorneys for Timothy McVeigh are attempting to portray him as angry at the government, like many people in the Patriot and Armed Militia movements. They then argue that mere anger does not imply acts of terrorism, since most anti-government dissidents do not engage in acts of violence. The sleight-of-hand is to suggest that McVeigh is ideologically aligned with the anti-government movement that may be armed, but is primarily defensive. But McVeigh is much closer to the neonazi movement in the US than the Armed Militia movment, although both of these sectors of the right do overlap and interact.

McVeigh not only possessed a copy of the the book the Turner Diaries, he passed it out and recommended it. Why is this significant? Because the Turner Diaries is not only the work of a US neonazi, but also reflects a neonazi ideology.

Neonazism is a form of fascism that embraces a master race theory--in the US context, primarily White supremacy mixed with antisemitism. Neofascist movements are revolutionary right movements that gather a mass base by using the rhetoric of right-wing populism...the people rising up to oppose an illegitimate government. Fascist movements typically support violence against the government, including acts of terrorism.

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