By Ken Sofer and CAP National Security team intern Molly Bernstein
Seventeen years ago today, Timothy McVeigh and co-conspirator Terry Nichols detonated 4,800 pounds of homemade explosives under the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building’s daycare center in downtown Oklahoma City. The explosion resulted in 168 dead, 680 injured and over $652 million in damage. The Oklahoma City bombing was the deadliest terrorist attacks in U.S. history until 9/11.
McVeigh said that he attacked the Murrah building, which held the local offices of the DEA, ATF, Social Security, and the Army and Marine recruiting offices, because of his hatred of the federal government, opposition to gun control laws and anger at the FBI for its actions during the Waco Siege of 1993. McVeigh was found guilty on eleven counts of murder and conspiracy in 1997 and was executed by lethal injection on June 11, 2001.
Though the terrorist attack on Oklahoma City happened nearly two decades ago, right-wing extremist terrorism remains a significant domestic threat to American security. The Department of Homeland Security released a report in 2009 stating that the economic and political climate bears important similarities to the conditions of the early 1990s when right-wing extremism experienced a dramatic resurgence. These conditions, including the public debate around hot-button issues such as immigration, gun control, and abortion, along with the election of the first African-American president, present “unique drivers for right-wing radicalization and recruitment,” the report said.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano eventually ordered the report withdrawn because of significant political backlash from mainstream conservatives. But the report, which was originally commissioned by the Bush administration, also found that “lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent rightwing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States.”
A look at terrorist incidents since the Oklahoma City bombing, including both successful and disrupted ideologically-motivated attacks, backs up the conclusions of the DHS report:
Fifty-six percent of domestic terrorist attacks and plots in the U.S. since 1995 have been perpetrated by right-wing extremists, as compared to 30 percent by ecoterrorists and 12 percent by Islamic extremists. Right-wing extremism has been responsible for the greatest number of terrorist incidents in the U.S. in 13 of the 17 years since the Oklahoma City bombing.
After DHS withdrew the report, the department cut the number of analysts studying non-Islamic domestic terrorism. Daryl Johnson, the primary author of the report and a self-described Republican, soon left his post at DHS and said in July, 2011 that DHS has “just one person” dealing with domestic terrorism. The Department has largely been silent on domestic terrorist threats ever since.
Although current statistics show that right-wing extremism is on the rise through groups like the Sovereign Citizen and Patriot movements, domestic counterterrorism continues to receive few resources and little public attention. Though Islamic extremism remains a significant domestic security threat, current statistics and incidents such as Oklahoma City show that it is far from the only threat. In order to protect American citizens, we need to match our resources to the reality of our threats, not just the politically expedient narratives we have formed.