January 18, 2018 – This chilling documentary about the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and the events that led up to it is a chilling reminder about the threat of home grown terrorism from militant white supremacists and other anti-government groups.
This documentary was produced by American Experience Films and Ark Media for the Public Broadcasting Service. It is written and co-directed by Barak Goodman (“Scottsboro: An American Tragedy”) and Daniel Anker. This is a solid documentary, as much about the events and social movements leading up to the bombing as it is about the bombing and its aftermath.
While this film doesn't go back as far as the white supremacist bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 or as far forward as the murder of nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015 by a white supremacist, these are part of the same spectrum of murders and domestic terrorist attacks.
In this documentary the “spark” that energized the white supremacist revival in America was the Ruby Ridge incident of 1992 in which Randy Weaver's wife, son, and a federal agent were all killed in a shootout in Northern Idaho. The shootout happened at Weaver's home, not far from the Hayden Lake compound of the Aryan Nations white supremacist organization (once called “first truly nationwide terrorist network” in the U.S. by the RAND Corporation think tank) where Weaver had attended some meetings.
The documentary details undercover FBI operations within the Aryan Nations and how Weaver was implicated (some say “set up”) in an illegal gun sale. FBI agents were trying to turn Weaver into an undercover asset in the Aryan Nations, but he refused. When he didn't show up at a court appearance, U.S. Marshals went to get him. The standoff and shootout became a media circus that was exploited by the Aryan Nations to recruit more followers.
Guns and religion go hand in hand in this story. The Order (AKA Brüder Schweigen) a violent white supremacist group headed up by Robert Jay Mathews, engaged in armed robberies and the murder of Denver talk show host Alan Berg in 1984. The Order, like the Aryan Nations, found religious justifications for its white supremacist, anti-Semitic views in the Christian Identity movement, a branch of which, the Church of Jesus Christ–Christian, was founded in 1946 by Ku Klux Klan organizer Wesley A. Swift.
According to the film, one of the reasons the FBI was investigating the Aryan Nations in the first place was because of the violent crimes committed by The Order. There is a local Laramie, Southeastern Wyoming and Northern Colorado connection to The Order. More about that here in this essay about the Laramie connection to The Order and the Christian Identity movement.
Among those who took notice of Ruby Ridge was Timothy James McVeigh, whose growing anger at the U.S. Government would later cause him to kill over 100 people. The second event that stirred anger among the white supremacists was the Waco siege in 1993.
This attempted federal raid of the Mount Carmel Center ranch of the Branch Davidian religious sect near Waco, Texas turned into a disaster when the compound caught fire and burned down, killing 76, including Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and 19 children under age six (19 children also died in the Oklahoma City bombing).
McVeigh is seen in the film near the Branch Davidian compound, during the siege, selling anti-government bumper stickers. Two years later, he would set off his Oklahoma City bomb on April 19, 1995, the anniversary of the fire that destroyed the Branch Davidian compound on April 19, 1993.
The next event that angered the white supremacists was passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in late 1993. The law requires background checks on most gun sales from federally licensed gun dealers or importers. This law is regarded as a government overreach by gun rights advocates. It fueled more suspicion and hatred of the government in some quarters. According to this film, gun shows are places where anti-government people often meet and recruit.
This documentary says McVeigh was influenced by white supremacist anti-government propaganda and conspiracy theories. McVeigh, along with Robert Mathews of The Order, and others were influenced by the book “The Turner Diaries,” written by white supremacist William Luther Pierce. The book depicts the violent overthrow of the government and the mass murder of millions of non-whites by white supremacists.
McVeigh and his his friends Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier (who later abandoned the attack) spent a lot of time and effort getting bomb-making materials, like ammonium nitrate fertilizer, souped up with race car fuel (nitromethane) and materials stolen from a blasting site. McVeigh was very proud of the bomb he built.
The explosion, which killed 168 and wounded many more, is covered in some detail, along with the manhunt for the bombers and the coincidental arrest of McVeigh (who was pulled over on a routine traffic stop and then arrested for carrying a concealed weapon). McVeigh almost got away again after the arrest because authorities identified him as a person of interest in the bombing just in the nick of time before his scheduled release.
First responders and parents of the bombing victims, as well as law enforcement people who investigated events mentioned above appear in interviews. This documentary is very timely due to the recent rise in white supremacist activity in the United States. Many Neo-Nazis and other white supremacists see President Donald Trump and his advisor Steve Bannon as leaders who share their beliefs. According to the film, more than 500 militant white supremacist groups are currently active in the U.S. This film rates a B.
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