TSG IntelBrief: The Oklahoma City Bombing 22 Years Later
April 19, 2017

The Oklahoma City Bombing 22 Years Later


Bottom Line Up Front:

• April 19, 2017 marks the 22nd anniversary of the 1995 domestic terror attack against the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people and injured over 600 more.

• More than two decades later, the lessons learned from the bombing have significant relevance for current events.

• The so-called ‘sovereign citizen’ movement—which in part fueled the bombing—is again on the rise, and most directly presents a significant challenge and threat to U.S. law enforcement agencies.

• The ongoing denigration by fringe groups of the U.S. government as an unaccountable ‘Deep State’ has repercussions far beyond the fringes.


Today marks 22 years since the worst domestic terror attack in U.S. history. Though much has changed over the course of two decades, a number of current trend lines present uncomfortable similarities to the anti-government fervor of a small but significant segment of the population in the early 1990s. In the years leading up to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, several high profile violent encounters took place between the U.S. government and radical domestic groups that rejected the concept of a federal government. The August 1992 raid at Ruby Ridge, Idaho—in which a U.S. Marshal and two members of the Weaver family were killed—and the April 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas—in which 76 civilians died in a fire, in addition to four federal agents and six civilians killed in an initial February raid—became inflection points for the increasingly vocal, organized, and armed right-wing anti-government movement

These two tragic events were both initiated by the criminal contempt of individuals being served with warrants, as well as their armed response to the presence of officials in the lawful execution of their duties. Yet both incidents were viewed by some as proof of an unlawful government that had usurped the liberties of its citizens. The years surrounding these events were also marked with the rise of far-right anti-government talk radio, most of which railed against every facet of the government and blurred the line between political disagreement and enemy behavior. The right-wing distrust and dislike of government—specifically the federal government—surged to a level that had not been experienced since the time of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963. 

On April 19, 1995—exactly two years after the Waco inferno—Timothy McVeigh lit the fuses inside a Ryder Truck filled with several tons of an explosive mix of ammonium-nitrate and diesel fuel, as well as other explosives. His target was the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in downtown Oklahoma City, which had previously been targeted by other right-wing extremists. The subsequent explosion killed 168 people, including 19 young children who were in a daycare center on the first floor. While initial reports surrounding the attack indicated that the suspects were of Middle Eastern descent, it was quickly determined that the deadliest terrorist attack in the U.S. up to that point was in fact an entirely a domestic affair. Indeed, the attack was deeply rooted in anti-government rhetoric and propaganda such as ‘The Turner Diaries,’ as well as the notion of a sovereign citizen legitimacy, all of which continue to infect and inspire domestic extremists today. The stated motivation of McVeigh and his accomplice Terry Nichols was a convoluted mix of a desire for revenge for Waco and Ruby Ridge, as well as to bring about the fall of the government.

In the years leading up to the Oklahoma City bombing, right-wing extremist groups and their sympathizers engaged in a relentless denigration of ‘the government’ as if it were a foreign entity, rather than the culmination of the collective efforts of thousands of citizens across the country working to serve their country and help their fellow citizens. Leaders of the movement denounced federal agencies as illegitimate and their officers as ‘jack-booted thugs’; the fringe movement’s hatred spread out towards the mainstream, dramatically impacting how large numbers of people viewed their own government. Today, the parallels to the anti-government sentiment of the early 1990s are uncomfortable and growing. Today’s ‘alt-right’ movement simultaneously views the government as an all-capable ‘Deep State’ enemy as well as an illegitimate and incompetent mistake. Similar to right-wing extremism in the 1990s, any facts today that are introduced to counter the distrustful and delusional extreme ‘alt right’ ideology do little more than generate competing realities—which are greatly exacerbated by the proliferation fake news, causing these competing realities to extend well beyond the fringes. The end result is a fringe group—which is vocal and growing—that believes its own government is an enemy that deserves both scorn and armed resistance.


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