PBS recently aired a documentary by director Barak Goodman titled Oklahoma City about the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh. The interviews with first responders are perhaps the most heart-wrenching part of the two hour documentary, especially when they discuss rescuing or removing bodies from the day care center.
Previous to 9/11, this was the worst act of terrorism on American soil and no one can deny it was an act of terrorism. The film delves into the background that led McVeigh to his actions. It documents his upbringing and army career where he fought in the first Gulf War and concludes, from McVeigh’s own words, how he started to turn against the government for which he was fighting.
It claims that two events- Ruby Ridge and Waco- had a profound impact on him and confirmed in his mind that there should be resistance against the government that he came to view with disdain. Perhaps the most damning evidence against McVeigh was film of him selling anti-government bumper stickers at Waco. Further, the bombing of the Murrah building coincided with the anniversary of the Waco debacle.
With respect to those instances, the documentary does a good job of showing how the government’s actions were at least questionable. Interviews with federal agents at Ruby Ridge and Waco seem to indicate that there was conflict between the different agencies on how to resolve the standoffs. Of particular note, the tactics and militarism of the FBI Hostage Rescue Team are questioned the greatest.
The movie looks at the rise of white separatist groups. There is no evidence that the Weavers at Ruby Ridge belonged to any group although their house was 60 miles from an Aryan Nation compound and they occasionally visited. In fact, the documentary seems to indicate that Randy Weaver was set up by federal agents who infiltrated the Aryan Nation compound. As for David Koresh at Waco, they were not a white separatist group but a religious group that had amassed an arsenal of weapons for some unknown reason.
Goodman does not lionize McVeigh, but seems to suggest that besides these two incidents there were other factors that led to his actions. In some ways, it presents McVeigh as a disgruntled Gulf War veteran.
This is a good documentary worth watching, but it does get into some problems when “experts” are interviewed. One “expert” is Leonard Zeskind who surprisingly appeared in the documentary since he tends to have an aversion to talking to any press other than that of the radical Left. Zeskind is the leader of the Sojourner Truth Organization based in Kansas City around 1973, imported possibly from Chicago. Zeskind and his wife have written for Urgent Tasks: Journal of the Revolutionary Left. His apartment is adorned with revolutionary posters and his groups study Leninism.
Another “expert” interviewed is Steven Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Admitting that McVeigh was not a member of any white separatist anti-government militia, he then nevertheless notes that McVeigh was a “gun enthusiast” who attended “gun shows.” He then makes the assertion that it is at these gun shows where McVeigh most likely crossed paths with white nationalists.
What Goodman successfully does is not draw parallels between McVeigh and his actions or what led him there, and events of today. In fact, in one interview he says that the rise of Trump and the surge in popularity of the alt-right were not even a consideration during the making of the film. That, however, has not stopped some from making the connection.
Peter Keough of the Boston Globe had this to say about the documentary:
Now that one of their spokesmen, Stephen Bannon, holds an un-elected but extremely influential position in the Trump White House, some might forget that the now relatively respectable alt-right movement has its origins in armed, white power and anti-government groups that inspired the worst terrorist attack in the United States before 9/11.
Not one to defend the alt-right since this writer believes they are neither “alternative” nor “right,” it needs to be noted that their alleged “leader” Richard Spencer was 16 at the time of Oklahoma City. Even USA Today concluded after an exhaustive review of Steve Bannon’s radio program there was no proof of anti-semitism, white nationalism, or racism. Again, this writer is not defending Steve Bannon, Richard Spencer or the alt-right. But, it is documentaries like these which tell an important story which are then taken by those on the Left and twisted into a mouthpiece for their agenda one finds objectionable. To wit, they make the connection that any law-abiding, peaceful gun owner is somehow part of a white separatist movement.
It is natural for the Leftist writers and pundits to make the connection between McVeigh to the white nationalist movement and then onto Trump, Bannon and others. The New Republic in their review of the film said:
The ideology that propelled Mathews, for instance, has never been actively snuffed out by white institutions or cultural mores. Of course, most whites don’t feel the need to defend themselves, grouping themselves by racial identity and mobilizing around that identity, in the way these men do. But in not confronting white nationalists directly as potential terrorists and seditionists, “white America” has not finished the work of reconstruction, let alone the Civil Rights movements.
By engaging in this rhetoric, they are not drawing attention to a broad white nationalist conspiracy that threatens the foundation of America, but publicizing a fringe threat with the potential for violence while ignoring, justifying or explaining away violence perpetrated by the Left. They slur all whites, not just the bad ones who engage in these actions. Zeskind himself has stated there is no such thing as Left wing violent movements. This conveniently ignores groups like the Earth Liberation Front, the Black Panthers, Weather Underground, Students for a Democratic Society, the SLA, and United Freedom Front among others.
Goodman has stated in interviews that he firmly believes that McVeigh, along with some support from two Army buddies, acted alone. He also believes that McVeigh’s perception of the American government was influenced by both Ruby Ridge and Waco and seems to suggest that had these events not happened, he may have remained an often-unemployed drifter. These events were the canvas upon which he painted his terrorist act. Had there been no canvas, there may not have been a painting.
This documentary is good television without being preachy or drawing too many conclusions. Unfortunately, in an attempt to paint anything to the right of Elizabeth Warren as “radical” and “dangerous,” the Leftist press draws conclusions that need not be drawn. The problem is not the documentary itself; the problem is the misplaced analysis.