The Oklahoma City bombing was a domestic terrorist act perpetrated by unhinged conspiracy theorists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, who ignited a powerful homemade bomb in front of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, murdering 168 people and injuring another 680.
It was a horrifying moment for the nation. There were fears of right-wing extremism and the possibility of further attacks. A few days after the bombing, President Bill Clinton, always looking to squeeze some political gain from tragedy, took the opportunity to fearmonger and attack his political enemies on talk radio — which, in the pre-Internet age, was not only his most powerful foe but the only medium that had broken the liberal monopoly on news coverage.
“We hear so many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other,” Clinton told a group of college administrators. Then, as now, only one side gets “angry.” The other side is merely stirred to speak out on some worthy cause.
Anyway, I was reminded of that shameful attempt at partisan point-scoring when I saw this tweet from Joe Scarborough.
168 Americans were massacred this day in 1996 by a paranoid anti-government terrorist who saw the FBI and other law enforcement officers as the enemy. Prayers for Oklahoma City pic.twitter.com/XMLm82CBiE
— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) April 19, 2018
Scarborough insinuates that Republicans today who question the FBI’s leadership and evidently partisan nature may be culpable of fostering a kind of paranoia and violence that supposedly created McVeigh. This clumsy attempt wouldn’t be a big deal if it didn’t reflect months of his rhetoric. (Now, I know some of you are going to tell me he meant no such thing. I think it’s highly unlikely. But if that’s the case, I apologize in advance.)
For one thing, the implication that people critical of law enforcement are somehow being unpatriotic is reminiscent of White House defenders’ arguments. The FBI does great work, but it also has a long history of botching investigations and lying.
There is some evidence that there were different standards for investigating Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. There is evidence that FBI leaders were leaking politically sensitive (and classified) documents to the press. Scarborough, in fact, sent this tweet out a couple of hours before the Justice Office of the Inspector General forwarded to the U.S. attorney’s office a criminal referral regarding former acting head of the FBI Andrew McCabe.
Of course partisans go overboard. Of course some jump to crazy conclusions. Of course some believe conspiracy theories. None of this is unique to one side of the debate, nor any era of American politics. But did Scarborough blame Bernie Sanders when one of his progressive fanboys shot Steve Scalise and tried to massacre a bunch of Republican congressmen? Did he blame the protesters of Black Lives Matter when four Dallas police officers were murdered by one of its supporters?
I hope not. Even if you happened to believe, in 1995, that the FBI didn’t need to kill nearly 80 people in the Branch Davidian compound, it certainly didn’t put you in league with McVeigh or mean that you had blood on your hands. Nor does being skeptical about your government mean you advocate, or are in any way responsible, for the violence perpetrated by nuts.
So maybe we should save this kind of preemptive smear for those who preach and practice political violence, rather than for our political opponents. It’s ugly enough out here.