US Capitol siege has echoes of the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building
To Mayor David Holt, the rioters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 are no different from the domestic terrorist who bombed the Oklahoma City federal building more than 25 years ago.
“Every single person I saw storming that Capitol was a version of Timothy McVeigh,” said Holt, who was elected mayor of Oklahoma City in 2018.
“I'm glad that they didn't kill 168 people, but clearly they were capable of killing,” he said. “They beat a police officer to death.”
McVeigh was a former soldier who came to hate the federal government particularly over the deadly FBI raid on the Branch Davidian religious compound near Waco, Texas.
He blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, the second anniversary of that raid.
“I remember tears came into my eyes,” McVeigh told his defense attorney of watching the compound burn. “I was going to do whatever I could to wake people up and help people fight this because this is wrong.”
Holt was a freshman at Putnam City North High School when the truck bomb went off about a dozen miles away.
He said McVeigh came to think of the regular folks who worked for the government as foot soldiers in a deep state army. The rioters, he said, “really had the same warped view ... that this Capitol police officer in front of me that I'm about to assault is somehow involved in all this, ... that he's different than me, that he doesn't want the same things.”
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“I certainly see the parallels,” the mayor said. “How could anyone in Oklahoma City not watch what was happening Jan. 6 and not feel like it was happening again?”
Holt, who served as a Republican in the state Senate, had warned last year how words that dehumanize can lead to violence.
“Right now, I hear such words coming out of the mouths of some of the most prominent people in our country, and I see them echoed in daily life by those who know better,” he said in comments aired on the bombing anniversary.
Also seeing similarities is Frank Keating, a former FBI agent who was Oklahoma's governor at the time of the bombing.
He said the rioters, like McVeigh, personalized a perceived wrong “and they felt they should be judge, jury and executioner and ... take care of it.”
“Both were acts of public selfishness, one more evil than the other,” the former governor said. “We just have to count to five. We can't do this in a free society. ... You simply can't do it.”
Former OKBOMB prosecutor Larry Mackey was sickened by the rioting.
“It's a head-on attack on democracy,” he said Friday from Indiana.
Mackey in 1997 helped convict McVeigh at the first federal trial in Denver and led the prosecution of bombing co-conspirator Terry Nichols during the second trial there.
“A lot of people have intense hatred for other Americans, for our institutions, for our political leaders. And that's the sad similarity between Tim McVeigh as a man and the people who broke into our nation's Capitol,” he said.
Like McVeigh and Nichols, who met in the Army, a number of the rioters identified by the FBI are military veterans. Ashli Babbitt, the rioter fatally shot trying to enter the House chamber, had served in the Air Force.
The rioters overwhelmed Capitol police to breach the building as Congress met to formally count the Electoral College votes that had Joe Biden winning the presidential election. Earlier, President Donald Trump spoke at a “Save America” rally and urged supporters to march on the Capitol.
“Strong evidence ... supports that the intent of the Capitol rioters was to capture and assassinate elected officials in the United States Government,” prosecutors wrote in a legal brief in one case.
One of the most visible rioters, the Arizona man known as the “QAnon Shaman," left a note in the Senate Chamber for Vice President Mike Pence, warning, “It's only a matter of time, justice is coming,” prosecutors told a judge.
Another rioter who beat a Capitol police officer with a flagpole stated in a video, “Everybody in there is a treasonous traitor. Death is the only remedy for what’s in that building,” the FBI reported. Affixed to the pole was the U.S. flag.
McVeigh was executed in 2001. To the end, he showed no remorse, calling the 19 children who died, most from a day care, collateral damage. Nichols is serving life in prison without the possibility of release.
“Clearly, Tim McVeigh's hope, which he expressed, was that there would be a revolution,” his lead trial attorney, Stephen Jones, said.
McVeigh's inspiration was “The Turner Diaries,” a racist novel about a revolution that began with the bombing of FBI headquarters. Since the Capitol rioting, Amazon has removed the novel from its website.
Jones, who lives in Enid, believes there has always been a paranoid element on the fringe of American politics.
“There's a core group that has supported dissent — violent dissent — throughout the history of the United States,” he said. “What's different now is the internet, cellphones and their ability to communicate. They didn't really have that before.”
In social media posts, the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum — built on the site of the bombing — responded to the Capitol rioting with a reminder of “important words” from its mission statement.
Quoted was: “We can never stop instilling an understanding of the senselessness of violence especially as a means of effecting government change. We must always convey the imperative to reject violence.”
Kari Watkins, the memorial executive director, said Friday the rioting shows “how much work we have to do.”
“We can either work together or we can continue to destroy ourselves,” she said. “We've seen in Oklahoma City and after other attacks that working together is much more beneficial to our country than being divided.”
She said the shock of Jan. 6 is that the rioters included otherwise good people “who have just believed the banter for too long.”
“It is something we have to do as a country. We've got to figure out how to come back together, sit down at a table, have better conversations.”
Watchdog reporter Nolan Clay has written extensively about the Oklahoma City bombing. Support his work by subscribing today at oklahoman.com/subscribe.