OK City 16 Years Later: Extremism Didn't Die with Timothy McVeigh

Today marks the sixteenth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing in which 168 U.S. citizens, including nineteen children, lost their lives.

Timothy McVeigh, a militia movement member, the mastermind of the plot, was seeking revenge against the federal government for the Justice Department’s handling of the Waco siege, which had ended in the deaths of 76 people, exactly two years earlier. He hoped to inspire a revolt against what he considered to be a tyrannical federal government. McVeigh was executed in 2001, but anti-government fanaticism did not die with him.

This dangerous brand of extremism continues. It is undeniable to those who have the courage to look at the facts.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks extremist groups across America, has hard data to show that rising unemployment, anti-immigrant sentiment, and the fact that we have our first African-American president are inspiring a new generation of angry young men - and no small number of women - to extremism and hate.

There are 1,002 hate groups operating across the country, including neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, racist skinheads, black separatists, border vigilantes and others.

Since 2008, the number of hate groups has increased by 54 percent.

The militia movement, of which McVeigh was a part, receded from the headlines post-9/11, but it is alive and well. The SPLC has identified 824 anti-government “Patriot” groups that were active in 2010. Of these groups, 330 were militias. These groups are counted separately from hate groups because they do not necessarily advocate or engage in violence or other criminal activities, nor are they necessarily racist. But Patriot groups do define themselves as opposed to the “New World Order,” engage in groundless conspiracy theorizing, and/or advocate extreme anti-government principles. That, even without the rest, is dangerous to our democracy.

The growth in extremism, in all forms, has been exacerbated by mainstream politicians, pundits and media figures who use their platforms to legitimize false propaganda about immigrants and other minorities to spread the kind of paranoid conspiracy theories on which these groups thrive. (Yes, Lou Dobbs, I’m talking to you.)

I have had the argument, time and again, with those who would suggest that the election of Barack Obama closed the book on a long history of hate in America. But the increase in crime motivated by extremism and hate that has occurred since his election makes clear that a final victory over prejudice and racial hostility remains elusive.

It is time for right-thinking Americans to redouble our efforts to combat extremism in America. The problem of hate crime and extremist activity continues to be a significant national concern that demands priority attention. This anniversary only highlights the need for every sector of our society to eradicate this problem.

Jami Floyd is an attorney, broadcast journalist and legal analyst for cable and network news, and is a frequent contributor to WNYC Radio. She is former advisor in the Clinton administration and served as a surrogate for the Obama campaign on legal and domestic policy issues. You can follow her on twitter.