April 13, 2010

Contempt for the Dead in Oklahoma

In my last post, Rightwing Populism and Unintended Consequences, I discussed how purveyors and followers of overheated, right wing anti-government rhetoric were in the process of disenfranchising themselves and diminishing their own political influence by refusing to participate in the 2010 Census.  All in all, watching people unclear on the concept of elections and frustrated with being out of power push themselves further away from political influence is somewhat amusing, but there is a very serious side to all of the anger and paranoia coming from America's hardcore conservatives.

In Oklahoma, the confluence of obliviousness to the past and present-day feelings of persecution are being mixed into a particularly noxious brew.  Fifteen years ago next week, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols - two men vehemently opposed to what they perceived as tyranny by the government - detonated a truck bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.  The resulting blast tore off the side of the structure and snuffed out the lives of 168 people, including 19 children under the age of six.  This event, the worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil until 9/11, certainly seems like something that ought to remain indellibly burned into the psyche of all Americans, especially citizens of the Sooner State.

For some, it unquestionably was; today, there is a beautiful and deeply moving memorial at the former site of the Murrah Building. But for many younger Oklahomans, the lessons of April 19, 1995 remained untaught and unlearned. Amazingly, it is only this month that a state law was put in place requiring that the Oklahoma City bombing be taught as a required subject in public schools.  Up until March of this month, McVeigh and Nichols' act of cowardice was an unknown quantity for high schoolers, as Kari Watkins, executive director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial found out:
Watkins said she was confronted by a disturbing truth last year during a speech at her alma mater, Cleveland High School, in Pawnee County.

"As I looked out at the 250 or so high school students, I could just see this blank stare, like I was almost speaking a foreign language," Watkins said. "I mean, they had no idea what I was talking about when I mentioned the Oklahoma City bombing."

If newer generations can be forgiven their ignorance, however, their elders cannot.  While long-delayed progress is being made in teaching one of the most significant events in the state's history, efforts to fan the flames of radical conservatism in Oklahoma are as intense as ever:
Frustrated by recent political setbacks, tea party leaders and some conservative members of the Oklahoma Legislature say they would like to create a new volunteer militia to help defend against what they believe are improper federal infringements on state sovereignty.

Tea party movement leaders say they've discussed the idea with several supportive lawmakers and hope to get legislation next year to recognize a new volunteer force. They say the unit would not resemble militia groups that have been raided for allegedly plotting attacks on law enforcement officers.

"Is it scary? It sure is," said tea party leader Al Gerhart of Oklahoma City, who heads an umbrella group of tea party factions called the Oklahoma Constitutional Alliance. "But when do the states stop rolling over for the federal government?"
It is striking that there are members of the Oklahoma Legislature who support this action, and it is equally striking that the stated intent of this initiative is an absolute sham.  The only manner in which such a volunteer force would "not resemble" anti-government whack-jobs like the Hutaree will be if it is recognized by the state.  It's purpose - to oppose by force of arms what an extreme fringe considers federal tyranny - is identical.

All of this empty-headed posturing would be pathetic enough if the Sooner State weren't taking in over thirty percent more in federal aid than it contributes in tax dollars - making it one of the biggest welfare queens in the Union - but when Oklahoma's own tragic history with regard to right wing extremism is considered, it's nothing more than disgraceful contempt for the dead.

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