On the fifteenth anniversary of the worst domestic terrorism attack in U.S. history, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano this morning cautioned against the rising specter of rightwing extremism inside the United States.
"We honor the continued need for vigilance against the hateful ideologies that led to this attack, so that we can recognize their signs in our communities and stand together to defeat them," Napolitano said during a ceremony at the Oklahoma City National Memorial.
Bells tolled around 9:02 a.m., reports The Associated Press—the time fifteen years ago that antigovernment extremist Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Building. Those in attendance this morning observed 168 seconds of silence, one second for each victim killed in the blast.
The anniversary today coincides with concerns among government officials and terrorism experts that escalating antigovernment sentiment within a sizable portion of the American people could lead a fringe toward violent action. Last week, the FBI marked the Sovereign Citizen Movement as its latest entry on a list of domestic terrorist threats, joining animal rights/environmental extremists and lone wolves.
"Sovereign citizens are anti-government extremists who believe that even though they physically reside in this country, they are separate or 'sovereign' from the United States," the FBI explained online. "As a result, they believe they don’t have to answer to any government authority, including courts, taxing entities, motor vehicle departments, or law enforcement." The FBI says sovereign citizens have engaged in various crimes, including murder, threatening public officials, and impersonating law enforcement.
Another organization has also recently trumpeted the threat it believes rightwing extremists pose. According to a controversial report issued by the Southern Poverty Law Center last month, "Rage on the Right," rightwing antigovernment extremist and hate groups have ballooned since the election of President Barack Obama. Mark Potok, the author of the report, wrote last week that the fifteenth anniversary of Oklahoma City should remind Americans that the same sentiments that led to McVeigh's terrorist act have arisen again today.
"The anniversary comes as the nation witnesses a dramatic resurgence of militias and other Patriot groups," he warns, "a comeback driven by widespread populist anger at racial changes in the population, soaring public debt and the terrible economy, the bailouts of bankers and other elites, and an array of initiatives by the Obama Administration that are seen as 'socialist' or even 'fascist.'"
A similar sentiment was echoed on The New York Times op-ed page today by former President Bill Clinton, who resided in the White House during the Oklahoma City bombing. While protest and even civil disobedience are legitimate exercises of dissent within a democracy, the former president argued, violence never is. "In the current climate, with so many threats against the president, members of Congress and other public servants, we owe it to the victims of Oklahoma City, and those who survived and responded so bravely, not to cross it again," he wrote.
During her speech, Napolitano also spoke about the threat of international terrorism and touched on recent actions by the Department of Homeland Security to better protect federal buildings from attack.
"This week the DHS-led Interagency Security Committee announced new security standards for all Federal buildings and facilities," she said. "And our Federal Protective Service announced the broad deployment of a new risk assessment tool to help their inspectors keep more than 9,000 facilities secure." Last week, however, the Government Accountability Office once again released a report exposing gaping vulnerabilities at federal building (pdf) protected by private security guards managed by the Federal Protective Service.
ALSO OF NOTE: In a CBS poll released this morning, the number of Americans who fear a domestic terrorism attack has increased by 8 percentage points since 2002. Thirty-eight percent of Americans think a domestic terrorist attack is a more serious threat than international terrorism, while 46 percent fear international terrorists more.
For more on the poll and the fear of rightwing terrorism, watch this.
♦ Photo of the Oklahoma City National Memorial by Dual Freq/WikiMediaCommons