Republican presidential candidates gathered last month at the Oklahoma City Cox Conference Center, just a few blocks from the site of what was the Alfred R. Murrah Federal Building. Two decades ago, anti-government militia sympathizer Timothy McVeigh blew it up in what he called an act of war against the U.S. government. It was the worst crime of domestically bred terrorism in American history. McVeigh was executed in 2001, but since then, some of his militia ideals have gone mainstream and even been introduced as laws in many states, including Oklahoma.
Legislators in dozens of states have submitted proposals to nullify or block federal laws—a longtime goal of militias. These have included exempting states from federal gun laws and educational standards, as well as, of course, Obamacare. That doesn’t make these anti-federal statutes part of McVeigh’s madness, but Republican politicians now often echo conspiracy theories once relegated to troglodyte pamphlets. And several states have passed laws making gold a currency—a step toward returning to the gold standard—even though currency is a federal responsibility.
When Cliven Bundy engaged in an armed standoff with Bureau of Land Management agents in 2014, after a federal court order demanded he get his cattle off federal land, as he hadn’t paid grazing fees for 20 years, several of the current Republican presidential candidates sided with the outlaw. As armed militia members converged in Nevada to protect Bundy, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas called the events “the unfortunate and tragic culmination of the path President Obama has set the federal government on.” Rick Perry, then the governor of Texas, said: “I have a problem with the federal government putting citizens in the position of having to feel like they have to use force to deal with their own government.” Mike Huckabee opined: “There is something incredibly wrong when a government believes that some blades of grass that a cow is eating is [such] an egregious affront to the government of the United States that we would literally put a gun in a citizen’s face and threaten to shoot him over it.”
Tarso Ramos, executive director of Political Research Associates, which tracks right-wing extremism, says these and other formerly fringe ideas mainstreamed after McVeigh’s assault—just not right away. “The Oklahoma City bombing had a sobering effect for a while,” he says. “Then, with the election of Obama, you get a whole new wave of Patriot activity and a new variant of conspiracy-ism, including the birther stuff and the idea that Obama is an agent of powerful elites.”
And the worst part is if you listen to the Huckabees, the Rand Pauls, the Ted Cruzes of the GOP, the things they are saying now are the things the militias of 20 years ago said then and still say today: that this government is an enemy of the people, that states are not subject to federal laws they disagree with, and that the tree of liberty requires blood again.
It's a combination of toxic Bircher hatred and white supremacist doctrine that has given birth to a monster. And most likely one of that monsters many heads will be the Republican nominee for President.
There is a direct line from Tim McVeigh to Cliven Bundy and that line is a bright, bloody red.