A Blast of an Anniversary

by J.D. Tuccille

When Timothy McVeigh -- if it was he -- detonated his truck bomb outside the federal building in Oklahoma City, he almost certainly achieved the very opposite of what he intended. First of all, he ended up in jail. Most people consider this bad. Militants of any stripe generally prefer to remain free to continue their various campaigns against the powers-that-be. Getting arrested in a car missing a license plate, with a loaded gun in your lap, and covered in explosive residue is rarely on the agenda. It's also very, very stupid.

But stupid or not, many people were killed. And those deaths have cynically been used as justification for an antiterrorism bill that further erodes some already weather-worn protections against arbitrary government action -- the very arbitrary action that so motivated McVeigh. As passed, the antiterrorism bill is not quite as leather-harness and jackboot-clad as it was in its original form. In particular, the bill once included a provision that dramatically eased restrictions on wiretapping -- that is, instead of tapping particular phones, law enforcement agencies could have tapped any telephone used by a suspect. Uh huh. Ever let a friend use your phone? Fortunately, that provision is gone.

But the bill steps all over habeas corpus, limiting federal review of state criminal procedures -- an especially important concern when governments assign themselves the right to murder, and call it "execution." The bill also permits the government to arbitrarily designate foreign organizations as "terrorists" and to bar Americans from contributing to such groups.

Hmmm. Think about the last few U.S. administrations and consider the foreign organizations whose fundraising activities they might have found ... inconvenient. Well ... what about the volunteer brigades that crossed to Spain in the '30s to battle the fascists who so (let's not forget this) intrigued FDR before the war? Militant, involved in open warfare, and openly recruiting in the U.S. Sounds like a terrorist organization to ... well, not me, but to some busybody in the State Department. More recently, Reagan was less than thrilled with anybody who second-guessed his judgment on El Salvador and Nicaragua. That's a lot of people. And a fair number of earnest, sandle-clad lefty groups volunteering for the Nicaraguan harvest season. And do you really think Clinton wants Chinese and Hong Kong civil rights groups rocking the boat of international trade with pledge drives in San Francisco? Future administrations will have carte blanche to shut troublesome foreign groups off from the traditionally free-flowing American fountains of sympathy and support.

And this bill was passed by Congress during the week of April 19 -- not just the anniversary of Oklahoma City, but of the shot heard 'round the world, when Americans first raised their guns against meddlesome government. What an anniversary present.

Of course, violent guerilla groups and terrorist organizations often intend to provoke governments into overreaction. Such repression, they hope, serves the purpose of alienating a populace from the government, and of driving converts in the direction of the insurgents.

But if you commit an act so horrendous that it not only inspires repressive legislation, but drives people to embrace the repression, then you don't exactly earn yourself a place of honor in the sainted-patriot Hall of Fame. No, you link your memory to that of Guy Fawkes, whose attempt to vaporize Britain's parliament for mistreating Roman Catholics inspired the very horrors he feared and lent his name to a charming annual holiday of effigy burning.

So thank you, Sergeant McVeigh ... not. You've given the government an excuse to make things just a little bit worse.

Ah well, and so much for the power of argument. So back you go to Full Automatic or to my home page.

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