It seems inappropriate, somehow, that I can't remember very much about that day specifically. I was at college in western Illinois at the time; I knew there was a populist groundswell of moral outrage against the federal government, but I didn't think much of it--I put it aside as "Oh, Billy-Bob and Cletus have been watching The X-Files too much." I can't remember when or where I heard about the bombing itself--most likely I overheard it from someone talking in the halls or the cafeteria.
I remember the aftermath, of course. I remember that picture of the fireman holding the dead baby taken out of the rubble--everyone did. I remember the probes that the government made into the rural right-wing dissident movement, and the various asshatty things that right-wingers said around that time (the example I remember most is G. Gordon Liddy advising listeners to his radio show that if federal agents showed up on your property, aim for the head, not the body).
And I remember, once we caught Tim McVeigh, how a lot of people shouted, long and shrill, that we had the wrong man. That he was just a patsy for the real criminals. That it was either a Muslim jihad that had blown up the building, or that the government itself blew it up in order for President Clinton to crush all opposition to himself and thus establish his New World Order tyranny.
I remember a lot of people in a lot of places in the United States issuing calls to arms, calls to stockpile an arsenal and hide out in bunkers to form the first line of defense against federal oppression. I remember dissidence and fear of the government being elevated to the status of a sacred and patriotic duty.
I remember that once a new president was in office, I didn't hear about these things nearly so much.
And then 9/11 happened. Another act of terror, another slaughter of innocents.
But a funny thing happened on the way to here and now--the same people who, less than ten years before, had praised dissidence and pointed out the Office of the Presidency as Public Enemy Number One were now rallying around the government. And, at the same time, vowing to take up arms against anyone who would oppose, or even speak ill of, the government. An email forward I saw in the late 1990s supposedly showed a survey that the U.S. Army had passed out to its soldiers, and the last question was "Would you be willing to fire on American citizens?"--the implication being that the Big Bad Gummint was plotting to send in the troops to conquer all us "decent folk." But now, the military and those who support it would be quite, quite willing to, say, send in tanks against an anti-war protest.
Consider this: Everyone knows that after Oklahoma City, the government cracked down on gun shows and militias. But what the government did not do in 1995 was declare war. President Clinton's response to Oklahoma City was a criminal investigation, not to declare a sacred crusade to save the world. There were no new federal agencies created, no color-coded terror alert system, no propaganda billboards or TV commercials; I, like Timothy McVeigh, am white, yet I did not face any hostility for the color of my skin; there was no government surveillance of Ryder Truck rental offices, fertilizer suppliers, or Evangelical churches.
And look at Eric Rudolph. For those of you who don't know, he was the man who set off the bomb at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta; he also set off bombs at abortion clinics and gay nightclubs, killing several people and maiming over one hundred. By any definition, Eric Rudolph is a terrorist. And yet, he was not sent to Guantanamo Bay to be tortured. He was not prosecuted by any of the new anti-terror laws. He, like Timothy McVeigh, was provided with legal counsel. He, like Timothy McVeigh, was treated with the respect due another human being. He, like Timothy McVeigh, was given a trial and the presumption of innocence. And there is evidence to suggest that for two years, Rudolph was sheltered by a whole town of people who were sympathetic to him and his acts--yet there is no investigation of them.
And this frightens me. What with Tom Delay saying that "activist judges" (which, to me, seems to mean "judges who don't force kids to pray in school") deserve whatever violence they get, with more and more Americans equating dissent with treason, with the cultural right calling for the destruction of humanities programs in the university, with the public discourse equating "liberal" with "terrorist"... I don't want to say the United States has become a fascist nation. It hasn't. But... I also think the United States has gone about as far as it can go without crossing the line. And what's even more frightening is that if there is tyranny that results from the current political climate, it will most likely grow from the populace up, not be imposed from the government on down.
I titled this entry after the Daryl Worley song, to be sure. He, with the cultural right, asks me if I've forgotten 9/11, with the implication being "You must have forgotten--otherwise you wouldn't dare to speak against our great nation in this time of crisis."
Well, now I'm asking them if they've forgotten 4/19.