My relationship with the death penalty is a complex one, as I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions on this blog in the past. (Most recently I was talking about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving brother from the bombing of the Boston Marathon a couple of years ago.)
It would thus make sense, then, that a figure such as Timothy McVeigh should so readily personify this complexity on the topic. I simultaneously agree with the fact that he was executed, and wonder what we might have lost by the fact that he’s no longer alive. I wonder what my children and their children will learn about, with regard to him, when future history books are written and taught.
Some facts are beyond dispute: following the standoff with David Koresh and the Branch Davidians in Waco, TX, Timothy McVeigh (already a part of a militia) perceived the greater incident as something he had been fearing for some time: the government really is coming to take away everyone’s guns.
So he decided to strike back; it’s not a coincidence that he waited until exactly two years later to execute his retaliatory plan. His hope, as he stated in more than one interview before his execution, was that he would inspire more people to join militias and prevent government intrusion on our liberties, most notably the second amendment.
I remember reading more than one news article as the date of his execution grew closer, how he had failed in that goal and that militia membership was down, at least partially due to his own actions.
That was in 2001, a mere three months (to the date) before 9/11, and a full seven years before the election of a black president.
I haven’t researched enough to know if this is a true cause-effect relationship but militia membership has certainly grown since the 2008 election of Barack Obama. Indeed, just over six months after he took the oath of office, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a report on the rise of right-wing, anti-government militias.
Whatever else is true, Donald Trump has tapped into the anger that fuels these militias. He’s not the first and won’t be the last to do so. The anger was already there, though. And you can go back at least to the election of Woodrow Wilson in 1912 to find propaganda that argues that putting a politician like him (read: liberal) means that the government is coming for your guns next.
(Side note: Wilson himself is a bizarre case; overtly racist but otherwise progressive. He’s one of our harder presidents to crack in terms of his greater legacy.)
Someone needs to remind the consumers of that propaganda, that it hasn’t happened and likely won’t. All Timothy McVeigh saw in Waco was the government trying to stop a law abiding citizen and missed all of his criminal activity. He apparently even missed the most embarrassing fact in the original action that led to the standoff: federal agents were outgunned.
I am a huge proponent of all of the rights and freedoms afforded to us by the constitution, especially those enumerated by the Bill of Rights, and that does include the right to keep and bear arms, even though I personally have no interest in owning a gun.
I am far more worried about the erosion of other rights, such as due process, unreasonable search and seizure, and the right to a speedy trial. The first, fourth, and sixth amendments are certainly more in jeopardy than the second. It is just downright false in this day and age to argue that we need to preserve the second amendment in order to safeguard the others.
But Trump has been expressing the anger that feeds to the misconception that the second amendment provides the most important right guaranteed by the constitution. What will happen to his followers when he loses the election in a couple of weeks? They’ll keep arguing that the government is coming for your guns, just like they have been for more than a hundred years. Cliven Bundy and his son Ammon will see to that. They’re the next generation Timothy McVeighs.