Timothy McVeigh was a right-wing extremist, murderer and former soldier who took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America. He had the same rights as you and I, to free speech, to peacefully assemble. Assembling a bomb is not what the Constitution had in mind.

I was there in Oklahoma City that day, April 19, 1995. I was working at a local mental health center, so I was a first responder at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church that night. I saw the blank stares of those who had lost their homes near the blast site. I held the hands of those who didn’t know what to do or where to go. We were there until 2 the next morning. The response teams moved to First Christian Church, where we went every day for weeks until Project Heartland took over the duties. While there, I witnessed firsthand the horror of what an extremist can do.

We debriefed first responders returning from digging in the rubble and pulling out bodies, and pieces of bodies of children, men and women, all of whom died as the result of extremist ideology carried out to its worst possible conclusion. Those first responders were subject to PTSD and many had nightmares and psychological wounds. I sat with a young woman who worked across the street from the Murrah Building and was saved by a desk that was blown over her. She suffered horrible survivor’s guilt.

That event was the worst act of domestic terrorism ever experienced on U.S. soil and was carried out by one right-wing extremist.

Today – Jan. 6, 2021 – I sit in disbelief and anger as I watch a whole host of right-wing extremists attack our country and desecrate our Capitol. In spite of the lack of evidence of any fraud or voting errors; in spite of reassurance from election officials from both parties; in spite of over 60 failed court challenges, including to the Supreme Court, they persist in their right-wing extremist views and came armed to do damage to our democracy.

And, in spite of our long and sacred history of a peaceful transfer of power, these extremists have chosen to follow their “leader” in disputing the indisputable and having a “wild” time. They can’t win in the courts. They can’t win in the marketplace of ideas. They can’t win in the court of public opinion; that was proved in the election with a seven million vote margin. So they want to do like Timothy McVeigh: injure and cause terror.

However, today I heard from a decorated soldier who lost her legs in battle and is now a sitting senator, Sen. Tammy Duckworth; she’s not scared or cowed or giving in to these terrorists. No citizen should give in to these terrorists. All people of good will can, and do, have differences of opinion, but those differences have a means of being resolved in this great nation.

While I acknowledge that I have – and always have had – a left-leaning attitude, I’ve never been attracted to any extremist. I don’t have any use for an extremist in any category, as they tend to be unable or unwilling to listen and consider other ideas. I believe we have an obligation as citizens to be tolerant of differences. We can disagree without being disagreeable. We can respect that differences occur and adopt a live-and-let-live attitude. And then we can vote or run for office as Duckworth did.

We can work for, donate to and otherwise support the candidates of our choice. But when it’s all said and done, we have to say “OK, we won/lost” and move on. The right-wing extremists must not be able to take that away from us.

Robert Lee is a retired social worker with interests in history and politics. He lives in Tahlequah.

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