On April 19, 1995, a homegrown terrorist named Timothy McVeigh parked a Ryder truck packed with agricultural fertilizer and other chemicals outside the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City. The ensuing blast killed 168 people, 19 of them children. Many more were injured.
In the terrible aftermath, Oklahomans came together - including the Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature. They worked together on measures to make it tougher for paramilitary groups and gangs to commit violence against civil society. But those groups are on the rise again in America, and we will leave it up to individual readers to determine the reasons and assign the blame.
At the forefront today are the counterweights of Black Lives Matter protesters, pushing for police reform, and groups that aim to support decent law enforcement officers and separate them from the "bad apples" who use their badges to commit evil acts. It's a shame that for some on either side, these movements are mutually exclusive. Only extremists would claim it's not possible to uphold good cops, while at the same time condemning bad ones who unjustly take the lives of Black people - even if their targets stand accused of crimes.
What's even worse, though, is the bands of loud-mouthed schnooks who claim to be "law and order" loyalists, but insult legions of trained officers by showing up at protests or other potentially volatile scenes. These "private militias" come toting their guns and shouting slogans of hate to sow further seeds of dissension, and make harder for cops who are trying their best to diffuse tense situations.
These actions reek of hypocrisy. The malcontents may pay lip service to defending law enforcement officers, but when they barge in bristling with firearms to intimidate others whose message they oppose, they are sending the message that officers are incapable of doing their jobs. In the vast majority of cases, officers don't appreciate the additional threats the "freedom fighters" bring along for the ride.
In many states, paramilitary groups are outright illegal. That doesn't mean all Americans don't share the Second Amendment right to bear arms. What it does mean, though, is that constitutionally speaking, certain limits can be set. One need look no further than the writings of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to affirm this. Scalia was conservative and a rigid constitutionalist, so any homegrown terrorist trying to get around his opinions has a rough row to hoe.
In Oklahoma, private militias aren't technically illegal in and of themselves. But when armed people mass together at a venue where intimidating other citizens is the goal, any savvy prosecutor could later argue that a conspiracy had been formulated. Since getting in other people's faces, spitting on them or committing other threatening acts could be construed as assault, the conspiracy element could make any ensuing "crime" quite serious in the eyes of the law.
All Americans have the right to peaceably assemble - in other words, peacefully protest - to seek redress. That's between them and the government. Sometimes counterprotests form in defense of those in the crosshairs of the demonstrators. But protesting against the right to protest is distinctly unAmerican, and so is threatening people simply because of a difference in opinion.
The "freedom fighters" need to stand down. The cops don't need them, nor are they fooled by their fake allegiance.