Goal of the Oklahoma Bombers and the Militias: Sacrificing the Individual to the Whims of a Group

by | Jun 18, 1997

Terry Nichols is currently on trial as an accomplice to the truck bombing that killed 168 people two years ago in Oklahoma City. As in the trial of Timothy McVeigh, who was sentenced to death for his role in the bombing, many people are still asking: What could motivate a person to commit such a […]

Terry Nichols is currently on trial as an accomplice to the truck bombing that killed 168 people two years ago in Oklahoma City. As in the trial of Timothy McVeigh, who was sentenced to death for his role in the bombing, many people are still asking: What could motivate a person to commit such a horrific crime?

There are two conventional answers. Many on the left claim that Nichols and McVeigh were driven by an “extremist” ideology of individual liberty. This was the charge used two years ago to discredit the Republican Revolution, on the grounds that the Republicans’ “anti-government” rhetoric “created the climate” for the Oklahoma City bombing. One reporter showed the lingering effects of this charge on Monday when he claimed that McVeigh’s trial raised the issue of “the size and role of government.” In defense, many others respond that there is no broader significance to McVeigh’s actions, that he was simply an isolated madman driven less by ideology than by some inexplicable desire to lash out against the world.

The facts, however, do not support either explanation. The evidence indicates that Nichols and McVeigh were motivated by an ideology — the same ideology that drives the militia movement, which shares his desire for a campaign of violence against the federal government. This is not, however, an ideology of individualism, but its antithesis: an ideology that demands the sacrifice of the individual for the sake of some collective.

The kind of ideas that inspired Nichols and McVeigh can be judged from The Turner Diaries, a novel that McVeigh disseminated and quoted favorably in letters to his sister. The novel describes a fictional bombing campaign against federal buildings that precipitates the overthrow of the government by racist partisans. Those who oppose the racist rebellion are hanged en masse from lampposts. This novel clearly does not call for a defense of individual rights, but instead advocates a racist reign of terror. The novel’s ideology represents, not individualism, but collectivism; it is based on the premise that individual lives are defined by and are subordinated to some racial group. These ideas are inspired, not by the Founding Fathers, but by the Nazi Party.

The militias, with whom Nichols and McVeigh clearly sympathized, advocate a similar version of collectivism. This is reflected in the justifying fantasies of the militia movement — the conspiracy theories that posit one group, usually white Christians, as being under attack by a sinister cabal of foreigners or Jewish bankers. Despite their pious invocations of the Founding Fathers, it is not the rights of the individual that these groups want to protect, but the “right” of their own group to impose its whims by force. The most blatant examples of the militia movement’s goals are the “Freemen” in Montana, who felt they had the “right” to threaten local officials and forge checks, and members of the “Republic of Texas,” who harassed enemies by filing false liens against their property. If such groups complain about the coercive power of the federal government, it is only because they resent the competition.

This contempt for individual rights is what made the Oklahoma City bombing possible. Only those who believe that the individual must be sacrificed to the group can justify to themselves the murder of innocent people. To such a mentality, the life of one individual — or 168 of them — is of no value.

It is true that government is encroaching on individual freedom. But a genuine individualist movement would recognize the one absolute principle of individual rights: the evil of any initiation of force. It would recognize the need to protect freedom, not by bombings or mob violence, but by a rationally defined, objective code of laws. An individualist movement would crusade to limit government to this task, not to dismantle it to make way for a fascist takeover. Such a movement would require a philosophy that rejects the sacrifice of the individual to any group, whether it is the white race or the “public interest.”

In the current environment, the only alternative that some people can imagine to the increasing encroachment on individual rights by the government is the equal encroachment on individual rights by their own armed gangs. The Oklahoma City bombing is a sign of the desperate need for the real alternative: a philosophy of individualism.

Robert Tracinski was a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute from 2000 to 2004. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Mr. Tracinski is editor and publisher of The Intellectual Activist and TIADaily, which offer daily news and analysis from a pro-reason, pro-individualist perspective. To receive a free 30-day trial of the TIA Daily and a FREE pdf issue of the Intellectual Activist please go to TIADaily.com and enter your email address.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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