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Hate history

Oklahomans have witnessed racism, bigotry and its consequences, but more education is needed to prevent future hate crimes.


Friday marks the 24th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing. - ALEXA ACE
  • Alexa Ace
  • Friday marks the 24th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing.

Oklahoma residents woke up to find racist, neo-Nazi, white nationalist graffiti twice in the last month. Additionally, posters and stickers of a “white identity” organization have been found — and removed — from various parts of the state, particularly at universities and high-traffic locations. But extreme far-right ideologies are nothing new, and they are actually thought to be a motivator behind the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

As Oklahoma commemorates the 24th anniversary of the bombing this week, some feel it is important to remember that white separatist and supremacist ideology has existed and will continue to exist without community and political leaders shutting it down.

Modern hate

Norman Police Department arrested a woman for the April 3 hate-filled graffiti in Norman, which included Nazi and white supremacist symbols and threats of violence against non-white people at Cleveland County Democratic headquarters, two churches, two public schools, two homes and an art center. Allison Johnson, 45, was charged with one felony and four misdemeanor counts of malicious injury to property and malicious intimidation or harassment.

And that is just for her alleged actions in Cleveland County. One week earlier, she allegedly committed a similar hate crime at the Oklahoma Democratic Party headquarters and nearby Chickasaw Nation offices, spray-painting derogatory slurs and violent threats. She is expected to face more charges in Oklahoma County.

“The second incident was actually scarier to me than the first incident; the first incident was upsetting. I could hardly believe it,” said Anna Langthorn, chair of Oklahoma Democratic Party. “But I figured at that point, because we didn’t have all the information, that it was an isolated incident; that somebody had gotten upset, had gotten into some Facebook fight or something and had taken it out on us. But the second incident at the Cleveland County party was upsetting and made it clear that it was a pattern of behavior that was going to persist until the person was caught. And then finding out … that there had been other incidents at churches and people’s homes, so yeah it’s a pattern of behavior and it can escalate. It’s really scary to think that that’s the America we live in right now.”

Dennis Purifoy, a survivor of the bombing, always reminds museum visitors that there is a good ratio of good guys to bad guys. - MIGUEL RIOS
  • Miguel Rios
  • Dennis Purifoy, a survivor of the bombing, always reminds museum visitors that there is a good ratio of good guys to bad guys.

According to the Cleveland County Court affidavit obtained by Oklahoma Gazette, Johnson told officials her intention was to scare Jewish and non-white people, and she “spoke at length about her racist beliefs and her efforts to ‘wake people up.’”

“A big part of it is our political climate and the way that we interact with each other,” Langthorn said. “There’s a lot of blame to lay at the seat of politicians and leadership, arguably on both sides, but I certainly believe that one party has promoted this kind of vitriol more than the other at the national level and at the local level. … Both the people who were targeted in the speech itself and the locations were communities that have, for the most part, already been marginalized or victimized in Oklahoma. ... The GOP headquarters wasn’t attacked. You know, Devon Tower or the Chamber of Commerce, people in Oklahoma who have power, didn’t experience that. It was people in Oklahoma who don’t have power that were targeted and victimized.”

Dennis Purifoy, an OKC bombing survivor, said he worries that incidents like this could happen more often.

“My fear is that right-wing nuts are going to take this as normal. This is normal that you have this spray-painted graffiti, racist and anti-Semitic and everything; this is normal that somebody goes into a mosque and shoots people,” he said, referring to recent shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. “Frankly, I don’t think this is going to change until [President Donald] Trump is out of office because he unwittingly stirs the pot.”

Far-right ideologies

Some time after the bombing, in looking for what could have motivated Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, Purifoy began learning about far-right ideologies and the attackers who bought into them.

“As we went through the trials, some of McVeigh and Nichols’ ideology came out, but you didn’t really get the full depth of it unless you read The Turner Diaries. It came out in the trial how important that book was. He was trying to get all his friends to read it,” he said. “They had ties [to far-right ideologies]; that was very important, but unless you really looked a little bit deeper than what was on the surface, you didn’t really get the connection. And unless you really looked at what all we think he believed, you don’t get the connection between that ideology and how that ideology has continued to-date.”

Published in 1978, The Turner Diaries is a novel written by white supremacist and neo-Nazi William Pierce under the pen name Andrew Macdonald. It depicts the overthrow of the federal government and a race war that leads to the extermination of non-white people.

“The whole point of it was a guy bombs the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., to precipitate a race war,” Purifoy said. “McVeigh had something like that in mind when he did what he did. He did a truck bomb just like in the book; there were just so many similarities.”

FBI has even dubbed it the “bible of the racist right,” according to Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

The Turner Diaries reached its pinnacle of popularity in 1995, after it was widely reported that pages of the novel were found in a plastic baggie in McVeigh’s car shortly after the bombing that killed 168 people in Oklahoma City,” according to SPLC. “McVeigh, who sold copies of his favorite novel at gun shows across the country, later said that while he didn’t subscribe to the book’s racism, he was inspired by its ‘pro-gun rights’ message.”

Admission to Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum is free 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday. - ALEXA ACE
  • Alexa Ace
  • Admission to Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum is free 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday.

Though McVeigh never owned up to being a member of a white power organization, even his choice to bomb the Murrah Building came from an earlier white power movement plot.

“Members of The Covenant, The Sword, and The Arm of the Lord (CSA), closely affiliated with The Order and Aryan Nations, had cased the Murrah Building and attempted to blow it up with rocket launchers back in 1983 but failed,” wrote U.S. history professor Kathleen Belew in Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, which explores the history of the white power movement in America.

Making connections

Purifoy continues to educate himself about far-right conspiracies, a major one being that Jewish people are plotting world domination by eradicating the world’s white population.

“It’s important for people to understand that McVeigh and Nichols’ ideology was more than just kind of what we thought on the surface,” he said. “So, for example, when I see in the news that this nut sends pipe bombs to a lot of Democratic figures but also to George Soros, instead of just thinking, ‘Well, he’s just sending them to Democratic figures,’ I think, ‘It’s not just that; it’s that George Soros is Jewish.’ … Soros is a big figurehead to all the right-wing conspiracy people. So when [House Minority Leader] Kevin McCarthy does a tweet about George Soros and a couple of other Jewish bankers, that means something. If he doesn’t intend it to be dog whistles or code, it’s taken that way by the right-wing, conspiracy theory-minded people.”

Far-right conspiracy theories and ideologies are more readily available than ever because of the internet. Purifoy thinks it is important to speak up and call people out when they say racist, homophobic or offensive things because it emphasizes that such language is not acceptable.

“It’s important for people to know that there is this strain in American life that was there before Nichols and McVeigh and that they bought into and it’s still there. We need to know about it so when we see on TV they’re shouting, ‘Jews will not replace us,’ we know what the hell they’re talking about,” Purifoy said about the 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia, Unite the Right rally. “They didn’t make that up; they all knew what they meant. If you know what they mean, you don’t just say, ‘Oh, it’s a bunch of guys in polos and khakis upset about a Confederate statue.’ No, there’s a lot more than that. If you don’t make those connections, these things seem random, and they’re not. You don’t have to know everything about what they believe. … You just have to know enough to know they’re repeating some stuff that Timothy McVeigh thought. If you know that kind of stuff, we can be a little bit more effective as a society in hopefully preventing some of these events.”

Some people believe the answer to dealing with this kind of hatred is to ignore it and not share it, while others believe shining a light on it will help fight against it.

“I understand both of those ideas, but I fall on the side of the latter that we need to shine a light on it,” Purifoy said. “I’ll call out our senators and our congressmen to know more about it and to help educate people. … It’s not just good old neo-Nazism when they spray-paint or post stickers and all that stuff; it’s part of an ideology that we need to be aware of. I think [Gov.] Kevin Stitt and mayor [David] Holt should say that because it’s not being said and people are not getting the message.”

Arie Kruglanski, a social psychologist and distinguished University of Maryland professor, studies the processes behind radicalization and terrorism. He said the two methods are not mutually exclusive, but preventative practices are most effective.

“They’re seeking glory, they’re seeking martyrdom, they’re seeking attention. If you deny attention, that is one step towards depriving them of what they really want,” he said. “But the question is, How effective can it be? Because they’re well-known on the internet and they can publicize their own video. … You’ve got to find a way to show them that it’s not going to lead to significance, that people are not going to be paying attention, that people are likely to feel you are the opposite of important.”

Social psychology

The dynamics of radicalization are similar between white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other terrorist groups, Kruglanski said. It is understood through three major components: need for significance, narrative and network.

“The basic underlying need for radicalization is what we call the need for significance, the quest for significance; the quest of mattering, being somebody, having respect,” he said. “So for example, the woman [who allegedly spray-painted hateful graffiti] may have been angered by the fact that she was bullied or disparaged or humiliated wherever she was. She didn’t feel good about herself. In other cases, she could be recruited by being told that, as a white person, she has been given the short end of the stick; she has been exploited by immigrants, people of color, ethnic minorities that are now taking over, and therefore, she is humiliated.”

Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum hosts a remembrance ceremony at 8:45 a.m. Friday. - ALEXA ACE
  • Alexa Ace
  • Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum hosts a remembrance ceremony at 8:45 a.m. Friday.

Through these things, one could feel a loss of significance. Though Kruglanski said everybody feels that need for significance, most channel that in socially constructive ways that provide a sense of meaning.

“Most of the cases that we dealt with were either people who are bullied at school or suffered some kind of humiliation and then they are exposed to a narrative that tells you, ‘You are right. You are humiliated. These are your enemies, and these enemies have to be fought and have to be humiliated themselves. We have to show them who has the power,’” Kruglanski said. “The third component is what we call the network. You’re surrounded by like-minded people that support the narrative. They say, ‘This is right. You got to believe it. This is the truth.’ They support one another, especially with the deviant groups such as the white supremacists, neo-Nazis or what have you that is outside the mainstream of society.”

It is easier than ever to find a network that supports your narrative due to internet websites and forums.

“In all the cases that we’ve seen, these three components play an important part,” Kruglanski said. “When the three come together, you have a combustible mixture that can lead people to radicalize, to be violent, to attack others no matter who they are — women, children, the elderly — it doesn’t matter, because the end justifies the means.”

Again, Kruglanski emphasized the need for preventative measures and the responsibility of those with a bully pulpit.

“You’ve got to be sensitive to people’s desire to matter and to be respected. Calling immigrants rapists and criminals is offending people and causing the loss of significance that makes them vulnerable to a radicalizing ideology of one type or another,” Kruglanski said, referencing one of Trump’s earliest political speeches. “That also legitimizes this [white supremacist] attitude and … if the cause is legitimate, maybe it’s okay to also be violent in the service of this cause. … This legitimation that is also happening all over Europe — the right-wing parties that are xenophobic, are anti-immigrant, anti-refugees — has to be fought tooth and nail because it polarizes society, it breeds violence, it breeds radicalization.”

Purifoy commends leaders who have denounced acts of white supremacy and police departments for taking things seriously but believes more can be done. He hopes more people will educate themselves about far-right ideologies so Oklahoma can be better suited to identify and prevent more acts of hate from happening.

“This strain is going to be in our American life for years and years and years. It’s been there for years and years and years. Its been made worse because of the internet and how people can find other people who are like-minded,” he said. “But on the other hand, the internet is also a tool that people can use. You can Google white nationalist, white supremacist, you can Google The Turner Diaries.”

Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum hosts a remembrance ceremony 8:45 a.m. Friday; museum admission is also free 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

“Remember this: There was one guy that walked away from the bombing,” Purifoy said, “but there were hundreds of people that went into the building. That’s a pretty good ratio of good guys to bad guys.”

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