That Acrid Smell in the Air

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Oh how I hate an ism. Born in the first half of the twentieth century I've lived through them all. That century was cursed with fascism, communism, and McCarthyism. In the twenty first we have Islamic terrorism. 

I must apologize if I am adding to the already overcrowded list of isms -- but with the threats from Republican Congressmen, the bulls-eye targeting of Sarah Palin of the Democrats she disagrees with, and the racist and homophobic curses from the Tea Party ringing in our ears after the passage of the health care bill, I suggest that we take a look backwards at the sad story of Timothy James McVeigh and see the McVeighism that is festering. 

Here was a man so filled with rage and resentment against the government for its Waco and Ruby Ridge raids, and a generalized hatred for American foreign policy, that he used explosives to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in April of 1995 killing 168 people, injuring 450 others, nineteen of them small children in a day care center. I won't use the word fascism if I can help it -- it belongs to another era -- and often degrades clear thinking, but it requires more self control than I may have to keep it from sneaking into this piece.

McVeigh was the child of a divorced Irish Catholic family from upstate New York, the target of bullying in school, claiming that he found relief in fantasies of retaliation against the bullies. Withdrawn, a loner, he became interested in computer systems and showed a talent for technology.

Fascinated by firearms, obsessed with gun rights, he served in the Gulf War, claiming that the army taught him how to switch off his emotions. Discharged from the army in '91, he became a wanderer, an anti-taxation advocate, writing "Do we have to shed blood to reform the current system? I hope it doesn't come to that. But it might."

He wrote angry letters to the government, mostly because it was growing larger and he seemed to feel smaller, except for his possession of a gun. He worked at gun shows and handed out cards with the name and address of the sharpshooter who had worked for the government during the Waco siege "in the hope that somebody in the Patriot Movement would assassinate the sharpshooter." His paranoia had an almost humorous cast to it if it did not lead to such tragedy. He claimed that the government had planted a chip in his buttocks to keep track of him. If they had the chip in his behind it did not work because he was able to execute a tragic act of terrorism -- American style.

Of course no two madmen or assassins with a grudge against the world are ever quite the same. But the common thread that runs through them is a deep sense of victimhood. McVeigh had it, Hitler had it, Oswald had it, Booth had it, and I can see and hear reflections of that dangerous victimhood in the far right today.

The anti-government, in this case anti-Obama rhetoric is hate filled, some of it race based, and contains within it an unappeasable grudge -- the us against them kind that sets off explosions, kills the innocent, and destroys the security of the country it claims to protect.

If we sniff we can smell the burning fuse. There is no constitutional right to inflame sociopaths to commit murderous acts. Cool it Sarah, and all you Republican leaders who are playing to your base, using code words that are well understood by many who feel victimized because of the recession (just as Germans became targets for Hitler's rhetoric because of the Great Depression).

Sorry, reader, I've done it, slipped it in but I am truly worried by the parallels and hope against hope that I am wrong.


Contributing writer, Sherman Yellen, screenwriter, playwright, and lyricist, has won two Emmy Awards, first for his drama John Adams, Lawyer in the PBS series The Adams Chronicles, and later for An Early Frost, a groundbreaking drama about AIDS in America. His Beauty and the Beast was nominated for an Emmy and won the Christopher Award. Yellenwas nominated for a Tony Award for his book for the Broadway musical, The Rothschilds. Yellen's other plays include Strangers, December Fools and Josephine Tonight! Sherman Yellen received a lifetime achievement award in Arts and Letters from Bard College.