On April 19, 1995, the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City was bombed, killing 168 people and wounding nearly 700. The incident represented the worst terrorist attack on American soil until the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center (Rosenberg, 2014.) In addition, it remains an influential part of US history in regards to domestic security measures. This paper will describe the event, and explore the issues that preceded the attack as well is the repercussions and lessons learned.
The Oklahoma City bombings were planned and orchestrated by Timothy McVeigh and his friends, Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier. The men had served together in the US Army and were also linked to an extremist right wing “Patriot Movement.” They were moved to commit the crime because of an event that occurred in Waco, Texas. On April 19, 1993, exactly two years prior to the Oklahoma City bombings there was a standoff between the FBI and the Branch Davidian cult that culminated in a fiery tragedy (Oklahoma City Bombing Fast Facts, 2013.) After the FBI attempted to stop the impasse by gassing the complex, the whole group of buildings went up in flames and killed 75 of its followers, including children. Afterwards, many people including McVeigh and Nichols held the US government responsible for the tragedy, and it was that event that drove their motivation for retribution. In particular, they believed that the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms were most responsible for Waco, so McVeigh targeted the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City because it housed several federal agencies including the ATF. Immediately after the attacks occurred, the initial suspicions about perpetrators by law enforcement were that the crime had been committed by Middle Eastern terrorists who may have been related to those who had been involved in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center (Terror Hits Home: the Oklahoma City Bombing, 2014.)
After planning his active revenge exactly two years after Waco, McVeigh enlisted his friends to help him carry out his plan. In September, 1994, McVeigh bought large amounts of fertilizer (ammonium nitrate) and stored it in a rented shed in Kansas (Rosenberg, 2014.) The bomb that was made by McVeigh used the ammonium nitrate as the primary ingredient; the other supplies needed to make the bomb were stolen by McVeigh and Nichols from a quarry also in Kansas. On April 17, 1995, McVeigh rented a Ryder truck and then he and Nichols loaded approximately 5000 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer into the truck (Rosenberg, 2014.) Two days later during the morning of April 19, McVeigh drove the truck to Oklahoma City and parked in front of the Murrah Federal Building. He then lit the fuse and, leaving the keys inside the truck, locked the door and walked away, heading towards the parking lot into an alley where he began to jog away from the scene.
Regarding the preparations of the attack, it does not seem likely that law enforcement officials could have thwarted the attack because in those days, the degree of surveillance and monitoring of communications in no way resembled the status of those activities today. Aside from McVeigh being a member of the Patriot Movement, there was no indication that he might have been involved in such an act of terror. Nevertheless, many of the militia groups such as the Patriot Movement were also linked to neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups, so that if the government had been surveilling the activities of such extremists they might have been able to get wind of the degree of anger expressed against the government by people like McVeigh.
During the morning of April 19, 1995, most of the employees that worked at the Murrah Federal Building were already at work, and many children had been dropped off at the day care center in the building when a tremendous explosion occurred. It was 9:02 AM when the blast went off, and almost all of the north face of the nine story building disintegrated, becoming piles of smoking dust and rubble. Over the next weeks, hundreds of rescue workers sorted through the debris in order to rescue and recover victims. Ultimately, out of the 168 people killed in the explosion, 19 were children at the day care center. In addition, a nurse was also killed while the rescue operation was taking place. McVeigh and his friends had succeeded mightily in accomplishing their goals for the attack in that many of the people killed and injured were federal employees; however, all of the people that were harmed were innocent civilians that certainly had nothing to do with the Waco and even those that were working for federal departments did not deserve such a fate. Following the bombing, a massive hunt for the perpetrators followed and McVeigh, Nichols, and Fortier were jailed as suspects but held for lesser charges. In August, Fortier agreed to testify against McVeigh and Nichols in exchange for a reduced sentence (Oklahoma City Bombing, 2014.) Two days later, Nichols and McVeigh were both charged with murder and unlawful use of explosives.
In the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, new legislation was passed by Congress. One of the most prominent laws to be enacted was the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 that allocated the death penalty to people who perpetrated terrorism in the United States (Tyson, 2010.) In addition, in 1997, the Victim Allocution Act granted survivors of the Bombing and the relatives of those killed the right to attend the trials of those who were charged in the attack. These changes were adequate at the time, but actually did not address the problem of domestic terrorism in a larger way; they essentially focused on Timothy McVeigh and the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. It was only after the 9/11 attacks that more significant legislation was enacted to prepare for, respond to, and prevent terrorist attacks.
Following the Oklahoma City bombing it might have been advisable to infiltrate extremist, antigovernment groups to learn more about their plans and activities, as well as strengthening laws against people knowing about and planning domestic attacks whether or not they were actually directly involved or not. In addition, it might have been helpful to establish a specific agency to exclusively focus on terrorism, both homegrown and internationally based. Of course, these were actions that were taken years later when it was clear that terrorism was an ongoing problem for the US.
There have been many lessons learned following the Oklahoma City bombing, particularly in regards to security measures in the commercial market. For example, electronic security measures including video surveillance and access control systems have become essential in order to monitor the comings and goings of buildings. In addition, the physical design aspect of areas surrounding buildings are also viewed as essential (Stelter, 2010.) There has been a focus on constructing physical barriers to enhance security including fences, gates, and bollards in addition to guard stations that have surveillance equipment so that people can also monitor the facilities. Finally, there has been a tremendous effort to increase awareness of the ways to accomplish security through environmental design (Stelter, 2010.) Security consultants can incorporate elements such as drainage ditches, well-placed trees and retaining walls, and many other methods of preventing would- be terrorists from getting close enough to a building to do significant damage.
The Oklahoma City bombing was the first of a series of traumatic events that underscored the need for new ways to protect the country from domestic and international terrorism. It served as a wake-up call that managed to address an initial level of concern but it was only after the September 11 attacks that such measures were attempted on a large enough scale to provide adequate anti-terrorism management. In any case, the Oklahoma City bombing shook up the American public’s relatively naïve sense of imperviousness to terrorism.
- Oklahoma City Bombing Fast Facts. (2013, September 18). Retrieved from CNN.com: http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/18/us/oklahoma-city-bombing-fast-facts/
- Oklahoma City Bombings. (2013). Retrieved from History.com: http://www.history.com/topics/oklahoma-city-bombing
- Rosenberg, J. (2014). Oklahoma City Bombing. Retrieved from About.com, 20th Century History: http://history1900s.about.com/cs/crimedisaster/p/okcitybombing.htm
- Stelter, L. (2010, April 19). Lessons Learned: Securing Buildings 15 Years after Oklahoma City. Retrieved from Security Director News.com: http://www.securitydirectornews.com/commercial-and-enterprise/lessons-learned-securing-buildings-15-years-after-oklahoma-city
- Terror Hits Home: the Oklahoma City Bombing. (2014). Retrieved from FBI.gov: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/history/famous-cases/oklahoma-city-bombing
- Tyson, B. (2013, April 19). The Continuing Impact of the Oklahoma City Bombings. Retrieved from Humanities 360: http://www.humanities360.com/index.php/the-continuing-impact-of-the-oklahoma-city-bombing-25848/