As Oklahoma and the nation approach the 15th anniversary of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing, a new poll raises concern for those working to educate about domestic terrorism.
A SoonerPoll.com survey asked 1,000 Oklahomans which group they consider most likely to commit an act of terrorism inside the United States in the next six months. More than 70 percent responded that the threat comes from Islamic extremist groups, while less than 13 percent said a domestic extremist group. Those numbers did not bring comfort to officials at the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism. Their concern is going back to a mind-set more than 15 years ago.
“Prior to the ’95 bombing, there was an increase in domestic extremism,” said David Cid, executive director of MIPT. “At that time, we were primarily looking for international terrorists. We had the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and the FBI was almost exclusively focused on international terrorism.
“During this period before ’95, this increase in militancy in militias was not recognized for the threat that it truly was. I’m not suggesting we could have prevented it (the 1995 bombing), but had we been looking in the right direction, the chances of preventing it would have been much greater.”
Cid sees the same scenario playing out today. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City, international terrorism is in the news and on people’s minds more than domestic terrorism. But the threat from homegrown extremists is still there.
“What we are seeing now is the same increase in militancy from some groups,” Cid said. “They are animated by some things like eminent domain, immigration and now health care.
“The recent arrests of (Hutaree members), which we had never heard of, I think is an example of that. People are angry and frustrated. And among those who are angry and frustrated, there is a small number, but there are a number who will pick up a gun.”
The Hutaree is a Michigan-based militia group that the FBI raided in March. The FBI claimed the group allegedly planned to kill a police officer and then kill other cops who attended the police officer’s funeral.
The MIPT-sponsored portion of the survey, conducted by Shapard Research, found most Oklahomans believe a terrorist attack is somewhat to very likely to occur in the next few months.
“That was probably the largest change we saw from last year,” said Tamara Pratt, MIPT deputy director. The organization conducted a similar poll a year ago.
“We saw a 13 percent increase,” she said.
Other poll results found nearly 90 percent were extremely likely or very likely to call the police if they saw something suspicious, and that nearly 87 percent have never changed their plans based on the Homeland Security alert system. Fifty percent said they do not think the state and local police have the skills to protect citizens from terrorism.
As the April 19 anniversary draws near, MIPT is not the only one concerned with present day attitudes. State Sen. Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City, whose brother was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks, told Oklahoma Gazette two rallies scheduled for that date bring a level of discomfort.
The Second Amendment March will take place in Washington, D.C., as a show of support for the right to keep and bear arms. There is also a “Restore the Constitution” rally at Fort Hunt National Park, just outside Washington, D.C., on the same day.
“My perspective is Oklahoma is very pro-Second Amendment, but surely people from all political perspectives across the state would agree it’s inappropriate at best that you have these groups that are angry at the federal government having rallies with guns on the 15th anniversary of the Murrah bombing,” Rice said.
April 19 is also the anniversary of the first battle of the American Revolution. Rice believes the bombing anniversary is special this year.
“The First Amendment gives us the right to do this; it’s just upsetting to me that people would choose out of all days of the year to do it on that day. With the 15th anniversary, some anniversaries are more significant than others.” Rice said he would like to see some Oklahoma leaders and elected officials speak out against the rallies.
“It would be nice to have some Oklahoma City leaders, and definitely the state, to have some unified statement that “¦ we celebrate American citizens’ ability to speak out against their government, but we want to make it known as we are grieving this terrible tragedy that was perpetrated on innocent people by someone who was angry at the government, it just seems highly inappropriate they would choose April 19 to do that.” “Scott Cooper