In our understandable national grief over the events of September 11, 2001 we have suppressed our memory of the previous deadliest single act of terrorism against the United States; a domestic attack that should continue to disturb us to our core.
The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995 remains to me the most telling sign of our disunion as a nation. The attack carried out by a United States citizen, Tim McVeigh, and aided by another, Terry Nichols, killed 168 people, including 19 children, and injured 680 others. It caused nearly $1 billion in damage and exposed the degree to which Americans harbored hatred for their own country. The fact that McVeigh was a Gulf War veteran and white militia movement sympathizer told a larger story. There is a domestic element which for various reasons sees their country as the enemy and is willing to go to extremes to make that known. And there are groups waiting to exploit that disconnection to bring this nation to its knees.
The revelation that three U.S. born teenagers, the Muslim children of Indian immigrants living in a Chicago suburb, have been arrested; detained at O’Hare Airport after allegedly plotting to flee to Syria to join the Islamic State is disturbing. And no, I am not referencing their religion or so much their fantasy-laden intentions as my primary worry but it is their deep dissatisfaction with their American identity that troubles me to no end. These are American teenagers. Yet, they were seduced by a movement culturally and politically opposed to our nation to the point of declaring war upon us. When the critical choice came down, these kids chose the other side.
If you are not concerned, start being concerned.
It is why the longer this nation refuses to address racism and the institutional practices that oppress Black Americans, the wider the door is being opened for the exploitation of Black frustration and anger by our state of denial. In this age of global media and technology we would be foolish to think that elements in distant places are not looking upon this nation’s treatment of Black people, particularly Black youth, as an opportunity. This is not conspiracy thinking. It happened before when Soviet communism began to look a lot better to some Blacks than the version of a democracy this nation was peddling. Today, our dispossessed, our frustrated, our youth are more accessible and more available to alternative narratives than ever before. And we are wholly responsible for creating this chasm.
I am part of the last Black generation of lingering loyalty; the tail end of the Baby-Boom, Generation X sandwiched between the end of the Boom and Generation Y. My generation is the last to rise with little question to the National Anthem, salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and remember when Memorial Day was still tinged with the memory of World War II and Korea. We saw Vietnam unfold but it was our older siblings who raised their voices in protest; we saw the coming decline with Watergate and an oil crisis. The lot after us though are Reagan’s children; the generation that saw the greed and arrogance of the 1980’s, the scourge of the crack epidemic and defunded government programs. These are the children of the anti-affirmative backlash of Bakke and the mean-spirited attacks on the poor. Whatever love of country that existed at birth was crushed by forces that deemed Black children expendable and extinguished Black hope.
It is this crucible that now creates a real dilemma for America. It is a two-sided coin and this nation better hope it makes the right call on the toss. On one side of the coin are the Tim McVeighs of the world who fall prey to the racist catcalling of white supremacists whose hatred of government is cultivated by the belief that Blacks are encroaching upon their God given entitlement. Their irrational belief that Blacks somehow receive undeserved government largesse is fueled by a vast network of institutions invested in sowings seeds of resentment. On the other side of the coin are Blacks, and mainly young Blacks, who don’t have the patience of their elders, trust no one and hold the nation in contempt for failing to address the institutional racism that burdened their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.
If America fails to substantively address police violence against Blacks, labor market discrimination, housing bias, educational equity and the foreclosing of opportunity to seek a higher education, it will have written an open invitation for elements conspiring against this nation to cause social upheaval. There will be the white extremists, whose activity the Southern Poverty Law Center thankfully tracks, using our inaction to grow their ranks and the rabid “death to America” zealots who will find receptive ears among our dispossessed.
Complicating matters is our Chicago teenagers, the seeming picture of the American dream as the children of immigrants embedded in suburbia. The intersection of culture and national identity is complicated by a nation that has used a heavy hand globally to impose its will, creating a cataclysmic clash of conscience in the minds of youth who see an American in the mirror but feel less than in their daily walk through life. And the behavior of our government, as revealed by the U.S. Senate report just released on CIA torture tactics, fuels the animosity of those who see their relatives in foreign countries as victims of our excess.
Between our failure to confront and eradicate institutional racism and our rogue behavior on the international front, we are creating a terrorist recruitment toolkit.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.