The Federal Government Failed to Convict Right-Wing Extremists Before, It Led to the Oklahoma City Bombing.
As the Senate trial proceeds on whether to convict Donald Trump, his trial and other trials of right-wing extremists, are closely watched by far right militias and extremists. Failure to convict violent extremists in the past led to the most violent domestic terror attack on U.S. soil. This tragedy may be repeated if the Senate and federal government fail to convict right-wing extremists for their insurrection.
Additionally, the federal government indicted members of the so-called “Oath Keepers,” a right-wing militia, on conspiracy charges, this case, and others like it, will not only prove to be difficult, but the stakes will be high. Failure to convict will embolden far right extremists and lend credence to their arguments justifying violence. And with the Department of Homeland Security issuing its first national terrorism bulletin for domestic extremists, these threats are not only immediate and real but will be persistent for years to come.
The federal government, through the Senate, also has a responsibility to convict Trump for “Incitement of Insurrection.” His trial is more public and more influential for right-wing extremists than these criminal trials. He is just as responsible and culpable for the insurrection as his followers. Should he be acquitted by the Senate, right-wing extremists will use his acquittal to justify more of their violence and their lies of a stolen election. Trump’s trial could go on to embolden more far-right extremism. Just as Louis Beam’s acquittal emboldened right-wing extremism to rise, culminating in the Oklahoma City Bombing.
The stakes to convict Trump and right-wing militia members are high.
HOW LOUIS BEAM’S ACQUITTAL LED TO THE OKLAHOMA CITY BOMBING
Back in 1988, the government failed to convict notorious white supremacist Louis Beam and 12 of his co-conspirators (who planned on killing a federal judge and FBI agent and overthrowing the government) of conspiracy and sedition charges in the Fort Smith Sedition Trial in Arkansas. The image of Beam carrying his wife as if he is a white knight added to this idea that these white supremacists were unfairly targeted by the government. And the story of the acquittal emboldened more and more white supremacists, violent anti-government extremists, and far right extremists. Beam even reveled in this notoriety, mocking the government in a quarterly journal he published titled, “The Seditionist.”
Beam would go on to inspire other right-wing extremists in his 1992 essay, “Leaderless Resistance,” and contribute to a model of anti-government violence that emphasizes the use of guerilla tactics organized like terror cells focused on targeting federal installations and government buildings.
Like the Oklahoma City Bombing executed by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols in 1995 that killed 168 and injured 759. According to McVeigh’s defense attorney, not only did McVeigh read “Leaderless Resistance” but Louis Beam was “someone that was very important to him.”
RIGHT-WING EXTREMISTS TODAY
The federal government cannot fail to prosecute these insurrectionists. Their acquittal could repeat the same tragedy of Louis Beam and his influence to carry out domestic terrorism.
In 2010, the federal government failed to convict members of the far right Christian fundamentalist militia, “Hutaree,” in Michigan. Given its low-profile, it appears that those acquitted do not wield the same influence and power as Beam. But it still serves as a recent example of the government failing to convict right-wing extremists. A failure that still haunts federal law enforcement.
Should the federal government fail again, not only will the January 6th Insurrection serve as recruiting tool for far right domestic terrorists, but so will the acquittal. And it is not just the conspiracy charges against the “Oath Keepers” and other right-wing militant groups that matter but the conspiracy charges against six men of the so-called “Wolverine Watchmen” who plotted to kidnap Governor Whitmer of Michigan and the four men belonging to the so-called neo-Nazi group “The Base” plotting to murder a couple and looking to recruit others to “derail some trains, kill some people, and poison some water supplies.” These men may go on to inspire other violent atrocities. Just as Louis Beam and the networks of far right extremists groups inspired and supported the Oklahoma City Bombing.
Convicting these conspirators will deprive them of their immediate network and social influence on right-wing extremists while they serve time in federal prison. Convicting Trump and barring him from office will deprive him of his most powerful weapon: political influence. His influence has already infected the Republican Party with members calling the Capitol insurrection a “hoax,” subverting the U.S. Constitution, and cultivating a cult. Not to mention the rise in right-wing extremism and hate crimes when Trump began his run for political office.
THE TRIALS AND THE LAW
However, things are different this time for the conspiracy cases. I expect (and hope) that federal prosecutors will not have an all-white jury just like they did in their failed conviction of white supremacist Louis Beam. Additionally, in 1988, the jury claimed that the government failed to provide credible witnesses. Much of the evidence for conspiracy against Thomas Caldwell and the “Oath Keepers” right now appears to be physical communications to and from Caldwell, video evidence, and self-incrimination on social media. And in contrast to the 2010 acquittal of the “Hutaree” extremists, Capitol insurrectionists acted and committed federal crimes. Additionally, the Department of Justice is probing sedition charges against the insurrectionists and rioters that participated in the January 6th Insurrection. The government is putting its weight into these investigations.
Criminal conspiracy convictions of the members of the “Oath Keepers” require the government to prove that two or more people were in agreement with intent to commit a crime and took an overt act in furtherance of that crime. Conspiracy cases, along with sedition cases, are notoriously difficult to prosecute because of First Amendment protections. Therefore, this hurdle before federal prosecutors is high.
First Amendment protections are necessary for a free and just society. However, these Constitutional protections can be abused by far right extremists to plan to murder police officers and violently overthrow the government and espouse their bigoted views. They shroud their hatred in sacred ideals to shield their cowardice. Yet, it is imperative that these First Amendment protections exist for the whole of American society including to shield civil rights advocates from government oppression. Therefore, the difficulty in prosecuting these right-wing extremists on conspiracy charges needs to remain difficult for the government. The bar needs to be high. But our government cannot allow violent extremists to evade prosecution. And these First Amendment protections do not apply to impeachment trials.
But, right-wing militants intent on violent overthrow will closely watch these trials. They want justification. Right-wing extremists already believe they are in a “civil war.” The federal government has the advantage, but should it fail, the fallout could be devastating, leading to right-wing extremists gaining notoriety, influence, and power and set back efforts to combat right-wing extremism and white supremacy.
A failure to convict and bar Trump from political power will also embolden right-wing extremists. Just as he had been encouraging them for years and incited them to an insurrection. If he is allowed to run for office again, he will again defend white supremacists, call for bigoted policies, and cultivate right-wing extremists.
Those facing criminal conspiracy charges, like the “Oath Keepers,” are able to provide organization, planning, weapons, supplies, and matériel support to extremists. Donald Trump provides recruitment, propaganda, legitimacy, justification, and encouragement. If all are acquitted, an already growing petri dish of extremists in America will explode in growth and volatility, increasing the chances for another large-scale domestic terrorist attack.
The federal government, along with the Senate, must fairly prosecute these insurrectionists for their crimes. An acquittal not only does democracy and the American people injustice, it could boost far-right extremism and embolden those intent on carrying out domestic terrorism. Political violence cannot be normalized.