Guest editorial #1 by Jon Roland, Constitution Society, 210/224-2868, April 23, 1995

A Time for Understanding

The outrage and sadness we feel over the atrocity in Oklahoma City must be followed by a thoroughgoing investigation of its causes and what can be done to prevent other incidents of this kind. The natural reaction is to seek retribution, to find ways to crack down on not only the perpetrators but any others who might disturb the sense of security to which we think we have a right. But if that is all we do, we will be neglecting the most important lessons we can learn from this tragedy.

Assuming for a moment that this was the act of a few aggrieved individuals, we need to consider the factors that lead persons to commit acts of terrorism. When we do we find the most common thread is not that the grievances have not been redressed, but that they are not receiving any attention. The aggrieved can forgive anything but being ignored.

We do not reward terrorism by paying attention to the grievances that may give rise to it. Busy people with problems of their own sometimes find it difficult to find the time to listen to the concerns of others, especially when they are people of a different kind, or far away. And public officials sometimes find it inconvenient to pay attention to people whose numbers or concerns seem statistically insignificant. But they are not insignificant to those people, and we live in a time when aggrieved people can be very dangerous. It is a small price to pay to try not only to give as many aggrieved people as possible a sympathetic hearing, but also to take action to redress those grievances that have merit. Most of our public institutions are intended both to offer a hearing for people's grievances and redress of them, but those institutions sometimes fail, and when they do they need to be reformed. The press can also do a great deal more to bring attention to such grievances, and help redirect the anger of the aggrieved into constructive reform efforts.

The Oklahoma City tragedy is now being used to attack the growing numbers of Americans who are aggrieved about government corruption and abuse, especially those who are banding together as militias for the protection of their communities. They and their grievances are being dismissed. They are belittled as people who interpret the constitution "literally".

The Constitution is not a collection of parables. It is the Supreme Law of the Land. It was meant to be taken literally. And it is time for all of us to take it more seriously. Too much legislation has been passed that calls for the federal government to exercise powers it does not have under the Constitution. It should not be a surprise to anyone that persons sworn to uphold the Constitution might object to that. It is time to recognize that a federal law making it a crime to damage a building and cause the death of its inhabitants is not constitutional if applied to an offense committed on the territory of a state. Only Oklahoma has jurisdiction in this case. Federal agents may investigate it and make arrests. Any citizen can do that. But the Constitution requires that it be tried in an Oklahoma state court, not in a federal court.

Now, in the wake of this tragedy, we see legislation being ramrodded through Congress to confiscate all personal weapons and to declare militias to be terrorist organizations. Passage of such ill-conceived legislation would lead to far greater tragedies. Militias are not the problem. They are the solution. All citizens are members of the Militia. Declaring all citizens to be terrorists would fulfill the worst fears of the people who have become active in local militias. What is needed is to revive the ready militia as a major institution in our civic life, just as it is in Switzerland, where it serves as the backbone of civic life. Requiring everyone to regularly participate in militia organization and training can redirect the anger of the aggrieved into more constructive activities, and identify dangerous persons before they can cause any harm. It can bring anonymous people together as communities, and encourage them to work together in other areas of civic life.

We don't know all the facts yet, but we should also consider that this atrocity may be another Reichstag fire, staged by parties within government for political effect. Anyone who has investigated official corruption for a while knows that this possibility cannot be dismissed, and must be pursued. There are too many things about this incident that don't ring true, especially since warnings of just such an event, seemingly from government sources, were made weeks before it occurred. If anyone in government has information about such a thing, or about any other kind of criminal activity in government, it is your duty to bring out what documentary evidence you can, seek the protection of your local militia, and take the information to the public. But do it now. Tomorrow may be too late.