(at least today was rather uneventful)
Can You Have a Happy Birthday on April 19?
By STANLEY FISH
On the little block in Providence, R.I., where I grew up, three of us kids celebrated our birthdays on April 19. I thought that was pretty remarkable; April 19 must be pretty special, I concluded. Many years later I feel the same way, but for different reasons.
This evening MSNBC is airing “The McVeigh Tapes: Confessions of an American Terrorist,” for it was 15 years ago to the day that Timothy McVeigh blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people. McVeigh was motivated in part by what had happened on another April 19. On that day in 1993, David Koresh and 75 of his Branch Davidians, a radical Christian sect, were killed when the F.B.I. stormed their compound in Waco, Tex.
To be sure, other events of note occurred on April 19, some good, some bad — the beginning of the Revolutionary War in 1775, Lincoln’s blockade of Confederate ports in 1861, Captain Cook’s sighting of Australia in 1770, the destruction of Toronto by fire in 1904, the abandonment of the gold standard in 1933, the Warsaw Ghetto revolt in 1943, the marriage of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956, the sentencing of Charles Manson in 1971, the installation as Pope Benedict XVI of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2005 (good or bad; hard to tell), the Broadway opening of my favorite musical, “Carousel” (1945), the birthdays of Ashley Judd (1968), Murray Perahia (1947), Dudley Moore (1935), Jayne Mansfield (1933), Eliot Ness (1903), and the deaths of C.S. Pierce (1914), Charles Darwin (1882), Benjamin Disraeli (1881), Lord Byron (1824) and Paolo Veronese (1588).
But the significance of these and other April 19’s has been overshadowed for some time by the Waco-Oklahoma connection, which has taken on a life of its own, a life that grows and spawns in the full flowering of the Internet (in 1995, there were only 16 million Internet users throughout the world).
For those who fear government and hold fiercely to the motto of New Hampshire — “Live Free or Die” — April 19 is both a holy and an unholy day; unholy because it marks the naked exercise of state power (at least in the case of Waco and before that of Ruby Ridge), and holy because it serves as a rallying cry for those who wish to “take back” their country from the socialists, communists and one-worlders who, they believe, have hijacked it. Blogger Eric Boehlert declares on Mediamatters.org that “April 19th remains an almost mythical date among dedicated government haters.”
For the government, April 19 is a day to worry about. When F.B.I. agents arrested nine members of the Christian militia known as the Hutaree in late March, they acted because of information indicating that the group was planning an attack on police officers sometime in April. The betting is that the date they had in mind was April 19.
There is no doubt at all about the date of the Second Amendment march in Washington: April 19, today. Organizer Skip Coryell has said that he “had no idea the [Oklahoma] bombing was that date” (he must be the only politically aware person in the country who can say that), despite the fact that McVeigh was self-identified as a fierce proponent of gun rights. His disavowal of any connection between his event and the passions informing McVeigh’s act is undercut by his words: “As long as our elected officials believe we will rise up and overthrow them under certain conditions, then they will not allow those conditions to occur; their jobs and their very lives depend on it.”
There is not much, if any, distance between statements like this and the incendiary language Bill Clinton warned against when he spoke at a forum on Friday, language that demonizes the government, threatens insurrection or secession, preaches the necessity and inevitability of violence, issues death threats, calls for opposing politicians to be “taken out,” compares the passage of a compromised, watered-down health bill to Armageddon and invokes the name of Jesus as a justification for all the above. “The words we use really do matter,” Clinton insisted, especially, he added, in the context of the Internet’s “vast echo chamber,” which transports them “across space [where] they fall on the serious and the delirious alike … on the connected and the unhinged alike.”
The question is, in which category — the serious and the connected or the delirious and the unhinged — do members of the Tea Party belong? Clinton tried to split the difference, on the one hand affirming the right, and indeed the duty, of those who disagree with government policies to speak out strongly, on the other warning against the consequences of crossing “the basic line dividing criticism from violence or its advocacy.” (By the very examples he cites that line has long since been crossed.) He makes the same point in an op-ed in today’s Times.
But some in the Tea Party are not so reluctant to claim the April 19 heritage of violence. Blogger Mike Vanderboegh urges his readers to break the windows of every Democratic Party headquarters in the country (he cites John Locke as a justifying authority) and predicts that if he and his colleagues withdraw from the system, and “refuse to pay the fines” (for I.R.S. violations) and “refuse arrest,” the result will be “a thousand little Wacos.”
It is enough to make you understand why Globalgrind.com would have a headline declaring, “Why You Should be Afraid of April 19th.” The date has become a magnet for crazies; it is a toxic date. It almost makes me want to go to court and have my birthday legally changed.
They forgot that the "Trenchcoat Mafia" intended to shoot up Columbine on April 19th in tribute to Waco but then they spaced it & did it the next day.