Twenty-five years ago on April 19, 1995, an anti-government extremist parked a rental truck in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building downtown Oklahoma City. He was about to commit mass murder and turn the area into a war zone.
It was about 9 a.m. People were coming to work and children were just arriving at the America’s Kids day care center on the second floor. The terrorist got out of the vehicle stuffed with explosives and walked over to his get-away car. Minutes later, he detonated the bomb, killing 168 people including children, injuring 680 others. A third of the building collapsed, and 300 nearby buildings were either damaged or destroyed.
Thirty-five AFGE sisters and brothers who worked in the Department of Housing and Urban Development and 16 in the Social Security offices died that day.
On the 25th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, AFGE honors the memory of those brothers and sisters we so needlessly and suddenly lost. We mourn alongside the families who continue to grieve to this day, and we renew our pledge to protect the health and safety needs of every federal government employee.
The Oklahoma City bombing is a chilling reminder that federal employees have long been targets of crimes by antigovernment groups. A few examples of crimes and plots against the government and its workforce include:
July 28, 1995: Anti-government extremist Charles Ray Polk was indicted for plotting to blow up an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) building in Austin, Texas.
Dec. 18, 1995: Tax protester Joseph Martin Bailie was arrested for planting a bomb in a parking lot behind the IRS building in Reno, Nev.
July 1, 1996: Twelve members of the Arizona Viper Team, an anti-government domestic terrorist group, pleaded guilty or were convicted of surveilling and videotaping government buildings as potential targets.
Oct. 11, 1996: Seven members of the Mountaineer Militia, an anti-government group, were arrested in a plot to blow up the FBI's national fingerprint records center in West Virginia where 1,000 people worked.
March 8, 1998: A Texas man with anti-government views attempted to take over a Veterans Affairs office in Waco. He eventually surrendered.
Feb. 8, 2002: David Burgert, leader of the militia-like Project 7, was arrested for plotting to kill judges and police to start a revolution. Burgert was found with pipe bombs, 25,000 rounds of ammunition and "intel sheets" with personal information about law enforcement officers, their spouses and children.
April 10, 2003: The FBI raids the Texas home and storage facilities of William Krar and found 500,000 rounds of ammunition, pipe bombs, remote-control briefcase bombs, and deadly sodium cyanide. They also found white supremacist and antigovernment material.
Feb. 18, 2010: Joseph Andrew Stack flew his airplane into an IRS office building in Austin, Texas, killing himself and one IRS employee. Stack rails at the IRS and the federal government in a note written before his death.
Federal workers play a crucial role in making the lives of the American people better and moving our country forward. The coronavirus outbreak illustrates how important federal workers are. Frontline workers like TSA officers, VA doctors and nurses, correctional officers and other law enforcement officers put their lives on the line to serve the American people.
But it’s hard these days to go a day without hearing politicians taking a cheap shot at the people’s government and its employees.
Cuts to agency funding were born out of the “big government,” anti-regulation rhetoric. Attacks on federal employees’ compensation and workplace rights are part of the same massive anti-government, anti-tax, anti-labor union campaign by extremist groups, many of which are bankrolled by billionaires and big corporations.
The Trump administration’s war on its own workforce in the form of the anti-worker executive orders and the politicization of the labor board has only added fuel to the fire.
In an era where hateful, anti-government rhetoric regularly graces the Internet and cable news, it’s more important now than ever that elected officials lead by example and refrain from making statements targeting our government and its workforce just to score political points. With every new instance of hateful rhetoric against our federal government and its workforce, our elected officials not only tell federal employees that they are not appreciated, but that it’s okay for extremists to attack them, verbally or physically.
As we’re remembering the tragedy that happened in Oklahoma City 25 years ago, we need to do more than just honoring the memory of those we lost but do everything we can to prevent it.