Culture Wars/Current Controversies

“Government Is the Problem”

Sponsored by The NYU School of Professional Studies

While the revolutionary uprising that Timothy McVeigh envisioned did not come to pass after he, with the help of Terry Nichols, bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Sean Wilentz argues in our Summer Issue that the ideas of the white nationalists and far-right conspiracists who McVeigh followed continue to hold sway in American politics. Reviewing a new history of the bombing by Jeffrey Toobin, Wilentz traces the development of modern antigovernment sentiment—and the gun-loving extremists who preach it—from Ronald Reagan to Pat Buchanan and The Turner Diaries to the events of January 6, 2021. “The fallout from what McVeigh and Nichols conceived as an act of war against the US government did nothing to pause the radicalization of American right-wing politics inside and outside the Republican Party,” Wilentz writes.

Below, alongside Wilentz’s essay, we have collected five pieces from our archives about the recent history of the far right.

Sean Wilentz
American Carnage

Jeffrey Toobin’s book about Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing traces the path from Ronald Reagan’s antigovernment ideology to today’s radicalized right.

Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson
How Can We Neutralize the Militias?

The threat of violence from domestic far-right extremists calls for a measured and well-coordinated response from law enforcement and intelligence services.

David Bromwich
The Rebel Germ

“It is the impassioned radio and TV talkers who lead the Republican Party.”

Garry Wills
The New Revolutionaries

“There are elements of the old extremism in the mix—anti-Semitism, skinhead fantasies about Hitler, crude xenophobia, religious fundamentalism, catastrophic millennialism. But there is also an argued case for ‘constitutional anti-governmentalism’ that, in certain areas, connects with the wider public’s own hunches or blind assertions.”

Garry Wills
The Golden ‘Blade’

“Pat Buchanan has always felt himself at the center of the universe, serene there, sure that the others are shouting in from envy. His world—white, American, Catholic—is what all the rest of the world would be if it were blessed as he has been.”

Nicholas von Hoffman
Gong Ho

“Among all the Watergate confessional literature G. Gordon Liddy’s autobiography is far and away the best. It is the only entertaining one, the only funny one, although it isn’t always clear when the jokes are intended. By the end, you may still not have formed a settled opinion on whether he is a Nazi sociopath or a case of arrested development, an eleven-year-old boy in a grown man’s body.”



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