American Experience “Oklahoma City” Explores the Nation's Deadliest Domestic Terror Attack

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04 February 2017
Oklahoma City
Courtesy of Jon Hersley
“Oklahoma City”
Premieres Tuesday, February 7 from 9:00-11:00 p.m. ET on PBS

          “Oklahoma City” explores the intertwined narratives of the worst domestic terrorist attack in the U.S. and the anti-government movement that inspired the actions of Timothy McVeigh, including two standoffs with law enforcement with tragic outcomes — Ruby Ridge and the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.

          On April 19, 1995, McVeigh, a former soldier deeply influenced by the literature and ideas of the radical right, set off a truck bomb that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people and injuring 675 others. Drawing upon a rich news archive of the events, including more than 60 hours of audio from jailhouse interviews with McVeigh, “Oklahoma City” traces the events that led McVeigh to that day and recounts the stories of survivors, first responders, U.S. Marshals, FBI investigators and journalists who covered the attack. The film also provides an in-depth and provocative exploration of the extremist anti-government movement that rose to prominence in the 1990s and still makes news today.

          “At the time of the bombing, many believed that foreign terrorists were responsible for this devastating act,” said American Experience Executive Producer Mark Samels. “When Timothy McVeigh was arrested it was a shock to realize that the United States had enemies within our own borders. ‘Oklahoma City’ delves into the roots of McVeigh’s anti-government beliefs and how those beliefs were shaped by events at Ruby Ridge and Waco.”
          “Oklahoma City” begins in the 1980s, when a small number of far-right extremist groups began to organize. These groups — notably Aryan Nations and its paramilitary spinoff, The Order — perpetrated a series of violent crimes including bank robberies, bombings and murders, alerting the FBI to a rising threat and contributing to a psychology of conspiracy and confrontation on both sides.
American Experience: Oklahoma City
Courtesy of PBS
          Woven through the narrative of McVeigh’s radicalization is the story of the immediate aftermath of the bombing itself, told though the recollections of survivors. In the minutes and hours after the explosion, first responders poured into the ruins, pulling the wounded and dead from the rubble. At the same time, investigators launched the largest manhunt in American history, involving hundreds of agents and thousands of leads. Within three days, McVeigh had been captured.
          “Oklahoma City” ends with the trial, conviction and execution of Timothy McVeigh. Hoping to trigger a second American Revolution against an oppressive government, McVeigh instead humanized the ordinary men and women, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, who make up the federal government.

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