Copyright 1995 The Times Mirror Company
Los Angeles Times
April 30, 1995, Sunday, Home Edition
SECTION: Part A; Page 3; Metro Desk
LENGTH: 811 words
HEADLINE: ON CALIFORNIA / PETER H. KING:YOUR BOMBER, MY BOMBER, OUR BOMBER
BYLINE: By PETER H. KING
DATELINE: SAN FRANCISCO
And so the boys of summer returned to the ballpark last week, only to find the nation absorbed in a new national pastime: the bombing of Americans, by Americans and -- or so the bombers would argue -- for Americans.
First came Oklahoma City, allegedly the work of right-wing extremists outraged over federal government excesses: "What is it going to take to open the eyes of our elected officials?" suspect Timothy J. McVeigh had complained to a newspaper. ". . . Do we have to shed blood to reform the current system?" This correspondence was published three years before McVeigh, authorities say, answered his questions with a big car bomb.
Not to be outdone by heartland right-wingers, a leftward-leaning serial bomber out here on the California frontier killed a timber lobbyist Monday with a letter bomb. "The people who are pushing all this growth and progress garbage," the so-called Unabomber wrote the New York Times, "deserve to be severely punished."
Criminal behavior experts suspect that the Unabomber -- who is thought to have operated alone throughout a 17-year "career" -- was prodded to action by the Oklahoma bombing. Perhaps he was jealous of McVeigh's publicity. More intriguing, perhaps he took issue with McVeigh's political views and wanted to put his own into play. In that context, his bombing would represent a rather grisly tactical escalation in the debate over whom to blame for what ails America.
Certainly the pundits were willing to play along. On Wednesday, there was Rush Limbaugh Himself, entertaining a caller who argued that if right-wing rhetoric was responsible for Oklahoma -- as the President seemed to suggest in his plea to tone down the radio talk -- then left-wing rhetoric was culpable in the Unabom killing. Limbaugh responded cheerily that the same thought had occurred to him, though he was reluctant to start a "my bomber, your bomber" debate. A matter of taste, and all that. . . .
In fact, the Unabomber and McVeigh would seem to be, as a former FBI agent put it, "soul mates." Both probably see reflected in the mirror a little guy tired of getting screwed by the System, a patriot driven to ultimate action. Both probably assume all America would walk in their moccasins -- if only America had their guts.
Michael Rustigan, a San Francisco State professor with an expertise in serial killers, said, "The more extreme members of the militia groups talk pretty much in the same language as Unabomber. The only difference is that for the right-wingers the monster is the federal government; for left-wingers it's the 'industrialist-capitalists that spoil nature and cut down trees.' "
Such people, he said, typically suffered a bitter personal setback in the past, which they twist into more grandiose crusades. We must kill the lawyers. Get the government. Exterminate abortionists. "These," he said, "are men with a mission, and they develop a community of support. They take their cues from those in society who they think would approve of what they are doing."
Think now of a train, running down a track from rational debate to crazy rage. There is a coach for passengers who fear government has intruded too far into their wallet, or their living room or their womb. There's another for those who suspect corporate downsizing won't cease until we're a nation of part-time Wal-Mart clerks. And so on.
This is not exactly make-believe. A Gallup poll released last week found that 40% of the American people believe "the federal government has become so large and powerful it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens." Similarly, middle-class American incomes have been stagnant for something like 25 years, and a decade ago, for the first time in our history, a majority of Americans began sharing the view that their children's future would be bleaker than their own.
Now put on board the experts of wedge politics, who for votes or ratings stoke the anger and fear. They keep the train loaded and running full bore. Of course, they will say later, regarding the awful wreckage, it was not their fault that -- unlike most passengers -- some people did not know to debark a few stations back. These crazy bombers took it all too seriously; they rode till the end of the line, around the bend, over the cliff. They were nuts.
And perhaps this is so. Perhaps there are no lessons in these bombings. The demon-making of talk radio is harmless entertainment. The government is your friend -- midnight pay raises and similar adventures in representative democracy notwithstanding. The political expedient of dividing Americans, as opposed to uniting them, is without consequence: Everyone understands it's just a show. Right? So hey, forget about it. Turn on the tube, watch a little ball, let that old train rumble down the track. Chug. Chug. Chug.