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REGISTER VIEWPOINT: Deadly certainty

Commentary • Apr 29, 2010 at 4:13 AM

Last week Americans looked back in sorrow at the Oklahoma city bombings. The lives of 168 men, women and children were lost in that heinous act of domestic terrorism and countless other lives were affected by these losses.

We have a hard time seeing what the perpetrator, Timothy McVeigh, could have been thinking to justify such destruction. It's easy to label him as evil or diabolical. But what is not easy is to accept that McVeigh thought he was right. He thought it was his mission to make America aware of government aggression. He thought his military training made him the right person to launch this attack. He even thought the loss of innocent lives was no different than the collateral damage of war -- any war.

Tried and convicted, McVeigh accepted his death penalty as inevitable -- the price, in his eyes of being a righteous man. It is a sentiment shared by suicide bombers who feel so strongly about their causes they willingly and eagerly give their lives to a greater good.

David Koresh thought he was right when he armed his followers against those who would not tolerate their brand of religion and sought to disband his flock of 74 men, women and children. Janet Reno thought she was right when she ordered the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to make Koresh's prophecy of doom come true.

Jim Jones moved his flock out of the United States because he feared government intervention. When a visit from a U.S. congressman to the congregation's new home in Guyana brought his fears to a head, 900 members of the Peoples' Temple lost their lives. They thought they were right. Congressman Leo Ryan, who also lost his life, thought his fact-finding mission was the right thing to do.

Forty years ago, students exercising their free speech rights by protesting the American invasion of Cambodia, were gunned down at Kent State by National Guard in what is known as the May 4 Massacre. Four students lost their lives for doing what they thought was right, while young guard members lost their innocence for doing what they thought was right.

What do McVeigh, Koresh, Jones and suicide bombers have in common? They were all zealots who held their beliefs above all -- even human life. They follow their perceived path of self-righteousness to the edge of sanity and beyond. Former President Bill Clinton, who was in office during the Oklahoma recovery efforts and investigation recently said there are frightening parallels between current political tensions and the anti-government rage that preceded the 1995 attack.

Consider these horrific moments in U.S. history as cautionary tales. Incendiary talk and mass gatherings may be political pep rallies for those wishing to gain support from like-minded citizens. That's fine for those with common sense. But the same words and rampant zeal can fan the flames of self-righteousness and incite violence in less stable individuals.

Speak up. It's your right. But, remember, there's a fine line between an enthusiastic crowd and an angry mob.

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