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How Oklahoma Was Good For Leviathan

A few weeks ago, I sold out on  No, I’m not referring to ticket sales for my stand-up HBO special.  I’m talking about the article in which I dared to say, “Timothy McVeigh is no hero.”  I pointed out that McVeigh’s terrorist act was counterproductive, since it will lead ordinary Americans to trust the government when it says those who oppose it are crazy fanatics.  I also pointed out that it is hypocritical to “avenge” the deaths of Waco innocents by blowing up children in Oklahoma. 

Needless to say, I got some hate mail.  So, with your permission, I’d like to take advantage of this forum to explain, in more detail, my disapproval of McVeigh’s actions. 

*  *  * 

First, let’s deal with the possible morality of terrorism.  Many people feel that anyone who works for the government is an accomplice to widespread theft and murder (since the government engages in these actions daily), and thereby forfeits his or her right to life. 

Clearly, mass murdering tyrants like Adolf Hitler (and more controversially, Abraham Lincoln) “deserved” their unnatural ends.  I also have little sympathy for somebody like Truman, who mercilessly bombed (both atomically and conventionally) hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians, even after our fleet could have easily blockaded Japan.  And obviously, soldiers under any flag who—oops!—accidentally slaughter a village of innocent people should be held strictly accountable for their crimes. 

But where do we draw the line?  There’s no way in hell you can convince me that a mailman who gets his ass bitten by Rommel the Rottweiler every time he drops off some dude’s Hustler can have his truck bombed to get back at Janet Reno.  This is especially true for such vital occupations as firefighters and police, which would have private analogs if only the government didn’t forbid their existence. 

A fortiori, one can’t kill the children of government employees. 

(And anyway, this discussion is irrelevant:  If McVeigh had knowingly killed those children, I still would have disagreed vehemently with him, but I would have at least respected the strength of his convictions.  After all, the guy’s willing to die in order to publicize the deaths at Waco, whereas all I did was write some Internet articles because I have no social life and had a few hours to kill.

But McVeigh said he didn’t even know there would be children in the building, and that, had he known, he would have picked a different target, for precisely the public relations reasons that I’m explaining in this article.  In other words, McVeigh’s terrorism was incredibly sloppy.  No way do I think he’s a hero.) 

*  *  * 

The hardcore antigovernment zealot will object that such moral considerations are inapplicable in our current situation; “THIS IS WAR” as one (justifiably) bitter woman kindly informed me. 

Fair enough; let’s look at the matter from a purely pragmatic viewpoint.  What did McVeigh’s actions accomplish?  In the short run, they have had a negative effect.  Everybody’s stirred up against “militia nuts,” and the proponents of FBI power and gun control have been bolstered since the average American shit his pants when McVeigh’s bomb went off.  Before McVeigh, the situation was like this:  The politicians claimed to be helping us, and occasionally killed Americans.  Freedom lovers claimed to be helping us, but hadn’t actually killed anybody.  But now they’ve sunk to the government’s level, so the disinterested American has no reason to believe either side.  (Does anybody think the Palestinian attacks on Israeli girls at dance clubs is going to win them concessions?  Or will they rather have the opposite effect, and convince the Israelis that they must never let their guard down, since their oppressed neighbors will slaughter them the moment they have the opportunity to do so?) 

And what about in the long run?  Don’t kid yourself for one minute that this will “deter” the government from future crimes.  On the contrary:  McVeigh was a blessing for Clinton and Reno.  Clinton literally bragged about how he handled the aftermath of the bombing, in order to discredit right-wingers (especially AM talk radio).  And does anybody think Janet Reno gave two shits about the people who died in Oklahoma?  All McVeigh did was reassure those with doubt that Reno et al. were on the “right side” after all.

 This reminds me:  McVeigh said he had toyed with the idea of assassinating Reno.  Well why didn’t he do that instead?  Now that would have had some deterrence effect on future politicians.  In effect, McVeigh would have been drawing a line in the sand, saying, “If you order the deaths of innocent Americans, it will catch up with you.”

 Now, just for clarity:  I am NOT advocating assassination of political figures; until we abolish the machinery of government, old tyrants will simply be replaced by new, craftier ones.  All I’m saying is, it would have been a lot more sensible to take out the people actually responsible for the Waco deaths, rather than other people who happen to have the same employer; although the average American would have been (correctly) appalled at such violence, at least he could have understood it.  But again, I still think it would have been a bad idea, for the general reasons given in this article.  (So don’t go shooting anybody and then say, “Bob Murphy made me do it.”  If my article gives you violent urges, go watch Fight Club or something.) 

And, as long as we’re viewing this as a war, let’s assess our current position.  Right now the U.S. government has public legitimacy, millions of troops, tanks, aircraft, and nuclear bombs.  The Resistance has a bad reputation, a few thousand militia guys scattered here and there, automatic weapons, gas masks, cool camo outfits, and pocket Constitutions.  (Oh, I forgot:  Velazquez’s got our back.)  Now I’m as big a fan of Thomas Paine as the next guy, but I honestly do not believe the modern day Common Sense can yet be penned.  Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that if we push for a military confrontation in the near future, we will all fucking die.  What’s more, after we’re wiped out, nobody will give two shits about us, just like they didn’t about Randy Weaver’s kid or the Waco children. 

Now before you go quoting Patrick Henry to me in righteous indignation, let me clarify:  I respect the bravery of anybody who “makes a stand” and refuses to surrender to tyranny.  So if DEA agents bust into your house and you go down blazing, I won’t criticize you, and in fact I’ll be the first to write an article memorializing your courage.  But at the same time, I have the moral right to resist a guy who sticks a gun in my face and demands my wallet; it still doesn’t follow that such a struggle is a prudent thing to do.  So with due apologies to my anarchist peers, let me announce that if I find myself in the midst of a no-knock raid, I’m putting my hands behind my head, getting down on my knees, and announcing, “Whose cock should I suck first?” 

*  *  * 

Another point brought up by a few hostile emailers is that I’m incredibly naïve for holding McVeigh responsible for the children who died in the Murrah building.  At the very least, such conspiracy theorists claim, the government knew about the impending bombing but did nothing to avert it; some go so far as to claim that the government orchestrated the bombing.  Now, I have not read up on the literature in this area, so I cannot comment on the plausibility of these theories.  (At this point, I agree that the former sounds likely, while the latter seems too difficult to get away with.)  But in any event, these critics entirely miss my point:  If you agree with me that McVeigh helped the government, then how in the hell can you object to my criticism of him?  Since when are “useful idiots” from our side considered heroes?? 

*  *  * 

Of course, nobody’s ever allowed to criticize something unless he offers an alternative.  So what do I suggest, in lieu of terrorist activity? 

Simple:  I suggest that everybody do as much as possible to “get the word out” about anarchism (or libertarianism, if you haven’t been convinced yet to take the final step).  It didn’t take a violent insurrection to get the British out of India, and it won’t take one to get the Feds out of your face, either. 

You think I’m naïve.  Okay, let’s suppose that through his creative articles and inspiring leadership, Alex Velazquez converts 90% of America to think like him.  (Farfetched and scary, I know.)  Then, next year, Velazquez writes a four-word article, which consists of the following sentence:  “Don’t pay your taxes.”

 I submit that, if his loyal readers obeyed, the U.S. government would wither away in true Marxist fashion, without a single shot being fired.  Let us see how this wonderful process would unfold.

 The immediate effect would be a serious cash-flow problem for the government.  (I’m abstracting from withholding; we can assume people opted for the largest number of exemptions, etc. in order to postpone payment until April 15.)  Billions of dollars in revenue that previously flowed in “voluntarily” would not materialize.  The self-incriminating tax returns would never arrive at the IRS.  In the blink of an eye, there would be over 200 million tax cheats who needed to be prosecuted.  And to carry this out, the government would have at its disposal (I’m guessing) a few thousand trained IRS employees, and (say) a month’s worth of money.

 Sure:  The president would declare a state of emergency, and eliminate habeas corpus (just like Honest Abe did when sacred rights got in the way of his splendid war).  Electronic assets would be seized (so everybody would have been wise to liquidate them before the bold move), Velazquez and thousands like him would be jailed (no harm there),  and the government would impose martial law in the bigger cities. 

But how long could this last?  Almost immediately, the federal government would need to suspend payment of “nonessential” workers, just like during the budget fiasco a few years ago.  Back then, people kept going to work, because they figured they’d eventually be paid.  But here, the people with marketable skills would quit, since there would be no end in sight to the impasse.  I bet that after a few weeks, the only people still working for the federal government would be those still receiving a paycheck, or those so stupid and/or timid that they couldn’t bring themselves to go get a real job. 

The president would still have nefarious options at his disposal.  First, he would obviously solicit funds from foreigners and other governments.  But once they seriously began to question the ability of the U.S. government to honor its debts, this source of cash would dry up.  Second, he could order the Army to go around, impounding physical property.  But if, by assumption, 90% of Americans weren’t cooperating with the government, there wouldn’t be that much money in the hands of those who participated in the auctioning of this stolen property.  So unless the government started paying its employees in kind—e.g. by giving people a new car in order to get them to work for another month—this method too would not provide much respite. 

It seems to me that the president would ultimately resort to the printing press in order to stay in business.  But in order to prevent runaway inflation, this option too would have to be used sparingly.  The government certainly could not continue at anything approaching its previous level of activity.  And, once the spell of the IRS had been temporarily broken (and indeed, once its employees had been forced to participate in the voluntary economy), it would be impossible to reestablish it.  The government would be largely reduced to its Constitutional functions, since those receiving entitlements would have been starved into seeing the virtues of self-sufficiency, and since the U.S.’s global empire would have been pulled back to protect its borders during this period of vulnerability.  The federal government would see its budget shrinking in real terms every year, as massive inflation eroded the value of the dollar.  The more money it printed in order to stay ahead of this trend, the quicker would the government bring its own death. 

(I think a lot of people dream of storming Washington and trying Bush et al. in a makeshift court of natural law.  Rather than fret over the sad lessons of the French Revolution [when just such a plan was implemented], I offer a better [not to mention classier] dream:  Imagine that George W. Bush wakes up one day, and finds that all of his staff has deserted him.  He walks out into the street and starts barking orders to passersby. 

And they just laugh and keep walking.) 

*  *  * 

Now, I’m not seriously suggesting a planned tax revolt like the one outlined above.  Obviously, if we had 90% of Americans in our pocket, we’d just vote people into office who would then abolish their own positions.  And there very well might be “shots fired” by homeowners protecting their property from roving bands of government-sponsored looters. 

My whole point is that there is no need whatsoever for terrorist activity against the government.  With sufficient public opinion, we can eliminate government.  Without it, we cannot. 

And blowing up little children is no way to win public opinion.

June 5, 2001


Bob Murphy is an oppressively cocky graduate student in New York City. He is a columnist for and The Mises Institute.

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