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Due to the graphic nature of these events, listener discretion is advised this episode includes discussions of violence and death that some people may find offensive. We advise extreme caution for children under 13.
On the evening of May 4th, 1886, a light rain fell on hundreds of demonstrators at Haymarket Square in Chicago. The previous day, workers and labor organizers had rallied in support of an eight hour workday.
The Chicago police had fired into the crowd, killing two demonstrators. So on May 4th, citizens organized another rally to denounce the police forces, violence and intimidation tactics.
A couple hours into the event, a battalion of 200 officers appeared on the far side of Haymarket Square.
The solid wall of dark blue uniforms seemed like an invading army prepared for war.
It was a terrifying sight, but the protesters continue to chant peacefully.
Then, a little after 10:00 in the evening, the police marched into the crowd yelling for everyone to disperse.
Suddenly, one of the protesters threw a homemade bomb into the formation of police, it exploded, launching shrapnel in all directions in the chaos.
Police fired indiscriminately into the crowd of unarmed citizens. When the dust finally settled, seven Chicago police officers and four civilians were dead and almost a hundred people were injured.
The tragedy, which became known as the Haymarket affair, was the United States first terrorist bombing, but it wouldn't be the last. Welcome to Conspiracy Theories, a podcast original, I'm Molly Brandenberg, and I'm Carter Roy.
Well, normally we take things story by story, conspiracy by a conspiracy. But for the next four episodes, we'll be doing something a little different.
We're going to deep dive into one devastating moment in U.S. history, the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19th, 1995.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of that tragic event. At the time, it was the worst terrorist incident on American soil and it changed the way Americans think about terror prior to Oklahoma City.
Many consider terrorism an oddity that only happened in foreign countries or at the hands of Middle Eastern terrorists. But with one blast into the heart of the Midwest, they realized a bombing could happen in their own backyard at the hands of the boy next door.
A quarter century later, the shock waves of Oklahoma City are still reverberating as Americans grapple with anti-government protests, sharp political divides and another form of domestic terrorism. Mass shootings. Today, we're going to explore the origins of domestic terrorism, which reach all the way back to a surprising source, the early American colonies in the six hundreds. We'll look at how domestic terrorism evolved from patriotic militia groups in the 70s, hundreds to the racist white separatist groups that attracted young men like Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber.
Next episode will chronicle the life of McVeigh and explore what motivated him to detonate 7000 pounds of explosives in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City in later episodes.
As the dust clears on the horrific event, we will journey through the aftermath of the bombing, the trial of Timothy McVeigh and his co-conspirators, and how the tragedy changed American society forever. Coming up, we'll dig into this tragic story. The 1886 Haymarket affair was the first instance of a terrorist bombing on American soil, and it shocked people across the US in the weeks that followed, eight protesters were arrested and convicted.
One of the men, 36 year old Oscar Neba, used the trial to shine a light on the brutal tactics used by police officers. Little did he know that 110 years later, Americans would still be protesting law enforcement with explosive results. On April 19th, 1995, Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, in contrast to the Haymarket bombing, which had just over a dozen casualties.
This explosion killed 168, including 19 children under the age of six, and it injured over 600 until the attacks of September 11th, 2001.
The Oklahoma City bombing was the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history, and it still remains the deadliest instance of domestic terrorism.
But what sets the Oklahoma City bombing apart from the Haymarket affair are the ideological and social underpinnings. Haymarket was specifically a local matter, and to some degree it was in self-defense. One of the protesters detonated the bomb to protect himself and others from brutal police tactics.
On the other hand, Timothy McVeigh didn't even live in Oklahoma. He chose to bomb the federal building as a symbolic military strike against his government. However, he also considered his bombing to be a response to police violence, specifically the actions of federal agents like the FBI against white militia groups.
Timothy McVeigh explained in a letter from Prison Formost. The bombing was a retaliatory strike for the cumulative raids and subsequent violence that federal agents had participated in over the preceding years, including, but not limited to Waco, Texas. Later in the letter, McVeigh also cited the tragic events at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, to understand McVeigh's motivations.
We need to dig into the history of the militia movement in the U.S. and to do that, we need to travel back in time to the sixteen hundreds to the colonial days of America.
In the very beginning, militias, which were simple groups of armed townsfolk, were used for two distinct purposes. First, they defended villages from outsiders, mainly Native Americans or other competing settlements. And second, they defended colonists from the abuses of local governments.
In the summer of 16, 76, 29 year old Nathaniel Bacon organized a militia against his local government, dismayed that the governor of Virginia wouldn't protect towns against Native American tribes. Bacon led 300 militiamen to demand change. And when Bacon and his militia were successful, it set the stage for similar uprisings in Pennsylvania and New York.
The use of militias for local and regional political change was a significant development in the early colonies. But one event a century later would thrust militias onto the national stage.
In the predawn hours of April 19th, 1775, Paul Revere rode through the mist covered fields of Lexington, Massachusetts, yelling for townsfolk to awake and prepare. The British were marching their way.
Within minutes, a group of 70 colonial militiamen gathered in the town square of Lexington. They wore whatever clothing they could find, from woolen coats to leather blacksmith aprons, and they carried their own personal muskets. They became known as the Minutemen for how quickly they were ready.
Once in the square, the men milled about nervously. They were rebelling against the British Empire, one of the most powerful militaries in the world. But they had to take a stand. If the British weren't going to allow them a place in parliament, the men had no choice but to fight for independence.
And as a faint glow of sunlight appeared on the horizon, they saw something coming down the road.
Around 700 highly trained British soldiers, the soldiers, pristine red tunics and polished buttons gleamed in the early dawn light in their military rifles with bayonets were intimidating. The militia men were outclassed, but they held their ground. This was their town. What happened next has been debated by historians for centuries, but someone fired first.
Some claim it was the British. Others claim it was the militia. Regardless, it was considered the first shot of the American Revolution.
The outnumbered colonial militia were brushed back by the British. But after hours of fighting through Lexington and Concord, the British had to return to Boston. The militia pursued them, shooting and sniping the whole way back. Soon after the image of the militiamen came to represent American patriotism, it evoked a David and Goliath story of scrappy young men squaring off against the well-organised army of King George and the British Empire.
In the years following the revolution, militias became a fad for young men. They armed themselves and rehearsed for unseen battles. Some of the wealthier groups designed elaborate uniforms. Most importantly, though, these militias were a place for men to drink ale, shoot guns and connect with each other. But militias weren't just for socializing or protecting of towns. They were seen as a last line of defense against tyranny. So on September 17th, 1787, they were famously canonized in the U.S. Constitution.
The new governing document established Congress's power to call for the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions. Four years later, in 1791, the oft quoted Second Amendment was added, calling for a well regulated militia and the rights of people to keep and bear arms.
As a result, militias were embedded in the DNA of the new country, they became a fixture of social life, and unfortunately, they became the basis for some of the earliest terrorist events in the U.S. throughout the 70s, hundreds and hundreds groups of armed young men under the banner of militias perpetrated violent attacks against Native Americans, Mormons and other groups of people who were perceived as different from the white Protestant settlers.
These acts are considered by historians as the first domestic terror incidents in the U.S. Then in the 1960s, a dramatic shift occurred in the nature of militias.
The civil war ignited a tinderbox of resentment and conflict across the country, turning many militias against each other in the north. Most militiamen were absorbed into the union army, but across the southern states, many militias still operated independently, shifting their target from Native Americans to slaves and other American citizens.
On August 21st, 1863, Southern militiamen led by Confederate William Quantrill invaded the town of Lawrence, Kansas, which had been settled by abolitionists from Massachusetts. The militia killed 164 men and boys to prevent them from joining the Civil War and establishing a union stronghold deep inside southern territory throughout the Civil War.
Most of the fighting occurred between the two national armies, the Northern Union and the Southern Confederates. But southern states embraced the old Revolutionary War image of small militias battling the larger imperial force to the south.
The north had taken the place of King George in the British army, so they began publicizing their rebel forces, or Rebs as the new patriotic face of the militia movement. They branded themselves as freedom fighters while ironically supporting the continued enslavement of millions of people in the years after the Civil War.
Southern militias evolved into violent racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan, Knights of the White Camellia and the Red Shirts. These groups of armed white men rode through Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama, burning crosses, lynching black citizens and wreaking havoc.
The Ku Klux Klan reached the peak of its power and membership in the 1920s. But after shifting national opinions about racism and a series of high profile crimes by KKK leaders, the Klan's power began to decline in the 1930s.
Heading into the 1940s, other militias experienced a similar decline in popularity as Americans united to fight in World War Two. But in the 1950s, as the country adjusted to life after the war, men once again gravitated toward militias.
This time, however, instead of wearing white robes on horseback, they transitioned to underground separatist and so-called survivalist groups.
This was partly due to changing public perception and the start of the civil rights movement. Many white supremacists believed it was easier and safer to isolate themselves instead of trying to force their beliefs on society as a whole.
During this period, militias built followings of disenfranchised white men who wanted to shoot guns and live on compounds in remote areas of the country.
The development of these militias was fictionalized in a 1978 book entitled The Turner Diaries, written by white supremacist and neo-Nazi William Pierce. The book chronicled an underground white militia preparing to overthrow the government and fight an all out race war. Over the years, The Turner Diaries spawned the creation of more militia groups and anti-government terrorists.
1978 also ushered in one of the largest and influential militias of the late 20th century called Aryan Nations. This organization was founded by 60 year old Richard Butler and like similar groups, it was built on a foundation of anti-Semitism and an extreme form of Christianity called Christian Identity.
According to Butler and his followers, Aryans or white Americans and Europeans were descended from the lost tribes of Israel.
They also believed that the country was destined for a race war and that they needed to stockpile weapons to prepare.
So, like many militia groups of the 1960s and 70s, Butler built a multi acre compound in a remote region of the country. He chose Idaho, where he thought he would be free from the prying eyes of the federal government there. His followers could train with guns, explosives and survival equipment. And every year he hosted the World Congress of Aryan Nations, which attracted members of various white supremacist groups from across the country.
In July 1986, a new face appeared at Butler's annual gathering. A 38 year old retired Army Green Beret named Randall Weaver. Randy lived nearby on a wooded hillside called Ruby Ridge. Coming up, Ruby Ridge becomes a rallying cry for white militia groups across the U.S.. History, politics, true crime, the new Spotify original from podcast has it all.
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Now back to the story. In October 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, 20 year old Randy Weaver joined the U.S. Army. He was a Midwestern boy with a patriotic streak and desire to fight for his country during his time in the army. He became a member of the Green Berets, an elite special forces group, after an honorable discharge from the Army.
Randy married his girlfriend, Vicki, who shared his white supremacist and extreme religious beliefs.
They subscribed to a particularly radical form of Christianity called Christian Identity, which believes that white people were descended from a lost tribe of Israel. For most of his life, Randy was open about his racist beliefs, he said at one point. I'm not a hateful racist as many people understand it, but I believe in the separation of races. We want to be separated from the rest of the world to live in a remote area, to give our children a good place to grow up.
Randy and Vickie found that remote area in the early 1980s when they purchased a 20 acre plot of land in the hills of Idaho called Ruby Ridge. There, amongst the Douglas fir trees, Randy and Vickie built a family compound. Randy even built Vickki, a birthing shed in accordance with their religious beliefs. They contended that pregnant women were unclean and had to be quarantined during childbirth in the wilderness of Idaho.
Randy and Vickie found plenty of like minded religious extremists. Only about an hour's drive from Ruby Ridge was Richard Butler's Aryan Nations compound in July 1986.
Randy began attending meetings there for the most part. Randy kept to himself and stayed out of trouble. But then something unexpected happened.
In October 1989, 41 year old Randy sold two modified shotguns to an undercover informant for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Soon after, federal agents approached Randy with a deal, he could either become a federal informant within Aryan Nations or they would arrest him for the illegal shotguns. Randy promptly told them to go to hell.
Within days, Randy alerted Aryan Nations that federal authorities were targeting them. The agents threat only reinforced all of his anti-government rhetoric to Randy. It didn't matter how long the shotgun barrels were. He believed it was his right under the Constitution to own them and sell them. However, the government believed otherwise.
In January 1991, U.S. Marshals started planning to arrest Randy for the weapons charges, but they knew entering his 20 acre compound was a risk. They were well aware that Randy was heavily armed. They would have to strike when he was gone. So the marshals posted lookouts near Ruby Ridge to alert them.
When Randy was leaving on January 17th, Randy started his truck and headed down the long, dusty driveway off the ridge.
Once on the main road, he noticed a stranded motorist on the side of the road. Randy wasn't in a rush, so he pulled over to help. Except the motorist wasn't actually in trouble. It was a U.S. marshal and Randy was now under arrest. The next day, Randy was arraigned, released on bail and given a court date for the next month, but after the ambush arrest and what he believed were trumped up weapons charges, Randy became even more distrustful of the U.S. government.
In his view, it didn't make sense to gamble on a corrupt legal process to clear his name.
So instead of preparing for his trial, he and his family isolated themselves on their 20 acre property in Ruby Ridge. Randy instructed his wife, Vicki, to send a letter to the U.S. attorney stating that they would never bow to the government's evil commandments, whether they lived or died in February 1991, when Randy didn't show up for his trial.
The court issued a failure to appear warrant. The case was once again turned over to the U.S. Marshal Service. But this time, Randy wasn't going to fall for a stranded motorist. In fact, he wouldn't leave Ruby Ridge for anything.
Over the next year, the marshals made numerous attempts to arrest Randy, but the deputies were frequently blockaded by his gun toting children.
By the early months of 1992, the national press got wind of the stalemate. Reporters and news cameras flocked to the remote area of Idaho, clamoring for interviews with Randy and Vicki. But the two refused to speak with any press except for a local newspaper writer. They told him that the federal government was more concerned about shutting their mouths than about the illegal shotguns.
In spite of the Weavers camera shyness, they were suddenly a top news story, and people around the country were abuzz with the name Ruby Ridge, some in favor of an all out siege and some who just wanted the government to leave the weavers alone.
By the summer of 1992, the stalemate was starting to embarrass the federal government. Many officials believed it was setting a bad precedent that white separatists could barricade themselves on their land and refuse to cooperate. Pressure started to build for the U.S. Marshals to arrest Randy and end the standoff.
So on August 21st, 1992, a hot, dry Idaho summer day, a group of U.S. marshals outfitted themselves with camouflage, military rifles and night vision scopes and entered the Weaver's property that morning. They only wanted to scout the area before planning their next tactical operation.
But at about 11 a.m., the Weavers yellow Labrador named Stryker started barking and took off toward the marshals. The dog was followed closely by the Weavers 14 year old son Sammy, and a family friend, 25 year old Kevin Harris, who each carried loaded rifles.
The marshals called for the kids to come get their dog, but then another marshals stood up from his hiding place behind a tree stump and within seconds, bullets were flying.
Who shot first has been disputed ever since. The government contends that Kevin Harris, the Weaver's friend, shot first. But Kevin maintained that one of the marshals shot the Weaver's dog first, which triggered Sammie Weaver to yell, You killed my dog, you son of a bitch. And then the young boy began firing.
Either way, a deadly shootout ensued, leaving Sammy Weaver, one of the marshals and the Weaver's dog, dead.
In the aftermath, the marshals evacuated the hillside carrying their dead comrade. And Kevin Harris raced back to the cabin to tell Randy and Vicki what had happened after that deadly confrontation.
More news crews descended on Ruby Ridge overnight. Headlines about the dead U.S. marshal lit up the airwaves. And the next day, on August 22nd, the FBI arrived at Ruby Ridge with modified rules of engagement because a federal agent had been killed.
The bureau authorized their snipers to shoot to kill any adult in the possession of a firearm.
Randy Weaver was not aware of the lethal FBI orders when he, Kevin Harris and the Weaver's oldest daughter left their cabin to visit Sammie's dead body. When they arrived at the storage shed a short distance from the main cabin, a bullet ripped through Randy's arm. As an experienced Green Beret, Randy realized that the government must have positioned snipers around them. He yelled for the others to retreat to the main cabin. As they dove inside, another bullet rang out, this time cutting through Vicki Weaver's skull, killing her instantly.
She had been holding her infant daughter.
Screams echoed across the mountain as the Weaver family realized what had happened. The children saw their mother's brain splattered on the entryway of the cabin, and the bullet had lodged in Kevin Harris's arm, causing massive blood loss over the next nine days.
The standoff intensified.
The FBI and federal government sent in more troops, armored personnel carriers and helicopters.
More and more news media showed up as well, broadcasting the images around the world to many people across the country.
It looked like the U.S. government was fighting a full scale war against Randy Weaver, an American citizen who would reportedly only sold two illegal shotguns to militia groups and disaffected white men. Randy represented their cause. He could very easily have been them.
Finally, on August 31st, 1992, a fellow former Green Beret named James Bo Gritz convinced Randy Weaver to surrender. After 11 days, the violent siege was over.
Many consider Ruby Ridge the birth of the modern American militia movement, much like the colonial Minutemen who gathered on the town Green in Lexington. Modern militias believed they were under attack by a tyrannical force. But their enemy was not a monarch across the ocean, but their own government.
And they decided there was only one appropriate response to train stockpile guns and be ready for the next standoff, even outside of the militia movement.
There was widespread public condemnation of the Ruby Ridge tragedy. Many Americans questioned the FBI's use of military style weapons and snipers against a U.S. citizen.
In response, a congressional commission was formed to investigate the mistakes that had been made and to revise the rules of engagement for federal standoffs. It seemed like progress was being made and the government had learned its lesson. But less than a year later, another tragedy unfolded, leaving even more death and destruction in its wake. Coming up, the FBI and ATF lay siege to a religious compound in Waco, Texas. Now back to the story.
At nine a.m. on February 28, 1993, only six months after the Ruby Ridge tragedy, 33 year old David Koresh was leading a prayer session at his religious compound when he heard the thumping of helicopter blades overhead.
Koresh was the leader of a sect of Seventh Day Adventists called the Branch Davidian. He and about 100 of his followers lived on a 70 acre commune a few miles outside of Waco, Texas.
For the past few weeks, Koresh and his followers had noticed federal agents camped out at the end of their dusty driveway. And the previous day, the local mailman had tipped them off that a news van was asking for directions to the compound.
Recently, Koresh had been under fire for allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct with the group's women and children. But the federal agents were sniffing around for another reason as well the compound stockpiles of illegal firearms. The ATF had been investigating the Branch Davidian for nearly a year, noting every shipment of explosives, grenades and machine guns that came into the compound. And by February 28th, 1993, they finally had a search warrant in hand.
With the helicopter buzzing over the compound, Koresh knew something was wrong. He called the procession off and told the women and children to take shelter. Koresh and some of the men went to the front door and windows and what they saw was shocking.
A caravan of unmarked vehicles came crunching down the dirt driveway, the men inside the cars looked to be heavily armed, similar to Ruby Ridge.
There are conflicting reports about who fired the first shot, but what followed was an intense firefight.
The battle went on for close to an hour while the ATF agents tried to breach the compound from multiple locations, but the Branch Davidian aides were heavily armed and defended the building with everything they had.
Then at about 10:00 a.m., the ATF agents ran out of ammunition. They hadn't expected Koresh to be so well supplied and now they were pinned down. Koresh and his men kept shooting. The ATF was forced to ask a local sheriff to negotiate a cease fire.
Finally, the Branch Davidian has allowed the ATF agents to evacuate with their wounded and dead. In all, four agents were dead and 16 were injured. The Branch Davidian had lost five men, including two who had been executed by their own men because they were too injured to save as the acrid smell of gunpowder diffused from the area. The scene at Waco reverberated with echoes of Ruby Ridge.
Within hours, the FBI hostage rescue team, crisis negotiators and heavily armed SWAT units arrived. News vans and protesters swarmed like locusts, broadcasting images of the compound 24/7 over the next 50 days.
The American public became obsessed with Waco, Texas, and it became the next battleground for the American militia movement.
Even though Koresh and the Branch Davidian didn't see themselves as a militia, per say, they exhibited all the signs of one. They were a tight knit group led by a charismatic figurehead. They stockpiled guns and explosives, rehearsing for a future war. And like Randy Weaver, Aryan Nations and many others, the Branch Davidian held extreme religious beliefs.
So Waco became a symbol of all militias and separatist organizations. If these Christians in the middle of Texas could find the ATF and FBI on their doorstep, anyone could. At first, it seemed like there was hope for a quick resolution. On the first night, Koresh allowed eighteen children to evacuate the compound. A few days later, three more emerged. But after that there was very little movement. Koresh agreed to surrender four times but reneged each time.
By mid-April, the FBI was getting anxious to end the standoff. Not only was it costing the taxpayers close to one million dollars per day, but the FBI's hostage rescue team cited worsening conditions for children inside the compound.
So a few minutes before six a.m. on April 19th, 1993, the FBI hostage rescue team dispatched to tank like armored vehicles to the compound.
Koresh and the Branch Davidian scrambled for their guns and prepared for another firefight, but when the FBI's armored vehicles arrived at the building, instead of firing their weapons, they started punching holes through the outer walls and began pumping tear gas inside.
What happened next is disputed by both sides around noon. Flames became visible inside the compound. Government audio surveillance seemed to show that Koresh and his followers were using gasoline to light the building on fire. But surviving Branch Davidian and their supporters claimed that the FBI's tear gas canisters sparked the fires regardless.
Within an hour, the entire Branch Davidian compound was engulfed in flames. Fierce Texas winds fueled the rapid spread, and soon the walls began to collapse.
Over the next hour, there were multiple small explosions inside the building, along with pops of bullets from burning stockpiles of ammunition. By one p.m., the roof of the compound completely collapsed.
Rescue personnel eventually unearthed over 70 bodies of dead men, women and children inside the charred remains of the compound, many of whom were shot either in suicide or in mercy executions by fellow cult members. It was another American tragedy, this time on an even more massive scale.
And watching the events unfold on a television in Michigan was a 24 year old U.S. Army veteran named Timothy McVeigh.
The 50 foot flames flickered in his eyes and ignited a deep desire for revenge against the U.S. government.
Much like the Haymarket affair protesters. In 1886, McVeigh witnessed what he thought was law enforcement running rampant and targeting civilians.
But to protest the brutality, he didn't plan to target them directly with a small handheld bomb encased in lead. Know he had something much bigger in mind. Thanks for tuning into conspiracy theories, we'll be back Wednesday with our second episode about the Oklahoma City bombing.
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Conspiracy Theories was created by Max Cutler in his A Park. The studio's original executive producers include Max and Ron Cuddler Sound Design by Anthony Vasic with production assistance by Ron Shapiro, Carly Madden and Travis Clark. This episode of Conspiracy Theories was written by Adam de Silva with writing assistance by Ali Whicker and stars Molly Brandenberg and Carter Roy. It's the most powerful position in American politics and arguably the world, but behind the oath to preserve, protect and defend lie dark secrets posed to leave some legacies in disgrace.
Don't forget to check out the new Spotify original from past very presidential with Ashley Flowers. Every Tuesday through the 2020 election, host Ashley Flowers shines a light on the darker side of the American presidency, exposing wildly true stories about history's most high profile leaders.
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