It’s a world apart from New York City, different in almost every conceivable way. But Oklahoma City is essentially the only other place in America that’s experienced something comparable to the Sept. 11 attacks. The incident is added almost as an afterthought in discussions about terrorism to remind us that the threat is domestic in nature, too. A bomb packed into a rental truck exploded at nine in the morning on April 19, 1995, and gutted the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building killing 168 people and injuring approximately 400. The federal government executed Timothy McVeigh for the crime six years later. McVeigh identified with extreme right-wing causes and sought revenge for how authorities handled the 1993 siege on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. Not necessarily the portrait of terrorism we imagine today. After the Oklahoma City bombing, he reportedly possessed passages of the Turner Diaries, a racist and anti-Semitic screed written by an Oregon physics professor who founded the white supremacist group National Alliance during the 1970s. Oklahoma has been a home for neo-Nazis, skinheads, anti-government survivalists and religious doomsdayers who believe that a race war or Armageddon will occur in the immediate future. The 1990s-era Oklahoma Constitutional Militia never made it far consisting of just a few people. Its Christian Identity leader, Willie Lampley, seemed even comically ill-suited to carry out any sort of catastrophe. “Lampley had poor organizational leadership skills: He was not a shrewd manager and he was unable to attract a wide following or engage leaders of other groups,” three scholars examining domestic terrorism described him in a 2009 Criminology & Public Policy study. “Most extremists who came in contact with Lampley shunned him.” But he nonetheless threatened violence to those who disobeyed God’s law, and his brand of instability was viewed as highly dangerous. Following the 1995 bombing and subsequent increased attention from law enforcement to right-wing militias, Lampley and others were arrested for conspiring to use fertilizer bombs against abortion clinics, gay bars, civil rights and welfare offices, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League. Police found multiple guns and semiautomatic weapons during the action. Despite Oklahoma’s worrisome history with extremists, it’s still difficult to fathom the state as a serious battleground in the global war on terror. That didn’t stop Blanchard, Okla., where the population is an estimated 8,000, from acquiring a $50,000 security system for its police and fire departments using federal homeland security grants, according to public records. Authorities in the city of El Reno, Okla., (home to the “world’s largest fried onion burger”) needed a $15,000 camera system for their water treatment plant, a $40,000 decontamination trailer, plus vehicle barriers and motion sensors for the local municipal building. Police in Yukon sought a $28,000 GMC Sierra, $9,400 worth of bullet-proof glass and a $1,400 solid security door. Others picked up several Panasonic Toughbook laptops costing $3,900 each, dozens of chemical suits, multiple $4,100 ballistics blankets for protecting against explosives and a panic-alarm system. Unfortunately, sometimes the equipment didn’t work. A $9,000 video surveillance system wasn’t operating when state inspectors showed up to the Alex Police Department for a look at grant-purchased gear, records show. Local officials couldn’t get the company they bought the cameras from to fix them. Alex police also used grants for $15,000 worth of steel doors and protective windows. A $2,000 multi-gas detector in the town of Goldsby cost more to repair than to replace altogether, and eight portable radios there totaling $2,700 weren’t compatible with the communications system they had in place, according to an inspection done in the summer of 2008. Officials from the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security turned over an electronic spreadsheet to us with fairly rich detail showing how the state has used federal readiness funds since 2001. They’re available for download here. The state was still in the process of entering final spending data into a computer format when we contacted them, however. Since grant recipients can technically spend funds for up to three years after they’re first awarded, we were only able to obtain reliable figures for 2002 and 2003. But it’s possible for you to examine the data by jurisdiction, quantity, price and explanation (e.g. $58,000 for a bomb robot in Tulsa). The first tab indicates purchases made by individual communities, according to a spokeswoman. The second and third tabs describe gear that authorities divided among a fleet of emergency-response and hazardous-materials vehicles distributed to different regions across the state – decontamination showers, chemical boots, radiation detectors, night-vision devices and more. The final tabs explain what resources from the grants Oklahoma committed to training and exercises. We also retrieved a batch of “site monitoring” reports that officials produced by visiting cities and towns to make sure equipment purchased with grant funds was in a “state of readiness.” You can also download those here. Oklahoma had conducted about 30 of them when we made the request, so more inspections have presumably been done since that time.
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