*Note: Some may find video footage and subject matter within this narrative about the symbolic significance of April 19th and April 20th disturbing.
April is a month steeped in symbolism for domestic right-wing extremist groups. Two dates in particular hold special meaning for them: April 19th and April 20th. For history buffs, April 19th is the day the Revolutionary War started in 1775. That day is often called Patriots’ Day (before 9/11 became known as Patriot Day) and is a holiday recognized in six US states. Some militia groups call it Militia Day because it was continental militias that fought the opening salvos of the American Revolution. April 20th is the birthday of Adolf Hitler, who still holds symbolic significance to white supremacy groups. This is the story of how these two days have become central to alt-right mythmaking as well as dates of recurring violence and remembrance.
April 19, 1775
The Shot Heard Round the World: Patriot’s Day
April 20, 1889
Adolf Hitler is born in Austria. His birthday becomes a day of celebration in Nazi Germany.
By the 1990s, the dates’ significance and symbolism took a much darker turn. The dates are now mired in conspiracy, extremism, guns, bombs, and death. They are revered by extremists on the far right for marking the bloody birth of our nation and the normalizing of white supremacy. This is the story of how a country born from revolution has found itself in a struggle with its own ideals and ideologies–and how those mid-April days bear witness to so much struggle.
August 21-31, 1992
How it all began.
While not in April, the story of an 11-day siege at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, sets off a chain of events that Americans are still grappling with today. The US Marshall Service approached the remote cabin of Randy Weaver and his family to bring him in for an outstanding warrant for failure to appear in court on federal weapons charges. The Strange Land Podcast captures the rage of the Weavers’ neighbors upon news of Vicki Weaver’s death from the law enforcement on the scene.
Seen as victims of government overreach by those on the far right and seen as extremist law breakers by mainstream society, the Weavers became central figures in an anti-government movement cloaked in revolutionary patriotism.
Sara Weaver has written at least four books about the Ruby Ridge siege maintaining the legacy of the event that has shaped her life but admits that “she is devastated each time someone commits a violent act in the name of Ruby Ridge.” The US Marshall Service’s actions that day still resonate today as a battle cry for anti-government movement groups. Her father’s words at this 2003 event in Texas shows how Ruby Ridge, even a dozen years later, show that the siege is still a catalyst for the rhetoric of right-wing anti-government groups. Weaver, who died last month at the age of 74, received a hero’s welcome at the event and is labeled a patriot by this Texas group as he defiantly says he wears his federal conviction like a “badge of honor.”
This video was reshared on YouTube in 2016, at the onset of the Trump presidency. The comments sections from these videos tell a story though–a story of anger and distrust of the government that still exists today, 30 years later. The comments section from Weavers’ appearances are filled with that anger viewing the Weavers as victims of an out-of-control government that should be feared.
Fear of the government, hero patriot resisters, talk of taking the country back…this has become the legacy of Ruby Ridge–and April 19/20, because eight months after the debacle at Ruby Ridge, US law enforcement found itself in yet another siege with even grimmer consequences. February 28, 1993, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) raided the Branch Davidian compound at Mt. Carmel outside of Waco, TX. The raid erupted into a firefight that ended with four dead ATF agents and five dead Davidians and a 51-day standoff that ending in an apocalyptic inferno on Patriots’ Day, April 19, 1993.
One of the handful of survivors of that deadly day was Australian Graeme Craddock, who to this day believes in Koresh. He contends that the government handled everything in the wrong way. Koresh’s crimes, just like Weaver’s, became lost in the perceived overstepping of the government law enforcement agencies. FBI Negotiator Byron Sage recalls the events of that day as equally tragic but lays the blame for the conflagration with Koresh and his followers who chose to make their own prophecies come true.
April 19, 1995
These two federal law enforcement failures, Ruby Ridge and Waco, served as a radicalizing force among right-wing groups who labeled these two incidents as massacres. Two men in particular who were radicalized by the events of these two closely timed sieges were Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. McVeigh and Nichols planned and executed the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City on the two-year anniversary of the Branch Davidian compound fire. Both were US Army veterans who met in basic training–and they both fostered anti-government sentiments. The two men saw Ruby Ridge and Waco as extreme government overreach by militarized federal law enforcement.
Nichols was charged, convicted, sentenced to life in prison as a co-conspirator to McVeigh, who received the death penalty for building a truck bomb with fertilizer and detonating it in the street in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building at 9:02 a.m. on April 19, 1995. His brother, James, explained their views of the government in Michael Moore’s 2002 film, Bowling for Columbine.
The images from that fateful April 19th in 1995, drove a lot of the right-wing movement back underground by the turn of the century. Images like the Pulitzer Prize winning photo captured by amateur photographer, Charles “Chuck” Porter IV, of firefighter Chris Fields carrying the fatally wounded Baylee Almon to the paramedics, galvanized the public against groups that came to be labeled as domestic terror organizations.
Baylee Almon was among the 19 children killed in the blast that McVeigh labeled as “collatoral damage.” 168 people perished that day, April 19, 1995.
Firefighter Chris Fields cradled the lifeless Baylee as he rushed her to paramedics for medical attention. In a 2017 interview, he likened the Pulitzer Prize-winning image to a loss of innocence for this country.
McVeigh and Nichols had acted as so many in the over 850 anti-government groups at the time had wanted. They became heroes to the alt right. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, in 1996, one year after the bombing there were 858 known anti-government hate groups.
While many of these groups moved underground in the aftermath of the bombing, they never went away. The bombing–and the date– became a battle cry for angry, disaffected extremists.
The date held so much importance that in 1999, two teenage boys planned to bomb and shoot up their school on that now symbolic date.
April 19-20, 1999
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, two seniors at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, planned and executed the most shocking school mass shooting–they set the standard that grimly all subsequent school mass shootings have been compared. More than two decades later, these two disaffected teens and their violent actions are still discussed and analyzed as the US has seen an obscene number of school mass shootings in the aftermath of their plan. People are still trying to understand why these boys did what they did.
The original date for the massacre was scheduled for April 19, because they wanted to emulate and even outdo McVeigh’s carnage (as seen from these quotes from the two above linked sources).
While Klebold and Harris did not achieve the horrific numbers of casualties they sought, their actions were a harbinger of things to come. Much has been documented and written about the events leading to that fateful spring day in the affluent Denver suburb. The shooting at Columbine High School in April 1999 created a national dialogue about school safety AND gun safety in the US. At the time of the shooting, the 1994 Assault Weapons ban was in place, but the two 17-year-olds circumvented laws by purchasing their guns at a gun show from a private dealer by proxy. They asked an 18-year-old friend to come with them to help them purchase two shotguns and a rifle. Klebold later bought a handgun from a private dealer at the same gun show. Robyn Anderson, the proxy the boys used to buy the guns, says that she wished it had been harder for the boys to buy their guns and that background checks had been required.
Four months after the gun purchases, they used the guns to kill 12 students and a teacher before taking their own lives.
So, two kids, who tried to emulate McVeigh to exact revenge against a society in which they increasingly did not feel a part of, who bought guns by proxy at gun shows from private dealers, who relished the thought of their infamy, perpetrated the school mass shooting to measure against all others.
Extremists are now adding January 6th to their list of revered dates as well. The insurrection in the aftermath of President Trump’s 2020 re-election defeat shows how transparent and visible these groups have become–the most visible since the 1990s. And this mainstream extremism is not just being fueled with propaganda and disinformation, but it’s being supplied with easy access to guns along with its white supremacist and anti-government rhetoric.
The groups may be fewer than a few years ago, but they are more out in the open and transparent in their actions.
With a high number of extremist groups and easy access to guns, the US stands alone in the world with a problem of mass shootings. The increase in mass shootings since the sunset of the assault weapons ban is staggering. And the number and lethality of school shootings continues to shock–but still doesn’t move the public policy. Since the Uvalde School Shooting last month, reporting has shown that since Columbine, over 311,000 students have experienced gun violence with 185 fatalities and 369 wounded. While Klebold and Harris did not succeed that day in April 1999 in reaching their kill goal, their legacy has far exceeded that goal. In many ways, they, like McVeigh, Koresh, and Weaver before them, did succeed in creating a legacy that breathed life into right-wing rage and the alt-right extremist movement that has grown in violence and come out of the shadows into the sunlight.
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British Plathé Source: N.B. Item found in Unidentified Gazettes reel. May be dupe of item from 37/33. FILM ID:2741.21
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This is one of many uploads of this video on YouTube.
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