One Evil Does Not Justify Another

The Colorado Freedom Report:  A libertarian journal of politics and culture.

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One Evil Does Not Justify Another

by Ari Armstrong, April 2, 2001

Timothy McVeigh murdered 168 innocent people in the Oklahoma City bombing because, he said, of what federal agents did at Waco and Ruby Ridge. Therefore, some people seem to believe, the killings at Waco and Ruby Ridge were justified.

Obviously that is a non sequitur.

Unfortunately in the April 1 edition of the Rocky Mountain News, Mike Littwin implies that criticizing government misdeeds is somehow related to murdering innocent people. Littwin dismisses any defense of David Koresh and he says those critical of government are "fearful of guilt by however distant association."

McVeigh's act of terror is diametrically opposed to the libertarian ideal of government limited to protecting individual rights. Only a person of a collectivist mentality would harm innocent bystanders for the sins of somebody else.

In fact, McVeigh's actions closely parallel those of the United States government. The terrorist was harshly criticized for referring to the children he murdered as "collateral damage." Yet where did McVeigh learn such language? When the United States government bombed innocent men, women, and children in Kosovo, those deaths were referred to by our political leaders as -- you guessed it -- "collateral damage." That term was coined by the government.

Indeed, the federal agents' actions at Waco and Ruby Ridge were no less terrorist in nature than what McVeigh did. At Waco, the BATF lied about Koresh, claiming he was manufacturing methamphetamine, so that the agency could call in the United States military. Rather than arrest Koresh when he was wandering around town by himself, the BATF chose to pursue a military-style SWAT raid instead. Apparently that provided a more dramatic media opportunity.

Koresh is accused of sexually abusing young girls. However, it's hard to see how federal agents improved the lot of these children by smashing tanks into their building and suffocating them with deadly gas. Compelling evidence in Mike McNulty's documentary Waco: A New Revelation suggests federal agents also shot into the complex as it burned, thereby preventing escape.

At Ruby Ridge, the BATF entrapped Randy Weaver into cutting a shotgun too short, a federal felony. Then FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi blew apart the head of Randy's wife as she held her infant child in her arms.

Terrorism is terrorism, regardless of the perpetrator. It is not excused simply because the terrorist wears a government badge.

In the libertarian framework, the rights of individuals are held inviolable. No one may rightly harm the person or property of someone else under any circumstance, except in self-defense. According to the libertarian philosophy, McVeigh should be held accountable for his murders. Similarly, the terrorists at Waco and Ruby Ridge should be held accountable.

How is it that someone could reach the delusional conclusion that murdering innocent people is somehow the same as holding government agents accountable? The best explanation is that McVeigh reified "government." That is, he tried to improperly turn a highly abstract concept into a concrete. He imagined that, just because the building he bombed was owned by the government, it was somehow a manifestation of the same evil entity at work at Waco and Ruby Ridge.

McVeigh completely ignored the concept of individual rights. It's obvious to any rational observer that the innocent victims were in no way related to the previous atrocities. Similarly, other federal agents should not be held accountable for the murders at Waco and Ruby Ridge. While some federal agents are guilty of perpetrating violence, others help to protect the innocent against violent criminals.

Put another way, McVeigh is guilty of simple bigotry. Rather than evaluating individuals based on their actions, he condemned an entire group based on the actions of a few. This is similar to racial bigotry and to the Communist practice of condemning the class of property owners. McVeigh thought he was getting back at "government," but in reality he was only re-enacting and ironically sanctioning the worst behaviors of that government.

All terrorists must be held accountable. The rights of the innocent must be protected. A good step in that direction would be to legally eliminate the office of the BATF and the unjust laws it enforces. McVeigh's act of cowardice and stupidity only served to reinforce the culture of violence. Civil libertarians everywhere will affirm individual rights and condemn acts of terror wherever they might be found.

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