The Oklahoma City Bombing, was it terrorism?

In Uncategorized on November 27, 2015 at 1:03 pm

By Antonio Graceffo

Shanghai Jiaotong University, China MBA

PhD Candidate, Shanghai University of Sport


Prepared for the course, Terrorism and Counter Terrorism, University of Leiden


Table Contents

1. Introduction
2. The Attack
3. The Verdict
4. Use of the terms ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’
5. Analysis using Academic Consensus Definition of terrorism
6. Conclusion
7. Bibliography
8. About the author




  1. Introduction


Terrorism is an emotionally charged issue which has been prominent in both the media and political rhetoric since the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. One of the issues with any discussion of terrorism is that there is no universally accepted definition of the term. The lack of a specific definition impedes international cooperation on anti-terrorism. It also negatively impacts terrorism research, analysis, convictions, and prevention.


Terrorism expert, Alex Schmid, Director of St Andrews Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence (CSTPV) and former Officer-in-Charge of the Terrorism Prevention Branch of the United Nations, has proposed a twelve-point Academic Consensus Definition of terrorism.


This paper seeks to give a brief recount of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, including the judge’s verdict. It will then assess whether the terms ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’ were used with regard to the perpetrator and the incident. Finally, this report will apply the elements of Alex Schmid’s Academic Consensus Definition of terrorism, to determine if the attack qualifies as an act of terrorism.



  1. The Attack


On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh, a Gulf War veteran parked a rented truck loaded with improvised explosives, made from fertilizer in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. He detonated the fuse, and several minutes later 168 people were dead, 19 of them children. Hundreds more were wounded. It was the worst act of domestic terrorism in the history of the United States. Less than 90 minutes later, in an unrelated event, police stopped McVeigh for a traffic violation, when it was discovered that he was illegally carrying a weapon. He was arrested, and while he was in jail, the FBI determined that he was the primary suspect in the bombing (FBI n.a.).


  1. The verdict


Already in custody for traffic and weapons charges, Timothy McVeigh was later recognized as the suspect in the Oklahoma City bombing. He was charged with conspiracy and for the deaths of eight federal agents ( 1997). In 1997, the jury turned in a verdict of guilty, on 11 counts of conspiracy and murder (Thomas 1997). The jurors unanimously recommended that the judge impose the death penalty ( 1997). Timothy McVeigh was executed by lethal injection, on June 11, 2001, in federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana (Fox News 2001).


  1. Use of the terms ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’


A 1997 CNN report used the word “terrorism” calling the attack “the worst case of terrorism in U.S. history” ( 1997). The Washington Post used the word “terror”, describing the attack as shattering “a complacent nation’s belief that the face of random political terror could never be American” (Kenworthy and Roman 1997). The same story went on to explain that “McVeigh was tried under a 1994 federal anti-terrorism statute that has yet to be tested at the Supreme Court. McVeigh’s was the first case under that statute to proceed to sentencing” (Kenworthy and Roman 1997). NBC also used the words “terrorist” and “terrorism” in an article about the 20 year anniversary of the attack: “which until Sept. 11, 2001, was the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil and is the worst act of domestic terrorism in American history” (Chuck 2015).


  1. Analysis using Academic Consensus Definition of terrorism


That the attack was clearly an act of terrorism can be proved by applying the Academic Consensus Definition of terrorism by Alex Schmid (2012).


  1. Terrorism refers, on the one hand, to a doctrine about the presumed effectiveness of a special form or tactic of fear-generating, coercive political violence and, on the other hand, to a conspiratorial practice of calculated, demonstrative, direct violent action without legal or moral restraints, targeting mainly civilians and non-combatants, performed for its propagandistic and psychological effects on various audiences and conflict parties; (Schmid 2012)


Rule 1 applies because of the attack was one of violence and conspiracy which was carried out without “legal or moral restraints, targeting mainly civilian non-combatants.” The term “fear-generating” also applies as McVeigh’s target was the US government, not the individuals he attacked. McVeigh referred to the children he killed as “’collateral damage,’ regretting only that their deaths detracted from his bid to avenge the Branch Davidian raid and Ruby Ridge” (latimes 2001) Attacking civilians with the intent of hurting a government would be a clear example of both “fear-generating” and “propagandistic and psychological effects.”


  1. “Terrorism as a tactic is employed in three main contexts: (i) illegal state repression, (ii) propagandistic agitation by non-state actors in times of peace or outside zones of conflict and (iii) as an illicit tactic of irregular warfare employed by state- and non-state actors;” (Schmid 2012)


The Oklahoma City bombing matches rule 2.ii, McVeigh was a non-state actor, in time of peace, perpetrating propagandistic agitation. Both CNN and the FBI stated that McVeigh was angry because of the 1993 siege near Waco, Texas, where roughly 80 members of the Branch Davidian cult were killed in a gun battle with the FBI. ( 1997 and FBI N.A.) McVeigh told ABC News that he was also angry about a 1992 shootout at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, where the family of separatists were killed during a shootout with federal agents (ABCNews n.a.).


  1. At the origin of terrorism stands terror – instilled fear, dread, panic or mere anxiety – spread among those identifying, or sharing similarities, with the direct victims, generated by some of the modalities of the terrorist act – its shocking  brutality,  lack of discrimination,  dramatic or symbolic quality and disregard of the rules of warfare and the rules of punishment;


Killing innocent civilians, and particularly children, matches rule number 5.


Finally, the fact that McVeigh attacked innocent civilians, as a result of his anger against the US government matches the definitions of rules 6 and 7.


  1. “The main direct victims of terrorist attacks are in general not any armed forces but are usually civilians, non-combatants or other innocent and defenceless persons who bear no direct responsibility for the conflict that gave rise to acts of terrorism;” (Schmid 2012)


  1. “The direct victims are not the ultimate target (as in a classical assassination where victim and target coincide) but serve as message generators, more or less unwittingly helped by the news values of the mass media, to reach various audiences and conflict parties that identify either with the victims’ plight or the terrorists’ professed cause;” (Schmid 2012)


  1. Conclusion


For his 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City,   Timothy McVeigh was convicted of murder and conspiracy under an antiterrorism law and sentenced to death. The media, both then and now, referred to the act as terrorism. The bombing constitutes an act of terrorism, according to Academic Consensus Definition of terrorism by Alex Schmid (2012). The attack, perpetrated by a non state actor, during time of peace, carried out against innocent civilians, motivated by an anti-government ideology matches rules 1, 2.ii, 5, 6, and 7.


  1. References


ABCNews. ‘Primetime: Mcveigh’s Own Words’. ABC News. N.p., n.a. Web. 26 Nov. 2015.
Chuck, Elizabeth. ‘Where Are They Now? The People In The Oklahoma City Bombing’. NBC News. N.p., 2015. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.,. ‘CNN – Mcveigh Sentenced To Die For Oklahoma City Bombing – June 13, 1997’. N.p., 1997. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
FBI,. ‘Oklahoma City Bombing’. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
Fox News,. ‘Timothy Mcveigh Put To Death For Oklahoma City Bombings | Fox News’. N.p., 2001. Web. 27 Nov. 2015.
Kenworthy, Tom, and Lois Roman. ‘Washingtonpost.Com: Oklahoma City Bombing Trial Report’. N.p., 1997. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
latimes,. ‘Mcveigh Labels Young Victims ‘Collateral Damage”. N.p., 2001. Web. 27 Nov. 2015.
Schmid, Alex. ‘The Revised Academic Consensus Definition Of Terrorism’. Perspectives on Terrorism 6.2 (2012): n. pag. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.


  1. About the author


Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a lecturer at Shanghai University. He is also a PhD candidate at Shanghai University of sport, writing his dissertation on comparative forms of Chinese wrestling, in Chinese, with expected graduation in June of 2016. He is expected to graduate his China MBA, from Shanghai Jiaotong University, in January, 2016. Antonio is the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey”, “The Monk from Brooklyn,” and several others. He has published hundreds of articles in the fields of linguistics: second language acquisition, as well as martial arts. Antonio is the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.

The Monk from Brooklyn, the book which gave Antonio his name, and all of his other books, the book available at His book, Warrior Odyssey,  chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia, including stories about Khmer and Vietnamese martial arts as well as the war in Burma and the Shan State Army,  is available at

See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on

Twitter: Brooklynmonk

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