The Oklahoma City bombing occurred more than 20 years ago, but it remains the worst act of domestic terrorism in America. The documentary “Oklahoma City” traces the interactions between law enforcement and fringe groups in Ruby Ridge and Waco that led to Timothy McVeigh’s deadly bombing.
After a screening of the PBS American Experience film at the International Documentary Association’s annual screening series, director Barak Goodman and producer Emily Singer Chapman said in a Q&A that there is a very clear line between the anti-government white-supremacist groups living off the grid in the ’90s and the alt-right movement today.
“Some of the leaders of Charlottesville were the very same people who were involved in the white-supremacist movement back then — they’ve just traded in their camouflage for chinos and polo shirts, but it’s the same people using the same techniques, the same rhetoric,” Goodman said. “There’s really no break in the line between these folks and what we’re seeing today. This movement doesn’t go away, it just waxes and wanes. It lurks back in the shadows and then it finds an environment in which it can come back out in the sunlight.”
He continued, “We had that back in the ’90s with the efforts to bring some gun-control legislation…then I think the Oklahoma City bombing put an end to that. They receded a little bit. And now in the current political climate they feel a little more comfortable and they’re coming back out. But they never went away and I don’t think they ever will go away. This movement has been with us always…it just takes different forms.”
The biggest challenge for Goodman and Chapman was figuring out where to start their film, because the hate groups that led to the bombing have such wide roots in America. Another task that proved difficult was collecting footage from the ’90s to use, since most news stations have thrown away their archival footage of the time. Chapman said she and Goodman found hidden gems when they would ask their interviewees if they had any photos or videos stored in their attics.
While 168 people were killed and 675 were injured in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building explosion, the Oklahoma City bombing isn’t necessarily an event that’s top of mind for most Americans.
“It certainly didn’t go away in parts of the country. It didn’t go away in Oklahoma City, I’ll tell you that. It’s just as visceral an emotional event today, practically, as it was the day it happened,” Goodman said.
But at the time, it was an incredibly traumatizing event for all Americans.
“Maybe we don’t want to remember it. This was a native son. This was one of ours,” Goodman said. “I think for some people it’s best to focus on the other, the outsider…not to recognize that we have bred these types of people in our country and they look just like anybody else.”
Watch clips from the Q&A below:
“Oklahoma City” is available to stream on Netflix.
The IDA Documentary Screening Series brings some of the year’s most acclaimed documentary films to the IDA community and members of industry guilds and organizations. Films selected for the Series receive exclusive access to an audience of tastemakers and doc lovers during the important Awards campaigning season from September through November. For more information about the series, and a complete schedule, visit IDA.