South Africa is no stranger to acts of right-wing terrorism. In particular, the transition from apartheid to democracy in the early 1990s set the stage for a rise in acts of extreme violence from the far right – from the AWB’s 1991 storming of the Kempton Park World Trade Centre to the assassination of Chris Hani in 1993.
Today, the far right has been emboldened by global leaders like Donald Trump and the spread of online conspiracy theories. Daily Maverick’s Rebecca Davis reported this week that a key figure behind the bizarre conspiracy group QAnon is a Johannesburg-based former tech reporter. The rise of the far right again feels eerily close to home.
By using the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing as a point of departure, ‘Two Minutes Past Nine’ charts the genealogy of far-right ideologies in the US. Ideas that are seeping through the internet and across the Atlantic, finding their way into local social media hashtags and on to placards at a recent Cape Town march.
“A country like South Africa, broiling with social tension, packed with desperate fearful people looking for someone to blame. That’s the most fertile ground that QAnon could ever hope for.”
Taking this threat seriously shouldn’t be confused with giving it a platform. The spread of online conspiracy theories, combined with the increasing prominence of the far right globally, has already yielded deadly results and poses a threat in South Africa and around the world.
‘Two Minutes Past Nine’ shows how the failure to take this threat seriously in the past has led to its resurgence today. The series offers history as a cautionary tale.
“Chaos is not really a sufficient word.”
This is how retired FBI special agent and bomb technician Barry Black describes what he saw when he arrived on the scene of the Oklahoma City bombing.
“There were fires burning, wounded, dead. I think 91% of the people in the building were killed or injured.”
Twenty-five years ago, at two minutes past nine on 19 April 1995, a bomb exploded outside a federal government building in downtown Oklahoma City. The blast killed 168 people, many of them children, and injured over 680 others. To this day, it remains the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in the history of the United States.
This bombing and the man behind it are the subject of a new series from the BBC, Two Minutes Past Nine. Presented by Leah Sottile, the host of the Bundyville podcast, and produced by Georgia Catt of BBC’s The Missing Cryptoqueen, this series is the work of solid audio journalism.
Sottile has spent a lot of time reporting on American far-right extremism and there’s one name that keeps coming up: Timothy McVeigh, the 26-year-old US army veteran behind the Oklahoma City bombing.
“I’ve come to think of him as this ghost of some kind, always lurking in the corner of my office, haunting me,” says Sottile. “A reminder of where domestic terrorism has led in the past.”
Starting with an immersive opening scene dominated by the voices of survivors of the bombing, it’s clear that the series is a cautionary tale. It is also a forensic deep dive into the roots of McVeigh’s beliefs. From the infamous standoffs at Ruby Ridge and Waco, to a white-nationalist handbook and a secretive Christian compound, Sottile tracks McVeigh’s growing racism and mounting hatred of the US government.
Reminding us why this matters, Sottile writes, “When I started digging into the history surrounding what happened in 1995, I kept finding more and more relevance to things happening in America right now.” Invoking the old adage that history repeats itself, Sottile adds that, to find a way forward, “we always have to keep an eye on where we came from”.
Opting for a model similar to the BBC’s 2019 Tunnel 29, this rapid-fire series consists of multiple short episodes of under 15 minutes each. This makes it feel like a quick listen timed for successive dips in and out or, alternatively, an almighty binge.
If you’re wondering how to listen to these audio gems, local podcast organisation Sound Africa has prepared a handy guide to show you how.
Happy listening! ML/DM
"You at this time can only be destroyed by yourselves from within and not from without. You have reached the point where the victory is to be won from within and can only be lost from within." ~ Marcus Garvey
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