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Terrorism in America by Americans

Trying to limit emotional testimony that could turn the Timothy McVeigh penalty hearings into "some kind of lynching," Judge Richard P. Matsch showed great sensitivity to the danger of helping to create a martyr for right-wing extremists. Not that it won't happen anyway.

Even facing the death penalty, Mr. McVeigh exhibits the strange composure of one who is ready to enter some Valhalla of victims of government, peopled by those who died in Waco and Ruby Ridge, perhaps along with earlier generations of foes of the Feds, such as white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the Ku Klux Klan.

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For the conspiracy-minded, the stage for the McVeigh frame-up conspiracy has already been set. The core of the McVeigh defense, as outlined in his petition to the court, was that he was being made a scapegoat for a bombing that was actually carried out by a foreign power, probably Iraq, or maybe by Afghans or Pakistanis. His lawyer, Stephen Jones, continues to claim that he was "set up" by European and Middle Eastern terrorist groups.

Remember how many, including news organizations, were ready, in the hours after the bombing, to assume that this was the work of Islamic terrorists, like the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York? It was embarrassing to realize, after McVeigh was caught, how easy it is to yield to xenophobia.

It also is true that America has not had much experience with native terrorism. As President Lyndon Johnson's National Commission on Violence reported in 1969, the United States has a violent history of crime, vigilantism, and rioting. As black militant H. Rap Brown said, "Violence is as American as cherry pie."

Yet political terrorism was something we associated more with foreigners, bomb-throwing anarchists. And when terrorism was practiced on American soil, it was usually by people from somewhere else - Croatian hijackers of an airplane, Puerto Rican fighters for independence, or the Jordanian assassin of Robert Kennedy.

Now terrorist violence has come home. There is Timothy McVeigh, seemingly as typical an American as you can find, now on his way to some terrorist pantheon. There is Theodore Kaczynski, the suspected Unabomber, and his letter-bomb campaign against technology. And there was white supremacist Richard Snow, who, just before the Oklahoma City bombing, was executed in Arkansas for killing a policeman. His last words were "Governor, look over your shoulder, justice is coming."

Those organizations that monitor antigovernment conspiracies, such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, report that many militia groups are distancing themselves from McVeigh. But there are a small number of "leaderless cells" of extremists who advocate bank robberies and bombings. They are flooding the Internet with McVeigh "patsy" and "fall guy" theories.

Oklahoma City will stand as a monument to the American way of terrorism.

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* Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

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