BROOKE GLADSTONE: April 19th is a day we will have little chance to forget because our domestic terrorists or would-be terrorists insist on reminding us every few years. We decided to trace April 19th and its equally fraught companion, April 20th, back to where it all began, so many symbols twisted into dark narratives, so much magical thinking about a date, starting with one celebrated act of violence on April 19th, 1775.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER] Later, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “By the rude bridge that arched the flood, their flag to April’s breeze unfurled; here once the embattled farmer stood, and fired the shot heard ‘round the world.”
BOB GARFIELD: Next notable date for some militias: April 20th, 1889, Hitler’s birthday. Others cite April 19th, 1943 as the date the Nazis invaded the Warsaw Ghetto, yet another instance of government forces marching on the innocent. That the innocent were Jews is not emphasized. Then April 20th, 1985, 300 agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms raided the Arkansas compound of the Covenant of the Sword and the Arm of the Lord, one of the original far-right militias. It served as the model and inspiration for many that followed.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Newsweek quoted a newsletter published by the Militia of Montana that pounded the importance of April 19th. It was the “shot heard ‘round the world”; the date in 1992, the militias claimed, of an aborted ATF raid on white supremacist Randy Weaver whose wife later was shot dead by FBI snipers at Ruby Ridge. Now, we couldn't find any documentation of that April 19th raid. April 19th, 1995 was the scheduled date for the execution of Richard Wayne Snell, a white supremacist who, like Weaver, Newsweek noted, was regarded as a movement martyr. Snell, convicted of killing a pawn shop operator, was executed just hours after the Oklahoma City bombing, after telling his executioners that they had picked a bad day.
BOB GARFIELD: But before Oklahoma City there was Waco, April 19th, 1993, the end of a 51-day siege of the Branch Davidian cult by agents of the ATF, in which more than 70 men, women and children died in a fire.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT (BONNIE): Well, as you can see, the parts of the building have collapsed. The fire has indeed engulfed the vast majority of this compound that has been the site of -
MALE CORRESPONDENT (MIKE): Well Bonnie, the entire roof is gone.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT (BONNIE): The entire roof is gone, Mike. What else can you tell us?
MALE CORRESPONDENT (MIKE): Yes.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT (BONNIE): Any sign of firefighting equipment? I know that –
MALE CORRESPONDENT (MIKE): No, none whatsoever. And -
BOB GARFIELD: It was Waco that inspired Timothy McVeigh, and it was April 19th that he put on his fake driver’s license he used to rent the truck used in the bombing. It was Waco and Oklahoma City that inspired Columbine High School students Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: They dressed in black trench coats. They hated jocks. Today they brought their guns and their grudges to school, then started shooting.
BOB GARFIELD: Anything in the hands of the unbalanced and disturbed can be dangerous, even a date. April 19th has been anointed a day of remembrance, and it’s worth remembering that there are people out there whose calendars are marked a whole lot differently than yours or mine.