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It’s Anger, Not Terror, In Heartland

Sun., April 23, 1995

“Terror in the Heartland” is what the local newspaper, The Daily Oklahoman is calling the bombing of the federal building. Every day, the legend streams across the front page over the latest body counts and tales of heroism and tragedy.

It’s a catchy enough title, the sort that every television station feels obliged to put on every inch of tape they show on the air. Around the country, similar headlines announce the day’s news from the nation’s sucker-punched midsection.

But it’s a misnomer. Because people aren’t scared here and they’re definitely not terrified.

“I’m just really pissed off,” is how Eddie Joslin put it.

Joslin, 33, is an electrician. He came to this conclusion late Wednesday, 10 or 12 hours after a half ton or more of explosives ripped apart the big federal office building in the heart of a downtown that isn’t much bigger than the 10-block area that has been closed down by the attack. He had spent those hours boarding up windows blown out of buildings all over downtown by the force of the blast. When he was done and had time to inspect his emotions, that’s the thought that hammered home.

“They blew our city up,” he said. “How dare they do this to our city?”

“I love this place, these people, this town,” said a man in jeans, cowboy hat, and boots in Cahoots, a cavernous country and western saloon and dance hall. He was about 30 years old and had lost one good friend and one relative in the explosion. Friday night, he was trying to rub out the pain with wailing music and a long-necked beer. It wasn’t working.

“I can’t believe people would do this,” he said.

Wherever you go here and whomever you talk to, whether it’s a wrung-out rescue worker at the site, a grieving relative at the First Christian Church, or a patron at a honky-tonk bar, you hear the same thing.

In the words of one dog-tired sheriff’s deputy, who described himself as “livid” at the slaughter of children and adults, “They picked the wrong town to do this.”

They’re angry because Oklahoma City isn’t just an address for them and the people who live there aren’t just obstacles in their lives. The city is home and the people are neighbors and fellow Sooners.

The rage seethes through the town like an ocean of adrenaline. One of the favorite topics of conversation is what method of public execution would be most appropriate for the authors of the city’s anguish.

The realization that the blast was probably engineered by Americans just makes people more angry.

“How can anyone do this to other Americans?” asked Capt. Chris Fields of the Oklahoma City Fire Department. He comes to the only conclusion that makes sense here, where no evening of dancing is complete without a playing of the Heartland’s theme song, “I’m Proud to be an American” - “They may be citizens, but they’re not Americans.”


 
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