If domestic terrorism had a name, it might be April 19 – the date that notorious events linked to violent extremism like the Waco siege of 1993 or the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 have in common. And that’s no coincidence.
“Right around this time, we focus on April 19 and April 20,” Associate Director Joanna Mendelson, of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, told Inside Edition Digital. “These dates do have symbolic purpose. This is part of the subculture of right-wing extremists and in particular white supremacists, who glorify really horrific acts, who glorify extremist killers and elevate them on a pedestal.”
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) tracks trends and movements in extremist circles, and every year, they are extra vigilant of potential activity around these dates.
“Because of the historical pattern of elevating and honoring murderous actions by what they see as past martyrs or past heroes who attempted to further their cause,” Mendelson explained. “As a result, these dates stand out for those of us who are tracking extremism and violently-oriented movements.”
On a smaller scale, glorifying violent events may look like distasteful memes on the internet after the fact. Or, in years past, extremist groups like the KKK have also been known to hand out propaganda flyers around significant dates.
On a larger scale, it could look like copycat efforts on the anniversary, just as the Oklahoma City Bombing on April 19, 1995 was carried out as a “twisted act of retaliation” for the violent end to the siege on Waco, Texas two years prior, Mendelson explained.
On April 20, many extremists celebrate the birthdate of Adolf Hitler, who was born on April 20, 1889, or the day of the Columbine High School massacre, which occurred on April 20, 1999.
“Each of these incidents serve as a playbook for right-wing extremists and other adherence, to not only revere, but to possibly model,” Mendelson said. “Because the right-wing extremist movement is fluid in terms of ideology, conspiracy and embrace of violence in general. We see those who embrace violence, glorifying a genocidal maniac like Hitler, but also the duo in Columbine.”
In the rise of other extremist events, like the assault on the Capitol or the Atlanta Spa shootings, it’s more important than ever for experts and law enforcement to stay aware of any possible movements in their communities.
“There is a heightened state of concern,” Mendelson explained “And we’ve been existing in that space for the last few years, as we’ve seen anti-Semitic incidents increase. Add to that, the rise in anti-Asian attacks. All in totality, there is a kind of rising concern.”
She added that today, 94% of all domestic extremist murders are linked to right-wing ideologies.
But, for those around the country feeling uneasy, Mendelson assured that while the ADL is always extra vigilant in tracking possible movements around these dates, “we are not aware of any plans for mobilization, any plans of events that threaten the safety and security within our country at this time.”
“Sometimes, these dates come and go,” she said.
Here’s a look back on some of the tragedies that occurred on April 19, or the dates surrounding it:
Poway Synagogue Shooting: April 27, 2019
On the last day of Passover, a 19-year-old gunman allegedly entered the Chabad of Poway synagogue in San Diego, California and opened fire with an AR-style weapon, minutes after scheduled Passover services were slated to commence.
A woman died and four people were injured, including the rabbi.
The suspect, John Earnest, now 21, faces several state charges, including murder and hate crime allegations. Earnest was also indicted on 113 federal counts, including hate crimes and obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs by using a dangerous weapon resulting in death and injury, according to the San Diego Union-Tribute.
The trial for the state charges has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and a date has not yet been determined for the federal trial.
He has pleaded not guilty to all state and federal charges.
Columbine High School Shooting: April 20, 1999
Students Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, walked into Columbine High School in Littleton Colorado, planted bombs and opened fire on their classmates, resulting in the deaths of 12 teenagers, one teacher and wounding more than 20 others. Harris and Klebold then turned the gun on themselves.
At the time, the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, was the deadliest school shooting in American history.
The suspects had reportedly planned for the shooting to occur the day before, on April 19, but were not able to get ammo in time.
Oklahoma City Bombing: April 19, 1995
Timothy McVeigh, a recluse from New York state, sought revenge for the Siege in Waco, Texas, and put together a plan to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City as he believed it would send the ultimate anti-governmental message.
Exactly two years after Waco, McVeigh parked a truck with explosives in front of the Murrah building and walked away. As people were still arriving for work, the truck exploded, destroying the north wall of the building. Altogether, McVeigh killed 168 people including 19 children and wounded over 650. The deadly event was known as the worst act of terrorism in U.S. history at the time.
McVeigh was sentenced to death and executed on June 11, 2001.
The Siege in Waco, Texas: April 19, 1993
After reports that a religious group known as the Branch Davidians, sometimes thought of as a cult, located near Waco, Texas, had been violating federal arms regulations by stockpiling illegal weapons, around 80 agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) obtained a search warrant and raided their compound near in Waco, Texas.
Four ATF Agents and six group members were killed in the initial gun battle, and a ceasefire was negotiated. But a 51-day, FBI-led siege then began on the compound, ending on April 19 with a tear gas attack that attempted to force the group members out of the ranch.
The compound was engulfed in flames, resulting in the deaths of 76 group members, including 25 children, two pregnant women and the leader David Koresh.
Many anti-governmental extremists saw this as an example of government overreach and the result of federal aggression. The Oklahoma City Bombing that occurred two years later was seen to be directly inspired by these events.
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: April 19, 1943
After Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939, 400,000 Jews living in the capital city of Warsaw were forced to move into an area about the size of one square mile. The Warsaw Ghetto, the largest of its kind in Poland, was sealed off by brick walls and barbed wires, and guards were employed to make sure no one leaves. The Nazis also controlled food and other supplies that entered, which meant thousands of Jews died of starvation or disease every month.
In July 1942, the leader of the SS Heinrich Himmler ordered that the Jews living in the Warsaw Ghetto be transported to extermination camps. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were eventually moved to extermination camps, while tens of thousands were either moved to forced labor camps or killed en route.
Less than 60,000 Jews remained in the ghetto, and many turned to organizing a self-defense militia. When SS units entered the Warsaw Ghetto on April 19, 1943, the Jews fought back, leading to nearly a month of fighting within the ghetto until the Nazis finally gained control on May 16.
Thousands of Jews died in the uprising, and those who survived were eventually sent to extermination or forced labor camps.
Adolf Hitler Is Born: April 20, 1889
Adolf Hitler rises to the top of the Nazi Party and eventually becomes the dictator of Germany on the platform of racial purity and the ethnic cleansing of Jewish people and other minorities. He and his followers carried out the Holocaust, which led to the killing of 6 million Jews.
The Blockade of Confederate Ports: April 19, 1861
During the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln ordered Union forces to establish a blockade of Confederate ports, effectively preventing their export of cotton and their import of weapons. Many saw this as the beginning of the defeat of the South. This is another incident in history from which extremists draw inspiration.
The Shot Heard Round the World: April 19, 1775
The Battles of Lexington and Concord marked the day the American Revolutionary War began. Conflict erupted after years of tension between the Thirteen Colonies and the British colonial government leading to eight years of war and ending in American independence and the birth of the Constitution of the United States. This is another incident in history from which extremists draw inspiration.