Tyranny Is No Antidote to Terrorism

April 28, 1995|By CARL T. ROWAN

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- The heinous murders of innocent people in that grisly Oklahoma City bombing have understandably provoked cries for drastic actions to prevent such an event in the future.

We hear calls to ''unleash'' the FBI at home and the CIA abroad, and to wipe out all restraints regarding electronic surveillance, wiretapping and the infiltration of groups -- and individuals -- on someone's list of ''possible terrorists.''

As President Clinton and others denounce the talk-show purveyors of verbal terrorism and the politicians who inflame borderline psychopaths, we hear talk of a law to silence them.

The president and others have said that this dastardly bombing justifies the imposition of ''swift justice'' followed by the death penalty.

Some Americans have been so angered by the Oklahoma City tragedy that they want to outlaw -- to wipe out with force -- the civilian militias whose weird leaders continue to talk of ''armed revolution'' against a federal government that they even accuse of carrying out the dastardly bombing.

Well, let's slow down for a few moments of rationality.

Let's give the FBI wider latitude to counter domestic terrorism, but there must be strict oversight of any determination of what is a ''terrorist'' group, just as we once needed stricter controls of lists of what was a ''Communist'' or ''Communist-front'' group.

I and millions of other Americans will not forget the J. Edgar Hoover era when the FBI, by its own later admission, conducted 25 separate campaigns to destroy the reputation and even provoke the suicide of Martin Luther King. No act of terrorism, however horrendous, should make us forget the years when the CIA ran amok. Law-enforcement tyranny is no antidote to terrorism.

The tragedy in Oklahoma City does not change my view that state executions only add to the acceptance of killing as a solution to problems and grievances in America.

Sudden death in a gas chamber or an electric chair is too good for those who committed those the mass murders. They should be put in solitary confinement and denied creature comforts. Let these murderers be caged until they cry out in a zillion nights with the same hopeless anguish known by the relatives and friends of the bombing victims.

And, please, no laws designed to gag even the worst of the talk-show fanatics or the politicians who turn verbal fertilizer and snake oil into an explosive concoction. In a free society, no one is permitted to say by fiat where the line is between incitement to violence and courageous political commentary.

But we must try to shame and frighten politicians away from inflammatory demagoguery. Radio stations may drop some outrageous provocateurs, as is already the case with Watergate crook G. Gordon Liddy. But we need not mangle First Amendment rights in any way. We are destined to be relatively unsafe for the rest of our lives; but we need not, in fear, volunteer to be unfree.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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