The Virginia Tech massacre and Hitler’s shadow

The massacre of at least 32 students at Virginia Tech university April 16—apparently by a South Korea-born English major, Cho Seung-Hui—is the worst such incident in US history. Many commentators point out, of course, that it came a few days short of the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine massacre. Few are pointing out that Columbine’s “Trench-Coat Mafia” chose April 20 as their day to act because it was Hitler’s birthday. Even fewer have noted why the days around April 20 have taken on an eerie significance in America in the past generation…

The New York anarchist newspaper The Shadow reported after the April 19, 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that Timothy McVeigh chose that day because of some historical resonance that went deeper than the Waco massacre on that date two years earlier:

The March edition of Taking Aim, the newsletter of the Militia of Montana, issued a call to arms for April 19, the day of the Oklahoma blast:

“If this day does not ring a bell for you then maybe this will jog your memory.
1. April 19, 1775: Lexington burned.
2. April 19, 1943: Warsaw burned.
3. April 19, 1992: The feds attempted to raid Randy Weaver…
4. April 19, 1993: The Branch Davidians burned.
5. April 19, 1995: Richard Snell will be executed—unless we act now!!!”

Randy Weaver is the Idaho white separatist wanted on federal gun charges who got into an armed stand-off with the FBI and ATF. The stand-off climaxed in August of 1992 with the deaths of Weaver’s wife and young son as well as a US marshall.

Richard Snell was the white separatist who was on death row in Arkansas for the murders of a Texarkana pawnbroker (who he apparently thought was Jewish) and a black state trooper who had stopped him for a traffic violation…

In 1988, ten white separatist leaders across the country were arrested by federal authorities for their role in an alleged 1983 conspiracy to overthrow the United States government by force. The defendants included:

*Richard Snell, who was already on death row in Arkansas
*Richard Butler, chief of the central Aryan Nations compound at Hayden Lake, Idaho
*Louis Beam, the veteran Texas Klansman who is considered the Aryan Nations’ “ambassador at large” to the white supremacist movement in Europe…

Federal prosecutors in the ’88 trial claimed that the ’83 plot—which included counterfeiting, armed robberies and plans to assassinate federal judges and the Arkansas FBI chief—was to begin with the detonation of a truck bomb at the Oklahoma City Federal Building. All of the defendants were acquitted. But that very same building would be blown up by a truck bomb on the very day of Richard Snell’s execution. Snell died knowing of the explosion. His last words were a warning to Arkansas Governor Guy Tucker: “Look over your shoulder, justice is on the way…”

The MOM propaganda evoking the April 19, 1943 burning of the Warsaw ghetto can be read a number of ways. The ghetto was burned to crush a Jewish uprising launched as a desperate last stand against deportation to the death camps. Deportation was escalating because the Nazi administrators of Warsaw wanted the city to be judenrein—Jew free—as a birthday present to the Fuehrer. With the burning of the ghetto and extermination of the last resistance fighters, it was. Adolf Hilter’s birthday is April 20, and is annually celebrated with a barbecue by David Duke and friends.

Cho Seung-Hui was almost certainly not a neo-Nazi or part of a conspiracy. But he was likely prompted to act when he did in part by the memory of Columbine. The homemade videos he mailed to NBC before his blaze of bloody glory explicitly invoked the Columbine killers. (NYT, April 18) And the Trenchcoat Mafia, in turn, definitely chose their day for its Hitlerian significance, even if only out of a primitive nihilism. They may have also been—subliminally or explicitly—inspired by Timothy McVeigh. And McVeigh, for his part, likely was really part of a neo-Nazi conspiracy.

In this light, there is a particularly disturbing irony to the fact that a Holocaust survivor—Liviu Librescu, a 76-year-old Romanian-born aeronautics professor who was interned in a Transnistria labor camp in World War II—was among those killed at Virginia Tech. (AP, April 17)

There is a further irony to Bush’s requisite homilies on this grim occasion. Given the ongoing carnage in Iraq, Bush is on dubious moral grounds to condemn the killing of innocents. Might the Iraq bloodletting have also been a subliminal backdrop for Cho Seung-Hui? Few commentators even at the time pointed out that the Columbine massacre took place while the US was bombing Yugoslavia…

And the irony is compounded by the fact that on the day after the massacre Bush spoke at the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, where he pressed the issue of Darfur. (WP, April 18) April 19 was chosen for Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom Hashoah, in commemoration of the 1943 burning of the Warsaw ghetto.

See our last posts on the culture wars and the legacy of fascism, World War II, and the domestic and international radical right.

  1. An Iraq connection
    Newsday reports April 19 that Cho’s sister, Sun Kyong-Cho, works in Washington as a contractor for the State Department’s Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, which oversees billions of dollars in American aid for Iraq.