Diatribes may haunt Republican right

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Predictions in the wake of overwhelming tragedy are perilous. But signs are growing that the Oklahoma City bomb outrage may have important political repercussions in the United States, both for the fire-breathing world of conservative talk radio, and for the radical Republicanism the talk show hosts so venerate.

With every indication that the car bomb was an act of extreme right-wing domestic terrorism, the first fingers are being pointed in the direction of the Republican right. Its crude pro-gun, anti-government rhetoric, many claim, may have been taken too literally by the men who destroyed the Alfred P Murrah federal building, killing scores of government workers.

Almost apoplectic, the Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, dismissed any such suggestions. He described as "grotesque" and "offensive" a question from a reporter who asked whether the party's rantings against government bureaucrats might have helped create a climate for the attack. Matters are unlikely to end there. But as the Washington Post observed yesterday, insinuations linking a horrific crime with a political party are nothing new - and certainly not from Mr Gingrich, who last year suggested that the drowning by a South Carolina woman of her two small children was the natural end-product of rule by liberal Democrats.

More subtly, some of those Democrats are making the same point. When "this kind of event" occurs, Leon Panetta, the White House chief-of-staff, noted yesterday, "we need to stand back and look at our values and the state of our society".

His words might have been meant for the ever-shrill Mr Gingrich. But few voices have been more strident, demagogic and crudely partisan than the radio hosts, whose ranks include the former Watergate burglar Gordon Liddy, combining rabid anti-Clinton and anti-government views with an infatuation for guns of every sort. The Republican party may emerge little scathed from the political fall-out of Oklahoma City. The same may not be true of some of the talk-show stars.

Some of them have publicly urged armed marches on Washington by the assault weapons faithful. The widely-followed Mr Liddy has gone one better, by instructing listeners how to shoot dead Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents. They were the federal officials who carried out the first raid at Waco, and some came from the ATF branch housed in the devastated building in Oklahoma City.

"They've got a big target on there - ATF - don't shoot at that because they've got a vest on underneath that. Head shots, head shots," explained Mr Liddy before remarking later in the same programme: "Kill the sons of bitches." Questioned in the aftermath of the bombing, he insisted that he was recommending self-defence in the event of armed attack by the ATF.

But if he comes to grief, he would not be the first talk-show host brought low by his excesses. Last year, a Colorado Springs host was forced to resign after suggestions that Francisco Duran, who fired 36 semi-automatic rounds at the White House, had been inspired by the show's anti-Clinton diatribes.

Conceivably, too, Republican zeal may cool over a repeal of the ban on the assault weapons so beloved of Mr Liddy and the militias to which the Oklahoma bombing suspect, Timothy McVeigh, is linked. But Mr Panetta said the outrage had only made the White House more determined to preserve it.