'Flashback' Lecture Notes: How Henry Ford Inspired the Oklahoma City Bombing - OZY | A Modern Media Company

'Flashback' Lecture Notes: How Henry Ford Inspired the Oklahoma City Bombing

SourceGetty, Composite by Ned Colin

'Flashback' Lecture Notes: How Henry Ford Inspired the Oklahoma City Bombing

By Sean Braswell


Because the mass production of hate has disastrous consequences.

By Sean Braswell

In episode one of Flashback, a new podcast from OZY, I’ll tell you a cautionary tale from history about hate, free speech and giving a big platform to little men.

Timothy McVeigh Escorted from Courthouse

On April 19th, 1995, a fuel-and-fertilizer truck bomb exploded in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168. Right: FBI agents and police officers escort bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh from the Noble County Courthouse.

Source Getty

Twenty-five years ago, a Gulf War veteran named Timothy McVeigh parked a truck with a fertilizer bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. The bombing was the worst domestic terror attack ever on American soil, killing 168 people, including 19 children. But, as you’ll learn in episode one, the chain of events — and the propagation of hate — that led up to the event in Oklahoma City began 75 years earlier with the legendary automaker, industrialist and propagandist Henry Ford.

McVeigh''s Last Written Statement

A copy of McVeigh”s final written statement, containing the 1875 poem by William Ernest Henley “Invictus.”

Source Getty

This week on Flashback, we discuss how hate speech is something that can be mass-produced, and with disastrous consequences. You can listen here, and then dig deeper into the story with my Lecture Notes below.


One thing we’ll learn this week is Ford’s somewhat shocking role as a purveyor and publisher of anti-Semitic propaganda. And Victoria Woeste, author of Henry Ford’s War on Jews and the Legal Battle Against Hate Speech, explains the impact that Ford’s book The International Jew had on some very influential anti-Semites: Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Listen to the extra footage of our interview from the cutting-room floor by clicking below:


‘Zero tolerance for people who like to dress up in uniforms’: William Luther Pierce, author of The Turner Diaries, the book that inspired Timothy McVeigh, did not take kindly to the hate groups that undermined what he considered his more mainstream white supremacy. Here’s an excerpt from a speech that Pierce gave on that topic to a gathering of the neo-Nazi National Alliance in 2002 shortly before his death.


Have you read about Ford … lately? There’s so much more to the famous automaker than meets the eye. Here are a couple more intriguing stories on OZY about the “people’s tycoon.”

Henry Ford With His Model T

Henry Ford With His Model T.

Source Getty

The Astonishing Ignorance of Henry Ford: A century ago, Ford sued the Chicago Tribune for calling him an “ignorant idealist.” His eight days on the witness stand permanently dispelled the idea that the industrialist was anything else.

When One of the Richest Men in the World Tried to Stop a War: One of the reasons the Chicago Tribune called Ford an ignorant idealist was because of the time in 1915 that he tried to use privately funded diplomacy — in the form of a “Peace Ship” — to end World War I. Spoiler alert: It didn’t work.


It took almost two years for Ford to announce an end to the 90-part anti-Semitic series he had started publishing in his newspaper in 1920. What made him stop the series? A change of heart? Probably not. Concern about his reputation? Unlikely. 

One explanation for what finally stayed Ford’s hand comes from American novelist Upton Sinclair, who wrote a biographical novel of Ford in 1937, The Flivver King. In it, he describes the actions of a Jewish Hollywood movie producer named William Fox. Outraged by Ford’s anti-Semitic articles, Fox sent Ford a telegram informing him of Fox’s newest film project:

“[Fox] had instructed his hundreds of cameramen all over the country to get news of accidents involving Ford cars, and to get pictures of the wrecks with full details, how many people were killed, how many dependents were left and so on. They were getting experts to swear what defects in each car had caused the accident.” 

The producer threatened to send clips of the film to theater owners across the country to play in their newsreels. On hearing this, Sinclair writes, “Ford immediately sent word back to [Fox] that he had decided to stop the attacks upon the Jews.”

Sign up for the weekly newsletter!

Related Stories