OKLAHOMA CITY | Remembering the Oklahoma City bombing has taken on a new meaning for Brian Martinez in the era of Donald Trump.
His father, a pastor, was among the 168 people killed in the explosion at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, that remains the deadliest act of domestic terrorism on U.S. soil.
What happened to Martinez and his family was defining for them and the nation, the 31-year-old said Wednesday, the 22nd anniversary of the bombing.
But starting with the grueling 2016 presidential campaign, he said they have been treated differently. Not because of what they experienced, but because of who they are. In Oklahoma, a state that overwhelmingly supported Trump, it makes political division painfully acute.
Trump’s comments about Latinos — which have included calling some Mexicans killers and rapists — have stung. Plans to build a wall along the Mexico-U.S. border have already divided Americans with differences in opinion about immigration.
“The fact that he jeopardizes so many people and labels them a certain way can hurt people that actually have gone through terrorism itself,” Martinez said. “I hope that one day he can come here and walk our grounds and say, ‘I need to watch what I say.'”
Martinez and hundreds of others gathered for a remembrance ceremony at the former site of the Murrah building, now a memorial and museum.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson attended, and he also spoke of division. The Murrah building housed HUD offices, as well as employees from other federal agencies. HUD lost 35 employees in the attack.
Carson said college students graduating this year may not have been born when the bombing happened, but they should know about it. He asked what they were learning on their campuses — whether to get along with with people whose perspectives vary from theirs or to shut them down if they disagree. He said this shows there are “two different Americas.”
“The question is, which is the one that we want?” Carson asked the audience, without mentioning Trump. “Will they embrace the American spirit, or will they succumb to the forces of division and hatred as Timothy McVeigh did?”
McVeigh was convicted of the bombing and was later executed. Terry Nichols was convicted of conspiracy in connection with the bombing and is serving life in prison.
The death of Aren Almon-Kok’s 1-year-old daughter, Baylee, was memorialized long before a museum was built. A Pulitzer Prize-winning photo showed a firefighter cradling the girl’s body after the bombing.
Almon-Kok, who now has two teenage children, says she feels political division now like many others, but she believes it was here before and that it’s likely to stay.
Either way, she said, that won’t change what happened to her family.
“Baylee would’ve been 23 yesterday,” Almon-Kok said. “It’s still hard. People say it gets better with time, and it doesn’t.”