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The Meaning of Timothy McVeigh

by Gore Vidal

Toward the end of the last cen­tu­ry but one, Richard Wag­n­er made a vis­it to the south­ern Ital­ian town of Rav­el­lo, where he was shown the gar­dens of the thou­sand-year-old Vil­la Rufo­lo. “Mae­stro,” asked the head gar­den­er, “do not these fan­tas­tic gar­dens ‘neath yon­der azure sky that blends in such per­fect har­mo­ny with yon­der azure sea close­ly resem­ble those fabled gar­dens of Kling­sor where you have set so much of your lat­est inter­minable opera, Par­si­fal? Is not this vision of love­li­ness your inspi­ra­tion for Kling­sor?” Wag­n­er mut­tered some­thing in Ger­man. “He say,” said a near­by trans­la­tor, “ ‘How about that?’ ”

How about that indeed, I thought, as I made my way toward a cor­ner of those fabled gar­dens, where ABC-TV’s Good Morn­ing Amer­i­ca and CBS’s Ear­ly Show had set up their cam­eras so that I could appear “live” to view­ers back home in God’s coun­try.

This was last May. In a week’s time “the Okla­homa City Bomber,” a dec­o­rat­ed hero of the Gulf War, one of Nature’s Eagle Scouts, Tim­o­thy McVeigh, was due to be exe­cut­ed by lethal injec­tion in Terre Haute, Indi­ana, for being, as he him­self insist­ed, the sole mak­er and det­o­na­tor of a bomb that blew up a fed­er­al build­ing in which died 168 men, women, and chil­dren. This was the great­est mas­sacre of Amer­i­cans by an Amer­i­can since two years ear­li­er, when the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment decid­ed to take out the com­pound of a Sev­enth-Day Adven­tist cult near Waco, Texas. The Branch David­i­ans, as the cultists called them­selves, were a peace­ful group of men, women, and chil­dren liv­ing and pray­ing togeth­er in antic­i­pa­tion of the end of the world, which start­ed to come their way on Feb­ru­ary 28, 1993. The Fed­er­al Bureau of Alco­hol, Tobac­co and Firearms, exer­cis­ing its man­date to “reg­u­late” firearms, refused all invi­ta­tions from cult leader David Kore­sh to inspect his licensed firearms. The A.T.F. instead opt­ed for fun. More than 100 A.T.F. agents, with­out prop­er war­rants, attacked the church’s com­pound while, over­head, at least one A.T.F. heli­copter fired at the roof of the main build­ing. Six Branch David­i­ans were killed that day. Four A.T.F. agents were shot dead, by friend­ly fire, it was thought.

There was a stand­off. Fol­lowed by a 51-day siege in which loud music was played 24 hours a day out­side the com­pound. Then elec­tric­i­ty was turned off. Food was denied the chil­dren. Mean­while, the Media were briefed reg­u­lar­ly on the evils of David Kore­sh. Appar­ent­ly, he was mak­ing and sell­ing crys­tal meth; he was also – what else in these sick times? – not a man of God but a Pedophile. The new attor­ney gen­er­al, Janet Reno, then got tough. On April 19 she ordred the F.B.I. to fin­ish up what the A.T.F. had begun. In defi­ance of the Posse Comi­ta­tus Act (a basic bul­wark of our frag­ile lib­er­ties that for­bids the use of the mil­i­tary against civil­ians), tanks of the Texas Nation­al Guard and the army’s Joint Task Force Six attacked the com­pound with a gas dead­ly to chil­dren and not too healthy for adults while ram­ming holes in the build­ing. Some David­i­ans escaped. Oth­ers were shot by F.B.I. snipers. In an inves­ti­ga­tion six years lat­er, the F.B.I. denied ever shoot­ing off any­thing much more than a pyrotech­nic tear-gas can­is­ter. Final­ly, dur­ing a six-hour assault, the build­ing was set fire to and then bull­dozed by Bradley armored vehi­cles. God saw to it that no F.B.I. man was hurt while more than 80 cult mem­bers were killed, of whom 27 were chil­dren. It was a great vic­to­ry for Uncle Sam, as intend­ed by the F.B.I., whose code name for the assault was Show Time.

It was­n’t until May 14, 1995, that Janet Reno, on 60 Min­utes, con­fessed to sec­ond thoughts. “I saw what hap­pened, and know­ing what hap­pened, I would not do it again.” Plain­ly, a learn­ing expe­ri­ence for the Flori­da daugh­ter of a cham­pi­on lady alli­ga­tor rassler.

The April 19, 1993, show at Waco proved to be the largest mas­sacre of Amer­i­cans by their own gov­ern­ment since 1890, when a num­ber of Native Amer­i­cans were slaugh­tered at Wound­ed Knee, South Dako­ta. Thus the ante keeps upping.

Although McVeigh was soon to indi­cate that he had act­ed in retal­i­a­tion for what had hap­pened at Waco (he had even picked the sec­ond anniver­sary of the slaugh­ter, April 19, for his act of ret­ri­bu­tion), our gov­ern­men­t’s secret police, togeth­er with its allies in the Media put, as it were, a heavy fist upon the scales. There was to be only one sto­ry; one man of incred­i­ble innate evil want­ed to destroy inno­cent lives for no rea­son oth­er than a spon­ta­neous joy in evil­do­ing. From the begin­ning, it was ordained that McVeigh was to have no coher­ent motive for what he had done oth­er than a Shake­speare­an motive­less malig­ni­ty. Iago is now back in town, with a bomb, not a hand­ker­chief. More to the point, he and the pros­e­cu­tion agreed that he had no seri­ous accom­plices.

I sat on an uncom­fort­able chair, fac­ing a cam­era. Gen­er­a­tors hummed amid the del­phini­ums. Good Morn­ing Amer­i­ca was first. I had been told that Diane Sawyer would be ques­tion­ing me from New York, but ABC has a McVeigh “expert,” one Charles Gib­son, and he would do the hon­ors. Our inter­view would be some­thing like four min­utes. Yes, I was to be inter­viewed in Depth. This means that only every oth­er ques­tion starts with “Now, tell us, briefly…” Duti­ful­ly, I told, briefly, how it was that McVeigh, whom I had nev­er met, hap­pened to invite me to be one of the five cho­sen wit­ness­es to his exe­cu­tion.

Briefly, it all began in the Novem­ber 1998 issue of Van­i­ty Fair. I had writ­ten a piece about “the shred­ding of our Bill of Rights.” I cit­ed exam­ples of I.R.S. seizures of prop­er­ty with­out due process of law, war­rant­less raids and mur­ders com­mit­ted against inno­cent peo­ple by var­i­ous drug-enforce­ment groups, gov­ern­ment col­lu­sion with agribusi­ness’s suc­cess­ful attempts to dri­ve small farm­ers out of busi­ness, and so on. (For those who would like fur­ther evi­dence of a gov­ern­ment run­ning amok, turn to page 397 of my The Last Empire.) Then, as a coda, I dis­cussed the ille­gal but unpun­ished mur­ders at Ruby Ridge, Ida­ho (a moth­er and child and dog had been killed in cold blood by the F.B.I.); then, the next year, Waco. The Media expressed lit­tle out­rage in either case. Appar­ent­ly, the trig­ger words had not been spo­ken. Trig­ger words? Remem­ber The Manchuri­an Can­di­date? George Axel­rod’s splen­did 1962 film, where the brain­washed (by North Kore­ans) pro­tag­o­nist can only be set in mur­der­ous motion when the gra­cious gar­den-club lady, played by Angela Lans­bury, says, “Why don’t you pass the time by play­ing a lit­tle soli­taire?”

Since we had been told for weeks that the Branch David­i­an leader, David Kore­sh, was not only a drug leader but the sex­u­al abuser of the 27 chil­dren in his com­pound, the mater­nal Ms. Reno in essence decreed: Bet­ter that they all be dead than defiled. Hence, the attack. Lat­er, 11 mem­bers of the Branch David­i­an Church were put on tri­al for the “con­spir­a­cy to com­mit mur­der” of the fed­er­al agents who had attacked them. The jury found all 11 inno­cent on that charge. But after stat­ing that the defen­dants were guilty of attempt­ed mur­der – the very charge of which they had just been acquit­ted – the judge sen­tenced eight inno­cent church mem­bers up to 40 years on less­er charges. One dis­gust­ed juror said, “The wrong peo­ple were on tri­al.” Show Time!

Per­son­al­ly, I was suf­fi­cient­ly out­raged to describe in detail what had actu­al­ly hap­pened. Mean­while, the card play­ers of 1998 were busy shuf­fling and deal­ing. Since McVeigh had been revealed as evil itself, no one was inter­est­ed in why he had done what he had done. But then “why” is a ques­tion the Media are trained to shy away from. Too dan­ger­ous. One might actu­al­ly learn why some­thing had hap­pened and become thought­ful. I wrote in these pages:

For Tim­o­thy McVeigh [Waco and Ruby Ridge] became the sym­bol of [fed­er­al] oppres­sion and mur­der. Since he was no suf­fer­ing from an exag­ger­at­ed sense of jus­tice, not a com­mon Amer­i­can trait, he went to war pret­ty much on his own and end­ed up slaugh­ter­ing more inno­cents than the Feds had at Waco. Did he know what he was doing when he blew up the Alfred P. Mur­rah Fed­er­al Build­ing in Okla­homa City because it con­tained the hat­ed [Feds]? McVeigh remained silent through­out his tri­al. Final­ly, as he was about to be sen­tenced, the court asked him if he would like to speak. He did. He rose and said, “I wish to use the words of Jus­tice Bran­deis dis­sent­ing in Olm­stead to speak for me. He wrote, ‘Our gov­ern­ment is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or ill, it teach­es the whole peo­ple by its exam­ple.’ ” Then McVeigh was sen­tenced to death by the gov­ern­ment.

Those present were deeply con­fused by McVeigh’s quo­ta­tion. How could the Dev­il quote so saint­ly a jus­tice? I sus­pect that he did it in the same spir­it that Iago answered Oth­el­lo when asked why he had done what he had done. “Demand me noth­ing, what you know you know, from this time forth I nev­er will speak word.” Now we know, too: or as my grand­fa­ther used to say back in Okla­homa, “Every pan­cake has two sides.”

When McVeigh, on appeal in a Col­orado prison, read what I had writ­ten he wrote me a let­ter and…

But I’ve left you behind in the Rav­el­lo gar­den of Kling­sor, where, live on tele­vi­sion, I men­tioned the unmen­tion­able word “why,” fol­lowed by the atom­ic trig­ger word “Waco.” Charles Gib­son, 3,500 miles away, began to hyper­ven­ti­late. “Now, wait a minute…” he inter­rupt­ed. But I talked through him. Sud­den­ly I heard him say, “We’re hav­ing trou­ble with the audio.” Then he pulled the plug that linked ABC and me. The sound­man beside me shook his head. “Audio was work­ing per­fect­ly. He just cut you off.” So, in addi­tion to the gov­ern­men­tal shred­ding of Amend­ments 4,5,6,8, and 14, Mr. Gib­son switched off the jour­nal­ists’ sacred First.

Why? Like so many of his inter­change­able TV col­leagues, he is in place to tell the view­ers that for­mer sen­a­tor John Dan­forth had just con­clud­ed a 14-month inves­ti­ga­tion of the F.B.I. that cleared the bureau of any wrong­do­ing at Waco. Dan­forth did admit that “it was like pulling teeth to get all this paper from the F.B.I.”

In March 1993, McVeigh drove from Ari­zona to Waco, Texas, in order to observe first­hand the fed­er­al siege. Along with oth­er pro­test­ers, he was duly pho­tographed by the F.B.I. Dur­ing the siege the cultists were enter­tained with 24-hour ear-shat­ter­ing tapes (Nan­cy Sina­tra: “These boots are made for walkin’/And that’s just what they’ll do/One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you”) as well as the record­ed shrieks of dying rab­bits, rem­i­nis­cent of the first George Bush’s unde­clared war on Pana­ma, which after sev­er­al sim­i­lar con­certs out­side the Vat­i­can Embassy yield­ed up the mas­ter drug crim­i­nal (and for­mer C.I.A. agent) Nor­ie­ga, who had tak­en refuge there. Like the TV net­works, once our gov­ern­ment has a hit it will be repeat­ed over and over again. Oswald? Con­spir­a­cy? Stu­dio laugh­ter.

TV-watch­er have no doubt not­ed so often that they are no longer aware of how often the inter­change­able TV hosts han­dle any­one who tries to explain why some­thing hap­pened. “Are you sug­gest­ing that there was a con­spir­a­cy?” A twin­kle starts in a pair of bright con­tact lens­es. No mat­ter what the answer, there is a wrig­gling of the body, fol­lowed by a tiny snort and a sig­nif­i­cant glance into the cam­era to show that the guest has just been deliv­ered to the stu­dio by fly­ing saucer. This is one way for the pub­lic nev­er to under­stand what actu­al con­spir­a­tors – whether in the F.B.I. or on the Supreme Court or toil­ing for Big Tobac­co – are up to. It is also a sure way of keep­ing infor­ma­tion from the pub­lic. The func­tion, alas, of Cor­po­rate Media.

In fact, at one point, for­mer sen­a­tor Dan­forth threat­ened the recal­ci­trant F.B.I. direc­tor Louis Freeh with a search war­rant. It is a pity that he did not get one. He might, in the process, have dis­cov­ered a bit more about Free­h’s mem­ber­ship in Opus Dei (mean­ing “God’s work”), a secre­tive inter­na­tion­al Roman Catholic order ded­i­cat­ed to get­ting its mem­ber­ship into high polit­i­cal, cor­po­rate, and reli­gious offices (and per­haps even Heav­en too) in var­i­ous lands to var­i­ous ends. Late­ly, reluc­tant Media light was cast on the order when it was dis­cov­ered that Robert Hanssen, an F.B.I. agent, had been a Russ­ian spy for 22 years but also that he and his direc­tor, Louis Freeh, in the words of their fel­low trav­el­er William Rush­er (The Wash­ing­ton Times, March 15, 2001), “not only [were] both mem­bers of the same Roman Catholic Church in sub­ur­ban Vir­ginia but…also belonged to the local chap­ter of Opus Dei.” Mr. Rush­er, once of the dev­il-may-care Nation­al Review, found this “piquant.” Opus Dei was found­ed in 1928 by Jose-Maria Escri­va. Its lay god­fa­ther, in ear­ly years, was the Span­ish dic­ta­tor Fran­cis­co Fran­co. One of its lat­est pal­adins was the cor­rupt Peru­vian pres­i­dent Alber­to Fuji­moro, still in absen­tia. Although Opus Dei tends to Fas­cism, the cur­rent Pope has beat­i­fied Escri­va, dis­re­gard­ing the caveat of the Span­ish the­olo­gian Juan Mar­tin Velas­co: “We can­not por­tray as a mod­el of Chris­t­ian liv­ing some­one who has served the pow­er of the state [the Fas­cist Fran­co] and who used that pow­er to launch his Opus, which he ran with obscure cri­te­ria – like a Mafia shroud­ed in white – not accept­ing papal mag­is­teri­um when it failed to coin­cide with his way of think­ing.”

Once, when the mys­te­ri­ous Mr. Freeh was asked whether or not he was a mem­ber of Opus Dei, he declined to respond, oblig­ing an F.B.I. spe­cial agent to reply in his stead. Spe­cial Agent John E. Colling­wood said, “While I can­not answer your spe­cif­ic ques­tions, I note that you have been ‘informed’ incor­rect­ly.”

It is most dis­turb­ing that in the sec­u­lar Unit­ed States, a nation whose Con­sti­tu­tion is based upon the per­cep­tu­al sep­a­ra­tion of church and state, an abso­lutist reli­gious order not only has placed one of its mem­bers at the head of our secret (and large­ly unac­count­able) police but also can now count on the good offices of at least two mem­bers of the Supreme Court.

From Newsweek, March 9, 2001:

[Jus­tice Antonin] Scalia is regard­ed as the embod­i­ment of the Catholic conservatives…While he is not a mem­ber of Opus Dei, his wife Mau­reen has attend­ed Opus Dei’s spir­i­tu­al func­tions… [while their son], Father Paul Scalia, helped con­vert Clarence Thomas to Catholi­cism four years ago. Last month, Thomas gave a fiery speech to the Amer­i­can Enter­prise Insti­tute, a con­ser­v­a­tive think-tank, to an audi­ence full of Bush Admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials. In the speech Thomas praised Pope John Paul II for tak­ing unpop­u­lar stands.

And to think that Thomas Jef­fer­son and John Adams opposed the pres­ence of the rel­a­tive­ly benign Jesuit order in our land of laws if not of God. Pres­i­dent Bush has said that Scalia and Thomas are the mod­els for the sort of jus­tices that he would like to appoint in his term of office. Late­ly, in atone­ment for his woo­ing dur­ing the elec­tion of the fun­da­men­tal­ist Protes­tants at Bob Jones Uni­ver­si­ty, Bush has been “reach­ing out” to the Roman Catholic far right. He is already sol­id with fun­da­men­tal­ist Protes­tants. In fact, his attor­ney gen­er­al, J.D. Ashcroft, is a Pen­te­costal Chris­t­ian who starts each day at eight with a prayer meet­ing attend­ed by Jus­tice Depart­ment employ­ees eager to be drenched in the blood of the lamb. In 1999, Ashcroft told Bob Jones Uni­ver­si­ty grad­u­ates that Amer­i­ca was found­ed on reli­gious prin­ci­ples (news to Jef­fer­son et al.) and “we have no king but Jesus.”

I have already not­ed a num­ber of con­spir­a­cies that are begin­ning to reg­is­ter as McVeigh’s high­ly manip­u­lat­ed sto­ry moves toward that ghast­ly word “clo­sure,” which, in this case, will sim­ply mark a new begin­ning. The Opus Dei con­spir­a­cy is – was? – cen­tral to the Jus­tice Depart­ment. Then the F.B.I. con­spired to with­hold doc­u­ments from the McVeigh defense as well as from the depart­men­t’s alleged mas­ter: We the Peo­ple in Con­gress Assem­bled as embod­ied by for­mer sen­a­tor Dan­forth. Final­ly, the ongo­ing spon­ta­neous Media con­spir­a­cy to demo­nize McVeigh, who act­ed alone, despite con­trary evi­dence.

But let’s return to the F.B.I. con­spir­a­cy to cov­er up its crimes at Waco. Sen­a­tor Dan­forth is an hon­or­able man, but then, so was Chief Jus­tice Earl War­ren, and the find­ings of his epony­mous com­mis­sion on the events at Dal­las did not, it is said, ever entire­ly con­vince even him. On June 1, Dan­forth told the Wash­ing­ton Post, “I bet that Tim­o­thy McVeigh, at some point in time, I don’t know when, will be exe­cut­ed and after the exe­cu­tion there will be some box found, some­where.” You are not, Sen­a­tor, just beat­ing your gums. Also, on June 1, The New York Times ran an A.P. sto­ry in which lawyers for the Branch David­i­ans claim that when the F.B.I. agents fired upon the cultists they used a type of short assault rifle that was lat­er not test­ed. Our friend F.B.I. spokesman John Col­ing­wood said that a check of the bureau’s records showed that “the short-bar­reled rifle was among the weapons test­ed.” Dan­forth’s response was pret­ty much, Well, if you say so. He did note, again, that he had got “some­thing less than total coop­er­a­tion” from the F.B.I. As H. L. Menck­en put it, “[The Depart­ment of Jus­tice] has been engaged in sharp prac­tices since the ear­li­est days and remains a fecund source of oppres­sion and cor­rup­tion today. It is hard to recall an admin­is­tra­tion in which it was not the cen­ter of grave scan­dal.”

Freeh him­self seems addict­ed to dull sharp prac­tices. In 1996 he was the relent­less Javert who came down so hard on an Atlanta secu­ri­ty guard, Richard Jew­ell, over the Olympic Games bomb­ing. Jew­ell was inno­cent. Even as he sent out for a new hair shirt (Opus Dei mem­bers mor­ti­fy the flesh) and gave the order to build a new guil­lo­tine, the F.B.I. lab was found to have rou­tine­ly bun­gled inves­ti­ga­tions (read Taint­ing Evi­dence, by J.F. Kel­ly and P.K. Wearne). Lat­er, Freeh, led the bat­tle to prove Wen Ho Lee a Com­mu­nist spy. Free­h’s deranged charges against the blame­less Los Alam­os sci­en­tist were thrown out of court by an enraged fed­er­al judge who felt that the F.B.I. had “embar­rassed the whole nation.” Well, it’s always risky, God’s work.

Even so, the more one learns about the F.B.I., the more one real­izes that it is a very dan­ger­ous place indeed. Kel­ly and Wearne, in their inves­ti­ga­tion of its lab work, lit­er­al­ly a life-and-death mat­ter for those under inves­ti­ga­tion, quote two Eng­lish foren­sic experts on the sub­ject of the Okla­homa City bomb­ing. Pro­fes­sor Bri­an Cad­dy, after a study of the lab’s find­ings: “If these reports are the ones to be pre­sent­ed to the courts as evi­dence then I am appalled by their struc­ture and infor­ma­tion con­tent. The struc­ture of the reports seems designed to con­fused the read­er rather than help him.” Dr. John Lloyd not­ed, “The reports are pure­ly con­clu­so­ry in nature. It is impos­si­ble to deter­mine from them the chain of cus­tody, on pre­cise­ly what work has been done on each item.” Plain­ly, the time has come to replace this vast inept and large­ly unac­count­able secret police with a more mod­est and more effi­cient bureau to be called “the Unit­ed States Bureau of Inves­ti­ga­tion.”

It is now June 11, a hot, hazy morn­ing here in Rav­el­lo. We’ve just watched Son of Show Time in Terre Haute, Indi­ana. CNN duly report­ed that I had not been able to be a wit­ness, as McVeigh had request­ed: the attor­ney gen­er­al had giv­en me too short a time to get from here to there. I felt some­what bet­ter when I was told that, lying on the gur­ney in the exe­cu­tion cham­ber, he would not have been able to see any of us through the tint­ed glass win­dows all around him. But then mem­bers of the press who were present said that he had delib­er­ate­ly made “eye con­tact” with his wit­ness­es and with them. He did see his wit­ness­es, accord­ing to Cate McCauley, who was one. “You could tell he was gone after the first shot,” she said. She had worked on his legal case for a year as one of his defense inves­ti­ga­tors.

I asked about his last hours. He had been search­ing for a movie on tele­vi­sion and all he could find was Far­go, for which he was in no mood. Cer­tain­ly he died in char­ac­ter; that is, in con­trol. The first shot, of sodi­um pen­tothal, knocks you out. But he kept his eyes open. The sec­ond shot, of pan­curo­ni­um bro­mide, col­lapsed his lungs. Always the sur­vival­ist, he seemed to ration his remain­ing breaths. When, after four min­utes, he was offi­cial­ly dead, his eyes were still open, stat­ing into the ceil­ing cam­era that was record­ing him “live” for his Okla­homa City audi­ence.

McVeigh made no final state­ment, but he had copied out, it appeared from mem­o­ry, “Invic­tus,” poem by W.E.Henley (1849–1903). Among Hen­ley’s numer­ous writ­ings was a pop­u­lar anthol­o­gy called Lyra Hero­ica (1892), about those who had done self­less hero­ic deeds. I doubt if McVeigh ever came across it, but he would, no doubt, have iden­ti­fied with a group of young writ­ers, among them Kipling, who were known as “Hen­ley’s young men,” for­ev­er stand­ing on burn­ing decks, each a mas­ter of his fate, cap­tain of his soul.

Char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly, no talk­ing head men­tioned Hen­ley’s name, because no one knew who he was. Many thought this famous poem was McVeigh’s work. One irri­ta­ble woman described Hen­ley as “a 19th-cen­tu­ry crip­ple.” I fierce­ly E‑mailed her net­work: the one-legged Hen­ley was “extrem­i­ties chal­lenged.”

The sto­ic seren­i­ty of McVeigh’s last days cer­tain­ly qual­i­fied him as a Hen­ley-style hero. He did not com­plain about his fate; took respon­si­bil­i­ty for what he was thought to have done; did not beg for mer­cy as our always sadis­tic Media require. Mean­while, con­flict­ing details about him accu­mu­late – a bewil­der­ing mosa­ic, in fact – and he seems more and more to have stum­bled into the wrong Amer­i­can era. Plain­ly, he need­ed a self-con­sum­ing cause to define him. The abo­li­tion of slav­ery or the preser­va­tion of the Union would have been more wor­thy of his life than anger at the excess­es of our cor­rupt secret police. But he was stuck where he was and so he declared war on a gov­ern­ment that he felt had declared war on its own peo­ple.

One poet­ic moment in what was large­ly an orches­trat­ed hymn of hatred. Out­side the prison, a group of anti-death-penal­ty peo­ple prayed togeth­er in the dawn’s ear­ly light. Sud­den­ly, a bird appeared and set­tled on the left fore­arm of a woman, who con­tin­ued her prayers. When, at last, she rose to her feet the bird remained on her arm – con­so­la­tion? Ora pro nobis.

* * * * * *

CNN gave us bits and pieces of McVeigh’s last morn­ing. Asked why he had not at least said that he was sor­ry for the mur­der of inno­cents, he said that he could ay it but he would not have meant it. He was a sol­dier in a war, not of his mak­ing. This was Henleyesque. One biog­ra­ph­er described him as hon­est to a fault. McVeigh had also not­ed that Har­ry Tru­man had nev­er said that he was sor­ry about drop­ping two atom­ic bombs on an already defeat­ed Japan, killing around 200,000 peo­ple, most­ly col­lat­er­al women and chil­dren. Media howled that that was wartime. But McVeigh con­sid­ered him­self, right­ly or wrong­ly, at war, too. Inci­den­tal­ly, the inex­orable beat­i­fi­ca­tion of Har­ry Tru­man is now an impor­tant aspect of our evolv­ing impe­r­i­al sys­tem. It is wide­ly believed that the bombs were dropped to save Amer­i­can lives. This is not true. The bombs were dropped to save Amer­i­can lives. This is not true. The bombs were dropped to fright­en our new ene­my, Stal­in. To a man, our lead­ing World War II com­man­ders, includ­ing Eisen­how­er, C.W. Nimitz, and even Cur­tis LeMay (played so well by George C. Scott in Dr. Strangelove), were opposed to Tru­man’s use of the bombs against a defeat­ed ene­my try­ing to sur­ren­der. A friend from live tele­vi­sion, the late Robert Alan Arthur, made a doc­u­men­tary about Tru­man. I asked him what he thought of him. “He just gives you all these canned answers. The only time I got a rise out of him was when I sug­gest­ed that he tell us about his deci­sion to drop the atom­ic bombs in the actu­al ruins of Hiroshi­ma. Tru­man looked at me for the first time. ‘O.K.,’ he said, ‘but I won’t kiss their ass­es.’ ” Plain­ly anoth­er Hen­ley hero, with far more col­lat­er­al dam­age to his cred­it than McVeigh. Was it Chap­lin’s M. Ver­doux who said that when it comes to cal­i­brat­ing lia­bil­i­ty for mur­der it is all, final­ly, a mat­ter of scale?

After my adven­tures in the Rav­el­lo gar­dens (CBS’s Bryant Gum­bel was his usu­al low-key, cour­te­ous self and did not pull the cord), I head­ed for Terre Haute by way of Man­hat­tan. I did sev­er­al pro­grams where I was cut off at the word “Waco.” Only CNN’s Gre­ta Van Sus­teren got the point. “Two wrongs,” she said, sen­si­bly, “don’t make a right.” I quite agreed with her. But then, since I am against the death penal­ty, I not­ed that three wrongs are hard­ly an improve­ment.

Then came the stay of exe­cu­tion. I went back to Rav­el­lo. The Media were now gaz­ing at me. Time and again I would hear or read that I had writ­ten McVeigh first, con­grat­u­lat­ing him, pre­sum­ably, on his killings. I kept explain­ing, patient­ly, how, after he had read me in Van­i­ty Fair, it was he who wrote me, start­ing an off-and-on three-year cor­re­spon­dence. As it turned out, I could not go so I was not able to see with my own eyes the bird of dawn­ing alight upon the wom­an’s arm.

The first let­ter to me was appre­cia­tive of what I had writ­ten. I wrote him back. To show what an eager com­mer­cialite I am – hard­ly school of Capote – I kept no copies of my let­ters to him until the last one in May.

The sec­ond let­ter from his Col­orado prison is dat­ed “28Feb99.” “Mr. Vidal, thank you for your let­ter. I received your book Unit­ed States last week and have since fin­ished most of Part 2 – your polit­i­cal mus­ings.” I should say that spelling and gram­mar are per­fect through­out, while the hand­writ­ing is odd­ly even and slants to the left, as if one were look­ing at it in a mir­ror. “I think you’d be sur­prised at how much of that mate­r­i­al I agree with…

As to you let­ter, I ful­ly rec­og­nize that “the gen­er­al rebel­lion against what our gov­’t has become is the most inter­est­ing (and I think impor­tant) sto­ry in our his­to­ry this cen­tu­ry.” This is why I have been most­ly dis­ap­point­ed at pre­vi­ous sto­ries attribut­ing the OKC bomb­ing to a sim­ple act of “revenge” for Waco – and why I was most pleased to read your Nov. arti­cle in Van­i­ty Fair. In the 4 years since the bomb­ing, your work is the first to real­ly explore the under­ly­ing moti­va­tions for such a strike against the U.S. Gov­ern­ment – and for that, I thank you. I believe that such in-depth reflec­tions are vital if one tru­ly wish­es to under­stand the events of April 1995.

Although I have many obser­va­tions that I’d like to throw at you, I must keep this let­ter to a prac­ti­cal length – so I will men­tion just one: if fed­er­al agents are like “so many Jacobins at war” with the cit­i­zens of this coun­try, and if fed­er­al agen­cies “dai­ly wage war: against those cit­i­zens, then should not the OKC bomb­ing be con­sid­ered a “counter-attack” rather than a self-declared war? Would it not be more akin to Hiroshi­ma than Pearl Har­bor? (I’m sure the Japan­ese were just as shocked and sur­prised at Hiroshi­ma – in fact, was that antic­i­pat­ed effect not part and par­cel of the over­all strat­e­gy of that bomb­ing?)

Back to your let­ter, I had nev­er con­sid­ered your age as an imped­i­ment [here he riots in tact!] until I received that let­ter – and not­ed that it was typed on a man­u­al type­writer? Not to wor­ry, recent med­ical stud­ies tell us that Italy’s taste for canola oil, olive oil and wine helps extend the aver­age lifes­pan and helps pre­vent heart dis­ease in Ital­ians – so you picked the right place to retire to.

Again, thank you for drop­ping me a line – and as far as any con­cern over what or how to write some­one “in my sit­u­a­tion,” I think you’d find that many of us are still just “reg­u­lar Joes” – regard­less of pub­lic per­cep­tion – so there need be no spe­cial considerations(s) giv­en to what­ev­er you wish to write. Until next time, then…

Under this line he has put in quotes “ ‘Every nor­mal man must be temped at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slit­ting throats.’ – H.L. Menck­en. Take good care.”

He signed off with scrib­bled ini­tials. Need­less to say, this let­ter did not con­form to any notion that I had had of him from read­ing the rabid U.S. press led, as always, by The New York Times, whose clum­sy attempts at Freudi­an analy­sis (e.g., he was a bro­ken blos­som because his moth­er left his father in his 16th year – actu­al­ly he seemed relieved). Lat­er, there was a year or so when I did not hear from him. Two reporters from a Buf­fa­lo news­pa­per (he was born and raised near Buf­fa­lo) were at work inter­view­ing him for their book, Amer­i­can Ter­ror­ist. I do think I wrote him that Menck­en often resort­ed to Swift­ian hyper­bole and was not to be tak­en too lit­er­al­ly. Could the same be said of McVeigh? There is always the inter­est­ing pos­si­bil­i­ty – pre­pare for the grand­est con­spir­a­cy of all – that he nei­ther made nor set off the bomb out­side the Mur­rah build­ing: it was only lat­er, when fac­ing either death or life impris­on­ment, that he saw to it that would be giv­en sole cred­it for hoist­ing the black flag and slit­ting throats, to the ris­ing fury of var­i­ous “mili­tias” across the land who are cur­rent­ly out­raged that he is get­ting sole cred­it for a rev­o­lu­tion­ary act orga­nized, some say, by many oth­ers. At the end, if this sce­nario is cor­rect, he and the detest­ed Feds were of a sin­gle mind.

As Sen­a­tor Dan­forth fore­saw, the gov­ern­ment would exe­cute McVeigh as soon as pos­si­ble (with­in 10 days of Dan­forth’s state­ment to The Wash­ing­ton Post) in order not to have to pro­duce so quick­ly that mis­laid box with doc­u­ments which might sug­gest that oth­ers were involved in the bomb­ing. The fact that McVeigh him­self was eager to com­mit what he called “fed­er­al­ly assist­ed sui­cide” sim­ply seemed a bizarre twist to a sto­ry that no mat­ter how one tries to straight­en it out nev­er quite con­forms to the Ur-plot of lone crazed killer (Oswald) killed by a sec­ond lone crazed killer (Ruby), who would die in stir with, he claimed, a tale to tell. Unlike Lee Har­vey (“I’m the pat­sy”) Oswald, our Hen­ley hero found irre­sistible the role of lone war­rior against a bad state. Where, in his first cor­re­spon­dence with me, he admits to noth­ing for the obvi­ous rea­son his lawyers have him on appeal, in his last let­ter to me, April 20, 2001 – “T. McVeigh 12076–064 POB 33 Terre Haute, In 47808 (USA)” – he writes, “Mr. Vidal, if you have read the recent­ly pub­lished ‘Amer­i­can Ter­ror­ist’, then you’ve prob­a­bly real­ized that you hit the nail on the head with your arti­cle ‘The War at Home’. Enclosed is sup­ple­men­tal mate­r­i­al to add to that insight.” Among the doc­u­ments he sent was an ABCNews.com chat tran­script of a con­ver­sa­tion with Tim­o­thy McVeigh’s psy­chi­a­trist. The inter­view with Dr. John Smith was con­duct­ed by a mod­er­a­tor, March 29 of this year. Dr. Smith had had only one ses­sion with McVeigh, six years ear­li­er. Appar­ent­ly McVeigh had released him from his med­ical oath of con­fi­den­tial­i­ty so that he could talk to Lou Michel and Dan Her­beck, authors of Amer­i­can Ter­ror­ist.

Mod­er­a­tor: You say that Tim­o­thy McVeigh “was not deranged” and that he has has “no major men­tal ill­ness”. So why, in your view, would he com­mit such a ter­ri­ble crime?

Dr. John Smith: Well, I don’t think he com­mit­ted it because he was deranged or mis­in­ter­pret­ing reality…He was over­ly sen­si­tive, to the point of being a lit­tle para­noid, about the actions of the gov­ern­ment. But he com­mit­ted the act most­ly out of revenge because of the Waco assault, but he also want­ed to make a polit­i­cal state­ment about the role of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment and protest the use of force against the cit­i­zens. So to answer your orig­i­nal ques­tion, it was a con­scious choice on his part, not because he was deranged, but because he was seri­ous.

Dr. Smith then notes McVeigh’s dis­ap­point­ment that the Media had shied away from any dia­logue “about the mis­use of pow­er by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment.” Also “his state­ment to me, ‘I did not expect a rev­o­lu­tion’. Although he did go on to tell me that he had had dis­cus­sions with some of the mili­tias who lived in the hills around King­man, AZ, about how easy it would be, with cer­tain guns in the hills there, to cut inter­state 40 in two and in that sense inter­fere with trans­porta­tion from between the east­ern and west­ern part of the Unit­ed States – a rather grandiose dis­cus­sion.”

Grandiose but, I think, in char­ac­ter for those rebels who like to call them­selves Patri­ots and see them­selves as sim­i­lar to the Amer­i­can colonists who sep­a­rat­ed from Eng­land. They are said to num­ber from two to four mil­lion, of whom some 400,000 are activists in the mili­tias. Although McVeigh nev­er for­mal­ly joined any group, for three years he drove all around the coun­try, net­work­ing with like-mind­ed gun-lovers and fed­er­al-gov­ern­ment-haters; he also learned, accord­ing to Amer­i­can Ter­ror­ist, “that the gov­ern­ment was plan­ning a mas­sive raid on gun own­ers and mem­bers of the Patri­ot com­mu­ni­ty in the spring of 1995.” This was all the trig­ger that McVeigh need­ed for what he would do – shuf­fled the deck, as it were.

The Turn­er Diaries is a racist day­dream by a for­mer physics teacher writ­ing under the pseu­do­nym Andrew Mac­don­ald. Although McVeigh has no hang-ups about blacks, Jews, and all the oth­er ene­mies of the var­i­ous “Aryan” white nations to be found in the Patri­ots’ ranks, he shares the Diaries’ obses­sion with guns and explo­sives and a final all-out war against the “Sys­tem.” Much has been made, right­ly, of a descrip­tion in the book of how to build a bomb like the one he used at Okla­homa City. When asked if McVeigh acknowl­edged copy­ing this sec­tion from the nov­el, Dr. Smith said, “Well, sort of. Tim want­ed it made clear that, unlike The Turn­er Diaries, he was not a racist. He made that very clear. He did not hate homo­sex­u­als. He made that very clear.” As for the book as an influ­ence, “he’s not going to share cred­it with any­one.” Asked to sum up, the good doc­tor said, sim­ply, “I have always said to myself that if there had not been aWa­co, there would not have been an Okla­homa City.”

McVeigh also sent me a 1998 piece he had writ­ten for Media Bypass. He calls it “Essay on Hypocrisy.”

The admin­is­tra­tion has said that Iraq has no right to stock­pile chem­i­cal or bio­log­i­cal weapons…mainly because they have used them in the past. Well, if that’s the stan­dard by which these mat­ters are decid­ed, then the U.S. is the nation that set the prece­dent. The U.S. has stock­piled these same weapons (and more) for over 40 years. The U.S. claims that this was done for the deter­rent pur­pos­es dur­ing its “Cold War” with the Sovi­et Union. Why, then, is it invalid for Iraq to claim the same rea­son (deter­rence) – with respect to Iraq’s (real) war with, and the con­tin­ued threat of, its neigh­bor Iran?…

Yet when dis­cus­sion shifts to Iraq, any day­care cen­ter in a gov­ern­ment build­ing instant­ly becomes “a shield.” Think about it. (Actu­al­ly, there is a dif­fer­ence here. The admin­is­tra­tion has admit­ted to knowl­edge of the pres­ence of chil­dren in or near Iraqi gov­ern­ment build­ings, yet they still pro­ceed with their plans to bomb – say­ing that they can­not be held respon­si­ble if chil­dren die. There is no such proof, how­ev­er, that knowl­edge of the pres­ence of chil­dren exist­ed in rela­tion to the Okla­homa City bomb­ing.)

Thus, he denies any fore­knowl­edge of the pres­ence of chil­dren in the Mur­rah build­ing, unlike the FBI, which knew that there were chil­dren in the David­i­an com­pound, and man­aged to kill 27 of them.

McVeigh quotes again from Jus­tice Bran­deis; “Our gov­ern­ment is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or ill it teach­es the whole peo­ple by its exam­ple.” He stops there. But Bran­deis goes on to write in his dis­sent, “Crime is con­ta­gious. If the gov­ern­ment becomes the law break­er, it breeds con­tempt for laws; it invites every man to become a law unto him­self.” Thus the straight-arrow mod­el sol­dier unleashed his ter­ri­ble swift sword and the inno­cent died. But then a law­less gov­ern­ment, Bran­deis writes, “invites anar­chy. To declare that in the admin­is­tra­tion of the crim­i­nal law the end jus­ti­fies the means – to declare that the gov­ern­ment may com­mit crimes in order to secure the con­vic­tion of a pri­vate crim­i­nal – would bring ter­ri­ble ret­ri­bu­tion.”

One won­ders if the Opus Dei plu­ral­i­ty of the present Supreme Court’s five-to-four major­i­ty has ever pon­dered these words so dif­fer­ent from, let us say, one of its essen­tial thinkers, Machi­avel­li, who insist­ed that, above all, the Prince must be feared.

Final­ly, McVeigh sent me three pages of long­hand notes dat­ed April 4, 2001, a few weeks before he was first sched­uled to die. It is addressed to “C.J.” (?), whose ini­tials he struck out.

I explain here­in why I bombed the Mur­rah Fed­er­al Build­ing in Okla­homa City. I explain this not for pub­lic­i­ty, nor seek­ing to win an argu­ment of right or wrong, I explain so that the record is clear as to my think­ing and moti­va­tions in bomb­ing a gov­ern­ment instal­la­tion.

I chose to bomb a Fed­er­al Build­ing because such an action served more pur­pos­es than oth­er options. Fore­most, the bomb­ing was a retal­ia­to­ry strike: a counter-attack, for the cumu­la­tive raids (and sub­se­quent vio­lence and dam­age) that fed­er­al agents had par­tic­i­pat­ed in over the pre­ced­ing years (includ­ing, but not lim­it­ed to, Waco). From the for­ma­tion of such units as the FBI’s “Hostage Res­cue” and oth­er assault teams amongst fed­er­al agen­cies dur­ing the 80s, cul­mi­nat­ing in the Waco inci­dent, fed­er­al actions grew increas­ing­ly mil­i­taris­tic and vio­lent, to the point where at Waco, our gov­ern­ment – like the Chi­nese – was deploy­ing tanks against its own cit­i­zens.

…For all intents and pur­pos­es, fed­er­al agents had become “sol­diers” (using mil­i­tary train­ing, tac­tics, tech­niques, equip­ment, lan­guage, dress, orga­ni­za­tion and mind­set) and they were esca­lat­ing their behav­ior. There­fore, this bomb­ing was also meant as a pre-emp­tive (or pro-active) strike against those forces and their com­mand and con­trol cen­ters with­in the fed­er­al build­ing. When an aggres­sor force con­tin­u­al­ly launch­es attacks from a par­tic­u­lar base of oper­a­tions, it is sound mil­i­tary strat­e­gy to take the flight to the ene­my. Addi­tion­al­ly, bor­row­ing a page from U.S. for­eign pol­i­cy, I decid­ed to send a mes­sage to a gov­ern­ment that was becom­ing increas­ing­ly hos­tile, by bomb­ing a gov­ern­ment build­ing and the gov­ern­ment employ­ees with­in that build­ing who rep­re­sent that gov­ern­ment. Bomb­ing the Mur­rah Fed­er­al Build­ing was moral­ly and strate­gi­cal­ly equiv­a­lent to the U.S. hit­ting a gov­ern­ment build­ing in Ser­bia, Iraq, or oth­er nations. Based on obser­va­tions of the poli­cies of my own gov­ern­ment, I viewed this action as an accept­able option. From this per­spec­tive what occurred in Okla­homa City was no dif­fer­ent than what Amer­i­cans rain on the heads of oth­ers all the time, and, sub­se­quent­ly, my mind­set was and is one of clin­i­cal detach­ment. (The bomb­ing of the Mur­rah Build­ing was not per­son­al no more than when Air Force, Army, Navy or Marine per­son­nel bomb or launch cruise mis­siles against (for­eign) gov­ern­ment instal­la­tions and their per­son­nel.)

I hope this clar­i­fi­ca­tion amply address­es your ques­tion.

USP Terre Haute (In.)

There were many out­raged press notes and let­ters when I said that McVeigh suf­fered from “an exag­ger­at­ed sense of jus­tice.” I did not real­ly need the adjec­tive except that I knew that few Amer­i­cans seri­ous­ly believe that any­one is capa­ble of doing any­thing except out of per­son­al self-inter­est, while any­one who delib­er­ate­ly risks – and gives – his life to alert his fel­low cit­i­zens to an oner­ous gov­ern­ment is tru­ly crazy. But the good Dr. Smith put that one in per­spec­tive McVeigh is not deranged. He is seri­ous.

It is June 16. It seems like five years rather than five days since the exe­cu­tion. The day before the exe­cu­tion, June 10, The New York Times dis­cussed “The Future of Amer­i­can Ter­ror­ism.” Appar­ent­ly, ter­ror­ism has a real future: hence we must beware Nazi skin­heads in the boon­docks. The Times is, occa­sion­al­ly, right for the usu­al wrong rea­sons. For instance, their cur­rent wis­dom is to dis­pel the illu­sion that “McVeigh is mere­ly a pawn in an expan­sive con­spir­a­cy led by a group of John Does that may even have had gov­ern­ment involve­ment. But only a small fringe will cling to this the­o­ry for long.” Thank God: one had feared that rumors of a greater con­spir­a­cy would linger on and Old Glo­ry her­self would turn to fringe before our eyes. The Times, more in anger than in sor­row, feels that McVeigh blew mar­tyr­dom by first plead­ing not guilty and then by not using his tri­al to “make a polit­i­cal state­ment about Ruby Ridge and Waco.” McVeigh agreed with the Times, and blamed his first lawyer, Stephen Jones, in unholy tan­dem with the judge, for sell­ing him out. Dur­ing his appeal. His new attor­ney claimed that the seri­ous sale took place when Jones, eager for pub­lic­i­ty, met with the Times’s Pam Bel­luck. McVeigh’s guilt was qui­et­ly con­ced­ed, thus explain­ing why the defense was so fee­ble. (Jones claims he did noth­ing improp­er.)

Actu­al­ly, in the imme­di­ate wake of the bomb­ing, the Times con­cedes, the mili­tia move­ment sky­rock­et­ed from 220 anti-gov­ern­ment groups in 1995 to more than 850 by the end of ’96. A fac­tor in this growth was the belief cir­cu­lat­ing among mili­tia groups “that gov­ern­ment agents had plant­ed the bomb as a way to jus­ti­fy anti-ter­ror­ism leg­is­la­tion. No less than a retired Air Force gen­er­al has pro­mot­ed the the­o­ry that in addi­tion to Mr. McVeigh’s truck bomb, there were bombs inside the build­ing.” Although the Times likes analo­gies to Nazi Ger­many, they are curi­ous­ly reluc­tant to draw one between, let’s say, the fir­ing of the Reich­stag in 1933 (Gor­ing lat­er took cred­it for this cre­ative crime), which then allowed Hitler to invoke an Enabling Act that pro­vid­ed him with all sorts of dic­ta­to­r­i­al pow­ers “for pro­tec­tion of the pow­er and the stat4e” and so on to Auschwitz.

The can­ny Port­land Free Press edi­tor, Ace Hayes, not­ed that the one absolute­ly nec­es­sary dog in every ter­ror­ism case has yet to bark. The point to any ter­ror­ist act is that cred­it must be claimed so that fear will spread through­out the land. But no one took cred­it until McVeigh did, after the tri­al, in which he was con­demned to death as a result of cir­cum­stan­tial evi­dence pro­duced by the pros­e­cu­tion. Ace Hayes wrote, “If the bomb­ing was not ter­ror­ism then what was it? It was pseu­do ter­ror­ism, per­pe­trat­ed by com­part­men­tal­ized covert oper­a­tors for the pur­pos­es of state police pow­er.” Apro­pos Hayes’s con­clu­sion, Adam Par­frey wrote in Cult Rap­ture: [The bomb­ing] is not dif­fer­ent from the bogus Viet Cong units that were sent out to rape and mur­der Viet­namese to dis­cred­it the Nation­al Lib­er­a­tion Front. It is not dif­fer­ent from the bogus ‘finds’ of Com­mie weapons in El Sal­vador. It is not dif­fer­ent from the bogus Sym­bionese Lib­er­a­tion Army cre­at­ed by the CIA/FBI to dis­cred­it the real rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies.” Evi­dence of a con­spir­a­cy? Edye Smith was inter­viewed by Gary Tuch­man, May 23, 1995, on CNN. She duly not­ed that the A.T.F. bureau, about 17 peo­ple on the ninth floor, suf­fered no casu­al­ties. Indeed they seemed not to have come to work that day. Jim Kei­th gives details in OKBOMB!, while Smith observed on TV, “Did the A.T.F. have a warn­ing sign? I mean, did they think it might be a bad day to go into the office? They had an option not to go to work that day, and my kids did­n’t get that option.” She lost two chil­dren in the bomb­ing. A.T.F. has a num­ber of expla­na­tions. The lat­est: five employ­ees were in the offices, unhurt.

Anoth­er lead not fol­lowed up: McVeigh’s sis­ter read a let­ter he wrote her to the grand jury stat­ing that he had become a mem­ber of a “Spe­cial Forces Group involved in crim­i­nal activ­i­ty.”

In the end, McVeigh, already con­demned to death, decid­ed to take full cred­it for the bomb­ing. Was he being a good pro­fes­sion­al sol­dier, cov­er­ing up for oth­ers? Or did he, per­haps, now see him­self in a his­toric role with his own pri­vate Harper’s Fer­ry, and though his ash­es mold­er in the grave, his spir­it is march­ing on? We may know – one day.

As for “the pur­pos­es of state police pow­er,” after the bomb­ing, Clin­ton signed into law orders allow­ing the police to com­mit all sorts of crimes against the Con­sti­tu­tion in the inter­est of com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism. On April 20, 1996 (Hitler’s birth­day of gold­en mem­o­ry, at least for the pro­duc­ers of The Pro­duc­ers), Pres­i­dent Clin­ton signed the Anti-Ter­ror­ism Act (“for the pro­tec­tion of the peo­ple and the state” – the empha­sis, of course, is on the sec­ond noun), while, a month ear­li­er, the mys­te­ri­ous Louis Freeh had informed Con­gress of his plans for expand­ed wire­tap­ping by his secret police. Clin­ton described his Anti-Teror­ism Act in famil­iar lan­guage (March 1, 1993, USA Today): “We can’t be so fix­at­ed on our desire to pre­serve the rights of ordi­nary Amer­i­cans.” A year lat­er (April 19, 1994, on MTV): “A lot of peo­ple say there’s too much per­son­al free­dom. When per­son­al free­dom’s being abused, you have to move to lim­it it.” On that plan­gent note he grad­u­at­ed cum laude from the Newt Gin­grich Acad­e­my.

In essence, Clin­ton’s Anti-Ter­ror­ism Act would set up a nation­al police force, over the long-dead bod­ies of the founders. Details are sup­plied by H.R. 97, a chimera born of Clin­ton, Reno, and the mys­te­ri­ous Mr. Freeh. A 2,500-man Rapid Deploy­ment Strike Force would be orga­nized, under the attor­ney gen­er­al, with dic­ta­to­r­i­al pow­ers. The chief of police of Wind­sor, Mis­souri, Joe Hen­dricks, spoke out against this supra-Con­sti­tu­tion­al police force. Under this leg­is­la­tion, Hen­dricks said, “an agent of the F.B.I. could walk into my office and com­man­deer this police depart­ment. If you don’t believe that, read the crime bill that Clin­ton signed into law in 1995. There is talk of the Feds tak­ing over the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. police depart­ment. To me this sets a dan­ger­ous prece­dent.” But after a half-cen­tu­ry of the Rus­sians are com­ing, fol­lowed by ter­ror­ists from pro­lif­er­at­ing drug-relat­ed crime, there is lit­tle respite for a peo­ple so rou­tine­ly – so fierce­ly – dis­in­formed. Yet there is a native sus­pi­cion that seems to be a part of the indi­vid­ual Amer­i­can psy­che – as demon­strat­ed in polls, any­way. Accord­ing to a Scripps Howard News Ser­vice poll, 40 per­cent of Amer­i­cans think it quite like­ly that the F.B.I. set the fires at Waco. Fifty-one per­cent believe fed­er­al offi­cials killed Jack Kennedy (Oh, Oliv­er, what hast thou wrought!). Eighty per­cent believe that the mil­i­tary is with­hold­ing evi­dence that Iraq used nerve gas or some­thing as dead­ly in the Gulf. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the oth­er side of this coin is trou­bling. After Okla­homa City, 58 per­cent of Amer­i­cans, accord­ing to the L.A. Times, were will­ing to sur­ren­der some of their lib­er­ties to stop ter­ror­ism – includ­ing, one won­ders, the sacred right to be mis­in­formed by gov­ern­ment?

Short­ly after McVeigh’s con­vic­tion, Direc­tor Freeh soothed the Sen­ate Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee: “Most of the mili­tia orga­ni­za­tions around the coun­try are not, in our view, threat­en­ing or dan­ger­ous.” But ear­li­er, before the Sen­ate Appro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, he had “con­fessed” that his bureau was trou­bled by “var­i­ous indi­vid­u­als, as well as orga­ni­za­tions, some hav­ing an ide­ol­o­gy which sus­pects gov­ern­ment of world-order con­spir­a­cies – indi­vid­u­als who have orga­nized them­selves against the Unit­ed States.” In sum, this bureau­crat who does God’s Work regards as a threat those “indi­vid­u­als who espouse ide­olo­gies incon­sis­tent with prin­ci­ples of Fed­er­al Gov­ern­ment.” Odd­ly, for a for­mer judge, Freeh seems not to rec­og­nize how chill­ing this last phrase is.

The C.I.A.‘s for­mer direc­tor William Col­by is also made ner­vous by the dis­af­fect­ed. In a chat with Nebras­ka state sen­a­tor John DeCamp (short­ly before the Okla­homa City bomb­ing), he mused, “I watched as the Anti-War move­ment ren­dered it impos­si­ble for this coun­try to con­duct or win the Viet Nam War…This Mili­tia and Patri­ot movement…is far more sig­nif­i­cant and far more dan­ger­ous for Amer­i­cans than the Anti-War move­ment ever was, if it is not intel­li­gent­ly dealt with…It is not because these peo­ple are armed that Amer­i­ca need be con­cerned.” Col­by con­tin­ues, “They are dan­ger­ous because there are so many of them. It is one thing to have a few nuts or dis­si­dents. They can be dealt with, just­ly or oth­er­wise [my empha­sis] so that they do not pose a dan­ger to the sys­tem. It is quite anoth­er sit­u­a­tion when you have a true move­ment – mil­lions of cit­i­zens believ­ing some­thing, par­tic­u­lar­ly when the move­ment is made up of soci­ety’s aver­age, suc­cess­ful cit­i­zens.” Pre­sum­ably one “oth­er­wise” way of han­dling such a move­ment is – when it elects a pres­i­dent by a half-mil­lion votes – to call in a like-mind­ed Supreme Court major­i­ty to stop a state’s recounts, cre­ate arbi­trary dead­lines, and invent delays until our ancient elec­toral sys­tem, by default, must give the pres­i­den­cy to the “sys­tem’s” can­di­date as opposed to the one the peo­ple vot­ed for.

Many an “expert” and many an expert believe that McVeigh nei­ther built nor det­o­nat­ed the bomb that blew up a large part of the Mur­rah Fed­er­al Build­ing on april 19, 1995. To start back­ward – rather the way the F.B.I. con­duct­ed this case – if McVeigh was not guilty, why did he con­fess to the mur­der­ous deed? I am con­vinced from his cor­re­spon­dence and what one has learned about him in an ever length­en­ing row of books that, once found guilty due to what he felt was the sloven­ly defense of his prin­ci­pal lawyer, Stephen Jones, so unlike the bril­liant defense of his “co-con­spir­a­tor” Ter­ry Nichol’s lawyer Michael Tigar, McVeigh believed that the only alter­na­tive to death by injec­tion was a half-cen­tu­ry or more of life in a box. There is anoth­er aspect of our prison sys­tem (con­sid­ered one of the most bar­bar­ic in the First World) which was allud­ed to by the British writer John Suther­land in The Guardian. He quot­ed Cal­i­for­ni­a’s attor­ney gen­er­al, Bill Lock­y­er, on the sub­ject of the C.E.O. of an elec­tric util­i­ty, cur­rent­ly bat­ten­ing on Cal­i­for­ni­a’s fail­ing ener­gy sup­ply. “I would love to per­son­al­ly escort this CEO to an 8 by 10 cell that he could share with a tat­tooed dude who says – “Hi, my name is Spike, Hon­ey.“ ‘…The senior law offi­cial in the state was con­firm­ing (what we all sus­pect­ed) that rape is penal pol­i­cy. Go to prison and serv­ing as a Hel­l’s Angel sex slave is judged part of your sen­tence.” A cou­ple of decades fend­ing off Spike is not a Hen­ley hero’s idea of a good time. Bet­ter dead than Spiked. Hence, “I bombed the Mur­rah build­ing.”

Evi­dence, how­ev­er, is over­whelm­ing that there was a plot involv­ing mili­tia types and gov­ern­ment infil­tra­tors – who knows? – as prime movers to cre­ate pan­ic in order to get Clin­ton to sign that infa­mous Anti-Ter­ror­ism Act. But if, as it now appears, there were many inter­est­ed par­ties involved, a sort of uni­fied-field the­o­ry is nev­er apt to be found, but should there be one, Joel Dyer may be its Ein­stein. (Ein­stein, of course, nev­er got his field quite togeth­er, either.) In 1998, I dis­cussed Dyer’s Har­vest of Rage in these pages. Dyer was edi­tor of the Boul­der Week­ly. He writes on the cri­sis of rur­al Amer­i­ca due to the decline of the fam­i­ly farm, which also coin­cid­ed with the for­ma­tion of var­i­ous mili­tias and reli­gious cults, some dan­ger­ous, some mere­ly sad. In Har­vest of Rage, Dyer made the case that McVeigh and Ter­ry Nichols could not have act­ed alone in the Okla­homa City bomb­ing. Now he has, after long inves­ti­ga­tion, writ­ten an epi­logue to the tri­als of the two co-con­spir­a­tors. Here­with, some of his star­tling find­ings.

In the end, on June 2, 1997, Tim­o­thy McVeigh was found guilty on 11 counts, includ­ing con­spir­a­cy and eight mur­der charges per­tain­ing to what the F.B.I. called the “OKBOMB.”

The pros­e­cu­tion did a good job of skirt­ing some of its case’s weak­er points, such as the fact that some explo­sive experts ques­tioned whether a sin­gle-fer­til­iz­er bomb could account for the exten­sive dam­age done to the Mur­rah build­ing, and that no few­er than 10 wit­ness­es claimed to have seen a Ryder truck parked at Geary Lake in Kansas – the loca­tion where, the gov­ern­ment argued, the bomb was assem­bled – pri­or to the time McVeigh actu­al­ly rent­ed the truck used in the bomb­ing. The most dam­ag­ing tes­ti­mo­ny against McVeigh came from a for­mer army bud­dy and his wife, Michael and Lori Forti­er. The Fortiers turned State’s evi­dence, Michael tes­ti­fy­ing that McVeigh had planned to destroy the Mur­rah build­ing because he believed that the orders to raid the Branch David­i­an com­pound had orig­i­nat­ed there. Michael also told the jury that he had helped McVeigh case the Mur­rah build­ing before the bomb­ing. Despite the evi­dence to the con­trary, the Fortiers claimed that they had not been involved in the bomb­ing plot. Michael was sen­tenced to 12 years.

Stephen Jones con­tin­u­al­ly point­ed out that the Fortiers were liars and metham­phet­a­mine users, and so not reli­able. But the jury was unmoved. The pre­sen­ta­tion of McVeigh’s defense was scarce­ly a week long. Jones often left the jury more con­fused and bored than con­vinced of his clien­t’s inno­cence. Even when he suc­ceed­ed in his attempts to demon­strate that a large con­spir­a­cy was behind the bomb­ing, he did lit­tle to show that McVeigh was not at the cen­ter of the con­spir­a­cy. Jones’s case led some reporters to spec­u­late that McVeigh him­self was lim­it­ing his own defense in order to pre­vent evi­dence that might impli­cate oth­ers in the bomb­ing from enter­ing the record.

Both Play­boy and The Dal­las Morn­ing News pub­lished what they pur­port­ed to be con­fes­sions by McVeigh to his defense team. In both arti­cles, McVeigh admit­ted to the bomb­ing. In many cir­cles, the con­fes­sions have been viewed as proof that only McVeigh and Nichols were direct­ly involved in the bomb­ing. After, all, that’s what McVeigh was report­ed to have claimed. But there is rea­son for skep­ti­cism. I believe that by con­fess­ing McVeigh was, once again, play­ing the sol­dier, attempt­ing to pro­tect his co-con­spir­a­tors.

Did the gov­ern­ment blow it? Ter­ry Nichols was tried in the fall of 1997. From the begin­ning, the gov­ern­men­t’s case against Nichols was more dif­fi­cult to prove than that against McVeigh. Biggest dif­fer­ence: Nichols was in Kansas at the time of the bomb­ing. Also, Nichols had a good lawyer in Michael Tigar. The jury found Nichols inno­cent of mur­der but guilty of plan­ning to bomb the Mur­rah build­ing and guilty of eight counts of invol­un­tary manslaugh­ter. Next, the jury dead­locked dur­ing sen­tenc­ing, which ruled out the death penal­ty. After two days of delib­er­a­tion, the fore­woman, Niki Deutch­man, informed Judge Richard P. Matsch that the jury was hung. On June 4, 1998, Matsch stepped in and sen­tenced Ter­ry Nichols to life, but the judge’s deci­sion was not with­out con­tro­ver­sy. Deutch­man told the press, “Deci­sions were prob­a­bly made very ear­ly on that McVeigh and Nichols were who they were look­ing for, and the same sort of resources were not used to try to find out who else might be involved…The gov­ern­ment real­ly dropped the ball.” Some of the jurors thought that there may have been oth­ers involved who are still at large. Short­ly after her news con­fer­ence, Deutch­man report­ed­ly received bomb threats.

And then the gov­ern­ment respond­ed.

Attor­ney Gen­er­al Janet Reno blast­ed Deutschman’s crit­i­cism. Reno assured the nation that the F.B.I. had fol­lowed every lead in its effort to find those respon­si­ble for the blast. She denied a larg­er con­spir­a­cy and said that McVeigh and Nichols were the sole per­pe­tra­tors of the crime.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Janet Reno is like­ly wrong. Dur­ing my inves­ti­ga­tion, which includ­ed an exam­i­na­tion of all the McVeigh dis­cov­ery mate­ri­als, I unearthed evi­dence that the F.B.I. did not fol­low up on sol­id leads, or, if they did, failed to turn those over to the defense. I uncov­ered infor­ma­tion pro­vid­ed to the F.B.I. by Kansas law enforce­ment, and by very reli­able eye wit­ness­es who were appar­ent­ly dis­re­gard­ed. More impor­tant, I found evi­dence that the F.B.I. may have with­held cer­tain infor­ma­tion from the defense teams dur­ing dis­cov­ery, poten­tial­ly taint­ing the ver­dicts against both McVeigh and Nichols.

Sub­ject No. 1. The first time Charles Far­ley was shown a pic­ture of the man he repeat­ed­ly tried to get the F.B.I. to inves­ti­gate was Decem­ber 10, 1997. Far­ley was seat­ed on the wit­ness stand in a fed­er­al court­room in Den­ver, and the man show­ing him the pho­to did not work for the gov­ern­ment. He worked for Ter­ry Nichols. “Mr. Farley,…do you rec­og­nize the indi­vid­ual depict­ed in this pic­ture?” asked Adam Thurschwell, one of Nichol’s defense attor­neys. “Yes, sir,” answered Far­ley. “That was the indi­vid­ual that was stand­ing at the door of the truck, the indi­vid­ual that gave me a dirty look,” he said.

Far­ley was tes­ti­fy­ing for the defense about his expe­ri­ence a few days before the bomb­ing. Far­ley, an employ­ee of the Fort Riley Out­door Recre­ation Cen­ter, near Geary Lake, had already told the F.B.I. that on April 17 or 18, 1995, he had gone to the lake to scout out the fish­ing poten­tial. After inspect­ing the lake, Far­ley drove down the road that led back to the high­way, but his depar­ture was slowed by a num­ber of vehi­cles parked close to the exit – a pick­up, a large stake-bed truck, a brown car, and a Ryder truck – and stand­ing near the vehi­cles were sev­er­al men. The large truck was bur­dened with what he believed were bags of ammo­ni­um nitrate fer­til­iz­er. “It looked like it was com­plete­ly weight­ed down,” Far­ley told the jury. He thought the truck was stuck due to the weight of the fer­til­iz­er, and decid­ed to offer assis­tance. He quick­ly changed his mind when one of the men – the same man, he believed, he was iden­ti­fy­ing more than two and a half years lat­er in court – shot him a nasty glare. The man was stand­ing prac­ti­cal­ly next to Far­ley’s car, and he had a num­ber of dis­tin­guish­ing fea­tures, includ­ing a beard with no mus­tache. A few days lat­er, after the bomb­ing, Far­ley claims, he saw the man again. This time on TV, being inter­viewed about mili­tia issues. By then it was known that the bomb had been det­o­nat­ed in the back of a Ryder truck that had alleged­ly been rent­ed in Junc­tion City, Kansas, close to Geary Lake. The bomb was said to have been made from ammo­ni­um nitrate fer­til­iz­er. Think­ing that he may have had eye­wit­ness infor­ma­tion about the men who built the bomb, Far­ley called an F.B.I. tip line. Two weeks lat­er an agent appeared at his work­place for an inter­view, but appar­ent­ly that vis­it was as far as the gov­ern­ment went in fol­low­ing this impor­tant lead, despite the fact that Far­ley’s infor­ma­tion seemed to con­firm the gov­ern­men­t’s sus­pi­cions regard­ing the loca­tion where the bomb was con­struct­ed. The F.B.I. appar­ent­ly did not try to iden­ti­fy the indi­vid­ual Far­ley had seen up close. Nichol’s attor­neys, believ­ing they had learned the iden­ti­ty of the man Far­ley had seen, asked the F.B.I. dur­ing the tri­al for all of its infor­ma­tion on the indi­vid­ual. They were giv­en a file con­tain­ing noth­ing more than news­pa­per clip­pings. There was noth­ing in the file to indi­cate that the F.B.I. had ever attempt­ed to con­tact the man or to place him in a line­up for Far­ley to iden­ti­fy. They had­n’t even both­ered to con­tact the Tope­ka tele­vi­sion sta­tion to review the footage of Far­ley’s sus­pect.

I found this lack of inves­ti­ga­tion curi­ous. In mid-1997, I decid­ed to attempt to iden­ti­fy the mys­tery man, based sole­ly on Far­ley’s descrip­tion. With­in 20 min­utes of plac­ing the first phone call to my mili­tia con­tacts in Kansas, I was able to iden­ti­fy the man in the pho­to Far­ley had been shown in the court­room. Sub­ject No. 1 was hard­ly low-pro­file with­in the anti-gov­ern­ment move­ment.

In addi­tion to appear­ing on tele­vi­sion, the man was quot­ed in a Kansas City news­pa­per arti­cle after the bomb­ing, brag­ging that he was using Freemen tac­tics to pass of bogus liens and checks in Kansas. Sev­er­al Kansas law-enforce­ment sources told me that, at the time these quotes were pub­lished, there was a mas­sive fed­er­al inves­ti­ga­tion into Freemen-spon­sored bank fraud in Kansas – an inves­ti­ga­tion that includ­ed Far­ley’s man. I have con­firmed the exis­tence of this inves­ti­ga­tion through sev­er­al sources. Since Sub­ject No. 1 was under inves­ti­ga­tion, there should have been more in his file than news­pa­per clip­pings, Infor­ma­tion, it appears, was with­held from the defense team. Why did­n’t the F.B.I. pur­sue Far­ley’s lead? The best expla­na­tion is that it posed a seri­ous prob­lem to the gov­ern­men­t’s cas­es against McVeigh and Nichols. You see, Far­ley saw five peo­ple, not two, with ammo­ni­um nitrate and a Ryder truck.

Sub­ject No. 2. The day after the bomb­ing, two police sketch­es were faxed to media orga­ni­za­tions and law-enforce­ment offices across the coun­try. They depict­ed two men who were believed to have det­o­nat­ed the bomb, John Doe No. 1 and Joe Doe No. 2. McVeigh, tak­en into cus­tody 90 min­utes after the bomb­ing for dri­ving with­out a license plate and car­ry­ing a con­cealed weapon, was quick­ly iden­ti­fied as John Doe No. 1. John Doe No. 2 has nev­er been iden­ti­fied by the F.B.I.

Shawnee Coun­ty, Kansas, sher­if­f’s deputy Jake Mauck says he near­ly fell out of his chair when, short­ly after the bomb­ing, he com­pared the John Doe No. 2 sketch to the pho­to of a known anti-gov­ern­ment activist in his area. Shawnee Coun­ty is about 50 miles east of Junc­tion City, where the Ryder truck was rent­ed and where McVeigh stayed overnight at the Dream­land Motel with anoth­er man, who has nev­er been iden­ti­fied. Mauck says he quick­ly alert­ed the F.B.I. about his sus­pi­cions con­cern­ing Sub­ject No. 2. For rea­sons that will like­ly nev­er be known, the F.B.I. appar­ent­ly failed to respond to Mauck­’s infor­ma­tion. Nor did it heed sim­i­lar tips from Suzanne James, an employ­ee of the Shawnee Coun­ty D.A.‘s office. The F.B.I. told her that agents had already inves­ti­gat­ed Mauck­’s John Doe look-alike. So had they? Appar­ent­ly not. One per­son who did inves­ti­gate the man Mauck and James sus­pect­ed is Mike Tharp, a reporter for U.S. News & World Report. Mauck talked to Tharp after his frus­tra­tion with the Feds became unbear­able. Tharp obtained a pho­to of Sub­ject No. 2 and start­ed show­ing it to peo­ple known to have seen a man oth­er than Ter­ry Nichols with McVeigh in the days lead­ing up to the bomb­ing. When he showed the pho­to to Bar­bara Whit­ten­berg, the own­er of the San­ta Fe Trail Din­er in Her­ing­ton, who claims she saw John Doe No. 2 with McVeigh, she said, “I’d almost swear that was the guy.” Oth­ers to whom Tharp showed the pho­to believed it was the man they had seen with McVeigh. When Tharp inquired to the F.B.I. about the indi­vid­ual, he was giv­en the line that is becom­ing all too famil­iar: “We’ll fol­low any lead.” There is no evi­dence the F.B.I. has even both­ered to fol­low a lead regard­ing Sub­ject No. 2.

Sub­ject No. 3. With­in days of the bomb­ing, Rus­sell Roe, an assis­tant coun­ty attor­ney for Geary Coun­ty, Kansas, sat down with F.B.I. agents and told them about a man in his area known to be involved in anti-gov­ern­ment activ­i­ties. Roe said that the indi­vid­ual resem­bled John Doe No. 2, and also that this man was said to have been explod­ing fer­til­iz­er bombs on his east­ern-Kansas farm pri­or to the Mur­rah build­ing explo­sion. Suzanne James, the woman in the Shawnee Coun­ty D.A.‘s office, told the Feds about the same indi­vid­ual. James says that the gov­ern­ment was unin­ter­est­ed in her infor­ma­tion. After plac­ing approx­i­mate­ly five phone calls to the F.B.I., she gave up. Pot­tawatomie Coun­ty sher­iff Tony Met­calf gave Sub­ject No. 3’s name to the F.B.I. Fur­ther, in the fall of 1997, I inter­viewed Cliff Hall, the own­er of The Tope­ka Metro News. He told me that Sub­ject No. 3 had tak­en out pub­lic notices in his pub­li­ca­tion. The ads were Freemen-style con­coc­tions deal­ing with renounce­ment of cit­i­zen­ship and lien notices. Hall says a Secret Ser­vice agent came to his paper to obtain copies of the notices as part of their inves­ti­ga­tion into Sub­ject No. 3.

Sub­ject No. 3 was also named in a doc­u­ment per­tain­ing to a fed­er­al bank-fraud inves­ti­ga­tion in Texas. The Texas case result­ed in fed­er­al fraud charges being filed against sev­er­al anti-gov­ern­ment Repub­lic of Texas (R.O.T.) mem­bers, includ­ing the group’s leader, Richard McLaren. As part of its evi­dence against R.O.T., the gov­ern­ment entered video­tapes of the group prepar­ing the fraud­u­lent bank war­rants. The videos also revealed a sur­prise. They clear­ly showed that the per­son teach­ing the R.O.T. how to cre­ate the bogus doc­u­ments was none oth­er than Sub­ject No. 3. What McLaren’s defense team could­n’t under­stand was why their client and vir­tu­al­ly every oth­er per­son on the tape was arrest­ed and charged in this inves­ti­ga­tion. The defense team began to sus­pect a sting oper­a­tion. Accord­ing to court doc­u­ments in the McLaren case, Tom Mills, McLaren’s attor­ney, asked the gov­ern­ment for all of its files per­tain­ing to Sub­ject No. 3. The pros­e­cu­tors, in a move explained only to the judge, filed a motion to keep Sub­ject No. 3’s files from the McLaren defense team. The gov­ern­ment would turn over the files only if they would be held “in cam­era.” In oth­er words, the F.B.I. would make them avail­able to the judge but not the defense.

Undaunt­ed by the “in cam­era” set­back, McLaren’s defense team tried a new approach. If they could­n’t see the files, they would sub­poe­na the man. Mills hired an inves­ti­ga­tor, who quick­ly locat­ed Sub­ject No. 3 in Ore­gon. Mills asked the court for mon­ey to fly the inves­ti­ga­tor to Ore­gon to serve the sub­poe­na. The judge agreed, but then the gov­ern­ment did some­thing even more unusu­al than sup­press­ing files. It arrest­ed Sub­ject No. 3 in the mid­dle of the night, just five hours before the sub­poe­na would have been served. Mills spent sev­er­al hours inter­view­ing Sub­ject No. 3 in a Dal­las jail. After­ward, Mills filed yet anoth­er motion, which stat­ed that he was more con­vinced than ever that the man had coop­er­at­ed with author­i­ties on some lev­el in the past, and there­fore the attor­ney should be allowed to view the “in cam­era” files. His request was again denied. Sub­ject No. 3 even­tu­al­ly took the stand while the jury was sequestered. The con­ven­tion­al wis­dom said that if he was a gov­ern­ment agent or informer he would have to take the Fifth. But he did­n’t. When asked by the judge if he was the man named in the sub­poe­na, the sub­ject gave a stan­dard Free­man defense. He asked the judge to spell his name and con­firm which let­ters were cap­i­tal­ized. The judge did so and the man said that the judge had spelled his name incor­rect­ly. At that point, the gov­ern­ment pros­e­cu­tors, who had worked so hard to keep Sub­ject No. 3 from tes­ti­fy­ing, told the judge that the man was in need of psy­chi­atric eval­u­a­tion. The judge agreed, and Sub­ject No. 3 was nev­er forced to explain his appar­ent immu­ni­ty to pros­e­cu­tion. In April 1998, McLaren was found guilty on 27 fed­er­al counts. His defense team was nev­er allowed access to Sub­ject No. 3’s files.

Despite the F.B.I.‘s con­tin­u­ing denial, what we do know is that the gov­ern­ment inex­plic­a­bly failed to inves­ti­gate sol­id leads per­tain­ing to Sub­jects No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, and, I sus­pect, still oth­ers in their orga­ni­za­tion.

It will be inter­est­ing to see if the F.B.I. is suf­fi­cient­ly intrigued by what Joel Dyer has writ­ten to pur­sue the leads that he has so gen­er­ous­ly giv­en them.

Thus far, David Hoff­man’s The Okla­homa City Bomb­ing and the Pol­i­tics of Ter­ror is the most thor­ough of a dozen or two accounts of what did and did not hap­pen on that day in April. Hoff­man begins his inves­ti­ga­tion with retired air-force brigadier gen­er­al Ben­ton K. Part­in’s May 17, 1995, let­ter deliv­ered to each mem­ber of the Sen­ate and House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives: “When I first saw the pic­tures of the truck-bom­b’s asym­met­ri­cal dam­age to the Fed­er­al Build­ing, my imme­di­ate reac­tion was that the pat­tern of dam­age would have been tech­ni­cal­ly impos­si­ble with­out sup­ple­ment­ing demo­li­tion charges at some of the rein­forc­ing con­crete col­umn bases….For a sim­plis­tic blast truck-bomb, of the size and com­po­si­tion report­ed, to be able to reach out in the order of 60 feet and col­lapse a rein­forced col­umn base the size of col­umn A‑7 is beyond creduli­ty.” In sep­a­rate agree­ment was Samuel Cohen, father of the neu­tron bomb and for­mer­ly of the Man­hat­tan Project, who wrote an Okla­homa state leg­is­la­tor, “It would have been absolute­ly impos­si­ble and against the laws of nature for a truck full of fer­til­iz­er and fuel oil…no mat­ter how much was used…to bring the build­ing down.” One would think that McVeigh’s defense lawyer, rest­less­ly look­ing for a Mid­dle East con­nec­tion, could cer­tain­ly have called these acknowl­edged experts to tes­ti­fy, but a search of Jones’ account of the case, Oth­ers Unknown, reveals nei­ther name.

In the March 20, 1996, issue of Strate­gic Invest­ment newslet­ter, it was report­ed that Pen­ta­gon ana­lysts tend­ed to agree with Gen­er­al Partin. “A clas­si­fied report pre­pared by two inde­pen­dent Pen­ta­gon experts has con­clud­ed that the destruc­tion of the Fed­er­al build­ing in Okla­homa City last April was caused by five sep­a­rate bombs…Sources close to the study say Tim­o­thy McVeigh did play a role in the bomb­ing but ‘periph­er­al­ly,’ as a ‘use­ful idiot.’ ” Final­ly, inevitably – this is wartime, after all – “the mul­ti­ple bomb­ings have a Mid­dle East­ern ‘sig­na­ture,’ point­ing to either Iraqi or Syr­i­an involve­ment.”

As it turned out, Part­in’s and Cohen’s pro bono efforts to exam­ine the ruins were in vain. Six­teen days after the bomb­ing, the search for vic­tims stopped. In anoth­er let­ter to Con­gress, Partin stat­ed that the build­ing should not be destroyed until an inde­pen­dent foren­sic team was brought in to inves­ti­gate the dam­age. “It is also easy to cov­er up cru­cial evi­dence as appar­ent­ly done in Waco…Why rush to destroy the evi­dence?” Trig­ger words: the Feds demol­ished the ruins six days lat­er. They offered the same excuse they had used at Waco, “health haz­ards.” Partin: “It’s a clas­sic cov­er-up.”

Partin sus­pect­ed a Com­mu­nist plot. Well, nobody’s per­fect.

“So what’s the take-away?” was the ques­tion often asked by TV pro­duc­ers in the so-called gold­en age of live tele­vi­sion plays. This meant: what is the audi­ence sup­posed to think when the play is over? The McVeigh sto­ry presents us with sev­er­al take-aways. If McVeigh is sim­ply a “use­ful idiot,” a tool of what might be a very large con­spir­a­cy, involv­ing var­i­ous home­grown mili­tias work­ing, some think, with Mid­dle East­ern helpers, then the F.B.I.‘s refusal to fol­low up so many promis­ing leads goes quite beyond its ordi­nary incom­pe­tence and smacks of trea­son. If McVeigh was the unlike­ly sole mover and beget­ter of the bomb­ing, then his “inhu­mane” (the Unabomber’s adjec­tive) destruc­tion of so many lives will have served no pur­pose at all unless we take it seri­ous­ly as what it is, a wake-up call to a fed­er­al gov­ern­ment deeply hat­ed, it would seem, by mil­lions. (Remem­ber that the pop­u­lar Ronald Rea­gan always ran against the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, though often for the wrong rea­sons.) Final far fetched take-away: McVeigh did not make nor deliv­er nor det­o­nate the bomb but, once arrest­ed on anoth­er charge, seized all “glo­ry” for him­self and so gave up his life. That’s not a sto­ry for W.E. Hen­ley so much as for one of his young men, Rud­yard Kipling, author of The Man Who Would Be King.

Final­ly, the fact that the McVeigh-Nichols sce­nario makes no sense at all sug­gests that yet again, we are con­front­ed with a “per­fect” crime – thus far.


One comment for “The Meaning of Timothy McVeigh”

  1. This is a good essay by Mr. Gore Vidal. May he rest in peace.

    Posted by George Karnazes | August 2, 2012, 10:40 pm

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