The Oklahoma City Bombing - Serendipity

Why did thegovernment only bring charges against three men in connection with thebombing, when compelling evidence suggests that others playedsignificant roles in the crime? We do not have clear answers toany of these questions--but some possible answers to these and otherintriguing questions have come into better focus in the years since theMcVeigh and Nichols trials.


The childhood of Timothy McVeigh in Lockport, New York was far fromidyllic. His parents divorced in 1978, when Tim was ten, and forthe remainder of his school years he lived mainly with his father, BillMcVeigh. Scrawny and unathletic, "Noodle" McVeigh became a targetfor neighborhood bullies. He attributes a lifelong hatred forbullies of all kinds (a class which, in his view, included anoverreaching federal government) to early beatings on softballdiamonds and head spinning "swirlies" in flushing toilets. It is possible that McVeigh's fascination with guns, dating topre-teen years spent admiring his grandfather's .22-caliber rifle,might have something to do with his view of weapons as the greatequalizer. He dedicated himself to developing his marksmanshipskills, spending hours shooting holes in soft-drink cans in aravine. By age 14, Tim McVeigh's interests includedsurvivalism. He began stockpiling food and camping equipment inpreparation for possible nuclear attack or a communist overthrow of theUnited States government.

Although McVeigh performed well on standardized tests in high school,school and its social life had considerably less appeal for him thanhis world of guns, fringe movements, and science fiction books. He struck classmates assomewhat introverted and disengaged, and his only extracurricularactivity was track. Under the entry "future plans" in his highschool yearbook, McVeigh wrote: "Take it as it comes, buy aLamborghini, California girls." Despite his reference to"California girls," McVeigh seemed uncomfortable around women, neverhad a girlfriend, and--despite his own contentions to the contrary--might have remained a virgin throughout hisentire life.

For two years following high school graduation, McVeigh brieflyattended a computer school in Buffalo and took on a series ofshort-term jobs--then, in ,he enlisted in the U.

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citizenship,and began making and exploding homemade bombs. (According to abook by two inmates who later shared death row with McVeigh, his recipefor the bomb he would use in Oklahoma City came from a patriot friend,who used his chemistry degree from the University of California as aMeth manufacturer.) About this same time, McVeigh's own use ofmethamphetamines increased. He became increasingly vocal inpromoting his apocalyptic world view. In July 1994, he andMichael Fortier trespassed on to "Area 51," a top secret governmentreservation for weapons testing located near Roswell, New Mexico. Two months later, he journeyed to Gulfport, Mississippi to investigatea rumor that the town had become a staging area for United Nationstroops and equipment.

A farewell letter written by McVeigh in July to his boyhood friend,Steve Hodge, revealed the evolution of his thinking: "I have sworn touphold and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign anddomestic, and I will....I have come to peace with myself, my God, andmy cause. Blood will flow in the streets, Steve, Good vsEvil. Free men vs.

The resulting blast destroyed the Alfred P

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In September 1994, according to both McVeigh and thefindings of a federal grand jury, that the ex-Army sergeant beganplotting to blow up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The date identified by the grand jury for the start of the conspiracywas September 13. On that day, McVeigh was--according to FBIrecords showing a receipt for a motel room in Vian, Oklahoma--visitingElohim City, and probably participating with other anti-governmentactivists in a series ofmilitary maneuvers. September 13 also marked the day,coincidentally ornot, that a new federal law banning assault weapons became law.

By the end of September 1994, McVeigh's plot (we will, in this trialcommentary, call it "McVeigh's plot," although there is a body ofevidence to suggest that others played significant planning roles aswell) started to unfold. On September 22, he rented a storageunit in , that would laterbe used to house explosivematerials. A week later, Terry Nichols bought a ton of ammoniumnitrate, a key ingredient in the bomb that would be used in OklahomaCity. Ammonium nitrate is a commonly used agricultural fertilizerand the purchase was made at a farm cooperative in McPherson,Kansas.

October 1994 was a busy month for McVeigh and hisco-conspirators. He and Terry Nichols bought a second ton ofammonium nitrate from the same farm cooperative. A burglary at aquarry near Marion, Kansas on October 3 netted McVeigh and Nichols asupply of dynamite and blasting caps. Wearing a biker disguise,McVeigh purchased nearly $3000 work of nitromethane, a racing fuel usedin bomb construction, from a Dallas track. In between thesesupply-gathering missions, McVeigh found time to visit Oklahoma City toinspect the building he had targeted, and to calculate his own positionat the time the bomb would be likely to explode.

McVeigh also managed to fit in two separate visits in October toKingman, Arizona. He rented another storage locker and, withMichael Fortier watching, tested the explosive mixture that he hadchosen for the Murrah Building bombing. McVeigh tried to recruitFortier to assist in the actual bombing, but Fortier balked, and asked,"What about all the people?" McVeigh told Fortier to think of thevictims as "storm troopers in Star Wars" who, although individuallyinnocent, "are guilty because they work for the evil empire." Despite the persuasive efforts of McVeigh, Fortier made clear that hehad no desire to be in Oklahoma City on the day of the bombing.

McVeigh's close association with white supremacists and othergovernment-haters at Elohim City continued throughout 1994. Inaddition to joining in bank robberies, there is evidence to suggestthat people at the compound were involved in the bombing plotitself. According to BATF informant Carol Howe, who workedundercover in Elohim City, Andreas Strassmeir and Dennis Mahon made thefirst of three trips to Oklahoma City in November to inspect possiblebombing targets. Howe informed her supervisor of thesedevelopments. The BATF was sufficiently alarmed by Howe's reportsto plan a raid on Elohim City, but following a February 1995 meetingwith officials from the FBI and U.

Click on the photograph to learn more about the similarities between the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11.

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on themorning of April 19, having made an "executive decision" to move up thescheduled timing of the bombing. In the more sensational versionof events related in , McVeigh, with Michael Brescia in the passenger seatof the Ryder truck, left an Oklahoma City warehouse around 8 a.m. At 8:45, McVeigh pulled the truck into an Oklahoma City tire store toask directions. According to the store employee who talked withMcVeigh, a second man wearing a baseball cap sat in the passenger seatof the vehicle as McVeigh sought directions to a downtown address sixblocks away. A video camera at 8:55 a.m.

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Rogers Courthouse and a closed-circuit viewing audience inOklahoma that included many victims and their families. Leadprosecutor Joseph Hartzler, a wheelchair-bound multiple sclerosisvictim, led with a dramatic that reminded jurors ofthe tremendous losses suffered two years earlier:


Hartzler scornfully attacked McVeigh's attempts to portray himself as amodern-day patriot "like Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams." Hartzler reminded jurors that "our forefathers didn't fight Britishwomen and children; they fought other soldiers." And, he said,they fought them fair: "They didn't plant bombs, and run away wearingearplugs."

In his ,Stephen Jones charged thatthe government conducted a hasty two-week investigation of the actualbombing and then spent the next two years zeroing in on hisclient. Critical evidence was ignored, Jones charged, such as theeyewitness testimony of bombing victim Daina Bradley that the personshe saw emerge from the Ryder truck by the federal building wasblack-haired, stocky, and had an olive complexion--"John Doe No.

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In hisgetaway car, McVeigh included a bumper sticker that heexpected--probably wanted--authorities to find. The bumpersticker carried the quote of Revolutionary War patriot Samuel Adams,"WHEN THE GOVERNMENT FEARS THE PEOPLE, THERE IS LIBERTY. WHEN THEPEOPLE FEAR THE GOVERNMENT, THERE IS TYRANNY." Below the slogan,McVeigh scribbled his own words: "Maybe now, there will be liberty!"April 19 of 1995, McVeigh also certainly knew, was to be the scheduledday of execution in Arkansas for a white supremacist Richard Snell,formerly of Elohim City, who had--years earlier--targeted the MurrahBuilding in Oklahoma City as the site for a potential bombing.

On the morning that he would become the greatest mass murderer inAmerican history, McVeigh chose to wear aT-shirt with a drawing of Abraham Lincoln and the words shouted by JohnWilkes Booth after his assassination of the president, "SIC SEMPERTYRANNIS" ("thus ever to tyrants"). In the version of eventsrelated by McVeigh in his authorized biography, , he begandriving south in his Ryder truck from Ponca City about 7 a.m.