On April 19, 1995 at 9:02 AM a Ryder rental truck containing 4,800 lbs. of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, nitromethane, and diesel fuel detonated on the north side of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The blast was so large, it registered as a 3.0 earthquake at the Science Museum Oklahoma 4 miles away. Ultimately, 168 people died, and over 680 were injured. 19 of the victims were children, most from the America’s Kids Day Care Center in the building. The majority of the bodies had to be identified by various scientific means, because they were so badly mangled.
My daughter Alyssa was less than a month old when this happened. I remember seeing the all day news reports.
The perpetrators of this terrorist act were Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, former Army members who had developed an intense hatred of the government. Other members of the conspiracy had served in the army as well.
4 years earlier, McVeigh and I were both serving in Operation Desert Storm. I never met him. He was in the 1st Infantry Division, where he earned a Bronze Star. I was with the Navy/Marine/Arabic/Foreign forces on the Kuwait border. After the war, McVeigh tried to join the Special Forces, but failed his physiological profile, and quit the army in December 1991.
McVeigh had been a computer hacker as a teenager, but later became a gun enthusiast, a strong defender of the Second Amendment, and sometimes White Supremacist.He studied survivalism, weapons, and bomb making. He was a failure at a number of jobs, and all romantic attempts failed. He became more and more alienated, and made his money as a regular on the gun show circuit, selling survivalist gear and literature, and copies of his favorite book, The Turner Diaries, in which a violent revolution is used to overthrow the government and those considered inferior were mass exterminated.
Terry Nichols was a twice failed house husband who was suspected of murdering his two year old stepchild with a plastic bag. Nichols joined McVeigh on the gun show tour, selling guns and supplies.
Both men were outraged at the Ruby Ridge and Branch Davidian Waco, TX disasters. They became involved with the Militia Movement, and decided to pay the government back, as the Turner Diaries suggested.
They bought or stole the supplies for the bomb. Nichols was at home the day of the bombing due to backing out, but McVeigh delivered the truck. As he was leaving town, he was stopped for not having a license plate on his car and for illegal firearms possession. He was wearing a tee shirt with the picture of Abraham Lincoln on it, with words about death to tyrants on it. When he discovered that he was wanted for questioning, Nichols turned himself in.
Over 12,000 rescue personnel and volunteers worked to save the survivors of the bombing. One was killed by falling debris. International reaction was in support of the victims, and several countries offered aid.
At the time, it was the largest terrorist action in the United States, killing even more than the 1993 World Trade Center bombing which killed 6 and wounded 1,042, perpetrated by Ramzi Yousef, a former al-Queda member who also used a Ryder truck bomb, although of a different type.
McVeigh was tried and executed by lethal injection on June 11, 2001. He stated that his only regret was that he failed to level the building and kill everyone. Nichols was convicted and sentenced to 161consecutive life sentences without parole. He is at the ADX Florence, Colorado super maximum security prison, in the same cell block as Ramzi Yousef and Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber who killed 3 people and injured 23 more.
Anti-terrorism laws were enacted, and government buildings added new levels of security and protection. Something that did not happen was the government did not declare war on disgruntled veterans, close down gun shows, or exterminate militia groups. No websites listing anti-veteran propaganda sprang up, no preachers made a career out of hating gun owners. The nation saw the act for what it was; an isolated group of evil men who wanted to kill people. There was no guilt by association.
Over the last few years, Timothy McVeigh has become a sort of folk hero among a certain demographic. I have seen tee shirts with his picture on them, with the words “American Patriot”, a play on the the title of his 2002 book “American Terrorist”, on them. In 2012, a local radio talk show host on 99.7 FM named Micheal DelGirono pleaded on air for the army to overthrow the government because his candidate did not win the presidential election. Last year, I heard many threats made for revolution or acts of violence if certain candidates were not elected. Neo-Confederates hold rallies and even government positions. In 2014 the Sovereign Citizen Movement was ranked by law enforcement agencies as the single biggest threat to our communities.
The would-be Timothy McVeighs are out there. Lucky for us, to quote McVeigh himself they are “men who liked to talk tough, but in the end their bitches and kids ruled.”
For the rest of us, let us remember all of those, in Oklahoma City and other places, who are killed or harmed by senseless acts perpetrated by those wishing to force their views on others.