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What Tim McVeigh Tells Us

Like John Wayne (the famed Indian-killer) before him, Tim McVeigh reveals everything you could want to know about the American mindset. Here are some snippets from his saga.

Blaming someone else
McVeigh blamed the government for his own failings. What could be more American than blaming someone else—Commies, liberals, hippies—for our own cultural problems? From the LA Times, 6/12/01:

...[S]ome believe America's initial perception of the Oklahoma City bombing—and its subsequent views of McVeigh—say more about innate racism than they do about domestic terrorism. Hours after the 1995 bombing, rumors began spreading that the crime had been carried out by Muslim terrorists.

"Then we learned that it was McVeigh, and people suddenly saw the issue as less threatening, because he was a lone, crazed figure," said Todd Boyd, USC professor of film and pop culture.

Nobody was ready to blame white culture for his crime, Boyd added, "but with other groups, it's as though one person does something and the entire group is seen as guilty. That's how racism functions in this country."

America has a vested interest in bringing closure to the McVeigh case and casting him as "an outcast" because his contradictions are too painful for many to contemplate, said essayist and NPR commentator Richard Rodriguez.

"He may have grown up looking like Tom Sawyer and he may have been a war hero, but he was not the boy next door," Rodriguez said. "We chose to make him into a foreigner the way we initially suspected Arabs or others of the crime. And we had something of an exorcism in his deathwatch, because few of us wanted to listen to the things that Timothy McVeigh had said."

The ultimate white boy
We'll listen to what McVeigh had to tell us here. From the LA Times, 6/10/01:

McVeigh: The Indelible Legacy of a Mass Killer

By RICHARD A. SERRANO, Times Staff Writer

At Ft. Riley, Kan., his Army infantry buddies recall him as the serious soldier, the grunt who never did the bars but stayed at base to shine his boots and clean his weapons, the kind of enlisted man that prompted his commanders to wish they had "a hundred Tim McVeighs."

There on the blue-green parade ground of the Big Red One they marched and chanted, "Kill! Kill! Kill! Blood makes the grass grow!" McVeigh sang loudest; his voice echoes still.

In the deserts of Arizona and up in the thumb of Michigan, and along the byways of America that he drove in a series of old, battered cars, he embodied that aimless, rootless spirit of many young men of the 1990s, seeking purpose in a life they found increasingly alienating.
He loved soldiering—the long hikes, the drills, above all the weapons. Sent to the Gulf War, he specialized as a tank gunner, where his crew mates marveled at his precision at killing enemy Iraqi soldiers. He was a dead-on shot under the sizzling desert sun, sometimes at distances of several football fields.

But what he wanted most was a chance to join the elite Special Forces, to live out his boyhood dream of being a commando, a Rambo-like character surviving by his own hands and know-how.

He was asked to try out when he was still in the Middle East. He was tired, had lost weight, and his feet—in newly issued boots—were sore.

In April 1991, he arrived for Special Forces training in North Carolina. But on an afternoon hike on just his second day there, carrying 45 pounds of rocks in his rucksack, he stopped at a wooded stream. His feet were blistered; exhausted, he knew he could not go on.

So he quit. He was sent home to Ft. Riley, where he began to stew and fester, and to read far-right literature like the racist tract "The Turner Diaries."
Over the years he has been studied repeatedly. A defense psychiatrist found him to be clearly sane, remarkably so, with a high IQ and well aware of what he was doing in the driver's seat of that Ryder rental truck. He also diagnosed him as clinically depressed, a product of that loneliness going back to the 1977 blizzard.

Another expert, a psychologist for the prosecution, said there is another dimension to McVeigh—that of someone seeking celebrity.

Oklahoma City brought him status. And the government he despised handed him the chance to prolong that status when, just days before his original May 16 execution date, the FBI disclosed newly discovered documents that had never been turned over to defense attorneys.

The foul-up gave McVeigh another 25 days of life and brought him yet more attention.

It played into what the prosecution psychologist said was "a combination of [McVeigh's] narcissism and boredom, and there may be certain grandiose fantasies too."

"In the narcissism there is a sense of being a legend in one's own mind," said the psychologist, who asked that his name be withheld because of his work for the government. "There's an inflation of one's self and one's importance, and sometimes there's even a sense of immortality, that somehow your execution or death is not real. It becomes so pervaded with grandiosity that, instead of being frightened of death, it's embraced.

Rambo...Reagan...right wing
Movie figures like Rambo kill people indiscriminately. McVeigh wanted to be like Rambo. McVeigh killed people indiscriminately. Hello? Figure it out, people. Connect the dots.

What kind of person could blow up 168 people in Oklahoma, tolerate genocide in eastern Europe and Africa, or permit poverty, hunger, and disease anywhere? Let's find out. To gauge McVeigh's political views, note that he:

In other words, McVeigh was a very typical conservative/libertarian. A tiny-tent Republican in spirit if not on the voter registration rolls. A Social Darwinist who didn't care who lived or died as long as he was "free" to exploit his surroundings.

Or as I wrote in a letter to the Times:

I don't understand why conservatives were so upset with Tim McVeigh. His screeds against high taxes, Ruby Ridge and Waco, gun control, and women in the military are exactly what they believe. The only difference is, he acted on his beliefs.

Of course, I'm far from the only one to notice the synchronicity between McVeigh and the GOP. From the LA Times, 6/13/01:

Wash Your Mouth Out With Soap


In the years since [Vietnam] and for longer than I care to remember, rage has bubbled on the right. Out on the fringes are the McVeighs and the anti-abortion radicals and the loonies in the Idaho panhandle. Waco is their symbol. Or Ruby Ridge. And I don't like it any better now.

But the fringes interest me less than the anger of your everyday upstanding defender of the American Dream.

When I wrote about the delight that other states are taking in California's energy woes, readers from other states rushed to underscore the point: "I hope you freeze in your (cold) hot-tub, you $%&*@#," said one well-wisher from Washington state.

When I noted that Nevada was luring business investments with the promise of not sharing tax information with the IRS, an Arizona reader who signed his name with a PhD began: "You, one of the swine from the Union of California Socialist Republics, has zero right to complain about what happens in the neighboring country of America."

When I questioned whether our president was as compassionate in deed as in word, a reader gleefully hoped for recession because "as soon as ad revenues drop, your lazy, despicable, lying butt will be out the door."

My, my.

Well, for one, I welcome earnest argument. It cannot get too lively for me. I suppose that's self-evident in the character of a columnist. And I've worked abroad in countries where public disagreements were not permitted, where you got the equivalent of a needle in the leg for sounding off. So I'll take America.

But how about an America that isn't quite so dull-witted and venomous?

Verbal brawling of this sort is commonplace on so-called talk radio, not to mention on grade school playgrounds and in rougher saloons after midnight. But honestly, shouldn't we expect higher-caliber thinking among those who read newspapers and presume to be engaged with civic life?

If my mail alone was sprinkled with rantings that seem to be scrawled in the charcoal from a Neanderthal's fire, I'd be quiet. But it's not, of course. The language of the knuckle-dragger is too often a part of our nation's official proceedings. Read some of Trent Lott's pugnacious statements, or listen to the fuming of Dick Armey or Tom DeLay. Remember, these aren't fringe characters but congressional leaders and torch-bearers for the reigning party in Washington, D.C.

Time and again, they rile America's fears by demonizing government as our enemy. Never mind that government is school teachers, highway workers, soldiers, park rangers, air traffic controllers and others who bear little resemblance to this looming straw man of partisan creation. Perhaps it is little wonder that these ideas churn through a delusional mind like McVeigh's with tragic consequence. How far of a step is it, really, between attacking government and attacking government?

Who is to say that Congressman DeLay's exhortation to "transform our resistance into an aggressive counterattack" isn't read by someone as a call to arms? Might a person somewhere mistakenly think it patriotic to defend the country with a bomb when, as Armey warns, the United States is on "that downhill slope" where "government becomes so large that it actually endangers the liberties it was instituted to protect"?

Good question. What is the difference between a Dick Armey and a Tim McVeigh? I guess one kills people directly and the other kills people indirectly, by killing legislation that would help people live.

Speaking of knuckle-draggers whose reading ability is suspect, the Times notes McVeigh was never a "heavy reader." No kidding. I never would've guessed. <g>

America loves killing
When we executed McVeigh, we Americans acted very much as McVeigh acted toward his victims. Others saw that clearly even if we refused to. From the LA Times, 6/12/01:

Most From Abroad See the U.S. as This Side of Barbaric

Reaction: From Europe to the Middle East, majority of the media condemn the McVeigh death penalty.

By CAROL J. WILLIAMS, Times Staff Writer

BERLIN—With rare exceptions, the world watched with horror and disbelief Monday as U.S. authorities inflicted the ultimate penalty on America's most notorious terrorist.

The execution of Timothy J. McVeigh was widely viewed from abroad as a vengeful throwback to a less civilized era.

Even in Eastern Europe, where death penalty proponents are a majority, the manner of McVeigh's demise drew reproach for the ghoulish media attention and public curiosity surrounding it. Only in China and Japan—among the few major powers that still invoke capital punishment—did many regard the execution as justice served. And even some of those argued that McVeigh's death was just what he wanted and spared him the suffering of life in prison.

All 15 nations of the European Union and all 43 Council of Europe states ban capital punishment and require new members to do so. That has left only Turkey as a practitioner of execution on the continent, and even it has been observing an undeclared moratorium as it seeks inclusion in the EU. This situation has elevated capital punishment to a human rights violation in the eyes of Europeans, if not a sign of moral decay in those societies that still use it.

"The death penalty is a symptom of a culture of violence, not a solution to it," Amnesty International of Germany said Monday. "By imitating what it seeks to condemn—the deliberate taking of human life—the state is allowing those who kill to set society's moral tone."

Sacks of mail delivered to U.S. embassies across Europe did nothing to prevent McVeigh's death. But Europeans unhappy with what they see as disregard for their values—whether about environmental protection, missile defense or executions—plan to vent their frustrations during a six-day visit by President Bush that begins today and will take him to Spain, Belgium, Sweden, Poland and Slovenia.

Memories of summary executions during eras of dictatorship still haunt Europeans, from Spain to the former Soviet Union. The last execution among the EU states was 24 years ago in France.

Most government officials around the world had nothing to say about the execution in Indiana, but the media spoke for the populations.

"Even justified killing makes us murderers," declared Germany's mass-circulation Bild newspaper. "We must say 'no' to the vengeful beast within us."

In Italy—where Pope John Paul II made an appeal for clemency, as he has before each U.S. execution during his tenure—newspapers criticized the media for turning the execution into a circus. La Repubblica called it "a Disneyland of the gallows."

In Israel, where revenge and an-eye-for-an-eye killings are as old as the Bible, the daily Maariv editorialized against the death penalty in comments that seemed directed at local circumstances.

"A society that executes people just to satisfy desires for revenge is not much better than the criminal urges that guide those who perpetrate acts of terrorism," said the paper, which also dismissed the deterrent effect of capital punishment on "lunatics" like McVeigh.
Revulsion and outrage marked reactions elsewhere in the world, especially to the closed-circuit transmission of McVeigh's death to blast survivors and family members of the dead.

"I know there are a lot of angry victims, but to make it a social event, I can't help but be reminded of the Middle Ages," said Frankie Jenkins, a senior researcher at South Africa's Human Rights Committee.

In Rio de Janeiro, crime researcher Rubens Cesar Fernandez warned that "the media spectacle transforms justice and violence into an attraction more seductive than sex. It attracts by the horror of it. This display is very cruel and socially harmful because it promotes the desire to become a terrorist, to become the attraction."

A less civilized era...like when we burned witches, lynched blacks, and massacred Indians? At least we didn't televise those atrocities on closed-circuit TV so people could get their jollies—er, "closure."

Moral decay...which is exactly what McVeigh was protesting. He thought America was becoming soft...yet it was tough enough to execute him...yet softer is what the civilized world would appreciate.

A disregard for others' values...because America knows best, we're the new sheriff in town, and we'll shoot anyone who disagrees with us. That's "civilization" as practiced by a gun-totin' warrior society.

Requiem for reactionaries
Fortunately, people know intuitively that the Indian-killers, vigilantes, and McVeighs of the world—those who consider themselves above the law and beyond morality—are wrong. People actually seem to care if police beat up a black man or rednecks crucify a gay man. The times they are a-changing.

From the LA Times, 6/12/01:

McVeigh Brought Down a Movement


There are those on the far right who still justify what McVeigh did. Not that they approve of the deaths of the innocent children at the day care center. But they insist that the federal government waged war on its own citizens at Waco and Ruby Ridge and, once having embarked down that path, the federal government should have understood it would pay a steep price for what was done there.

The problem is that the people who paid the price had nothing to do with Waco and Ruby Ridge. They were innocent bystanders who got caught up in a war over which they had no control or authority.

The terrible damage McVeigh did went beyond the 168 who died and the hundreds more injured.

Beyond the horror and carnage inflicted on Oklahoma City, McVeigh did great damage to the movement he professed to be a part of. The anti-government mood was really gaining strength in the country. The 1994 elections swept into office some of the most determined reformers ever in modern times. These reformers were just beginning to flex their muscles in Congress, and they had the public behind them when the bombing occurred. That bombing completely tore the heart out of the anti-government movement in the country. It enabled President Clinton, who had been on the ropes, to make a comeback. It put the forces of less government completely on the defensive, lest somehow they be linked to Oklahoma City.

The anti-government forces have never regained the momentum they had before the bombing occurred. Only God knows how far things might have gone had this man-made act of vengeance not interfered with the political forces that had been building for years.

McVeigh may have thought he was getting even for his side. In fact, he set his cause back so far that it may never ever recover.

It is not for nothing that Scripture says, "Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord." McVeigh may think he went to his grave unbowed, but in fact he was defeated, having been the principal reason the forces of less government have lost the greatest war of the 20th century and have yet to regroup for the 21st century. They say he was bright. Yet it is clear he never understood any of this.

Putting down rabid dogs
Well, what do you expect? By definition, right-wingers are illogical...fanatical...rabid. If they could think through their political beliefs, they wouldn't hold those beliefs. Because their positions are illogical and can't survive intelligent scrutiny.

How many examples do you want? Start with David Stockman, architect of "supply-side economics," who denounced said economics as a fraud. Continue through Dubya Bush, the "president" who ignores the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming. If these people didn't know "fuzzy math," they wouldn't know any math at all.

From Goldwater in 1964 to Gingrich in 1994 to the House impeachment manglers in 1996, conservative zealots have proved they're out of touch with reality. These doofuses keep making the same mistake—misjudging the moderate majority—and thus keep losing elections and referendums. Extremists like Pat Buchanan, Steve Forbes, and Alan Keyes can't buy a vote, but they still think they represent the American public.

Dubya Bush is the latest to eschew centrism for extremism. His idea of "compassionate conservatism" is to create a breeze by flapping his arms and gums while global temperatures rise and power shortages eliminate air conditioning. The public will reward this lite version of Ronnie "Trees cause pollution" Reagan by kicking his hypocritical butt out of office in 2004. [Unless terrorists attack us in 2001, that is—Rob, 2005.]

So what does Tim McVeigh tell us? He tells us his pseudo-patriotic perspective is asinine and we need a more tolerant, progressive, and multicultural perspective instead.


Related links
Justice...or revenge?
Right-wing extremists:  the enemy within
Violence in America
America's cultural mindset

Readers respond
Rushing McVeigh to execution was a "flagrant violation of this man's, and therfore all US citizen's, personal rights."

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