Editor’s note: Ben Fenwick is a journalist based in Oklahoma City who has written freelance stories for The Frontier. Fenwick covered the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995 and the trial of Timothy McVeigh. A documentary about the bombing and events leading up to it, including an interview with Fenwick, will air on PBS stations tonight at 8 pm. The documentary is also showing at the Circle Cinema movie theater.
In 1995 and thereafter, I covered the Oklahoma City bombing and its aftermath, as well as the trial of Timothy McVeigh. The coverage overshadowed my life and all I cared for, and darkened my vision for years. His beliefs even now can be heard.
Fear and hate those who are not white. Overthrow and destroy the government. Target judges and lawyers. Stop immigrants. Despise and hate the media. Make the streets run with their blood. Guns are the answer.
Think I’m making this up? Here’s a letter to the editor Tim McVeigh wrote in 1992, shortly after returning as a decorated but disaffected Gulf War veteran: “What is it going to take to open up the eyes of our elected officials? AMERICA IS IN SERIOUS DECLINE. We have no proverbial tea to dump; should we instead sink a ship full of Japanese imports … Is a civil war imminent? Do we have to shed blood to reform the current system? I hope it doesn’t come to that! But it might.”
I became privy to McVeigh’s beliefs and motives when I was leaked information from privileged court documents in which the bomber told his defense team exactly what he thought, believed, planned and executed to bring about the worst domestic terror incident the U.S. had ever seen.
Eventually, the information was published by PBS’ Frontline. My acquisition of that information was surprising. I honestly didn’t know for sure what to do, but I had been told to find a way to let people know about it. I chose not to release it at first, but eventually did.
Once a process began to seat a jury in his trial, participants were sworn in by the judge and ordered to cease reading or watching all media accounts. I arranged publication of McVeigh’s story.
The story caught fire; not only because of the sensation of getting it, but in how detailed and unrelenting it was. McVeigh was proud of what he did and told his attorneys in great detail how he did it. He was cocky, resolved and unrepentant.
But the story was more than just the one crime. It was also about how irrational hate took hold of his heart and mind. Consider this account he told his defense:
“Tim began working at Burns Armored Car Company, Buffalo, NY and worked there for about eight months. It was at this job that his views of the world expanded. It was the first time he had ever been exposed to a heavy black population, inner city strife and problems. It was during this job that he began to see why this race was given derogatory names. He recalled special deliveries at the beginning and end of each month to check cashing establishments. When he would drive up, he would see a 3-block line of black welfare recipients waiting for their welfare checks. Tim would have to push his way through the line with his gun drawn to deliver the money. During the rest of the months he would drive by their houses and he would see them always sitting on their porch waiting for their check.”
The defense team’s account continued, noting that “it was during this period that Tim was into ‘the survivalist crowd’ and received his first copy of the Turner Diaries, Anarchist’s Cookbook and Poor Man’s James Bond.”
Once the seeds of racism were planted, they grew. The current documentary goes into the milieu of the right-wing underground, and examines that first book mentioned, The Turner Diaries.
McVeigh loved the book. When he later began buying and selling weapons in the gun show circuit, he would buy large boxes of the books and sell them alongside whatever else he had. When the weekend at the gun show started to wind down, he would give the extra copies away to anyone.
He evangelized with that book as if it were a gun version of the Gideon’s Bible. Much is made in the movie about how its hero, a white supremacist named Earl Turner, makes a truck bomb and uses it to blow up FBI Headquarters.
In fact, a clipping from The Turner Diaries was in McVeigh’s car when he was arrested by OHP Trooper Charlie Hanger. It begins: ‘The real value of all our attacks today lies in the psychological impact, not in the immediate casualties.”
Much is made in the movie about how the book’s hero, a white supremacist named Earl Turner, makes a truck bomb and uses it to blow up FBI Headquarters. In film, though, it’s harder to go into the book’s real heart. It’s awful to read.
However, this is the key to McVeigh and the movement that spawned him. In one scene, Turner finds the corpse of a woman, hanging, in a city taken over by his compatriots. Her corpse has a placard around her neck, stating that she had “defiled her race” by sleeping with a black man.
“There are many thousands of hanging female corpses like that in this city tonight, all wearing identical placards around their necks. They are the White women who were married to or living with Blacks, with Jews, or with other non-White males. There are also a number of men wearing the l-defiled-my-race placard, but the women easily outnumber them seven or eight to one. On the other hand, about ninety per cent of the corpses with the l-betrayed-my-race placards are men, and overall the sexes seem to be roughly balanced.”
“Those wearing the latter placards are the politicians, the lawyers, the businessmen, the TV newscasters, the newspaper reporters and editors, the judges, the teachers, the school officials, the “civic leaders,” the bureaucrats, the preachers, and all the others who, for reasons of career or status or votes or whatever, helped promote or implement the System’s racial program. The System had already paid them their 30 pieces of silver. Today we paid them.”
This scene is far from the only one of its kind. They fill this book with atrocity. Imagine loving this book as much as so many love Harry Potter, or The Hobbit, or To Kill a Mockingbird. Imagine giving it away to people because you believe in it so much.
That was Tim McVeigh. It is still him. He is still here.