Go to Main Story

Go to Oklahoma Bombing Page


Go to Today's Top News

Go to National Section

Go to Home Page



An Ordinary Boy's Extraordinary Rage

By Dale Russakoff and Serge F. Kovaleski
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 2, 1995; Page A01

Continued from Part One

Dilly, McVeigh's Army roommate, said he believes someone McVeigh met on his many trips must have spotted him as an easy mark for a bloody assignment. "The militias really recruit, and he's exactly what they're looking for," Dilly said. "He was halfway there when I knew him. They could catch him easy. He had all the same interests as them; they're just a little more fanatical."

In the fall of 1993, McVeigh moved back to the Nichols farm, joining the brothers whose rage at the government had led them to fight the U.S. tax system, the judicial system, the monetary system, even the postal system. Together the three set off explosives and, according to investigators, formed their own secret paramilitary cell and distributed literature calling for violence to restore American freedoms. Michigan Militia members said the three attended meetings of their group, one of the largest in the paramilitary movement -- a claim McVeigh denied to Newsweek.

McVeigh told a neighbor he was listening intently to right-wing speakers on short-wave radio, including Mark Koernke, or "Mark from Michigan," who has called on Americans to be prepared to kill politicians. Ken Kirkland, an official of the Saint Lucie County, Fla., militia, said McVeigh traveled there in March 1994 as a bodyguard to Koernke. Koernke has denied this, but Kirkland recalled a bodyguard in Army camouflage clothes resembling McVeigh who introduced himself as "Tim" and was "really upset about Waco."

Later that year, McVeigh again was in Florida to visit his mother, who told an acquaintance that he was "totally changed" and observed, "It was like he traded one Army for another one."

For most of 1994, McVeigh was in Kingman with Fortier, his Arizona anchor and a ready sounding board for his views. Army friends were amazed to learn later that Fortier, the fun-loving platoon cut-up, emerged as a hard-core patriot flying a "Don't Tread on Me" flag in his yard.

A similar transformation occurred in Jennifer McVeigh, known in high school as oblivious to political ideas. Last March, she wrote a letter to the Lockport newspaper expressing the philosophy of the militia movement. When FBI agents arrived to interview her after the Oklahoma City bombing, they confiscated from her pickup truck pamphlets and audiotapes distributed by militia organizations. In interviews with the FBI, she has defended her brother's views, a source said, as if out of "blind love."

Pretty, smiling, but with her hands trembling as she smoked a cigarette, Jennifer McVeigh, who sources say may yet be charged in the alleged conspiracy, declined recently to discuss her brother or her views. "I'm just trying to relax today," she said as she arrived at her father's house. "I just came home to get my headset. I'm going to go Rollerblading."

For all the chaos of his life -- his drives down long highways from Michigan to Florida to Arizona and back, his drifting from trailer parks to motels to homes of Army buddies, his job search leading from nowhere to nowhere -- McVeigh exhibited a deep craving for order.

In his mind, McVeigh was struggling to order far-flung events and experiences into an all-encompassing "big picture," as he once called it.

Walter "Mac" McCarty, a 72-year-old retired Marine who describes his political views as far-right, said McVeigh sought him out in Kingman last year for several long talks in which the young man was trying to make sense of Waco, Weaver and what he believed were the injustices of the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the state in general. He said they discussed the United Nations, a threat of one-world government, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Second Amendment and Attorney General Janet Reno.

"I gathered that he was following the right-wing, survivalist, paramilitary-type philosophy," McCarty said. "I also got the sense that he was searching for meaning and acceptance."

McVeigh the drifter was as obsessed with neatness as was the soldier who spray-starched pleats in his uniforms. When he moved into the Canyon West trailer park outside Kingman in 1993, his first act was to wash the dirty curtains and dust, vacuum and scrub the entire trailer spotless, said owner Bob Ragin, who so liked McVeigh that he offered to lower the rent to keep the ex-soldier from moving.

Jack Gohn, a neighbor in Arizona for part of 1994, said McVeigh was so "quiet, polite and neat and clean" that "if I had a daughter in that age bracket, I would have introduced them."

The boy who practiced survivalism beneath a personality so bland as to disappear into the background of semi-rural western New York had become a man harboring violent visions beneath an air of normalcy so reassuring you would entrust your daughter to him.

After His Arrest: Exuding No Anger, as if His Mission Was Accomplished
On April 21, 1995, Assistant District Attorney Mark Gibson of Noble County, Okla., entered a small courtroom to confront one Timothy McVeigh, stopped and arrested April 19 after a traffic violation and just identified as John Doe No. 1. Gibson had prosecuted many killers, and all had this in common: "You could just feel the evil in them," he said.

As Gibson approached McVeigh, he wondered what he would see and feel. There stood a painfully thin young man who gave polite, cooperative answers to every question. "It was like the dutiful soldier," Gibson said. "Emotions don't come into play, right and wrong don't come into play. What happens next doesn't come into play. My feeling was that, in his mind, that was the end of that portion of his life. His mission was accomplished."

"His mood was so level it was unnatural," Gibson said. "I looked at him and realized I felt no repulsion or fear. It was like there was an absence of feeling. He exuded nothing." Staff writer Rene Sanchez and special correspondent Thomas Heath contributed to this report.

* Federal authorities originally believed Middle East terrorists may have been responsible. But they quickly concluded that the perpetrators were Americans: antigovernment extremists inspired to act on the second anniversary of the federal raid near Waco.

* Tracing the rental truck from shattered remains, the following day authorities issued arrest warrants for two suspects and released composite sketches of their faces. On Friday they took three men into custody.

* One was Timothy James McVeigh, 27, an Army veteran and drifter who had been arrested for traffic violations and for carrying a concealed weapon in Perry, Okla., just 80 minutes after the bombing. He was transferred in manacles to the El Reno Federal Corrections Center outside Oklahoma City and booked on malicious destruction of federal property, a capital charge. McVeigh has pleaded not guilty.

* The others were: Terry Lynn Nichols, 40, a former Army buddy of McVeigh's who sold military surplus supplies and lived in Herington, Kan., and his brother James, 41, a farm owner in Decker, Mich. Terry Nichols was later charged as a conspirator in the case, while James was charged on unrelated explosives violations and released without bail. They have pleaded not guilty to all charges.

* A fourth man, Army veteran Michael Fortier of Kingman, Ariz., reportedly has told investigators that McVeigh informed him of the bomb plot and surveyed the Murrah building with him before the blast.

* The search for victims was called off May 5. The remains of the building were demolished on May 23. The last three bodies were pulled from the rubble on May 30.


Go to Part One

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Co.

Back to the top