Timothy McVeigh

Timothy McVeigh was the perpetrator of the deadliest homegrown terror attack in U.S. history––the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The attack, which took place on April 19, 1995, left 168 people dead and more than 500 others injured.“Oklahoma City Bombing,” Federal Bureau of Investigation, accessed September 26, 2017, https://www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/oklahoma-city-bombing;
“Oklahoma City Bombing Fast Facts,” CNN, March 29, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/18/us/oklahoma-city-bombing-fast-facts/index.html.
McVeigh, who was associated with the militant right-wing Patriot Movement, was convicted on eleven counts of murder, conspiracy, and using a weapon of mass destruction. McVeigh became the first person to be executed for a federal crime in the United States since 1963. He was put to death by lethal injection on June 11, 2001.“Oklahoma City Bombing Fast Facts,” CNN, March 29, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/18/us/oklahoma-city-bombing-fast-facts/index.html.

McVeigh was born and raised in Pendleton, New York, in a rural community near Buffalo. His mother left home when he was ten years old, and he was subsequently raised by his father. He graduated from high school and briefly attended a two-year business college before dropping out and working a series of odd jobs. McVeigh became obsessed with guns and adopted a so-called “survivalist” mindset, stockpiling weapons and food in preparation for an imminent attack or societal catastrophe.“Profile: Timothy McVeigh,” BBC News, May 11, 2001, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/1321244.stm; “Timothy McVeigh,” CNN, March 29, 2001, http://edition.cnn.com/2001/US/03/29/profile.mcveigh/index.html. At one point, he even bought 10 acres of woodland that he intended to transform into a survivalist bunker.“Key Players: The Accused,” Fox News, June 11, 2001, https://web.archive.org/web/20080414002057/http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,26782,00.html. He immersed himself in right-wing militia literature and was especially interested in The Turner Diaries, a racist, anti-Semitic novel by white nationalist William Luther Pierce about a government overthrow and the extermination of non-white races.“Key Players: The Accused,” Fox News, June 11, 2001, https://web.archive.org/web/20080414002057/http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,26782,00.html;
“Timothy McVeigh,” CNN, March 29, 2001, http://edition.cnn.com/2001/US/03/29/profile.mcveigh/index.html.
The Turner Diaries has inspired multiple acts of terrorism and violence, including McVeigh’s bombing. The book describes a truck bomb blowing up the FBI headquarters, which prosecutors called a “blue print” for the Oklahoma City bombing.Christopher Reed, “William Pierce – The ‘theoretician’ of America’s extreme right and author of the book that was claimed to have inspired the Oklahoma City bombing,” Guardian (London), July 25, 2002, https://www.theguardian.com/news/2002/jul/25/guardianobituaries.booksobituaries1; Jo Thomas, “Behind a Book That Inspired McVeigh,” New York Times, June 9, 2001, https://www.nytimes.com/2001/06/09/us/behind-a-book-that-inspired-mcveigh.html. McVeigh also reportedly sold The Turner Diaries at gun shows.Katheen Belew, Bring the War Home (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 2018), 110. Police found pages of The Turner Diaries in McVeigh’s car after the bombing.Jo Thomas, “Behind a Book That Inspired McVeigh,” New York Times, June 9, 2001, https://www.nytimes.com/2001/06/09/us/behind-a-book-that-inspired-mcveigh.html.

McVeigh joined the U.S. Army in May of 1988, reportedly out of a desire to improve his survival and gun-handling skills.“Profile: Timothy McVeigh,” BBC News, May 11, 2001, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/1321244.stm;
“Timothy McVeigh,” CNN, March 29, 2001, http://edition.cnn.com/2001/US/03/29/profile.mcveigh/index.html.
He undertook his basic training in Georgia, where he first met Terry Nichols, who would later become an accomplice in the Oklahoma City attack.“Terry Nichols Fast Facts,” CNN, March 23, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/25/us/terry-nichols-fast-facts/index.html. After completing basic training, he was stationed in Fort Riley, Kansas, as part of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, and was later promoted to platoon leader. In 1991, he was deployed in combat in the Gulf War, and received various medals for his service, including a Bronze Star and the Combat Infantry Badge.“Timothy McVeigh,” CNN, March 29, 2001, http://edition.cnn.com/2001/US/03/29/profile.mcveigh/index.html;
Dale Russakoff and Serge F. Kovalevski, “An Ordinary Boy’s Extraordinary Rage,” Washington Post, July 2, 1995, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/oklahoma/bg/mcveigh.htm.
Upon his return, he tried to join the Special Forces, but was unable to keep up with the physical demands of training and dropped out. Reportedly disappointed, he left the Army during the fall of 1991.“Timothy McVeigh,” CNN, March 29, 2001, http://edition.cnn.com/2001/US/03/29/profile.mcveigh/index.html.

After leaving the Army, McVeigh spent a year living back at home with his father before leaving to travel and follow gun shows around the country in 1993.“Timothy McVeigh,” CNN, March 29, 2001, http://edition.cnn.com/2001/US/03/29/profile.mcveigh/index.html;
Dale Russakoff and Serge F. Kovalevski, “An Ordinary Boy’s Extraordinary Rage,” Washington Post, July 2, 1995, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/oklahoma/bg/mcveigh.htm.
Two events––the siege at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in August 1992 and the siege at Waco, Texas, in 1993––reportedly exacerbated McVeigh’s anti-government sentiments, and he is believed to have traveled to Waco to witness part of the siege for himself.“Profile: Timothy McVeigh,” BBC News, May 11, 2001, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/1321244.stm;
“Timothy McVeigh,” CNN, March 29, 2001, http://edition.cnn.com/2001/US/03/29/profile.mcveigh/index.html.
After these events, he expressed in letters to his sister that “war had been declared” by the government and that he viewed himself as “a soldier defending his country from oppressors,” according to the Washington Post.Dale Russakoff and Serge F. Kovalevski, “An Ordinary Boy’s Extraordinary Rage,” Washington Post, July 2, 1995, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/oklahoma/bg/mcveigh.htm. Between 1992 and 1995, McVeigh reportedly stayed for periods of time with Nichols at his home in Michigan and with Michael Fortier, another Army acquaintance who would later be indicted for his awareness of the bombing plot, at his ranch in Arizona.“Timothy McVeigh,” CNN, March 29, 2001, http://edition.cnn.com/2001/US/03/29/profile.mcveigh/index.html;
Dale Russakoff and Serge F. Kovalevski, “An Ordinary Boy’s Extraordinary Rage,” Washington Post, July 2, 1995, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/oklahoma/bg/mcveigh.htm.
In 1994, McVeigh started a business with Nichols selling guns and other military gear.“Terry Nichols Fast Facts,” CNN, March 23, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/25/us/terry-nichols-fast-facts/index.html. Similarly to McVeigh, both Nichols and Fortier shared an affinity for guns and viewed the government as a threat.“From decorated veteran to mass murderer,” CNN, 2001, http://www.cnn.com/CNN/Programs/people/shows/mcveigh/profile.html.

In response to what McVeigh viewed to be “multiple and more aggressive raids across the country” on the part of the government, he began to consider taking violent action. He later stated that he first considered a “campaign of individual assassination” against government figures that had been involved in the events of Ruby Ridge and Waco.Susan Saluny, “McVeigh Says He Considered Killing Reno,” New York Times, April 27, 2001, http://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/27/us/mcveigh-says-he-considered-killing-reno.html. Ultimately, however, McVeigh began planning an attack on a government facility. According to CNN, he later claimed that he chose the Murrah Building because the target would provide excellent camera angles for media coverage.“From decorated veteran to mass murderer,” CNN, 2001, http://www.cnn.com/CNN/Programs/people/shows/mcveigh/profile.html. Other accounts, however, reported that McVeigh had originally intended to bomb the courthouse next door from its underground garage but that he had changed his plan at the last minute due to logistical reasons.Andrew Gumbel, “Oklahoma City bombing: 20 years later, key questions remain unanswered,” Guardian (London), April 13, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/apr/13/oklahoma-city-bombing-20-years-later-key-questions-remain-unanswered. McVeigh selected April 19 as the date of the attack because it was the anniversary of the Waco assault and of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which he viewed as symbolic of revolution.Dale Russakoff and Serge F. Kovalevski, “An Ordinary Boy’s Extraordinary Rage,” Washington Post, July 2, 1995, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/oklahoma/bg/mcveigh.htm.

Nichols assisted McVeigh in the construction of the bomb. The two worked out of Kansas during the fall of 1994, renting a storage locker.“McVeigh Chronology,” PBS, accessed September 26, 2017, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/documents/mcveigh/mcveigh2.html. They reportedly robbed an arms dealer at gunpoint for funds, purchased the bomb’s key ingredients––fertilizer and ammonium nitrate, and stole other explosives and materials to construct the 5,000-pound bomb.“McVeigh Chronology,” PBS, accessed September 26, 2017, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/documents/mcveigh/mcveigh2.html;
“McVeigh eats final formal meal before execution,” CNN, June 11, 2001, http://edition.cnn.com/2001/LAW/06/10/mcveigh/; “Terry Nichols Fast Facts,” CNN, March 23, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/25/us/terry-nichols-fast-facts/index.html;
Andrew Gumbel, “Oklahoma City bombing: 20 years later, key questions remain unanswered,” Guardian (London), April 13, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/apr/13/oklahoma-city-bombing-20-years-later-key-questions-remain-unanswered.
McVeigh rented a Ryder truck on April 17, 1995, that he would later use to transport and conceal the bomb. On April 18, the day before the attack, McVeigh and Nichols assembled the bomb in the back of the Ryder truck at Geary Lake Start Park in Kansas.“Oklahoma City Bombing Timeline, 1994-2005,” Fox News, April 13, 2005, http://www.foxnews.com/story/2005/04/13/oklahoma-city-bombingtimeline-14-2005.html. Authorities were never able to discover where the two learned how to build such a powerful bomb, as they had only received basic explosives training in the Army.Andrew Gumbel, “Oklahoma City bombing: 20 years later, key questions remain unanswered,” Guardian (London), April 13, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/apr/13/oklahoma-city-bombing-20-years-later-key-questions-remain-unanswered.

On the morning of April 19, 1995, McVeigh drove the Ryder truck containing the bomb to the front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. McVeigh parked the truck, ignited the fuse, and departed in a second vehicle. The bomb exploded at 9:02 a.m., blasting apart a third of the building and damaging more than 300 neighboring buildings. The explosion, which was the deadliest homegrown terror attack in U.S. history, killed 168 people, including 19 children, and injured more than 500 others.“Oklahoma City Bombing,” Federal Bureau of Investigation, accessed September 26, 2017, https://www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/oklahoma-city-bombing;
“Oklahoma City Bombing Fast Facts,” CNN, March 29, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/18/us/oklahoma-city-bombing-fast-facts/index.html.
Although the FBI ultimately concluded that McVeigh acted alone in carrying out the bombing, more than 20 witnesses contended that they saw other people with McVeigh on the morning of April 19.“FBI: McVeigh knew children would be killed in OKC blast,” CNN, March 29, 2001, http://edition.cnn.com/2001/US/03/29/mcveigh.book.01/index.html;
Andrew Gumbel, “Oklahoma City bombing: 20 years later, key questions remain unanswered,” Guardian (London), April 13, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/apr/13/oklahoma-city-bombing-20-years-later-key-questions-remain-unanswered.

Approximately an hour and a half after the explosion, McVeigh was pulled over by a sheriff on an Oklahoma highway because the car that he was driving did not have a license plate. At the time, he was not yet identified as a suspect in the bombing, but he was arrested by the sheriff for unlawfully carrying a concealed weapon. Authorities were ultimately able to track down McVeigh by the identification number on one of the axles of the Ryder truck found at the site of the explosion.Hailey Branson-Potts, “After Oklahoma City bombing, McVeigh’s arrest almost went unnoticed,” Los Angeles Times, April 19, 2015, http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-oklahoma-city-bombing-20150419-story.html. When he was identified as a suspect, authorities discovered that he was already in a county jail in Perry, Oklahoma.Hailey Branson-Potts, “After Oklahoma City bombing, McVeigh’s arrest almost went unnoticed,” Los Angeles Times, April 19, 2015, http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-oklahoma-city-bombing-20150419-story.html. On April 21, authorities arrested him in connection with the bombing.“Oklahoma City Bombing Timeline, 1994-2005,” Fox News, April 13, 2005, http://www.foxnews.com/story/2005/04/13/oklahoma-city-bombingtimeline-14-2005.html.

McVeigh was indicted on charges of murder and conspiracy on August 10, 1995. In 1996, the case was moved to Colorado, and McVeigh transferred to a prison there.“Oklahoma City Bombing Timeline, 1994-2005,” Fox News, April 13, 2005, http://www.foxnews.com/story/2005/04/13/oklahoma-city-bombingtimeline-14-2005.html. McVeigh’s trial began on April 24, 1997, in Denver, Colorado. On June 2, he was convicted on eleven counts of murder, conspiracy, and using a weapon of mass destruction, and sentenced to the death penalty the following week.“Oklahoma City Bombing Fast Facts,” CNN, March 29, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/18/us/oklahoma-city-bombing-fast-facts/index.html;
“Charges against McVeigh,” CNN, June 2, 1997, http://www.cnn.com/US/9706/02/charges/.
In December 2000, after losing two appeals, McVeigh stated that he wanted to die. He referred to the execution as “state-assisted suicide” and requested that his lawyers not attempt any more appeals.Simon Jeffrey, “The execution of Timothy McVeigh,” Guardian (London), June 11, 2001, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/jun/11/qanda.terrorism.

McVeigh spoke about his motivations for the bombing. He underwent more than 75 hours of interviews with journalists Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck, who published a biography about him called American Terrorist on April 3, 2001.“From decorated veteran to mass murderer,” CNN, 2001, http://www.cnn.com/CNN/Programs/people/shows/mcveigh/profile.html;
“American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing,” Amazon, accessed September 27, 2017, https://www.amazon.com/American-Terrorist-Timothy-McVeigh-Oklahoma/dp/0060394.
According to the journalists, McVeigh believed that his actions were justified, never expressing any remorse for the bombing.“FBI: McVeigh knew children would be killed in OKC blast,” CNN, March 29, 2001, http://edition.cnn.com/2001/US/03/29/mcveigh.book.01/index.html. On April 26, 2001, McVeigh sent a letter to Fox News explaining and defending his reasons for the bombing. He stated that the bombing was intended as a strike against hostile government actions, including the Waco siege, and called it “morally and strategically equivalent” to U.S. military actions abroad.“McVeigh’s April 26 Letter to Fox News,” Fox News, April 26, 2001, http://www.foxnews.com/story/2001/04/26/mcveigh-apr-26-letter-to-fox-news.html. In other letters written by him that were published by a Buffalo newspaper, McVeigh called the bombing a “legit tactic” against what he considered to be an oppressive government.“McVeigh eats final formal meal before execution,” CNN, June 11, 2001, http://edition.cnn.com/2001/LAW/06/10/mcveigh/.

McVeigh was executed by lethal injection on June 11, 2001.Simon Jeffrey, “The execution of Timothy McVeigh,” Guardian (London), June 11, 2001, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/jun/11/qanda.terrorism. According to CNN, his attorneys reported that before his execution McVeigh remained calm, acted “ready to die,” and continued to believe that “what he did was right.”“McVeigh eats final formal meal before execution,” CNN, June 11, 2001, http://edition.cnn.com/2001/LAW/06/10/mcveigh/.

Violent right-wing extremists have continued to glorify McVeigh in the years since his death. In August 2017, authorities in Oklahoma City arrested Jerry Drake Varnell after he attempted to detonate what he thought was a bomb outside an Oklahoma City bank. The bomb comprised fake explosives provided by the FBI as part of an investigation into Varnell, who reportedly admired McVeigh and sought to emulate him.Devlin Barrett, “Man charged in anti-government bomb plot in Oklahoma City,” Washington Post, August 15, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/oklahoma-man-charged-in-anti-government-bomb-plot/2017/08/14/97816686-80f9-11e7-ab27-1a21a8e006ab_story.html. Brenton Tarrant, who killed 51 in attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2019, posted memes and other images of McVeigh on social media prior to the Christchurch attack.Candace Sutton, “Neighbours, associates of Christchurch mosque gunman Brenton Tarrant say there was something ‘off’ about him,” News.com.au, March 17, 2019, https://www.news.com.au/world/pacific/neighbours-associates-of-brenton-tarrant-say-there-was-something-off-about-him/news-story/e76a6f40a2f21f121546bc469bf7e7b7. Tarrant admitted his guilt in March 2020.Eleanor Ainge Roy and Charlotte Graham-McLay, “Christchurch gunman pleads guilty to New Zealand mosque attacks that killed 51,” Guardian (London), March 25, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/26/christchurch-shooting-brenton-tarrant-pleads-guilty-to-new-zealand-mosque-attacks-that-killed-51.

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