I turned 18 the week Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols planted McVeigh’s getaway car near the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and commenced to building a weapon of mass destruction out of a Ryder Truck like the one pictured above. I’ve never forgotten that Wednesday morning. Maybe it’s the indelible image of that smoky brown bite mark, or the realization that the war scene from downtown Oklahoma City was on the news, not in a movie. Why study this trial? I couldn’t see the blast from Dallas, but even at 18 I felt it. America changed.
The change stemmed from those ordinary daily occurrences that connect us. 168 men, women and children woke up that morning to go about their lives the same way we all do. They got coffee and readied themselves for the day. Some took kids to school, others prepped for meetings, hearings or presentations. The push to be on time, get out the door, and meet our obligations is a push we all feel. By 9:00 A.M., like it had countless days before, Murrah buzzed with activity. Elevator bells ring. The low hum of conversation mixed with soft percussive footsteps as determined people made their way here and there. A building like that comes alive in the mornings. You’ve probably never been to Murrah before, but you’ve been to a building just like it.
And you got there the same way they did.
This act of terrorism was designed to start war. For me, 18 was just a few years removed from the 80’s, a time when we were trained to hide under our elementary school desks in case of a Nuclear attack once the cold war became a real one. Surely, the people responsible were raised by our sworn enemies. Surely, this was the work of a foreign government. If not that, surely it had to be something like that.
But when Timothy McVeigh was arrested and we learned who he was, where he came from, and what he believed, we found out we were half right: it was an act designed to start war – only not from without, but from within.
The style of a criminal case is always named “The Government vs. the Person,” e.g., The People of California vs. Charles Denton Watson or The State of Texas vs. Charles Albright as examples. Crimes are committed against the Government, so the Government seeks to hold the person criminally responsible. I’ve received a number of questions from astute listeners asking why, if this podcast is a documentary about a criminal case, are the names reversed?
It’s because in McVeigh’s mind, the powers were reversed, and he was going to fix it. He was going to start a revolution.
How do we know? He told us. Take a listen.