It was twenty years ago today. We were working for a company in Richardson on a project involving electronic warfare, and we were out on the company lot running some tests with a bunch of military equipment and vehicles when somebody brought the word.
“This has Middle East terrorism written all over it,” David informed us back in the office. He was keyed into a right wing outlet. David was that kind of guy.
As it turned out, and quickly, the only Middle East connection was a pair of soldiers recently back from the Middle East. Timothy McVeigh had served with distinction in the recently concluded Gulf War. This was a war waged by several nations and led by the United States military. Saddam Hussein’s forces had been routed completely and in utter disaster. The conflict provided a new definition for the term “lopsided.”
McVeigh came away with not so much a sense pride at his accomplishments as with distress at the ruthlessness of some of our military’s actions. Further events hardened his perspective.
In February 1993, under a new administration, the ATF went gung ho in a raid on a religious compound that was seen as a growing threat to public safety. Government agents and combatants in the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, were slaughtered at the start of the botched operation. There ensued a siege of several weeks, and on 19 April of that year, when the feds began to make their move to end the siege, the religious fanatics, under the leadership of a person named Vernon Howell, torched the buildings, killing nearly everybody inside.
One of those who escaped the flames was Kathy Schroeder, and she was ultimately charged with crimes committed by the cult. Lawyer for the defendants was Linda Thompson:
Linda Thompson (April 26, 1953 – May 10, 2009) was an American attorney, filmmaker, and the founder of the American Justice Federation. In 1993, she quit her job as a lawyer in Indianapolis, Indiana to start the American Justice Federation, a non-profit group that promoted pro-gun and pro-Constitution causes through a shortwave radio program, a computer bulletin board system, and sales of its newsletter and videos.
A video Thompson produced is titled Waco, The Big Lie.
The video, narrated by Thompson, uses the background story of the Branch Davidians and the ATF raid along with selectively edited clips from news media and other sources to paint a distorted interpretation of the tragedy. My copy of the video is about third hand, obtained from Joe Voelkering, former president of The North Texas Skeptics and also a forensic analyst who worked on the case. The following image is from my copy of the video.
Linda Thompson’s narration accompanying this segment leaves no doubt about the message she wants to convey:
The following footages proves beyond any doubt that the tanks intentionally set the house on fire. It proves that the Branch Davidians were murdered. Watch carefully as the tank backs out of the house. You can see that this tank has a gas jet on the front that shoots fire. You can also see the fire quite plainly. The tank goes into the house twice, and each time as it backs out the fire at the gas jet is plainly visible.
Copies of the video are available on-line, including YouTube.
What is significant is that at the time of the Branch Davidian siege Timothy McVeigh traveled to the site to observe and to proclaim his anti-government position. Michelle Ann Rauch, a television reporter, later testified about seeing McVeigh there:
Q. Is that a photograph that you took in March of 1993 near
A. I took this photograph, yes.
MR. NIGH: Your Honor, I’d move for the admission of PP61.
MR. GOELMAN: No objection.
THE COURT: Received.
BY MR. NIGH:
Q. Please tell us, Ms. Rauch, what it is that’s depicted there.
A. This is how I found Mr. McVeigh, when I walked up on the hill. He was sitting on the hood of his car with some bumper stickers that were for
Q. Did you speak to Mr. McVeigh?
A. Yes, I did.
Q. At that point in time?
A. Yes, I did.
Q. And did you examine the bumper stickers that he had there?
A. Yes, I did.
Q. Let me show you, if I may, what’s been marked for identification as
Defendant’s Exhibit PP7. It should be on the screen in front of you. Do
you recognize what’s depicted there?
A. Yes, this is another photograph that I took of the bumper stickers on
the hood of the car.
Q. Did you take them on the same day —
Q. — that you saw Mr. McVeigh?
My recollection is that Timothy McVeigh obtained a copy of the Linda Thompson video and watched it as many as 50 times. He evidently became convinced Thompson’s version of the events was true, and this hardened his resolve to carry out a vengeance attack against the government. His attraction to right-wing religious groups, such as the The Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord was significant:
Timothy McVeigh was tied to several radical religious organizations, however, McVeigh was not yet exposed to the charismatic messages of these groups in his early teen youth and was just joining the Army when the CSA compound was besieged and broken up. Also, the Oklahoma City bombing occurred very close to the 10-year anniversary of the siege of the CSA compound. But the most plausible link is that Richard Wayne Snell, who was executed on the day of the bombing, had planned a similar attack on the Murrah building in 1983 after becoming upset with the Internal Revenue Service. Additionally, Snell was heard taunting jailers that something drastic would happen on the day of his execution. It is plausible that McVeigh may have been mentored by Snell since Snell frequented gun shows, a CSA practice until shortly before Snell made active contact with the group that he is documented to have been a member of. By itself, that is understandable since Snell hid out at the CSA compound between pawn shop robberies. He did not, however, reside on the property. CSA considered him to be a “Patron”. Shortly after McVeigh was released from the Army he became very active at gun shows.
The date 19 April 1995 was significant. It was the second anniversary of the Waco cataclysm. April 19 is also the anniversary of the 1983 attack planned for the Murrah building and the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775, considered to be the first shots fired in the war for independence from England.
McVeigh teamed with a buddy, Terry Nichols, to construct and plant an enormous bomb in a rental truck parked in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. McVeigh rented a Ryder truck, and he and Nichols loaded it with 5000 pounds of explosive ammonium nitrate and nitromethane. On the morning of 19 April 1995 McVeigh drove the truck to Oklahoma City and parked it in front of the Federal Building. He then lit a 2-minute fuse. A 5-minute fuse had been lit previously while the truck was stopped at a traffic light.
The blast shattered the front of the Murrah Building, which subsequently had to be demolished. 168 people, including 19 children were killed.
McVeigh walked away from his deadly cargo toward where he had stashed a get-away car. The bomb went off as he was traversing an alleyway. To prevent identification of his get-away car he had previously removed the license plates, and as he made his escape he forgot to put them back on. An Oklahoma state trooper stopped McVeigh for the missing plates and arrested him for carrying an illegal gun. McVeigh was still in jail when federal agents traced the Ryder truck to him. He was charged with the crime and executed on 11 June 2001.
And no Middle East religious fanatics were involved.