The Trial of a Homegrown Terrorist

 

Prosecutor Joseph Hartzler began his opening statement in the Timothy McVeigh trial by reminding the jury of the terror and the heartbreak:  "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, April 19th, 1995, was a beautiful day in Oklahoma City -- at least it started out as a beautiful day. The sun was shining. Flowers were blooming. It was springtime in Oklahoma City. Sometime after six o'clock that morning, Tevin Garrett's mother woke him up to get him ready for the day. He was only 16 months old. He was a toddler; and as some of you know that have experience with toddlers, he had a keen eye for mischief. He would often pull on the cord of her curling iron in the morning, pull it off the counter top until it fell down, often till it fell down on him. That morning, she picked him up and wrestled with him on her bed before she got him dressed. She remembers this morning because that was the last morning of his life...."

 

A bomb carried in a Ryder truck exploded in front of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City at 9:02 a.m. on April 19, 1995.  The bomb claimed 168 innocent lives.  That a homegrown, war-decorated American terrorist named Timothy McVeigh drove and parked the Ryder truck in the handicap zone in front of the Murrah Building there is little doubt.  In 1997, a jury convicted McVeigh and sentenced him to death.  The federal government, after an investigation involving 2,000 agents, also charged two of McVeigh's army buddies, Michael Fortier and Terry Nichols, with advance knowledge of the bombing and participation in the plot.  Despite considerable evidence linking various militant white supremacists to the tragedy in Oklahoma City, no other persons faced prosecution for what was--until September 11, 2001--the worst act of terrorism ever on American soil.

 

The Oklahoma City bombing trials raise questions more interesting than the answers they provide.  How, in four years, can an army sergeant and Green Beret aspirant turn so violently against the government he served?  If there had been no Waco, would there have been no Oklahoma City?  Did McVeigh want to be captured? Why did the government only bring charges against three men in connection with the bombing, when compelling evidence suggests that others played significant roles in the crime?  We do not have clear answers to any of these questions--but some possible answers to these and other intriguing questions have come into better focus in the years since the McVeigh and Nichols trials.

 
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