Posts Tagged ‘Oklahoma City bombing’

Will We Remember Tucson? Was It Enough? Is Anything?

April 21, 2012 Leave a comment


There is no more moving memorial in America than the one that they built on the place on North Harvey Street in Oklahoma City where the Murrah Federal Building used to be. There is a reflecting pool between two large arches — the time, 9:01 A.M., is carved into one of them, and 9:03 A.M. is carved into the other. The lost minute is represented by the reflecting pool and by the long lines of lonely, empty chairs, all on crystal bases, each representing one of the American citizens killed in the bloodiest act of insurrection since the Army of Northern Virginia hung ’em up. In the accompanying museum, there is a remarkable exhibit — an audiotape of a mundane governmental hearing that was going on not far from the Murrah Building when Timothy McVeigh’s bomb went off. Some poor guy is asking for permission to drill for designer water on his land. You can almost hear everyone on the tape yawning. The mundane business of self-government is grinding along. And then there’s a tearing in the universe and somebody’s screaming for a flashlight.

Outside again, the lonely chairs are reflected in the pool and one truth hangs there between the arches: This is what we can do to each other.

This moment should have been transformational. This should have been a moment of diamond-tipped truth. This is part of who we are. This is a part of our politics. This is something to look at, honestly, and admit to ourselves that, pushed by our own dread and anger, whether or not they are skillfully stoked by demagoguery or not, this is what we can do to each other. This is what we will do to each other.

And the most remarkable thing about what happened in Oklahoma City is how little it matters today. The president of the United States gave a fine speech Wednesday night in Tucson at the memorial for the people Jared Loughner shot. The only mention of Oklahoma City in connection with the president’s speech was to compare it with the speech that another Democratic president had given in the aftermath of the memorial service for the 168 people that Timothy McVeigh murdered in 1995.

People mostly remembered that Bill Clinton once had made a passing mention of what he called “the purveyors of hatred and division… the promoters of paranoia” on the airwaves. (At the actual memorial service, Clinton quoted Scripture and talked about healing.) This time, many people struck pre-emptively; Rush Limbaugh may be self-medicating his wounded ego for the rest of his life over what he imagines Clinton said about him. There was a lot of what was called “defensiveness” on the activist Right, but it was nothing of the sort. They were on offense, just the way they have been since they took that heat in 1995. They abide by the order Stalin gave to the Red Army when the Germans invaded in 1942: Ni shagu nazad.

Not a step back.

The activist Right wants this rhetoric for 2012. It wants the same dark energies that helped it win the House last fall. It wants to be able to say the same things with impunity that it’s been saying since 2009, as though Tucson never happened. Oklahoma City might as well have happened to the Hittites.

Which is how nothing ever changed. Which is why Oklahoma City wasn’t enough.

One-hundred and sixty-eight people.

One-hundred and sixty-eight lonely, empty chairs.

It wasn’t enough.

The political culture is not what it was in 1996. It’s worse. The wild-assed, Clinton-centric conspiracies — death lists! Vince Foster! Mena airport! — look positively quaint compared to the grand paranoid delusions spouted on television and on radio these days. And the casual mainstreaming of vicious mendacity isn’t the property talk radio alone; we have just seen installed a Congress full of thunderous loons. Against all odds — and, arguably, against all decency — what Bill Clinton so carefully criticized has degenerated into a time in which the governors of major states talk glibly about secession, and automatic weapons are casual accessories at political rallies.

One-hundred and sixty-eight people.

That wasn’t enough.

(Perhaps the crowning irony is the fact that, of all the repercussions from the Oklahoma City bombing, the most lasting is probably those provisions of Clinton’s own 1996 antiterrorism act that were strengthened and codified five years later into what became the constitutional nightmare that is the USA PATRIOT Act.)

So you’ll forgive us if we’re not impressed by the conspicuous public introspection of Roger Ailes. Why wasn’t Oklahoma City enough? Why have there been sixteen years of lucrative invective since then? And you’ll forgive us if we are a little dubious aboutSarah Palin’s contrition, and the maundering of Peggy Noonan, and the generally sanctimonious flummery that passes for comment on this latest outbreak of American political violence.

Oklahoma City happened. The carnival rolled on. It got wilder. It got nuttier. Ideas so long abandoned and destructive that they seemed like primal superstitions from a barbarian age now were shined up for the cameras and presented as legitimate alternatives to the accumulated reason and intellectual progress of two centuries. The complicity in it got broader and deeper and nobody thought much about the empty chairs.

One-hundred and sixty-eight people.

By the reflecting pool, suspended there to represent a single bloody second, we suspect there are prayers offered these days for Gabrielle Giffords and the rest of Jared Loughner’s victims. And they will be offered again, some day, for th

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FBI Records: Oklahoma City bombing

April 21, 2012 Leave a comment


Terror Hits Home: The Oklahoma City Bombing

Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City after the bomb explodedOn the morning of April 19, 1995, an ex-Army soldier and security guard named Timothy McVeigh parked a rented Ryder truck in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. He was about to commit mass murder.

Inside the vehicle was a powerful bomb made out of a deadly cocktail of agricultural fertilizer, diesel fuel, and other chemicals. McVeigh got out, locked the door, and headed towards his getaway car. He ignited one timed fuse, then another.

At precisely 9:02 a.m., the bomb exploded.

Within moments, the surrounding area looked like a war zone. A third of the building had been reduced to rubble, with many floors flattened like pancakes. Dozens of cars were incinerated and more than 300 nearby buildings were damaged or destroyed.

The human toll was still more devastating: 168 souls lost, including 19 children, with several hundred more injured.

It was the worst act of homegrown terrorism in the nation’s history.

Coming on the heels of the World Trade Center bombing in New York two years earlier, the media and many Americans immediately assumed that the attack was the handiwork of Middle Eastern terrorists. The FBI, meanwhile, quickly arrived at the scene and began supporting rescue efforts and investigating the facts. Beneath the pile of concrete and twisted steel were clues. And the FBI was determined to find them.

Sketch and photograph of Timothy McVeighIt didn’t take long. On April 20, the rear axle of the Ryder truck was located, which yielded a vehicle identification number that was traced to a body shop in Junction City, Kansas. Employees at the shop helped the FBI quickly put together a composite drawing of the man who had rented the van. Agents showed the drawing around town, and local hotel employees supplied a name: Tim McVeigh

A quick call to the Bureau’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division in West Virginia on April 21 led to an astonishing discovery: McVeigh was already in jail. He’d been pulled over about 80 miles north of Oklahoma City by an observant Oklahoma State Trooper who noticed a missing license plate on his yellow Mercury Marquis. McVeigh had a concealed weapon and was arrested. It was just 90 minutes after the bombing.

From there, the evidence began adding up. Agents found traces of the chemicals used in the explosion on McVeigh’s clothes and a business card on which McVeigh had suspiciously scribbled, “TNT @ $5/stick, need more”. They learned about McVeigh’s extremist ideologies and his anger over the events at Waco two years earlier. They discovered that a friend of McVeigh’s named Terry Nichols helped build the bomb and that another man—Michael Fortier—was aware of the bomb plot.

FBI agents help lead Timothy McVeigh from an Oklahoma courthouse on April 21, 1995. AP Photo.

The bombing was quickly solved, but the investigation turned out to be one of the most exhaustive in FBI history. No stone was left unturned to make sure every clue was found and all the culprits identified. By the time it was over, the Bureau had conducted more than 28,000 interviews, followed some 43,000 investigative leads, amassed three-and-a-half tons of evidence, and reviewed nearly a billion pieces of information.

In the end, the government that McVeigh hated and hoped to topple swiftly captured him and convincingly convicted both him and his co-conspirators.

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