McVeigh Papers: What Did the Government Know?
WASHINGTON, D.C., MAY 11The FBI's announcement yesterday that it withheld files from Tim McVeigh's defense lawyers raises once again not only the prospect of a wider conspiracy, but questions about whether the government itself was trying to cover up events leading to the the Oklahoma City bombing.
Even as Department of Justice officials moved Friday to delay for 30 days McVeigh's execution, which had been scheduled for May 16, some are asking if the feds stashed the documents in hopes of concealing what they knew beforehand about plans to blow up the Murrah Federal Building in 1995.
The feds say this is nonsense, the result of conspiracy-mongering by people in places like the John Birch Society, which played a major role in developing theories of a wider plot. The idea of a conspiracy may seem silly, especially to members of the mainstream press, but as with whispers about the grassy knoll in the Kennedy assassination, rumors of intrique have persisted in this case. They now fuel the early stages of a massive damage suit by families of the victims against the federal government.
Last night's release of the FBI documents was accompanied by reports that McVeigh actually was part of a bank robbery gang called the Aryan Republican Army, a white supremacist outfit that allegedly pulled more jobs across the Midwest than Jesse James ever dreamed of. And according to the lore surrounding this gang, they used the loot to help finance a far right revolution. The gang was modeled along the lines of the Order, a 1980s underground terror group that robbed stores and armored cars in the West to get the money to boost the same revolution. Participants in both gangs had ties to the Aryan Nations.
For years now, defense attorneys and independent investigators have claimed that the government had prior knowledge of the conspiracy. Carol Howe, a onetime ATF informant, testified that she had personally infiltrated a group of racists living in Elohim City, an eastern Oklahoma religious community, and had accompanied several men as they cased the federal building.
At the same time, a closing witness in the Terry Nichols trial claimed he had unexpectedly come upon a group of men and trucksincluding the famous Ryder truck used in the blastand fertilizer bags when he drove his handicapped son down to Geary Lake Kansas. It was here, according to the prosecution, that McVeigh and Nichols made the bomb. The government successfully argued there were three main defendants: McVeigh, Nichols, and Michael Fortier.
With the McVeigh execution approachinghe is scheduled to be killed May 16there has been an upsurge in speculation and rumors about who else may have been involved. Some of this talk apparently originates with inmates who grew to know McVeigh in different jails and who claim he told them what went down.
Speculation has also been fueled by other events. Chief among them was the arrest of members of the Aryan Republican Army. Some army members had ties to the Aryan Nations and the Posse Comitatus. And they frequented Elohim City. All during the bomb investigation, Elohim City turned up as a sort of hideout in one story after another. Pastor Robert Millar, who heads the community, long has insisted this is rubbish and that he has nothing whatever to do with the bombing. Indeed, just to show how willing he has been to cooperate with the government, Millar reportedly invited the region's chief FBI agent to sing in the choir.
Richard Guthrie, the leader of the Aryan Republican Army, hung himself in jail in 1996, shortly after he told the Los Angeles Times that he was writing a book about his gang that would blow the lid off a wider conspiracy. In a sealed plea bargain agreement, he promised to provide the government with information about groups "whose goal is the overthrow of the U.S. government or (to) engage in domestic terrorism." This supposedly was an allusion to the Oklahoma City bombing. Currently, other members of the gangall in jailare rumored to be claiming that a certain "Tim" was in contact with their group.
The FBI's belated disclosure comes at a time when Louis Freeh is stepping down as head of the FBI, and after both Clinton and Reno have left office. While the FBI says the papers are insignificant, press reports claim they involved the government's questioning of witnesses about a John Doe No. 2, an unknown person the government originally thought was involved in the plot. These documents may not help McVeigh, but they almost surely will affect Terry Nichols's case, perhaps even leading to a new trial. Nichols is in jail for life on federal offenses and is awaiting prosecution in Oklahoma that could end with a death sentence.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.