A new biography that purports to explain Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh is interesting, but misses key points.
Facing imminent death in an execution chamber, Timothy McVeigh is happy to take responsibility for the Oklahoma City bombing — in fact, he minimizes any role that co-conspirator Terry Nichols and others may have had. He talks about how he considered murdering the members of a federal agent's family or going on an assassination spree instead of setting off the bomb.
He discusses the media exposure the bombing was designed to attract, and frets that the deaths of 19 children — "collateral damage," in McVeigh's unforgettable phrase — may have distracted from his message.
But the subject of a new book, American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh & the Oklahoma City Bombing, is at pains to insist that he did not know that the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building contained a day-care center filled with children.
"If I had known it was there," he says, "I probably would have shifted the target."
Well, maybe. And maybe not.
A week after the book was released amid great fanfare, a defense psychiatrist interviewed by its authors spoke to ABC's "Good Morning America."
"Tim told me he was down looking over the building, there was light from somewhere," Dr. John Smith told the program. "And that he saw the shadow of a crib on the wall."
That's the problem with American Terrorist. Again and again, it seems to tell McVeigh's story as he would want it told. Details that McVeigh finds inconvenient, like the children in the federal building, are explained away.
McVeigh, who at one point says that he enjoys a "good nigger joke," concedes that he briefly joined a Klan group in North Carolina — but adds he had no idea what the Klan was about. He says he told many people that the government had secretly implanted a microchip in his buttocks — but then claims that he told that story merely to put on gullible people.
He writes his sister, Jennifer, that he was asked to help "the CIA fly drugs into the U.S." — but then, in the words of the book's authors, calls that the letter "his way of introducing Jennifer to his mind-set at the time."
Ultimately, McVeigh is not interested in discussing anything other than his heroic motivations. "Death and loss are an integral part of life everywhere," is his view of the destruction he caused. "We have to accept it and move on."