A new book, In Bad Company: America's Terrorist Underground, purports to solve the Oklahoma City bombing, but collapses in a tangle of thin conspiracy theories.
In Bad Company does a fine job of tracing the lives of its main subjects, Peter Kevin Langan and Richard "Wild Bill" Guthrie, two men who formed the heart of the bank-robbing white supremacist gang known as the Aryan Republican Army that was active in the mid-1990s.
But this book groans under the weight of simplistic academic theories and ultimately turns into a welter of thinly backed conspiracy theories, dubious assumptions, half-baked attacks on federal law enforcement agents, and irresponsible accusations concerning the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
The Aryan Republican Army (ARA), led by Langan and composed of five other core members, robbed a total of 22 Midwestern banks between 1994 and 1996. Among other things, the gang intended to fund a white supremacist revolution.
With the exception of Guthrie, who committed suicide in jail after agreeing to testify against his former comrades, the rest of its members are now in prison.
Hamm focuses the first third of the book on Langan, who cooperated with the author from prison. Langan, it turns out, is the son of a CIA agent who may have been involved in the Diem assassination in Vietnam.
Hamm's narrative in this section is an enjoyable tour through the 1960s and 1970s. Ultimately, Langan falls at a young age into a life of drugs, alcohol, crime and white supremacy.
Hamm does a good job in describing the various locales that the gang's members inhabit — places like Philadelphia and Camden, N.J. — and the white power music scene that produces several of them.
He is quite fascinating when he speaks of Mark Thomas, an official of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations who befriends and finally joins his younger friends in the ARA.
He shows how Thomas, a former member of the left-wing Students for a Democratic Society, remains deeply connected to the 1960s counterculture band The Doors — and how this helps him to connect with alienated young people.
And Hamm explores in great detail how his main subject, Langan, was a preoperative transsexual who kept this part of himself hidden from his comrades — and who later blamed his criminal actions on his "gender dysphoria."
But this is not Hamm's main purpose. Instead, the Indiana State University criminology professor aims to show who really bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
He bases this part of the book on FBI accounts of interviews with various witnesses, a manuscript left by Guthrie in his cell when he committed suicide, and "the outstanding reporting of journalist J.D. Cash" — a reporter for a tiny Oklahoma paper and a virtual one-man conspiracy machine.
The plot, as it is laid out by Hamm, is extremely complex, involving as many as five ARA "cells." Hamm takes the reader on a tour of virtually every major white supremacist player and group of the 1990s, finally locating the core of the supposed plot at Elohim City, a white supremacist compound in rural Oklahoma.
A few examples of Hamm's conclusions may give a sense of his credibility.
Quoting an unnamed J.D. Cash "informant," Hamm claims that Timothy McVeigh was seen on the Elohim City gun range. He backs this up with another claim from a mentally unstable former federal informant.
Similarly, Hamm claims that a German at the compound led groups of 25 to 50 men, mostly from the Aryan Nations, through "terrorist training" every 90 days.
He places McVeigh, Langan and Guthrie in Colorado, where he says they had a "secret ceremony" to join The Order — a terrorist group destroyed in 1984.
He suggests at least one Ryder rental truck was used as a "decoy" and a minimum of four "John Doe 2s" aided McVeigh. By the end, the alleged plot seems to involve almost every racist activist in America.
The list goes on from there. Hamm rarely supports his claims with anything but the thinnest circumstantial evidence, and even when he does it is dubious.
For example, no real evidence is offered to back the remarkable claim of a still existing Order or a meeting of McVeigh, Langan and Guthrie. Hamm's principal informant, Langan, rejects Hamm's basic premise of a larger plot involving the ARA.
In the end, In Bad Company collapses like a house of cards. It is a shame, in part because the story of the ARA is an important one, and in part because there are many indications that "others unknown," in the phrase of the McVeigh indictment, were involved in the Oklahoma City bombing.
There may be important aspects of this crime that have not yet been told, but this is not the book to tell them.