OKLAHOMA CITY, OK — On April 19, 1995, a truck bomb exploded outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma. The blast killed 168 victims, 19 of whom were children. It also severely maimed, blinded, dismembered, and otherwise injured at least 684 more people who were just going about their daily lives that morning.
Two days later, a manhunt for the bomber led investigators to Timothy McVeigh, a 26-year-old Gulf War veteran.
About an hour following the detonation, a cop had pulled McVeigh over for driving without license plates. Once the patrolmen noticed McVeigh carrying a pistol, he busted him for several misdemeanors. As a result, when the FBI formally arrested McVeigh on April 21 and identified him as the perpetrator of the most severe act of domestic terrorism in American history, he was already in jail — and just a few hours from being cut loose.
Later that day, McVeigh’s Army pal turned coconspirator, Terry Nichols, turned himself in to the feds. He went on to cut a deal to avoid the death penalty, instead receiving a record-setting 161 life sentences.
Michael Fortier, who helped McVeigh scout out a building to blow up and knew of the plan, also copped a plea. He got 12 years and had to pay a $75,000 fine.
Timothy McVeigh, however, expressed no interest in bargaining. He wanted his lawyers to claim he acted in self-defense, as he insisted the United States government posed an “imminent danger” to him — and, in theory, to everyone else, too.
Anti-government fury had fueled McVeigh all along. He cited federal uses of deadly force over the previous few years as evidence that America’s ruling body was actively at war with its own citizens.
McVeigh expressed particular rage over the 1992 ATF cabin raid against suspected white separatist Randy Weaver in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in which agents fatally shot Weaver’s wife and son. He also railed against the 1993 federal invasion of David Koresh’s Branch Davidian compound in Waco that killed 90 — including dozens of women and children.
Reportedly emboldened by the “militia movement” of the time, then, McVeigh sought to counter those perceived injustices with an act of combat against federal property along with, of course, anyone who was inside or nearby. Later, McVeigh would say that he considered the human lives that he took, destroyed, and disabled to be mere “collateral damage.”
McVeigh’s trial commenced on April 25, 1997. Twenty-eight days later, the jury delivered guilty verdicts on all 11 charges he faced. On August 11, a judge sentenced the former decorated Army Sergeant to death.
For the next four years, McVeigh did his time on “Bomber’s Row” at the Florence ADX super-max prison in Colorado. Other members on his cellblock included “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski and Ramzi Yousef, who tried to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993.
On the way out, Timothy McVeigh said his only regret was that he hadn’t entirely leveled that federal building.