HOST: On April 19th, 1995, an anti-government
extremist committed the worst act of domestic terrorism the United States
had ever seen. So, tonight, exactly 15 years later, this special edition
of THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW brings you the inside story of the Oklahoma City
MSNBC obtained 45 hours of audiotape interviews in which Timothy
McVeigh describes the planning and the execution and the motivations behind
his horrific attack. This is a detailed account as it has never been heard
before, told to us by the terrorist himself.
Nine years after his execution, we are left worrying that Timothy
McVeigh‘s voice from the grave echoes and a new rising tide of American
On this date which holds great meaning for the anti-government
movement, the McVeigh tapes are a “can‘t turn away, riveting” reminder.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We‘ve got a lot of people here. We need to get
this together right now.
TIMOTHY MCVEIGH, OKLAHOMA CITY BOMBER: You see, with these tapes, I
feel very free in talking, because I know you‘re using the information
appropriately. Here, I‘m just letting it all come out.
MADDOW (voice-over): Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh never
confessed his crimes to the FBI, the courts or the media—except for a
single series of interviews that have never been heard publicly until now.
MCVEIGH: Death and loss are integral part of life everywhere. These
people in Oklahoma that lost loved ones, I‘m sorry. But you know what? We
have to accept it and move on.
MADDOW: McVeigh‘s voice will lay out his version of events. Using
new facial replacement technology, we transform recreation shot with actors
into visuals that graphically place McVeigh into the very scenes he
Drawing from 45 hours of exclusive audiotapes, we‘ll go deeper than
ever thought possible into the mindset of this calculating killer.
MCVEIGH: People have compared Oklahoma City to Pearl Harbor. As far
as the impact of a psyche on the American people.
One of the chief intentions was the same as dropping the bomb on
Hiroshima. And what was that? To say, listen, if you don‘t knock it off,
there‘s more of this to come.
CATE MCCAULEY, INVESTIGATOR, OKLAHOMA CITY BOMBING CASE: This is one
kid who got it in his head that he could play God.
MARK POTOK, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: When McVeigh talks about the
actual bombing, he‘s not almost bragging, he‘s boasting completely. But,
you know, what the guy is talking about is mass murder on an incredible
scale, including the murder of children.
MCVEIGH: First of all, I believe there is no hell. But if I go
further and say, even if there is, I don‘t think I‘m going.
LOU MICHEL, CO-AUTHOR, “AMERICAN TERRORIST”: Can you imagine like, if
Lee Harvey Oswald had had the chance to spill his guts or John Wilkes
Booth? I knew I had one of the most saddest and horrible stories that has
ever been told in American journalism.
MCVEIGH: I never had trouble admitting to my involvement in what I
did, because I feel no shame for it.
You see, with these tapes, I feel very free in talking.
MCVEIGH: You‘ve got this adrenaline pumping, but you force yourself
to stay calm. I then pulled up to the light which is red at the time, and
lit the main fuse which was approximately two minutes.
You could see the ridiculous nature of somebody calling me a coward
with a 7,000-pound bomb fuse burning behind my back. I lit the two-minute
fuse at the stoplight and I swear to God that was the longest stoplight I
ever sat at in my life.
I‘m thinking, OK, it‘s lit. Green. Green. I‘m down, what, a minute
30? I pulled up to the building, pulled the parking brake, turned it off,
and then I made sure my door was locked. I stepped out and walked across
The mission was accomplished. I knew it was accomplished and it was
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Without warning, all of a sudden, you know, you
hear this, you know, kaboom! It‘s just seconds that you just don‘t know
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first sound was the blast itself. The second
sound was—because the whole front of the building was glass.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We‘ve got everybody on the second floor out.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody out of the building from the second up
PATTI HALL: I was hollering help, and there was six floors on us, but
we didn‘t know it. People were everywhere, babies were crying and they
were saying, where are you? We‘ll get you. Where are you?
JORDAN MATLI: I just remember the ceiling falling in, the windows
shattering glass everywhere, and it being smoky.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Were our children on there?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is our office. We don‘t know the children.
JANNIE COVERDALE: I saw mothers running down the street screaming
because they couldn‘t find their kids. I was trying to get in the
building, and this policeman yelled at me. And I said, but you don‘t
understand. My little boys in there, I‘ve got to go in there and get them.
SUSAN URBACH: Hell is breaking loose because nobody knows what‘s
going on. And you walked out in the street and people are running and
yelling, and it seems like everybody‘s bleeding.
MADDOW: The blast destroys one-third of the Alfred P. Murrah
Building, creating a 30-foot wide, eight-foot deep crater and the
equivalent of a 3.0 earthquake.
Overall, 324 buildings in a 16-block radius are damaged or destroyed.
PAUL HEATH: I thought first, well, maybe we had a natural gas
explosion. But if it wasn‘t that, maybe we had an earthquake. And if it
wasn‘t an earthquake, maybe a plane hit the building.
MADDOW: But investigators quickly determine the cause of the massive
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The FBI, we are told now, has confirmed that it
was a bomb that caused this explosion.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is one of the critical.
MADDOW: Millions around the world watch and wrestle with the mystery
of why such a quiet Midwestern city could be the target of a terrorist
MICHELLE RAUCH, JOURNALIST: It‘s a pretty all-American, average city.
So you think, why here? Why on earth would somebody do something so
vicious in the middle of the heartland?
DICK BURR, MCVEIGH DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Up to that point, nothing like
that had ever happened in the United States.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As soon as we get an ambulance here, we‘re going
to have you in the air, all right?
POTOK: Immediately after the bomb went off, there were commentators
all over this country saying, you know, it‘s the Muslims. It‘s the
DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Some group calling itself the Nation
of Islam saying it was responsible. That has not, however, been confirmed.
But it does look like it could have been the kind of device that we saw
outside the American embassy in Beirut.
POTOK: This is the kind of thing that came out of the immediate rush
to judgment about this could never be an American. This has to be some
terrible foreign person who is coming into, you know, attack us and our
MADDOW: While rumors and speculation about who is responsible swirl
among the media, FBI agents are fortunate to catch a solid lead early on
DANNY DEFENBAUGH, RETIRED FBI INSPECTOR, OKLAHOMA CITY BOMBING TASK
FORCE: Within three hours of the bombing itself, the rear axle to the
bomb-laden truck was found. That rear axle had a confidential vehicle
identification number. We were able to identify that an individual by the
name of Timothy McVeigh was probably one of the main primary subjects. And
the investigation started from there.
POTOK: On Friday, just a couple of days after the bombing, we
discovered, all of a sudden, that this fellow, Timothy McVeigh, was sitting
in a jail, a local jail, north of Oklahoma City and had been sitting there
since the afternoon of the bombing. So, all of a sudden, it kind of came
crashing in on all of us that this was very much a domestic event.
DR. KATHLEEN PUCKETT, PHD, FORMER FBI FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGIST: I think
that the first reaction was total shock. That it was a kid from the
American countryside who had done the work of international terrorists.
STUART WRIGHT, PROFESSOR OF SOCIOLOGY, LAMAR UNIVERSITY: I think
people were intrigued by McVeigh. He was a decorated veteran. He came
back from Desert Storm, so it made it doubly tough for people to figure
MADDOW: Back in McVeigh‘s birthplace outside Buffalo, New York, local
print reporter Lou Michel was already looking for a way to work the
hometown angle to get to the heart of who this guy really was.
LOU MICHEL, CO-AUTHOR, “AMERICAN TERRORIST”: The fact that Timothy
McVeigh lived in Niagara County, 15 minutes from my home, I wanted to know
how Niagara County could spawn such an evil act. I made it my business to
become an expert on Timothy McVeigh, because it isn‘t everyday that one of
the worst domestic terrorists in American history comes from your backyard.
MADDOW: By the winter of 1999, four years after the bombing, Timothy
McVeigh has been tried, convicted and sentenced to death. The looming
execution sparked a mad sprint among media outlets around the world to get
an exclusive interview.
On paper, Lou Michel didn‘t stand a chance.
MICHEL: You had “The New York Times,” you had the “L.A. Times,” you
had the “Washington Post” vying for interviews. So I had very low
expectations. And in ‘99, he sent me this letter saying, “Lou, I‘ve
considered a lot of different print journalists wanting to tell my story
and I‘d like you to consider it.” And I was just flabbergasted.
MADDOW: What resulted was “American Terrorist,” the only authorized
biography ever written on Timothy McVeigh. The 45 hours of audiotapes from
those jailhouse interviews had been boxed up and collecting dust—until
MICHEL: I was really glad the tapes were rolling so that other people
at some point in the future would hear this and gain a better understanding
of what a terrorist thinks.
DAN HERBECK, CO-AUTHOR, “AMERICAN TERRORIST: Nobody has ever heard
McVeigh in his own words speak about the bombing.
MICHEL: Well, here is a blueprint, an oral blueprint of what turned
one young man into one of the worst mass murderers and terrorists in
MCVEIGH: The shrink would conclude, I‘m not sure if they used the
word psychopath or sociopath, that is they have no respect for human life.
Far from that, I have great respect. But I also realize that my nature as
a human being, that humans kill.
MADDOW (voice-over): Lou Michel is about to meet Timothy McVeigh for
the first in a series of interviews that will become the backbone of the
only authorized biography of the Oklahoma City bomber. By May of 1999,
McVeigh has been convicted and sentenced to death for the Oklahoma City
bombing. But he‘s still appealing the conviction.
MICHEL: McVeigh is sitting there drumming his fingers across the
table, and he says, you‘re late. You know, Timothy McVeigh considered
himself a military man. I said, “You‘re right, I‘m late, but it was
because of all the security checks I had to go through.” And then he
smiles at me and he says, “I knew it was the government.”
MADDOW: The men spend the first several hours of the interview with
basic small talk. McVeigh eventually delves into a darker place, pulling
Lou Michel into the mindset of someone facing imminent death.
MCVEIGH: I‘m not going to go into that courtroom, curl into a fetal
ball just because the victims want me to. I‘ve already accepted my death,
and in that sense, you can have what you want. I‘ll go to my death. You
can be happy, I‘ll be happy.
MICHEL: McVeigh was done with life. This was his ultimate statement.
I knew I was there to get a confession from him.
MCVEIGH: I learned to put a check on anything that comes out of my
mouth, but today I‘m deciding basically (AUDIO BREAK) that we‘ve got to lay
down the record as it is.
MADDOW: Up to this point, McVeigh had said nothing publicly about his
involvement in the bombing. But with a death sentence approaching, McVeigh
chooses to trust Lou Michel and wastes little time getting to the core of
He begins by describing what drove him to choose the Murrah Building
as his target.
MCVEIGH: There had to be at least two law enforcement agencies in the
building. Criteria was: vulnerable but isolated from other buildings so
you minimize collateral damage.
I didn‘t have the ability to scope out every federal building in the
nation, but I did scope out a number, so I could pick the best out among
MCCAULEY: The ATF, the FBI, it didn‘t matter—anybody that carried
a gun, carried a badge, had the ability to knock down your door, take away
your personal possessions, incarcerate you. Anybody like that, to him,
became the enemy.
MCVEIGH: The building was chosen out of a phone book, looking in the
blue pages and looking under law enforcement agencies. If you look under
DEA and U.S. Marshal, ATF—if they started giving the same address, you
know they‘re all in one building.
POTOK: I think that what most people probably have not realized is
how very carefully some of the details of this were planned out and for how
long he had really been thinking about how to carry this off.
MADDOW: McVeigh‘s plan requires the acquisition of thousands of
pounds of materials, all needing to be stored without detection. A job
this big is too much for one person, so McVeigh calls on one of his only
friends, ex-Army buddy Terry Nichols.
MCCAULEY: Terry Nichols certainly believed that the federal
government was against the average person. He considered himself to be a
prisoner in a country that wasn‘t his.
Beginning in September of ‘94 is really when they started to gather
MICHEL: Both of them were buying the material for the bomb and
collecting it. It was like a long-term project for them, because this is a
7,000-pound bomb they‘re building.
POTOK: They are going and making large purchases of ammonium nitrate
in these 50-pound bags. This, you know, granular fertilizer that will make
up half the bomb. They go around. They‘ve got various storage sites where
they are storing this stuff and getting ready to pull it all together.
HERBECK: McVeigh had Nichols totally under his control. From the
beginning, the plan was McVeigh‘s. Nichols was a bit player.
MADDOW: In October 1994, McVeigh and Nichols break into a rock quarry
in Marion, Kansas. They already have tons of the material to create the
bomb, but they still need the mechanism to ignite the device.
MCCAULEY: He steals a lot of explosive explosives. That, A, would
have been very difficult to get, and if you could get it, it would have
been very expensive, and could have possibly left a trail or could have
tripped them up. So, stealing it, of course, would be the best option.
MCVEIGH: I know very of the science of demolitions and using
explosives from my military experience. I used the ammonium nitrate and
adding nitro-methane, which is a chemical fuel. With high explosives,
you‘ve got low, medium and high velocity. And to shatter concrete and
steel, you have to have a high-yield or high-powered explosive.
MCCAULEY: The fertilizer itself is an explosive, the stuff that they
steal from the quarry helps initiate that explosion. The nitro-methane
that you get actually makes this even worse. It can create the kind of
destruction you see in Oklahoma.
MCVEIGH: You see, with these tapes, I feel very free in talking, and
I am feeling very free because I know you‘re using the information
appropriately. Here, I‘m just letting it all come out.
MICHEL: McVeigh in his confession in the second day of the four-day
interviews, you know, really picked up some steam. And he was finally
getting it off his chest, how he managed to do this, and he was finally
able to take credit.
MADDOW (voice-over): Timothy McVeigh continues to give reporter Lou
Michel a detailed account of how and why he blew up the Murrah Building and
who helped him.
Terry Nichols was heavily involved in gathering the bombing materials,
but there was also another man who shared their anti-government fury,
POTOK: McVeigh met Fortier in the Army.
As this idea started to percolate in McVeigh‘s head that, you know,
we‘ve got to strike, he needed some help. And Fortier looked like he would
MICHEL: Michael Fortier was a rebel. And I think Tim was attracted
He also shared Tim‘s anti-government views and McVeigh has an edge
over him intellectually and can manipulate him as well.
MADDOW: In mid-December of 1994, McVeigh and Fortier are traveling
from the Nichols‘ farm in Michigan to Fortier‘s trailer in Arizona. They
make a detour to get an up close look at their target.
MICHEL: Tim McVeigh and Mike Fortier took a drive through Oklahoma
City and looked over the Murrah Building, and McVeigh said, that‘s the one.
He liked it because it was uncluttered.
MADDOW: McVeigh‘s focus and belief in the mission is becoming laser
sharp. But by late winter 1995, Nichols and Fortier are having doubts.
MCCAULEY: You‘ve got to remember, Fortier and Nichols are more
family-oriented. They have wives. They have kids. McVeigh, in my
opinion, had nothing to live for. So, as they‘re starting to back off,
he‘s revving up.
PUCKETT: And he holds himself apart as, I have to be by myself
because I‘m the true believer of this ideology and I‘m going to further it
MICHEL: This was something that I saw as a larger good, and I know
that, as I analyzed the history of not just the U.S., but all nations
throughout the history of mankind, people have killed for what they
believed was the greater good and it‘s accepted. Sometimes, killing is
MADDOW: By early April 1995, Michael Fortier bails out, no longer
willing to aid McVeigh, but still pledging to remain silent about his
friend‘s deadly scheme. Terry Nichols is the only one remaining to help
McVeigh carry out the terrorist plot, but he, too, starts to lose his will.
POTOK: In the last week as McVeigh is really going fully operational,
Terry Nichols is withdrawing more and more and more. So, there are several
occasions where Nichols is supposed to meet McVeigh, and he just doesn‘t
show up. You know, it ultimately comes to a head on the Sunday before the
MCCAULEY: I mean, he calls this guy up. The guy‘s barely sat down to
dinner, get your butt down here, do it now. He put the screws to him quite
HERBECK: And Nichols was afraid of McVeigh and with good reason. He
knew that McVeigh would stop at nothing at this point to get the crime
POTOK: They drive up to Oklahoma City. They drop off the getaway
car. At this point, there‘s a lot of fury between them. They‘re barely
talking as they drive all the way from Kansas to Oklahoma City and then
MICHEL: And at this point, McVeigh‘s thinking to himself, I still
need Terry Nichols to help me build the bomb.
MCVEIGH: I was the principal planner for this. I did manipulate
people, including Terry Nichols.
MADDOW: On the way back from dropping off the getaway car in Oklahoma
City, Nichols drives McVeigh to the Dreamland Motel in Junction City,
Kansas, a short distance from his own home. Two days later, McVeigh
hitches a ride to Elliott‘s Auto Shop and rents the Ryder truck that will
act as the vessel for the bomb. All the pieces are in place and ready to
go. McVeigh also settles on a specific date for the bombing.
MCVEIGH: The two most significant events in the history that occurred
on April 19th, to me, was not just one, Waco, but, number two, was the shot
heard around the world, April 19th, 1775 -- the spark that started the
PUCKETT: So, that was another grandiose way of saying how important
his actions are to those in the world, compared to everyone else‘s. His
actions mark him a place in history. He matters.
MCVEIGH: People have compared Oklahoma City to Pearl Harbor. As far
as the impact of a psyche on the American people, that it was a surprise,
it was a shock to the nation and all that.
One of the chief intentions of it was the same as dropping the bomb on
Hiroshima. And what was that? Hit them hard, by surprise and heavily.
You know, and say, listen, if you don‘t knock it off, there‘s more of this
MCVEIGH: I take full responsibility for all my actions and for who I
am. I‘m not looking in any way, shape or form to blame anything on my
parents or my upbringing.
BURR: Tim was born into a working class family and just north of
Buffalo, New York.
MICHEL: It‘s a hard working community of blue collar folks. His
father, his grandfather worked at an auto plant.
The family he was born into was very typical American. Timothy
McVeigh was the first son in that family. He‘d had an older sister and
then later a younger sister came along.
MCVEIGH: Growing up, to me, I was taught with my family that even
getting a speeding ticket was like a sin-type thing. It wasn‘t this
religious thing. I don‘t want to say sin in a religious tone. I mean,
like any breaking of the law is bad, Tim. You should never break the law.
MADDOW: An energetic, generally happy kid, McVeigh did not see too
much of that joy inside his own home. His parents, Bill and Mickey, were
constantly at odds with one another.
BURR: His parents didn‘t mesh together very well.
LIZ MCDERMOTT, MCVEIGH FAMILY FRIEND: Mickey I think she wanted
something bigger, something better, and just wanted to be free.
MICHEL: The sisters and Tim were put in a very difficult situation.
When the family broke up, the sisters decided to go with the mom and she
moved down to Florida. And Tim said, no, I‘m staying with dad.
MCVEIGH: With my parents, to be completely honest, I can‘t sit here
today and tell you that I truly love them. I know what love is. And I
don‘t think I feel it for my parents. You asked if there‘s any men that I
loved. And I love my grandfather McVeigh.
MADDOW: Ed McVeigh lived a mile or so down the road and became a role
model and constant presence in young McVeigh‘s life, once his mother and
sisters moved away.
MICHEL: Ed did a lot of child rearing with Tim. And thank God Ed was
there, because he would have had no one.
ANDREA PETERS, MCVEIGH CO-WORKER: He would go shooting with his
grandfather. He did everything with his grandfather.
MADDOW: In contrast to the safe haven he found with his grandfather,
McVeigh struggled with the social pressures of high school. Highly
intelligent by all accounts, McVeigh‘s problems were not in the classroom.
MCVEIGH: I think they started calling me Noodle McVeigh. Noodle
because I was thin as a noodle, right. Lanky and so then they started
calling me chicken noodle soup, chicken McNuggets, McVeigh McNuggets,
MICHEL: He got picked on. And that was one of the resentments that
he harbored throughout his entire life. Bullies. He hated bullies.
MCVEIGH: You‘ll find most of the bullies in school are jocks.
They‘re jocks, they‘re taught on a human competition after school to
dominate others. Right? Football, anything else. They‘re taught to
dominate out there.
The problem is they don‘t leave it when they come back in the doors of
the school. Leave the domination on the field of competition.
MICHEL: He gains a serious resentment early on for people who were
bigger and stronger, who could impose their will.
MADDOW: After graduating from high school, McVeigh attends a local
business college but gives it up after only one year. He is restless and
looking for focus.
MICHEL: He wanted excitement. He comes home, he tells his father,
“I‘m joining the Army, dad.” His father says, “When.” “Well, I go in
tomorrow.” And Bill said, “Ok.”
MADDOW: In the spring of 1988, McVeigh chops off his hair and is
shipped down to Ft. Benning, Georgia for basic training. From there, he is
assigned a post at Ft. Riley, Kansas. Immediately McVeigh takes to the
discipline and regimentation of military life.
MCVEIGH: I wanted to get out and experience the rest of the world. I
wanted to get out of the isolation of Pendleton (ph) and I wanted to be
part of a team. I was a bit of a gun enthusiast, so you can‘t go wrong
both brushing up your skills, and the hell the Army gives free ammunition.
Military experience for me some of the best years of my life.
MARK POTOK, DIRECTOR, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: I think that
McVeigh found success, really, probably for the first time in his life in
the Army. I think McVeigh was looking for some kind of family that would
make him happy.
HERBECK: Tim McVeigh at Ft. Riley was like the model soldier.
MICHEL: He bought a second Army uniform just to wear during
inspections. So he looked crisp and top-notch.
HERBECK: He was an amazing marksman. He was an amazing student of
guns and explosives.
MICHEL: He would spend time cleaning his gun. He didn‘t go out and
MADDOW: McVeigh did not socialize much but he did connect deeply with
two other soldiers at Ft. Riley who made a lasting impact.
POTOK: McVeigh really met his main confederates in the Army. He met
Terry Nichols, of course, and Michael Fortier.
PETERS: Terry Nichols I think represented a little bit of what he
liked in his grandfather, in that very seemingly solid, calm, older,
somebody you could look up to. Michael Fortier, on the other hand, was a
little bit more of a party guy and, hey, let‘s go do—yes, a little bit
POTOK: These were people who are already wrapped up in that world,
especially Nichols, of conspiracy theories and so on.
MCVEIGH: I like to get to know people that know things that I don‘t.
And that way I can learn off of them by hanging around them. He was pro
second amendment and at the time that was one of my only political, pro
second amendment and survivalist.
HERBECK: They would talk about the government trying to take over the
whole world and about the government trying to take guns from people.
MADDOW: Despite McVeigh‘s growing interest in the anti-government
ideology while at Ft. Riley, he continues to excel as a soldier. But by
fall 1990 his inner turmoil about the government is put to the ultimate
test when McVeigh is sent to fight in the Persian Gulf.
POTOK: I think McVeigh was a bundle of contradictions.
BURR: He believed the United States and the integrity and justness of
MICHEL: But at the same time, he‘s maturing in his anti-government
views. It‘s like a Jekyll/Hyde; he‘s like the good angel and bad angel in
MCVEIGH: If you look back at where I come from, it‘s a military
background and military mindset. And I want to be clear that the military
didn‘t brainwash me into thinking this way. The truth is that the military
helped introduce me to the cruelty of the real world and the way things
MADDOW: In November of 1990 in response to Saddam Hussein‘s invasion
of Kuwait, Timothy McVeigh and his Ft. Riley unit are shipped out to the
Persian Gulf with the U.S. Army‘s First Infantry Division.
BURR: The Gulf War for Tim was sort of the culmination of his young
military career. The way that that mission was described to him, the
mission of the U.S. was noble.
MADDOW: Within weeks of his arrival, McVeigh‘s intense focus and
determination to be a model soldier pay off.
MICHEL: A promotion came while he was out in the field there. He was
made sergeant, and, of course, that, you know, gave him a greater sense of
MADDOW: During the Gulf War, battles on the ground are rare. But for
McVeigh and his platoon, one bloody encounter stands out from the rest.
MICHEL: McVeigh looked into his pathfinder inside the turret of the
Bradley fighting vehicle, and saw way out in the distance a group of Iraqi
MCVEIGH: I put the cross hairs up there, pulled off my shot. And the
next thing I saw was everything from above his shoulders disappeared in red
dust. It was like a red mist. And the guy next to him dropped. I did
kill in self-defense. It was a single shot that got two guys.
DR. KATHLEEN PUCKETT, PH.D, FORMER FBI FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGIST: The
fact that it was a kill shot for two in one kind of made him a legend in
BURR: That moment for Tim was a moment of pride. He did what he had
been trained to do, did it very effectively.
MCCAULEY: I think Tim‘s time at war, as short as it is, did teach him
to kill. But then you start to see these people who are starving and
suffering the effects of war and beginning to realize that the government
is evil because it can go kill these innocent people.
MCVEIGH: My overall experience in the Gulf War taught me that these
people were just that, they are people. They are human beings that, even
though they speak a different language, at the core they‘re no different
than me. Right? And I hate to reconcile that with the fact that, well, I
BURR: He couldn‘t believe that his government would be doing that.
And would be misleading people like him to do this.
MICHEL: You have to understand that McVeigh hated the bully. And I
think he felt like he was wearing the bully‘s shoes at that point.
MADDOW: Despite misgivings about the war and the U.S. government,
McVeigh is still determined to further his military career.
While in the Gulf, he is selected to try out for Special Forces.
McVeigh reports to Ft. Bragg, anxious to make the elite unit, but burned
out from combat.
MCCAULEY: Is he probably shouldn‘t have tried out that soon. He
probably should have just waited and gotten himself into better shape. But
that‘s Tim McVeigh. Mr. Impulsive, Mr. I want it now.
MCVEIGH: They sent us on a five-mile march. After that march, I got
a blister on my right heel and a bigger one on my left one. As I changed
my socks to keep dry, so when I looked and I saw those blisters and knew I
was tuckered out, I did an analysis.
And it wasn‘t an instant decision like people think, I‘m just going to
drop out, I can‘t handle it, you know? It was just too much at that time.
BURR: He just sort of gave up. He just didn‘t have the spirit to do
it. Physically he was depleted but he also just, more importantly,
MADDOW: McVeigh says it is more than just physical and emotional
exhaustion. He claims his mixed feelings for the government are also part
of the decision.
MCVEIGH: In the Gulf, I realized that I didn‘t like being someone‘s
pawn. Because I felt it was (INAUDIBLE) nullified. It just rubbed the
wrong way. That‘s one reason I got out of the military.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He failed so he had to demonize the military
itself and the government itself to make a reason for him, an honorable
enough reason for him to leave.
MADDOW: Upon returning home after almost four years in the Army,
McVeigh discovers civilian life is not as liberating as he had hoped.
MCVEIGH: I was so excited to get out of the military and go home.
And when I got home there was no excitement there. Once you‘ve had that
adrenaline rush, once someone‘s walked on the razor‘s edge, everything is
dull by comparison. Some people get addicted to it.
MCDERMOTT: When Tim came home, he really seemed changed. You just
really didn‘t, at that point, want to talk about his Army experiences at
all. It was like he just washed his hands of the whole thing.
BURR: He‘d gone from being a person that he thought would have a
career in the military to a person whose focus was gone.
MCCAULEY: It begins this kind of slippery slope. He starts to voice
this opinion. He‘s trying to preach, he‘s trying to vent it out that way.
It starts with editorial letters.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He started seeing oppression and repression by the
federal government in every direction he looked.
POTOK: That world, the world of hatred, ideology and militias and so
on, you know, gave some structure to what he thought. It wasn‘t just that
the whole world was screwed up and that he had been screwed in these
various ways. It was that there was an actual evil agent out there.
MADDOW: The spiral continues. With each disappointment, his anger
and disillusionment grow until one frigid winter day something snaps.
MICHEL: He shows up at his grandfather‘s house in the middle of the
winter just with sweat pants on and no shirt or anything. You know? And
it‘s pretty cold in western New York in the winter. Knocks on his Grandpa
Ed‘s door and his grandpa Ed McVeigh opens the door. “Timmy, Timmy, what‘s
wrong with you?”
“I don‘t know, grandpa. I don‘t know.” This is when he has his
MCVEIGH: I came back from the Gulf War. It was within three months
that I had this breakdown. I think this was also when my post-traumatic
stress kicked in a little later.
MICHEL: So he‘s got all of these things going. It‘s like this
tsunami building inside of him. And he‘s got to get away. He‘s got to do
MCCAULEY: You know, at that point, Tim McVeigh decides, hit the road.
Let‘s go see what we can find.
MICHEL: And his odyssey begins.
MADDOW: In January 1993, Timothy McVeigh is frustrated by the dead-
end existence he has been enduring since leaving the Army and he‘s still is
shaken by his experiences in the Gulf War. Eager to figure out his mission
in life, McVeigh packs up his car and says good-bye to his quiet hometown
of Pendleton, New York.
MCVEIGH: I lasted at home for one year and one month. This whole
neighborhood, this isn‘t for me. I don‘t have a place here, I haven‘t
fallen in love, and I hit the road.
HERBECK: The odyssey that he was living in the early ‘90s was really
bizarre. He thought nothing of getting in his car and driving hundreds or
even thousands of miles, and he was searching for something.
POTOK: As a guy, who I think had a lot of trouble relating to other
people, that was a world that was very kind of amenable to him.
PUCKETT: He was gathering inspiration and information for what he
thought was his mission in life. He wasn‘t going to be the super-soldier,
so who was he going to be now?
MADDOW: McVeigh‘s mission is still unclear, but he is beginning to
hone in on his main focus of fury—the U.S. government. He finds like-
minded thinkers on the gun show circuit. During the early 1990s, these
expos become gathering places for the fast-growing militia and patriot
movements. It is in this subculture that McVeigh finally finds an outlet
for his growing rage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, you could find an amazing amount of
literature on insurgency, on forming militias, on building weapons.
They‘re amazingly antigovernment.
MCVEIGH: One of my favorite bumper stickers, when you‘ve heard the
one that says “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” Well,
there‘s a new one—and it was my favorite, it says, “When guns are
outlawed, I will become an outlaw”. And it was at that point when I was
fully intent on my life that I was going to live outside the law.
HERBECK: He started to believe that our government was going to come
into people‘s homes and take their guns away. And this scared the hell out
of Tim McVeigh.
MADDOW: And that same mentality is what you see from gun show to gun
show to gun show. Get your weapons now, stockpile them now.
MCCAULEY: For Tim McVeigh, this must seem like this is the next war
that‘s about to be waged.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight at least four federal agents and one cult
member are dead. And at least 14 other people were wounded in the gun
MADDOW: On February 28th, 1993, outside the central Texas town of
Waco, many in the patriot movement believed the spark to that next war is
MCVEIGH: You can‘t point guns in the direction of my wives and my
kids. Damn it, I‘ll meet you at the door anytime.
MADDOW: In an effort to take Branch Davidian spiritual Leader David
Koresh into custody, federal agents raid his compound, and a massive fire
fight breaks out.
STUART WRIGHT, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY: Six Davidians and four ATF
agents were killed. And that started the 51-day standoff.
BURR: It was a clash between federal law enforcement might and
withdrawn people who were fiercely protective of their community.
MCVEIGH: You feel a bond to this community, the bond is that they‘re
fellow gun owners and believe in gun rights and they‘re fellow
survivalists, and freedom lovers. When do you draw the line and say enough
is enough? Somebody has to send a message to say, “You can‘t go any
HERBECK: And McVeigh got in his little junk car and drove to Waco,
Texas, to find out what was going on.
MADDOW: Michelle Rauch, a college newspaper reporter at the time, was
at the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco to investigate the story. It
wasn‘t until one year after the Oklahoma City bombing that she realized the
man she interviewed on the hood of his car was none other than Timothy
RAUCH: He was very unassuming. He was literally just very casual
sitting on the hood of his car, very articulate. Tim said, “People need to
watch what‘s happening and heed any warning signs.” At the time, I
thought, well, what does that mean?
Well, when I went back and read that in my article, it gave me chills.
Because I thought, did that mean Oklahoma City? Was he foreshadowing?
MADDOW: After camping in his car outside the Branch Davidian compound
for a few days, McVeigh drives to Terry Nichols‘ farm in northern Michigan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In less than an hour, the compound that had
fascinated the world for 51 days was destroyed in a raging inferno.
MADDOW: On April 19th, 1993, McVeigh and Nichols watched the violent
end of the Waco siege on television.
MCVEIGH: Watching flames and lick out windows, and I‘m watching tanks
ram walls. And my eyes just welled up in tears, and tears started coming
down my cheeks, and I‘m watching this scene unfold, just stood there in
What is this? What has America become? I just remember that scene
burned into my memory. I‘m emotional right now as I talk about it. You
know, I felt absolute rage.
BURR: Tim saw this as an act of war against the people.
MICHEL: It was the bully again, this time the horns were on the head
of the federal government.
MCVEIGH: The rules of engagement, if not written down, are defined by
the actions of an aggressor. OK? Now, what rules of engagement would you
interpret in examining Waco? Kids are fair game? Women are fair game?
POTOK: I think that that was the final moment for McVeigh, and he
says so himself, right? I mean, after Waco, now is the time for action,
right? Now we‘re going operational.
MCVEIGH: With Oklahoma City being a counterattack, I was only
fighting by the rules of engagement that were introduced by the aggressor.
Waco started this war. Hopefully Oklahoma would end it.
MCVEIGH (voice-over): As I talk about these things, I hope that you already
realize that I have emotion and that I‘m human, OK? But when I go and I
start talking about these things in a clinical way, that it‘s going to
sounds cold. The truth is that that‘s the way you talk about things of
this nature when you‘re, quote, “a professional.”
MADDOW (voice-over): Lou Michel‘s intense interview is now approaching the
core of Timothy McVeigh‘s grisly narrative. It‘s April 18, 1995, just 24
hours before the tragedy in Oklahoma City, and McVeigh is in possession of
the rented 20-foot Ryder truck. The horrific plan is in motion. But co-
conspirator Terry Nichols is trying to back out yet again.
DAN HERBECK, CO-AUTHOR, “AMERICAN TERRORIST”: He told McVeigh, I‘m out. I
don‘t want to be involved with this. McVeigh got him on the phone and
yelled and screamed at him and told him, you‘re in this. You are going to
help me put this bomb together.
MADDOW: McVeigh convinces Nichols to stick with him. To see the mission
LOU MICHEL, CO-AUTHOR, “AMERICAN TERRORIST”: McVeigh is in charge. McVeigh
becomes the alpha male in this small conspiracy to get even with the
MCVEIGH: From a military perspective, to get a message across, you need to
hurt them where they hurt the most. The government could give a (EXPLETIVE
DELETED) about a building. They‘ve got bottomless pockets to build a new
one. The only way they‘re going to feel something, and the only way
they‘re going to get the message, is, quote, “with a body count.”
MICHEL: So, on April 18th, the day before the bombing, McVeigh is ready now
to build his monstrous contraption, a 7,000-pound bomb.
MCVEIGH: Of course, you assemble everything ahead of time. You leave
nothing to the last second, right? I went out to the truck, checked it
over, started it up and drove off. Got to the storage shed. I started
loading stuff in the truck. Somebody was supposed to meet me there, but
didn‘t meet me there.
MADDOW: McVeigh is referring to Terry Nichols, who was supposed to meet up
early that morning at their storage space in Harrington, Kansas. Nichols
appears to have abandoned his friend at the most crucial moment. This
leaves McVeigh with the back-breaking task of loading the truck himself.
MARK POTOK, FORMER REPORTER, “USA TODAY”: He is transferring sack after
sack after sack, these 50-pound sacks of ammonium nitrate fertilizer. He
is trying to get, you know, 500 pounds worth of nitromethane fuel up the
ramp into the Ryder truck. The weight involved in actually doing this bomb
building is enormous.
MADDOW: After McVeigh has almost finished loading the truck, Nichols
finally shows up to help.
MICHEL: There was just no turning back at this point. No cold feet. Terry
Nichols was fully on board.
MADDOW: McVeigh is furious, but this is no time for emotion. Nichols jumps
in and helps transport the remainder of the explosive material from the
storage unit into the truck. They then go to a nearby location McVeigh
found to build the bomb.
POTOK: McVeigh has been looking for some time for a place where he can
build the bomb without being spotted. Ultimately he chooses this place, a
little park called Geary Lake. It‘s fairly remote, although not all that
MICHEL: Geary Lake is a fishing lake, but it‘s a little too cold at this
time of year. It‘s a windy, choppy day on the lake and there‘s nobody
there. And so, you know, they‘re inside the truck. If you cut the
tension, the air with a knife, it‘s that thick, because they want to move
quick because they‘re a sitting duck there.
MCVEIGH: All the mixing takes place within the truck. Since I was the
principal, as I put it, right? I was the one that primed the charges, that
crimped the caps to the fuse, et cetera, et cetera. Primed each barrel.
Made sure there was redundant fusing systems so that if one misfired,
another one would fire it. All kinds of redundancies. Made sure the
barrels were stable in place.
POTOK: I don‘t think there‘s much doubt that McVeigh did build a hell of a
bomb. And the way he did it was fairly remarkable. No one had really ever
constructed a bomb like this, and yet it was incredibly effective. It
seems very clear he thought through these things very carefully.
MICHEL: McVeigh had a two minute and a five-minute fuse, a long fuse and a
short fuse. He dripped a hole through the back of the cargo space into the
back of the driving cabin so he could turn around and just light them with
a Bic lighter.
MCVEIGH: If both fuses for some unknown reasons didn‘t go off, I knew where
on the front corner of the truck there was a pile of explosives that would
go off by impact. So as a last resort, from the outside of the truck, I
could use my pistol to set it off, just by firing at the truck.
MADDOW: McVeigh and Nichols are focused on building the bomb when suddenly
their terrorist plot is in danger of being foiled. The secluded area
McVeigh chose is breached.
POTOK: A man and his son show up a little ways away from the truck. And
the guy and his kid go out onto the lake in a little dinghy to go fishing.
MCVEIGH: There was a man with a boy in a boat. They were out on the lake a
bit. So him putting the boat out created a little difficulty. We had to
watch the guy every five minutes, because getting into his head, he might
have walked over and said, hi, how you doing?
MICHEL: They continue to work very cautiously with super presence of mind,
you know, of what‘s going on around them. You know, McVeigh is thinking
that I‘m going to kill this man if he comes over.
POTOK: Luckily for that family, they never approached the Ryder truck.
MADDOW: It takes four hours to build the massive bomb. When it‘s done,
McVeigh and Nichols part ways for the last time.
MCVEIGH: I headed toward Oklahoma and I primed myself, I knew ahead of
time, I thought, am I going to be able to sleep, right? For the most part,
I was at peace. In the Gulf War, when B-52s would come over and do their
carpet bombing, OK? And I was literally, I could feel the ground tremble
underneath my sleeping bag. So sleeping on the back of a 7,000 pound bomb
is no big deal.
MICHEL: He said he slept like a baby. He said he had no problem sleeping
beside his, you know, monstrous creation, because he‘s on this mission.
MADDOW (voice-over): The weather along the Kansas/Oklahoma border is crisp
and clear when the sun rises on the morning of April 19, 1995. One hundred
miles north of Oklahoma City, Timothy McVeigh wakes at dawn after sleeping
soundly on the side of the highway in the cab of his rented Ryder truck,
now loaded with 7,000 pounds of explosives, ready to ignite.
POTOK: He had initially intended to bomb the building at about 11:00 in the
morning, but he finally decides at the very last minute, despite all his
talk about, you know, how he had ever detail of the plan worked out in
advance, he decides he has to go right away. There‘s too much chance of
being caught. So he actually leaves at about 7:00 in the morning.
MADDOW: McVeigh carefully pulls the truck on the highway, heading south on
I-35 toward Oklahoma City.
MICHEL: I believe he was getting antsy and he didn‘t want to take any
chances. He was probably worried that somebody might blow the whistle on
him. He had the whole route mapped out from previous trips to Oklahoma
City. He knew exactly how he was going to get to the Murrah building.
MCVEIGH (voice-over): As a military man, what you do is you do dry runs of
operations. I knew what route I was going to take. I had contingency
plans in case I would have had a flat tire, in case I would have been
pulled over by a cop, in case the road had been closed and had to go
around. So I knew the roads. I wouldn‘t need to look at a map.
MADDOW: After nearly two hours of farmland, the city‘s skyline comes into
view, and McVeigh steels himself for action.
MCVEIGH: You try not to let your mind stray too much. It is just like
going into combat. If you start thinking too much about things that you
should have already thought about prior to, it‘s going to distract you.
There‘s time to think about that (EXPLETIVE DELETED), and it‘s not during
the mission, because it‘s going to distract you. So it was all on
procedure. OK, I‘m going to put my earplugs in here when I pulled off at
the Harrison (ph) Street exit.
MADDOW: McVeigh gets off the highway a few minutes before 9:00 a.m. Upon
entering downtown, there are moments when he isn‘t sure if he will be able
to complete his mission.
MCVEIGH: You‘ve got this adrenaline pumping, but you force yourself to stay
calm and not be noticed. Then pulled up to the light, which was red at the
time. I did the two-minute fuse at the stoplight. And I swear to God, it
was the longest stoplight I ever sat in, in my life. I‘m thinking, OK,
it‘s lit, green, green.
POTOK: There‘s kind of an amazing moment as the fuses are burning back from
the cap of the truck into the rear. McVeigh‘s kind of tapping his fingers
at a red light counting down the last two minutes.
MICHEL: He has the windows rolled down just as he‘s approaching the light,
because he didn‘t anticipate that smoke would fill the cab.
MCVEIGH: I‘m thinking, oh, (EXPLETIVE DELETED), people are going to this
is suspicious. So while accelerating, I hit a -- rolled the window down.
I was adjusting to turn on the fan and blow it out the window with the
defrosters, right, and I was trying to clear the smoke out. And by the
time I pull up, because it‘s going to look funny. I was rolling the
windows back up as I pulled in. I didn‘t want to do it after I stopped,
because we‘re talking seconds now, right?
POTOK: He pulls up the truck, locks the doors, and strides across the
MCVEIGH: I walked very slowly, because it avoids suspicion. You have to be
calm and controlled. It‘s part of the control over yourself. Walked
across the street and walked square toward the YMCA. Once I got in the
blind alley of the YMCA, where nobody can look, I did jog, because I knew
nobody was looking. Just for my own personal pride, I make sure I you the
word “jog” there, because I wasn‘t running in a panic or nothing. It was a
conscious decision to jog.
MICHEL: He‘s very specific on that, that he did not start running, it was
just a gentle trot, because, in his words, I‘m a professional and I‘m not
afraid. But he is waiting, when is this bomb going to go off.
HERBECK: So he started thinking to himself, am I going to have to go back
there and shoot the bomb to ignite it? And just as he was thinking of
that, the bomb blew up.
MCVEIGH: The blast went off and I felt the concussion in both the air and
in my feet.
MICHEL: It goes of and just rattles all the buildings around him. And he
never goes back to look at his handiwork.
MCVEIGH: So, I both heard it clearly through my earplugs and literally I
was lifted off the ground. I didn‘t feel the skin contorting, but you
could felt the over (ph) pressure in the air. There is no doubt about
that. You just feel an over-pressure, like a poof.
HERBECK: It was like an earthquake, only very loud. He says he just kept
walking toward his getaway car, which was parked a couple of blocks ago.
MCVEIGH: And I‘m walking one way, and everyone else is coming out of their
stores, and I‘m walking the other way. And I know this may sound like I‘m
cold and detached, but remember, this is military training. I was never
hyped up. I was always in complete control. The mission is accomplished.
I knew it was accomplished. And it was over.
CATE MCCAULEY, INVESTIGATOR, OKLAHOMA CITY BOMBING COMMITTEE: Yes, he felt
the explosion. Yes, he saw the building teetering. He knew perfectly well
what he had just done, and yet he felt a sense of pride?
POTOK: I think that when McVeigh talks about the actual bombing, the
carrying out of the last few minutes of the bomb, and he‘s not almost
bragging, he‘s boasting completely. You know, it‘s all about, you know, I
am the consummate technician and his whole concern is to show that he was
always icy cool, calm and collected. But, you know, what the guy is
talking about is mass murder on an incredible scale, including the murder
of children. I felt very much that this is a guy who has no connection to
any kind of emotions really at all.
MADDOW: McVeigh makes it to his getaway car. Behind him lay the ruins of
the worst terrorist attack the United States had ever seen. What lies
ahead is one of the biggest American manhunts of all time.
MADDOW (voice-over): It is 9:03 a.m., April 19, 1995. Within a minute
after the massive explosion at the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma
City, bomber Timothy McVeigh is approaching his getaway car. A beat-up
1977 Mercury Marque that he purchased for $250. A car so broken down that
it nearly strands McVeigh, threatening to hinder his getaway.
MCVEIGH (voice-over): I got in the car, cranking it over. I pumped the gas
like one half pump. I‘m thinking, (EXPLETIVE DELETED), you‘re smelling
gas, you‘re draining the battery. OK, it‘s flooding. Hold it to the
floor. It started right up. So I‘m gunning it, trying to warm it up.
It‘s not going anywhere. I‘m thinking, OK, ths is—I‘m at about five
minutes now from the blast. You don‘t want to be apprehended in Oklahoma
City, you know, five minutes after.
POTOK: It‘s fairly remarkable to listen to him talking about how he finally
gets things started. You know, meanwhile, there‘s absolute carnage behind
him. But then he pulls that old beater onto the highway.
MCVEIGH: I pulled out, stopped at every stoplight in all direction and I
was moving with it, using my directions, moving normal speed. I do know,
again, like in military, you‘ve got this adrenaline pumping, but you force
yourself to stay calm and not be noticed.
MICHEL: If you were to be up in a traffic helicopter looking down, you
would see everyone racing to this crippled building, where 168 lives have
just been snuffed out, 500 more people injured, people trapped, smoke,
fire. And you would just see this one car going in the opposite direction.
MADDOW: Although the old Mercury is finally running, as McVeigh heads north
toward the Kansas border, there is still one major problem with the car.
The license plates are missing. McVeigh claims that this isn‘t an
oversight. That he planned it all along.
MCVEIGH: At this point, since I had given—dealt myself a wildcard with
leaving the license plate off, because when you leave a license plate off,
you cannot predict who‘s going to pull you over and when. So that entire
trip, every inch my tire rolls on the interstate, I‘m probably thinking,
OK, what am I gonna do at this inch if this happens? What am I gonna do at
HERBECK: I just can‘t see how he would leave that plate off, because so
much of his plan was very meticulously thought out. It always perplexed
POTOK: Then, finally, he is indeed pulled over. Not a big surprise given
he‘s driving down the road in an old car with no license plate at all.
MADDOW: Just 75 minutes after the bombing, McVeigh is pulled to the side of
the highway by Oklahoma State Trooper Charlie Hanger. Up until this
moment, McVeigh says he is convinced he was making a clean getaway. It
turns out he almost did.
MCVEIGH: Hanger was a fluke, because he said his—he was just—at the
exit he pulled me over, I was within spitting distance of the exit. He
said he was going to get to that exit because it was the county line, go up
on the overpass and turn around and head back. They were requesting
assistance in Oklahoma and he was going to head that day. Yes. So I was
within, you know, one mile an hour more, in that 20 mile stretch, and he
wouldn‘t have seen me because I would have been past.
MADDOW: At this point, State Trooper Hanger doesn‘t link him to the
bombing, so McVeigh must quickly figure out the best way to deal with the
MICHEL: McVeigh, you know, announces to him that I have a handgun and
Charlie says back, well I have gun too.
POTOK: He sits there and he thinks about, OK, am I going to kill the police
officer or not? And, you know, makes this decision to simply be arrested.
MICHEL: Charlie disarms him and arrests him, you know, on some minor
MADDOW: McVeigh is handcuffed and taken to the nearest local lockup in the
small town of Perry, Oklahoma. He‘s charged with misdemeanors of driving a
vehicle without plates and carrying a weapon without a permit. At booking,
McVeigh is calm and unassuming.
MCCAULEY: And I talked to the people who booked him in. Nice boy. Not
nervous. Didn‘t show any inkling. This kid can mask what‘s going on
inside of him very well.
MADDOW: McVeigh is booked about two hours after the bombing and still
doesn‘t know the degree of damage he has inflicted. But while waiting for
a cell to become available, he catches sight of a television showing images
of the carnage.
MCVEIGH: It was at the Perry courthouse when they were booking me in,
right? And I was watching the TV. And, of course, I‘m absorbing it
without pretending I‘m not, right? Pretending I‘m worried about being
arrested and all this stuff.
MICHEL: That‘s when he caught his first glimpse of the Murrah building.
And his first reaction was, damn, I didn‘t take the building completely
down. So he‘s got that in his memory when he goes up to the holding cell.
HERBECK: McVeigh was just wondering, do they know that I‘m involved with
the bombing? I don‘t think they know.
POTOK: He sits in that jail waiting to see if they‘re going to figure it
out or not. But, you know, he‘s not going to help them. I mean, in a way,
I think what‘s really going on is that McVeigh does essentially plan on
being caught. He wants the credit for this. He wants to be the Oklahoma
City bomber, but he‘s not going to help them at all. It‘s some kind of
weird game he is playing with law enforcement.
MADDOW: McVeigh waits all that first day to be identified, but nothing
happens. Meanwhile, the hunt for the bomber is on.
MADDOW (voice-over): It‘s just 24 hours after the bombing of the Murrah
building, and Timothy McVeigh is sitting quietly in a Perry, Oklahoma, jail
cell. He‘s not being held in connection with the vicious act that killed
168 people just the day before, but rather for misdemeanor charges.
An international manhunt is issued for two suspects, John Doe number
one and John Doe number two. Several witnesses claim to have seen a second
man in the Ryder truck prior to the bombing. As this is happening, McVeigh
is biding his time, waiting to see how long it will take for authorities to
figure out who he really is.
LOU MICHEL, CO-AUTHOR, “AMERICAN TERRORIST”: While McVeigh‘s in
prison in this little relative ocean of solitude, you know, just waiting
for something to happen, the rest of the country is just uptight, in knots,
wondering: is there going to be another attack?
People are wondering: is this something from the Middle East? Who
could do this?
MADDOW: FBI agents combed the debris for clues to who could have
been behind the bombing. They quickly locate a very revealing piece of
DANNY DEFENBAUGH, RETIRED FBI INSPECTOR, OKLAHOMA CITY BOMBING TASK
FORCE: It was within three hours of the bombing itself that the rear axle
to the bomb-laden truck was located and found. That rear axle had a
confidential vehicle identification number which led to the Ryder truck and
took us to Kansas to start the investigation there as to who rented that
MADDOW: Federal agents swarmed Junction City, Kansas, and talked to
the owner of Elliott‘s Body Shop, where McVeigh rented the Ryder truck.
They emerged with the description of the renter, Robert Kling, a tall white
male with a military bald cut.
Down the street, at the Dreamland Motel, the manager tells agents
that the Kling description resembles a man who had stayed there just days
before, a guest registered under the name Tim McVeigh. The question
remains: why would he use his real name? It‘s turning out that McVeigh has
left clues everywhere.
MICHEL: You have to realize that inside that marquee was a big
thick brown envelope with all kinds of anti-government literature,
espousing his viewpoints.
And he‘s wearing a t-shirt that has a quote from John Wilkes Booth
when he shot Lincoln, “Sic simper tyrannis.” The Latin words, “Tyrants
thus forever.” And on the back there‘s the words of Thomas Jefferson, that
“The tree of liberty must be watered from time to time with the blood of
tyrants and patriots.”
MCVEIGH: I left the trail on purpose. Just a few pieces in my car, I
have piece—I was wearing it on my back in my shirt. Even if I wouldn‘t
have been apprehended and had a trial, I would have still gained the
benefit automatically of being identified. I already made sure that was in
place. There was a no lose situation.
MICHEL: McVeigh had this all very carefully choreographed. And he
decides to go this way. And let the federal agents connect the dots that
McVeigh has so conveniently placed for them.
MADDOW: McVeigh‘s trail begins to come rapidly into focus for
investigators, but to the local police in Perry, he‘s still being detained
as just a small-time offender. It‘s a cat-and-mouse chase that McVeigh
MCVEIGH: I describe it as playing a game with them. I am playing
the game with law enforcement, and every day I laugh.
MADDOW: By the time federal agents identify McVeigh just two days
after the bombing, he is being arraigned and about to be released from the
Noble County jail. Just an hour or so from being set free, agents contact
the sheriff to put a hold on McVeigh, to keep him in custody. They rush to
Perry to meet with their number one suspect.
But despite his claiming that he wanted to be caught, McVeigh isn‘t
MCVEIGH: The guy says, you better talk to us, because you‘re facing
the death penalty, and he pulls out pictures of dead babies, OK? And he
slides them toward me and says, you‘re familiar with the Oklahoma bombing,
right? Or something to that effect, some way to introduce the pictures and
make me feel bad and start talking.
Well, it didn‘t work. I just said—I kept a straight face and
said, “I want an attorney.”
MADDOW: That same afternoon in Harrington, Kansas, after learning
that he had become a person of interest, Terry Nichols turns himself in.
Unlike McVeigh, Nichols cooperates with authorities. He‘s not the John Doe
number two they‘re looking for, but he provides enough information to
implicate McVeigh as the architect of the bombing plot.
Later in the day, back in Perry, FBI agencies prepare to take
McVeigh out of the Noble County courthouse. It will be the first time the
world gets a look at the Oklahoma City bomber.
DAN HERBECK, CO-AUTHOR, “AMERICAN TERRORIST”: I don‘t think anyone
who was alive at that time in America will ever forget the sight of Timothy
McVeigh being led out of the courthouse in that orange jumpsuit.
MARK POTOK, DIRECTOR, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: The thing that I
think stuck with every single person who saw this one little snippet of
video coverage was McVeigh walking out of that building, refusing to look
down, and, you know, with 1,000-yard stare.
MCVEIGH: There were steps leading out of the courthouse. And I had
to concentrate on where those steps would be without dipping my head down
and looking down, because people would take dipping my head down as a sign
of defeat or something and I‘m in leg chains. The leg chains, if you‘ve
ever tried walking downstairs, and your stride is too long, you‘ll fall
right down because the chain catches on the little step. So, those are the
things I was thinking of.
DR. KATHLEEN PUCKETT, PH.D, FORMER FBI FORENSIC PYSCHOLOGIST: I
think the overall visceral action was that looks like the kid down the
block. How could he have done what he did?
MADDOW: Outside the courthouse, McVeigh comes face-to-face with a
crowd that grows unruly.
MCVEIGH: It was hard to pick out individual things, because they
were all yelling at once, right? But I do distinctly remember one I heard,
look over here mother (EXPLICIT DELETED) baby killer, look me in the face.
My immediate thought was, I‘m not going to give you the pleasure of looking
POTOK: People got their first feel for this guy, who in my opinion
was very, in many ways, a true sociopath. I think it was obvious even at
that moment that this was a guy who was trying very hard to send a message
to the American public at large.
MADDOW (voice-over): On April 21st, 1995, two days after the
bombing in Oklahoma City, Timothy McVeigh is taken into federal custody and
exposed to the world for the first time. That same day, co-conspirator,
Terry Nichols, is also taken into custody. Eventually, Michael Fortier is
apprehended as well. All three suspects in the bombing plot are locked
But for the survivors, this is of little consolation.
CATE MCCAULEY, INVESTIGATOR, OKLAHOMA CITY BOMBING CASE: You have
to remember, there were almost 700 people injured, a lot of people with
hearing loss, a lot of people with scars. So, it‘s not just the people who
died. It‘s the people who are wounded.
PATTI HALL: I had 40 broken bones. My legs and my ankles, my
pelvis, my arms, and my feet were all crushed. And they just didn‘t think
I‘d make it. They put me in a five-week coma, because they were going to
have to do so many surgeries on me. When I finally was able to come out of
it, they had to teach me how to talk, how to eat, how to brush my teeth.
SUSAN URBACH: I had head and face injuries, neck injuries, and that
was due to all the things that came down from the ceiling. Plaster that
was shoved up underneath the skin, I had an ear cut in half, and then the
back injuries were because of the shrapnel just propelled into your back.
It was a lot of stitching. I had somewhere between 3 ½ and 4 feet worth
of stitching, if you added it up all together.
MADDOW: Among the 168 killed and nearly 700 injured in the attack,
dozens are young children. Paula Matley‘s (ph) daughter Jordan was only 3
½ years old when the blast tore through her daycare classroom across the
street from the Murrah Building.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Following the bombing, Jordan had much
difficulty sleeping. She had nightmares. She had extreme separation
anxiety. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and
underwent about a year of therapy for that, where she would draw pictures
and just relate her anger about the situation.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I remember thinking that the person who did
that to so many families, that they should—that they should have some
repercussions for it. I mean, they shouldn‘t just get away with it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, she—she wanted him punished, the
ultimate punishment for him.
MADDOW: Janney Coverdale lost her two young grandsons that day.
They were just beginning their morning at the daycare center on the Murrah
Building‘s second floor when the explosion took their lives.
JANNEY COVERDALE: I remember the day they told us that Aaron and
Elijah were dead. I remember screaming at God. It took me a long time to
get over some of that anger.
So, now, I go visit Aaron and Elijah out at the cemetery.
Sometimes, I get angry then, too. They were little boys, and you just
don‘t murder little kids.
Aaron would be 20 years old now, Elijah would be 17. Sometimes,
during the day, you‘re going to cry. Or there‘s going to be something
that‘s going to remind you of the bombing, and you‘re right back where you
were on April 19th, 1995. We don‘t ever get too far from there.
DICK BURR, MCVEIGH DEFENSE ATTORNEY: There were reports of up to
50,000 people in the Oklahoma City area suffering symptoms of post-
traumatic stress disorder. I looked at all the photographs from the crime
scene. I looked at all the photographs from the coroner‘s office. It was
MCVEIGH: Death and loss are integral part of life everywhere, and
accidents like plane crashes where you lose 100, 200 people, all these
examples I give you right now are unexpected losses. We have to accept it
and move on.
MICHEL: He had grown into this being that lacked all sensitivity.
MCCAULEY: He was very hostile to the victims, really almost
detaching himself from their hurt altogether.
MCVEIGH: I had no hesitation to look right at them and listen to
their story, but I‘d like to say to them, I‘ve heard your stories many
times before. The specific details may be unique, but the truth is, you‘re
not the first mother to lose a kid. You‘re not the first grandparent to
lose a granddaughter or grandson. I‘ll use the phrase, and it sounds cold,
but I‘m sorry, I‘m going to use it, because it‘s the truth—get over it.
POTOK: I think on some level, Timothy McVeigh was a fool to tell
the mothers and the grandparents, the sisters, the brothers, you know, get
over it, this is just one of those things that happen in life. To never
show or I think feel on any level even the slightest, you know, pang of
remorse is amazing.
HALL: I know he said it wasn‘t any water off his back, and he
didn‘t care and let it be, and that he was not going to feel bad about it
or anything. But, you know, that man, you take a good look at his eyes,
take a good look at those eyes—I believe that he was scared to death,
and he knew what he had done.
MCCAULEY: How can you feel so much for the people of Waco and can‘t
have feelings about the people you killed? What the heck is the difference
between the two of these? I‘ve never been able to wrap my brain around
that. He wasn‘t going to go there. Once he built the wall, that was it—
the mission is done, get over it.
COVERDALE: It seemed like he hated us instead of us hating him. It
seemed like he was angry with us, like we had done something to him. He
hurt us. Tim hurt us like nobody else has ever hurt us. It was like
something evil possessed him. I think if he had just said, “I‘m sorry,
forgive me,” I think I could have, but he didn‘t.
MADDOW: More than two years after the Oklahoma City bombing, a
federal jury finds Timothy McVeigh guilty on 11 counts of murder and
conspiracy. On June 13th, 1997, McVeigh is sentenced to death.
MCVEIGH: To any realist in that situation, you pretty much know
they‘re going to get the death sentence regardless of what happens at
trial. So, I had accepted that from the beginning. So, my entire attitude
the whole time, including now, ever day, is carpe diem, seize the day.
I‘ve already accepted my death. In that sentence, the victims, you
can have what you want. This earth holds nothing more for me, OK? I‘m
ready to move on.
MCVEIGH: First of all, I believe there is no hell. But if I go
further and say, even if there is, I don‘t think I‘m going.
MADDOW (voice-over): On July 13th, 1999, Timothy McVeigh is
transferred to the federal death row unit in Terre Haute, Indiana. This
will be his final stop before execution. Despite never admitting guilt to
the court, McVeigh claims that ending up on death row is exactly how he
MCVEIGH: Death is not a penalty, it‘s an escape. I recognized that
well before I was driving away from Oklahoma City on the morning of April
19th without a license plate. I, in fact, may be in a sense a
groundbreaker in a new suicide by cop.
MCCAULEY: If you‘re going to commit suicide, OK, fine. Go, put a
gun to your head, jump in a lake, I don‘t care. But to take all these
people with you, that it makes a point, that it illustrates something—
for me, it‘s the height of vanity and selfishness. It‘s beyond words.
MCVEIGH: The reason I‘m different and call myself maybe a
groundbreaker is that I knew a lot of this before it happened. I knew my
objective was state-assisted suicide, and when it happens, in your face
(EXPLICIT DELETED), in other words, I‘m manipulating the system for my own
MICHEL: McVeigh was done with life. He wanted to be executed. He
wanted to go down in flames and put it in the government‘s face, that
you‘re killing me for killing people.
MCVEIGH: In the crudest terms, 168 to one. If you have had it on a
scoreboard, right? So, I sit here today content that there‘s no way that
they can beat me by executing me.
MADDOW: Early on the morning of June 11th, 2001, Timothy McVeigh is
brought to the death chamber.
MCVEIGH: You asked what I would be feeling on whatever, gurney,
contentment and peace. Peace is an important word to put in there. I
didn‘t just want to leave it at contentment. I‘d be content and peaceful.
MADDOW: For the first time in 38 years, a federal prisoner will be
executed in the United States.
BURR: The execution day in Terre Haute, Indiana, was unlike
anything I had ever experienced.
MICHEL: You had media from Japan, from Europe from the whole United
POTOK: There was a kind of remarkable scene. There were lots and
lots and lots of people outside the prison celebrating his death.
HERBECK: It was almost like, in the old days, they used to hang
people in the public square, and thousands of people used to come to watch.
To them, it was kind of a happening.
MADDOW: Inside the prison walls, the mood is much more somber.
McVeigh invited Lou Michel and Cate McCauley to witness his execution.
MCCAULEY: They opened the curtains and there he was strapped to a
gurney. He looked very old, very gray. In the end, he looked at us square
in the eye, and mouthed the words “It‘s OK.” In that moment, tears leaked
out of my eyes, because it wasn‘t OK.
COVERDALE: I was glad when he died. I‘ll never forgive Tim
McVeigh, I don‘t think.
HALL: I didn‘t want him to live. Many of them wanted him to live.
But I didn‘t find any relief because there‘s no way it can help to
bring back all these people, and all these feelings. There‘s no way they
can bring back all of my legs and be walking, me being sick all the time
with bad lungs. There‘s just no way.
URBACH: At the end of the day, no matter how good justice is, it
doesn‘t bring back a life. It doesn‘t undo an injury. It doesn‘t put back
what was there.
MADDOW: For the survivors and the rescue teams and the families of
those who were killed, the events of April 19th, 1995 will never be
forgotten. The consequences of McVeigh‘s horrific act still haunt them
COVERDALE: I don‘t go around people too much. I go to church, I go
to grocery store, and I‘m back home because I can get up out of bed in the
morning and feel pretty good, but sometime that day, I‘m going to start
JENNIFER RODGERS, FIRST RESPONDER: It‘s still wrong. It just
doesn‘t seem like it was really that long ago. To this day I have problems
with loud noises and have had dreams where I can hear an explosion and wake
up, and there was no explosion.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For me it seems pretty distant since I was
only 3 ½ and I couldn‘t really, like, take in what was going on. I just
remember being confused. It almost seems like a dream.
HALL: I‘ve had good days and bad. A lot of times I just sit and
pray and tell God, hey, you know, I‘m having it bad. Then I realize, well,
I don‘t have it bad. I can walk, I can talk, I can see, I can hear. No,
there‘s many that don‘t have that.
I don‘t have it bad. I just think I‘ve got it bad, and I get going.
I‘m not going to sit still.
SUBTITLE: In 2006, the investigation into the Oklahoma City bombing
was officially closed.
Suspected accomplice John Doe number two was never identified or
On May 26, 2004, Terry Nichols was convicted of 161 counts of first
He is now serving 161 consecutive life terms without the possibility
of parole at the federal supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.
Michael Fortier was sentenced to 12 years in prison for failing to
warn authorities about the attack. After serving ten-and-a-half years,
Fortier was released for good behavior. He is now in the witness
protection program under a new identity.
Timothy McVeigh was 33 years old when he was executed. His ashes
were spread in an undisclosed location.
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