As long ago as 1992, suspected Oklahoma City federal building bomber Timothy J. McVeigh railed against what he saw as the mendacity of government and hinted that bloodshed might be the answer.
Two rambling letters from McVeigh, published three years ago by a small-town newspaper in Upstate New York, provide the first look at the unvarnished thoughts of a man allegedly responsible for the worst act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history.
"What is it going to take to open up the eyes of our elected officials? AMERICA IS IN SERIOUS DECLINE. We have no proverbial tea to dump; should we instead sink a ship full of Japanese imports?" McVeigh wrote in a letter published on Feb. 11, 1992, by the Union-Sun & Journal, of Lockport, N.Y.
His letter continued: "Is a civil war imminent? Do we have to shed blood to reform the current system? I hope it doesn't come to that! But it might."
Copies of McVeigh's two published letters, as well as a more recent letter to the same newspaper from the suspect's younger sister, Jennifer McVeigh, were scooped up Wednesday by the FBI, according to employees of the newspaper.
Timothy McVeigh, a 27-year-old Army veteran whose emotionless visage, angular jaw and buzz-cut hair is already embedded in the national psyche as a symbol of the bombing, has reportedly refused to answer authorities' questions. According to federal officials, he has likened himself to a prisoner of war.
Dan Kane, managing editor of the New York paper, said his staff began combing through old editions earlier this week after a high school teacher telephoned and recalled reading letters signed by a Tim McVeigh. When he read McVeigh's letters, Kane decided to publish them again and telephoned the FBI.
"There was one paragraph in particular that made my heart stop a little bit," Kane said. "It was the one that said: 'shed blood. . . .' After Oklahoma City, I certainly look at it as a sort of eerie and prophetic statement."
Kane said an FBI agent served him with a subpoena Wednesday, ordering him to testify on May 2 before a federal grand jury in Oklahoma City. Kane's six-days-a-week paper in Lockport, with 18,000 paid subscribers, serves a rural farming community about 15 miles north of Buffalo, near Lake Ontario.
The Union-Sun & Journal was the hometown paper of Timothy McVeigh, who grew up six miles south of town in tiny Pendleton, where his father still resides. The newspaper's proximity to his father's home--plus its policy of publishing virtually all letters received at full length with little editing--is probably what attracted the missives from both Timothy McVeigh and his sister, according to Kane and others.
"We have a longstanding policy; we print every letter," said one employee of the paper who asked not to be identified. Referring to the letters from the McVeighs, the employee said: "We have a fair amount of that kind of mail, and it's probably encouraged because we allow it" to be published.
The letters from Timothy McVeigh show that he was steaming with passion before the two events that authorities charge helped drive him to bomb a building: The August, 1992, confrontation in Idaho between federal agents and a survivalist named Randall Weaver, in which Weaver's wife, their 14-year-old son and an agent died; and the 1993 siege by federal agents of the weapons-fortified compound of the Branch Davidians sect near Waco, Tex., which ended in the deaths of 86 people.
McVeigh's second and final letter to the paper was published on March 10, 1992. It amounts to an ad hominem defense of meat-eating and hunting--along with thoughts that criminalists will no doubt find of interest. McVeigh extolled the "clean, merciful shot" of the deer hunter, whose prey "dies in his own environment, quick and unexpected." Cattle slaughter, he wrote, offers its victims less dignity and more suffering.
"Would you rather die while living happily or die while leading a miserable life, you tell me which is more 'humane'? " McVeigh wrote.
In the Feb. 11, 1992, letter, McVeigh mixed his view of potential human bloodshed with comments on issues that are staples of angry militants:
* "Crime is out of control," he wrote. "Criminals have no fear of punishment. Prisons are overcrowded so they know they will not be imprisoned long."
* "Taxes are a joke," he wrote in the same letter. "Regardless of what a political candidate 'promises,' they will increase. More taxes are always the answer to government mismanagement. They mess up, we suffer. Taxes are reaching cataclysmic levels, with no slowdown in sight."
* "The 'American Dream' of the middle class has all but disappeared . . . " McVeigh wrote. "Politicians are further eroding the 'American Dream' by passing laws which are supposed to be a 'quick fix,' when all they are really designed for is to get the official reelected. These laws tend to 'dilute' a problem for a while, until the problem comes roaring back in a worsened form. (Much like a strain of bacteria will alter itself to defeat a known medication.)"
In that same letter, McVeigh also raised issues of race and class.
"Racism on the rise? You had better believe it. . . !" he wrote. "At a point when the world has seen communism falter as an imperfect system to manage people; democracy seems to be heading down the same road. . . . Maybe we have to combine ideologies to achieve the perfect utopian government. . . . Should only the rich be allowed to live long?"
McVeigh's 21-year-old sister decried communism, gun control, permissive sex and "the L.A. riots" in her letter, published on March 10 of this year. She also referred to the Weaver and Branch Davidian confrontations and parroted far-right literature by warning of an America ruled by "a single authoritarian dictatorship."