Writings of a Home-Grown Terrorist

TIMES STAFF WRITER

His first letter from prison came long after he had been sentenced to death.

"Your plan has worked," wrote Timothy J. McVeigh. "Saturate me with enough letters, and I was bound to respond sooner or later."

Three years earlier, in the autumn after the bombing, we had met in a small conference room inside the U.S. Penitentiary in El Reno, Okla.

He was in handcuffs and leg irons, with a chain around his waist, tall and lean, with bright blue eyes and a crackling smile. His hair was Army short, but his skin had taken on that gray prison pallor.

We shook hands. He had long, strong fingers. He was not even 30 years old then, and how ordinary he seemed, how unconcerned about the horrendous act that had put him behind bars. He had never been in trouble before, but he would never leave prison alive.

He was the Army soldier turned terrorist who blew up the Oklahoma City federal building in April 1995, killing 168 people and injuring more than 500.

"Pretty boring, but weeks and months rush by," he said of prison life. "Barely realize it's November, and then it's Christmas."

He complained about the lack of exercise; he said he was losing his muscle tone. "If I could get a beer, I'd have a beer belly by now," he joked, patting his stomach. He was allowed just seven books in his cell, and he added that, while he had never been a heavy reader, he now was devouring "everything from Einstein's general theory of relativity to Zane Grey."

A tank gunner in the Persian Gulf War, he complained about the U.S. intervention in Bosnia. To him, it seemed the U.S. wanted to kill everyone in Bosnia. "They should send in the FBI Rapid Response Team," he joked some more. "They have a great rapport with women and children."

That was a direct reference to FBI and Department of Justice mistakes at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, and on a family farm at Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

He turned wistful when asked what he missed most. "Trees," he said. "I don't see trees here."

Over the years I wrote him, first only occasionally, but for one two-year period nearly every week. I hoped the correspondence would evoke a response. In all, he wrote back a half dozen times.

His letters were always neatly handwritten on lined paper, yellow or white. He was economical, writing in very small, slanted print.

He wrote about gun control, government abuse, life in prison, fellow convicts and his favorite football team, the Buffalo Bills and their then-quarterback Doug Flutie.

He would sign the letters simply "Tim." Then underline his name.

His first response came in the fall of 1998, after I sent him a magazine piece by Gore Vidal. The writer argued that the Bill of Rights was being "steadily eroded" by the federal government.

"Please pass on to Mr. Vidal my praise for that article. After three plus years, someone has finally seen thru all the smoke and hit the mark . . .

. . . Feel free to keep in touch--you never know what may motivate me to write again.

Happy Holidays, Rick.

Tim"

A month later, I was covering the Clinton impeachment when another letter arrived. At the time, Washington also was bombing enemy targets in Iraq.

"I think I saw your ugly mug on TV the other day--standing behind some talking head politician giving an interview to a mass of reporters. (Day before the impeachment vote, I think.)

. . . Everybody is bitching that the vote was so 'partisan.' By the Dems, maybe! Not a one changed their vote . . . at least some of the Reps thought the charges thru.

How about all of these international developments? You can bet I've got some opinions about these events.

1) Do we have enough assets to bomb multiple countries who will not bend to our will?

2) I'd love to be a defense contractor right about now!

3) There have been recent whispers about re-instituting the draft . . . I say this--if women are 'equal,' then as soon as we open every job in the military to them (i.e.--'combat' arms), then goddamn it--they should have to register for the draft when they turn 18, too. Fair is fair, right?!?

4) With our recent threats of force (and use of force) thru-out the world, there is a larger irony escaping notice here. Former war-protestor Clinton is proving the adage about 'absolute power' for sure.

Because the world has slowly been losing respect for the U.S.--with its decline in moral leadership and practiced hypocrisy--we are left with only one foreign policy option: brute force . . .

5) Finally, with Clinton's decision to bomb Iraq, he states that his military advisors recommended the action . . . Of course they did--they're the military! Do you think that a general in the U.S. military is going to recommend a deployment of the Peace Corps or something?!?

. . . By the way, while we're at it, why don't we bomb Turkey--they're killin' Kurds all the time. Or the Israelis? They're consistently killing women and children to quell rebellion. And the beat goes on . . .

. . . And lastly, Go Doug Flutie and the Bills!!!

Later,

Tim"

In the summer of 1999, McVeigh was moved to the new federal death row in Indiana.

A letter arrived that August. He talked about his new home, a group of Cuban inmates from the Mariel boat lift and, of course, the upcoming football season.

"Got these Cubans across the hall I'm able to talk to, but not see. Discussions are hampered by loud fans, but what I get is that this is a group of 30 or so Mureil (sp?) boatlift leftovers who, despite having release papers for up to 3 years, are still being detained by order of INS (and/or poss. others?) . . . and with no money, no representatives in government, no outlet to the press, and no lawyers . . . they have no power to stop it.

To other matters--

Additionally, I've been pretty busy here making adjustments to the new pad, so haven't partaken in much TV . . . Contrary to popular rumor, there's not much 'new' to this place except its 'new' use. Building has housed Cubans for years . . .

Okay, gotta run. Go Flutie!

Tim"

His last letter came in April.

"My stance on gun control?

The Bill of Rights was to act as a set of checks and balances on the federal government. Viewing the Second Amendment in this correct light, I believe as follows:

Overall, gun laws are the responsibility of cities, towns, counties, and states to pass. The federal government should have limited jurisdiction over firearms.

Where the federal government asserts jurisdiction, the rule of thumb should be:

Whatever police are allowed to have, so are the citizens allowed, whatever civilians are not allowed to have, neither are the police allowed."

The letter was written hastily, and the last page was torn across the middle. Whatever he had written below, he did not want anyone to see.

*

Copies of the McVeigh letters to staff writer Richard A. Serrano can be viewed on The Times' Web site at http://www.latimes.com/letters.

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