Furthest Right

American Terorrist: Timothy McVeigh & the Oklahoma City Bombing by Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck


Few names elicit more controversial reactions than that of Tim McVeigh. Reviled by many but adored by some, he was a man of contradictions: a success in the Army who had bad luck getting ahead, but was recognized as capable and valorous by his peers. The bright child and indifferent student. Militia member and avid reader of The Turner Diaries, yet polite man of multiracial friendships. And finally, the incredibly sensitive, empathic guy who one morning parked a truck full of explosives near a federal building and detonated it.

With a subject like that, it’s hard to make a book boring, which is why it is fortunate these experienced journalists downplayed their story’s sensationalist aspects, preferring instead to make a stab at analysis of McVeigh as a person, and less a deed. In this they succeed brilliantly; although the book drops into a quick sequence of detail toward the end, it is well-staged and develops slowly but confidently during the first 2/3 of its length. Careful research hidden behind everyday language describing the upbringing and early years of its subject, including detailed but withdrawn profile of the family. While I find the “postmodern sociological analysis” nonsense to be over-emphasized in current society, and unable to consider the many factors at work in any situation, while on its drive to hammer home its point, here it’s a modest thesis with hints to other areas of possibly related gunk.

The book is exceptionally respectful of its subject and wonderfully deadpan about the introduction of the overdramatic points of view that many media outlets, especially the “news,” emphasize. The authors stick to mainly a magazine journalism style and in the eyes of their subject, adopt a view of “collateral damage” which allows, for the most part, a break from the hand-wringing moralizing that accompanies the coverage of any non-patriotic public event.

If I were writing this, there’d be more detail on the making of large explosive devices, and probably more coverage of McVeigh’s hushed political views. However, it’s hard to think of much else of a large scale that this book lacks: it’s a sturdy exploration of the thoughts and decisions leading up to what was arguably America’s first terrorist experience.

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