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    I am saddened, but also fascinated, at the ritualistic excoriation of Timothy McVeigh that is now taking place as the day on which he is to be killed, theoretically by the community as a whole, draws near. McVeigh is the sacrificial offering through which many will seek to quiet the unease that preys upon them as a consequence of what his evil act sought to memorialize: the numbingly ubiquitous increase in arrogance, self-righteousness, and unscrupulousness on the part of the rapidly growing and ever more lawless police state. Thus, he must be pelted with dung beforehand, that he may be stripped of that symbolic association and in fact be made a figure devoid of intrinsic meaning. Only then will he have room for the alternative symbolic freight demanded by our collective need for a cathartic release with which we hope to put Waco behind us.

    The farcical Danforth commission report did nothing but exacerbate the problem, adding another layer of whitewash to the earlier congressional, FBI and DOJ versions. Now that such rationalization and obfuscation have failed, those wishing to go back to sleep will try a more primitive effort-- mock, dehumanize, execute, move on.

    There is no denying that McVeigh faces a fate commensurate with his offense, and inevitable upon his capture. Those facts do not absolve us of the responsibility to acknowledge that he acted within a comprehensible mental framework, and is neither a publicity psycho or one who hoped to capitalize upon his act, like a kidnapper or mugger. He is more properly viewed as a man who, faced with the murder of his family, catches and kills the perpetrator as a vigilante outside of the law. A bad thing, and an illegal thing, but an understandable thing.

    The federal government DID, in inescapable essence, burn to death 80 men, women and children in Waco, Texas. The matter of whose flammable substance was ignited by which spark or hand is largely beside the point. The pertinent fact is that the raid on Mt. Carmel was conducted for no defensible reason in the first place: there is, despite years of exhaustive self-serving investigation-- on the conclusions of which have always ridden the possibility of criminal liability for the investigators and their allies-- no evidence whatsoever that David Koresh or anyone else in the Mt. Carmel community had committed any crime. The raid was a staged event intended to promote the BATF and help spur support for the agency’s funding requests for the upcoming fiscal year. Koresh knew that he was being looked at and had offered open access to the compound to the agency. Just nine days before the raid, Koresh had gone target shooting with BATF agents. Every indication is that had the agents simply walked up to the front door and presented their warrants (later determined to have been based on fraudulent affidavits), they would have been admitted peacefully, but what they wanted was Hollywood.

    On the other hand, it has been proven that the government engaged in an elaborate cover-up of a great deal of its conduct in the affair, leaving well-founded suspicions of other, as-yet-undiscovered wrongdoings, one of which has from the beginning been alleged to have been the initial opening of fire upon the church without any provocation.

    If true (and considerable evidence and testimony support the allegation-- click here) the Mt. Carmelites were acting perfectly within their rights from the very beginning of the affair; the BATF murdered several citizens during those first few hours; and the government lied passionately and unequivocally in its immediate and subsequent public announcements in an effort to pin responsibility for the situation on Koresh and his people. Once the government had thus demonstrated extreme bad faith, the odds of the Mt. Carmelites voluntarily coming forth to face the state’s justice became understandably unlikely. Their concerns regarding the tender mercies awaiting them were poignantly validated by their eventual fates: those that stayed within the compound were all immolated, and of the 12 that left 8 were convicted in 1995, by means of typically confusing instructions to the jury, of voluntary manslaughter and weapons charges and sentenced to as much as 40 years imprisonment for the crime of defending themselves and their children. This despite the Texas law on self defense, which reads: "The use of force to resist an arrest or search is justified (1) if, before the actor offers any resistance, the peace officer uses, or attempts to use, greater force than necessary to make the arrest or search and, (2) when and to the degree the actor reasonably believes the force is immediately necessary to protect himself against the peace officer's use of or attempted use of greater force than necessary."

    In light of all this, is it so much a mystery that McVeigh concluded that the US government had become a dangerous rogue, incapable of policing itself? Five years later the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the judge in the case had bungled it and obliged a re-sentencing in which these punishments were reduced to 10 year terms, but both proceedings declined to address the fundamental question of who fired first, or the propriety of a raid opened with the shooting of the community pets and followed by a full frontal assault without so much as the presentation of a warrant. I wonder if any judge connected with any of this affair ever asked themselves what their own response would be if they glanced out the living room window one morning to see their dog shot by a swarm of heavily armed masked men rushing at their home? What would you do?

    There is a synchronistic irony in that at the same time that McVeigh is particularly being fulminated against for his reference to the children who died in the Murrah building as "collateral damage", Bob Kerrey is being widely and righteously defended and forgiven for causing "collateral damage" in Viet Nam-- it was war, dammit! But so it goes. War, terrorism, insurrection and self-defense are all terms whose meanings are context- and perspective-dependent.


    The deaths of those children and all other innocents in the Murrah building were monstrous. Any such exercise of power outside the scope of law is monstrous. Timothy McVeigh did a monstrous thing. He is not the only one.


© Peter E. Hendrickson