Reporter Discusses Letters Exchanged With Timothy McVeigh
OKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma City National Memorial contains thousands of artifacts from the bombing and its aftermath.
Many of those serve as evidence of the awful crime Timothy McVeigh committed.
Evidence of why McVeigh committed that crime is harder to find.
In the wake of the bombing, with people everywhere wondering how anyone could do something so evil, some people became determined to get an answer to that question.
At least one would be very disappointed with what he discovered.
"Like most reporters, I wanted to get a lengthier interview with him," said Phil Bacharach, an Oklahoma City resident who was a reporter for The Gazette, a weekly alternative newspaper, at the time of the bombing.
Bacharach wrote extensively on the bombing and was one of the few reporters to ever get any real insight into the man responsible for it.
"All the media descriptions of him as this loner, this drifter, this sociopath," Bacharach mused, "I mean, I have no doubt he was a sociopath, but he certainly did not come off that way at all."
Bacharach would know. When Timothy McVeigh was being held at the federal penitentiary in El Reno before his trial, certain members of the media, Bacharach among them, were allowed to talk with him.
"What we ended up primarily talking about in El Reno was pop culture -- music and movies and TV," said Bacharach. "We could not talk about the bombing, that was a ground rule, and certainly his attorney was ever-present throughout that interview."
Bacharach eventually wrote a story about the meeting, and not long after, got a letter from McVeigh. It seemed he wanted to praise the article, but also make a correction.
"I had reported that he had said the FBI were wizards of PR," Bacharach recalled. "And he wrote, 'No, what I said was that they're wizards of propaganda and here's why...'"
Over the next three years, Bacharach received about two dozen letters from McVeigh. Some were deep and angry, while others were light and humorous.
"Yes, he was a writing a lot about how he liked The Simpsons and Seinfeld," said Bacharach. "But he was also writing a lot about his views on government. I mean, he was certainly impassioned."
McVeigh marked all of the letters 'Not for publication.'
Bacharach said he feels McVeigh chose to write to him because they were of a similar age and because Bacharach wrote for an alternative weekly, where his extreme views might not seem as out of step.
"So much of his ideology and rhetoric was not The Gazette's ideology and rhetoric," clarified Bacharach. "But very much on the edge, certainly not mainstream, and I think he felt an affinity for someone who worked at an alt news weekly."
Bacharach said he felt conflicted, corresponding with a person who'd done such harm to his hometown, but he had his own motivation; he wanted to write a book about the bombing. He wanted to understand how someone who seemed normal could do what he'd done.
Bacharach wanted desperately to get McVeigh to go on the record with him about his actions related to the bombing.
"I think he certainly strung me along," said a rueful Bacharach. "I mean, there were two years' worth of him saying he's close to making a decision on who he can talk to."
In the end, McVeigh informed Bacharach he had decided to "go in another direction."
McVeigh allowed Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck of the Buffalo Daily News to interview him while in prison. The resulting book was entitled "American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing."
Bacharach said he now sees how McVeigh manipulated him. As much as that bothers him, he is just as bothered that he never gained the insight into McVeigh that he hoped for.
"I guess I kept thinking that I was going to somehow make some discovery, or find some revelation about how somebody who seems normal could do something that horrendous," said Bacharach. "And it's an obvious answer: there is no rational reason that anyone would do that, and so what you're left with is a smart, and cagey and clever psychopath."
Until recently, many of Bacharach's letters from McVeigh were on display at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum. They are now back in Bacharach's private possession where they will be part of his personal bombing archive.