"How can one look upon such photographs and not be somehow changed?" That was the question my friend Curmudgeon asked over at the Political Clown Parade. It is a very poignant and moving image. It won a Pulitzer Prize, rightfully so. It captured the sadness, the loss and utter tragedy of the Oklahoma City bombing.
There was no excuse for the Oklahoma City bombing. None. The cure for injustice is never more injustice. And it was injustice that spawned the Oklahoma City bombing.
I have often wondered, if there had been a comparable photo to the one above, of a first responder cradling the form of a tiny child, gassed and burned to death at Waco, after the siege of the Branch Davidians, might there have been a different outcome? Could there have been an outrage over the deaths needlessly caused there to be a demand for justice, rather than the Cover Your Backside coverup that followed?
Again, I want to reiterate that there is, and was, no justification for what happened in Oklahoma City. None. But that doesn't mean that there wasn't a reason behind it, a root cause of it that pushed an unstable person over the edge to commit an unspeakably horrible crime. The reason behind the bombing at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building can be found at Waco and at Ruby Ridge, where American citizens died needlessly, and the government agents and officials responsible for it were never held accountable.
What follows will not be a defense of McVeigh, because what he did was indefensible. It will not be a fully footnoted, or referenced history of either Waco or Ruby Ridge. This is my recollection of what transpired and will be by no means comprehensive. But for those of you too young to remember, let me give you an overview. Then, if you are so inclined, you can search these truths out for yourselves. As Scully and Mulder used to say, "the Truth is out there."
Before we get to Waco, the anniversary of which became the date for the Oklahoma City bombing, there was Ruby Ridge. A man named Randy Weaver was a man who, as much as possible, just wanted to be left alone. He moved his wife and family up to a cabin in Northern Idaho, to homeschool their kids and try to live off the land. Anyone who has tried to live "off the grid" knows it isn't easy. It's a hard life.
Now there were some White Supremacists in Northern Idaho and the Feds wanted Randy to infiltrate one of these groups and rat them out. Well, the one thing harder in life than living off the land, is being a government informant inside large groups of violent men, living long enough to survive the experience. Randy said "no". A paid government informant came to Randy with the offer of some quick cash: 'Cut down this shotgun for me and I'll pay you for it'. In retrospect, Mr. Weaver should have smelled a rat. All it takes is a hacksaw and a file to saw off a shotgun, clean off the burrs. But, living hand to mouth, the prospect of some easy cash was hard to resist. Some accounts say that the informant indicated exactly how short to make the barrel. For those of you without a legal background, this is typically referred to as "entrapment". The government entices you to do something illegal and then arrests you for it.
So now, Weaver is arrested for an illegal firearms charge, which, coincidentally, the government says they will make go away...if he consents to be their snitch with the White Supremacists. Gosh, as tempting as that offer is...no! Weaver again refuses to become a government informant and the court case against Weaver proceeds. Forgive me if I'm a little fuzzy on the details here, but as I recall, there was some change in the scheduling of a court hearing that Weaver was not properly informed of. So, when the hearing was held, he failed to appear, not knowing he was supposed to be there, so he was charged with a "failure to appear" and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Now at this point, you and I might expect that in the same situation, a sheriff's deputy might come and knock on the door and say, 'I have a warrant here for your arrest for failure to appear'. I would express shock and disbelief and go with the deputy to the courthouse to get to the bottom of this. Not at Ruby Ridge. The same paid government informant (are you noticing a pattern here?), told the deputy that Weaver was armed (true) and extremely dangerous (no evidence). So instead of sending a deputy to the door, armed men surrounded the house and announced themselves by shooting the family dog. I won't go into great detail, but Weaver's son, who was out with the dog, had no idea who these men were, only that they were shooting at him, so, as he ran back to the cabin, he returned fire. Thus started the gunfight and siege, during which Randy Weaver's wife Vicki was shot by a government sniper while she held her baby in her arms.
I said we needed to start here. During the siege of Randy Weaver's cabin, the FBI discussed using a tear gas, CS gas, to flush them out, but it was dismissed because of the highly flammable nature of CS gas. This was six to eight months before Waco, where they used CS gas as part of their final siege*.
Ruby Ridge ended with the death of Weaver's wife Vicki, one of his sons and a US Deputy Marshall, because of entrapment by the government, the miscommunication of a notice to appear and the failure to treat a law enforcement matter as law enforcement, but rather as a paramilitary action. To my knowledge, no one in authority was censured or punished in any way. No one was fired. Some were promoted. What's that the protesters like to say? "No Justice, no peace"?
At Waco, David Koresh used to come into town all the time. He could have been arrested there without incident. My understanding is, that the local ATF office was going to be going to a hearing in Washington to justify their budget and the need for all this paramilitary style equipment they were buying. A surprise raid of the Branch Davidians was made to order. A little something to show the committee. There were rumors that the Branch Davidians were modifying semiautomatic weapons to full auto, which is against Federal law. Besides, the Davidians are religious "kooks". Who's going to care if we violate a few (or all) of their Constitutional rights?
The element of surprise can be the difference between victory and defeat in many cases. The ATF did not have it. The Branch Davidians had an informant who told Koresh of the planned raid, who told the ATF that they did not have the element of surprise. They chose to go anyway. That was on February 28th. The standoff went on until April 19th. Most of this time was accompanied by a small media city just outside the compound, composed of all the national networks and a host of print, radio and TV reporters, all waiting for something to happen. All reporting that, despite the might and power of the Federal Government...nothing was happening.
During this time, armored vehicles were brought in to assault the compound. For those of you without a legal background, this is illegal. You cannot wage war on civilians. Period. However, there is one tiny exception to this rule, and that is if you are fighting, say, a drug cartel. Drug cartels with almost limitless resources to buy weapons and fortify their hideouts, the one exception to using armored vehicles against civilians is if they are drug dealers. Coincidentally, someone (a government informer, perhaps?) remembered or started a rumor that the Branch Davidians were dealing drugs. Well, there you have it! Tanks? Come on down!!!
There were other rumors, unsubstantiated, that the Davidians were abusing women and young girls. Well, we certainly can't have that, now, can we? Something must be done! Well, something could have been done...wait them out. No matter how well supplied they were in their compound, it was only a matter of time until they ran out of... everything! Or needed a doctor, a dentist, or grew tired of the conflict. But Janet Reno's Justice Department and the Clinton administration were on TV every night not doing anything. Bad optics.
Plans were made for a final assault, using CS gas. The same CS gas that the FBI would not use at Ruby Ridge because it was highly flammable. As a precaution, NO fire trucks were standing by. The fire department was called about six hours after the siege began, after fires had actually started, and the trucks that finally responded were stopped at a checkpoint.
Seventy six people died at Waco. Some as young as one year old. Over a dozen children between one and six. Another dozen between eight and nineteen. According to Wiki, some of the younger children were shot or stabbed to death by their parents, as a mercy killing, to keep them from being burned alive. Think of the people jumping to their deaths from the WTC as opposed to being burned alive.
The government kept the press at bay, preventing photos like the one above from ever being taken. There were no photos I know of published of the dead at Waco or Ruby Ridge. There is some dispute over who fired first during the siege. It was speculated that forensic evidence in the doors of the compound might indicate who fired first. The doors were bulldozed after the raid.
And what of the guns? Remember the guns that started this whole crisis? The ones that were suspected of being modified to full automatic? It is my understanding that NASA volunteered to scan those weapons recovered after the raid, that they had the technology to penetrate the weapons and prove it one way or the other. NASA was refused the opportunity to scan those weapons. The possibility that evidence existed that the entire basis for what resulted in the slaughter of the Branch Davidians was wrong was not a possibility the government wanted to entertain. So, we'll never know.
Festering injustice caused Oklahoma City. Some people today have a problem understanding the outrage over Benghazi. That the government's actions or inaction causes the deaths of innocents, who then receive no justice for their deaths is not a "phony scandal". The nation should mourn those innocents killed by Timothy McVeigh, and the Deputy sheriff shot at Ruby Ridge, along with the Weavers. But remember that had they mourned those "kooks" of the Branch Davidian, and the "preppers" of Ruby Ridge, and demanded justice for them, they might not have needed to.
I heard McVeigh described today as someone who "hated the government". But there was so much more to it than that. And what was it he hated the government for? For not being accountable to the same rule of law as you and I. Janet Reno famously said "I take responsibility" for what happened at Waco. But, in today's world, what does that mean? Did she suffer with jail time? With a reduction in pay? Was she fired? As far as I can tell, she suffered no consequences whatsoever for causing the deaths of seventy six people.
It is said that when you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back. I can't tell you what makes a guy like McVeigh cross over from righteous indignation to homicidal vengeance. I don't have a crystal ball. Maybe if those at Ruby Ridge and Waco had received justice or been spared from government incompetence, maybe McVeigh would have found something else to trigger his rage. That's why I don't defend him. But I understand why he picked April 19th.
Maybe now, you will, too.
Editor's Note: As I was preparing this for publication, I noted that most of the labels from today were the first time used. I haven't written about or referenced Ruby Ridge, or Waco or the Oklahoma city bombing in the seven years I've been writing this blog. I don't think about them all that often. But there are some things we should not forget, lest we repeat them. Benghazi fits that pattern pretty closely, too.
*From Wiki: In the Waco Siege, CS was dissolved in the organic solvent dichloromethane (also known as methylene chloride). The solution was dispersed as an aerosol via explosive force and when the highly volatile dichloromethane evaporated, CS crystals precipitated and formed a fine dispersion in the air.