Published May 12, 2001
Revelations that the FBI withheld evidence from lawyers for convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh have set off an explosion of their own among conspiracy theorists who see a cover-up, or much worse, behind the most deadly terrorist act in American history.
"Oh yeah! Right!" scoffed one of many submissions that were posted on Internet message boards. "This was a mistake, and none of the info is 'considered to be favorable to McVeigh'. This stuff was somewhere in the White House Library all along? … How many FBI or ATF agents were actually in attendance when the truck (sic) went off? … I don't know whether to laugh or cry."
The Justice Department on Thursday admitted the FBI withheld 3,135 documents it should have given to McVeigh’s lawyers during the discovery period of his 1997 trial in Denver. McVeigh, who recently confessed to being almost entirely responsible for the bombing, was scheduled to be executed next week.
Filmmaker Kathy Wilbern, who lost two grandchildren in the blast, sees the withheld evidence as a chance to prove her theory about the explosion. After spending years retracing McVeigh's steps before the bombing and reading court transcripts and witness statements, she has come to the conclusion that the government knew the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building had been targeted -- not by McVeigh alone, but by a white-supremacist group.
Her film about her investigation, "A Cry for Justice: The Untold Story of the Oklahoma City Bombing," will be released after McVeigh's execution.
"(The FBI evidence) is going to be a strong indication that there are other people involved in the Oklahoma City bombing," she believes. "Why didn't they run the fingerprints that they found in the motel where McVeigh stayed or the car they found? Because they would have found their own guy's fingerprints there."
Those fingerprints, Wilbern asserts, belonged to ATF informants working inside the extreme-rightwing compound known as Elohim City in eastern Oklahoma. Those informants had revealed that the federal building was the target of an attack, she believes, but the government botched a planned sting operation.
"They wanted to come in like John Wayne on a big, white horse and the operation got out of hand, so 168 people lost their lives," Wilbern said. "After what happened in Waco and Ruby Ridge, they coudln’t afford bad publicity (so they covered it up)."
Going one step further was Charles Key, the Oklahoma House of Representatives' former minority whip and now director of the nonprofit Oklahoma City Bombing Investigation Committee.
"I've got information that there was a renegade agent, an undercover guy or inside informant, who turned on them," he told FOXNews.com. "The government obviously had prior knowledge. It's another sad episode in this story. People want to believe their government, the police and law enforcement have been doing the right thing, but the fact is they haven't in this case."The lead prosecutor in the case, Joseph Hartzler, said such conspiracy theories were an understandable reaction to the tragedy. But that does not make them valid.
"I think that people have difficulty accepting the fact that this magnitude of carnage and death can be caused simply by one man and with the assistance of another," he said.
Hartlzer's is a belief shared by at least some of the Internet chatters. "You guys HAVE to get out of and over this pernicious conspiracy mindset," wrote one visitors to a conservative bulletin board. "A simple low-level clerking error made several years ago once again fans the flames of conspiracy-minded wackos everywhere. ... What proof do I offer of this? The material is condemning of McVeigh, not exculpating!"
Among the believers, though, the postings on the Internet all expounded a common theme: We told you so. And much of that reaction came from those who see the hand of the government itself in the 1995 bombing that killed 168 people.
"Now it may come out that the government had an active hand in killing the children they housed in their child murder headquarters as well as at Waco," wrote HaveGunWillTravel.
Some of the loudest cries of government cover-up have come from Robert and James Nichols, the father and brother of Terry Nichols, who was tried and convicted as McVeigh’s accomplice in the bombing.
"I think that Timothy McVeigh is a pawn," Robert Nichols told the Fox News Channel in an interview earlier this month. "He didn't do what they said was done. He may have been a part of it, but he's not the one who done it.
James Nichols was blunt about his belief it was actually the federal government that was responsible for the deaths, including those of the 19 children in a nursery in the building, in a scheme to gain more power for itself.
On the other end of the political spectrum, visitors to www.plastic.com were just as skeptical of the government as many on the right, though they saw less a conscious conspiracy theory than an ingrained abuse of power and a habit of trampling over civil liberties.
"The FBI is in the habit of suppressing evidence. It didn't FORGET to turn over evidence to McVeigh's Defense, it just sits on evidence as a matter of ordinary course, and counts on not getting caught," a poster under the handle NH4 wrote. "If the FBI can't even bring itself to give necessary evidence to prosecutors trying to bring murderers to justice, how can they be expected to provide evidence to defense attorneys just because they are legally required to do so?"
Demonstrating the unanimity of disgust with the FBI fumble, a poster named Klaatu saw connections to other events.
"I do not believe the FBI simply forgot this evidence," Klaatu wrote. "The trial was too important to them. They think they are above the law as they demonstrated at Waco, Ruby Ridge, and in their quiet deployment of Carnivore before those pesky civil libertarians could object."
At least one theory pointed a finger not at the government but at the news outlets reporting the FBI mistake.
"The 'rat' I'm smelling is not the FBI. It's the media," Tall_Texan wrote. "Somebody wants to make a case that this death penalty case (and, by extention ALL death penalty cases) are unfair because evidence is suppressed. They want the death penalty banished.
"I'm seeing this as a smear on the death penalty ... which only happens to be about McVeigh."
McVeigh’s former lawyer, Stephen Jones, is openly questioning whether the former Gulf War veteran could have committed the crime himself. Jones said the government knew there were others in on the plot but ignored the evidence.
"I think he’s trying to protect others. He's enlarging his own role," Jones said. "There's absolutely no doubt in my mind he's attempting to keep someone's identity, who is involved in this situation, from me."
Jones said evidence points toward Saudi terrorist Osama Bin Laden.
"Certainly there is no evidence that any of the people that are directly involved had that kind of knowledge, so it had to come from someone who had that kind of skill," he said.
Some alternative theories, some kookier than others, about the Oklahoma City bombing:
-- McVeigh received aid from Saudi terrorist Osama Bin Laden.
-- McVeigh received aid from Iraqi soldiers who received asylum in the United States after the gulf war
-- McVeigh is a government agent. ("The only question I have at this point is whether he'll actually receive a 'lethal' injection or just a mild sleepy sedative prior to facial reconstructive surgery," 'Jefferson Adams' writes.)
-- The Oklahoma City bombing came about because the government fouled up an investigation into a nearby racist organization. When the ATF received warnings about the upcoming attack, squabbling between the ATF and the FBI led the government to mistime its defensive operation.
-- The government bombed the building itself as an excuse to enact legislation giving it broader law-enforcement powers. Authorities removed evidence of this, including fragments of two or more other bombs placed inside the building.
-- The Justice Department leaked news of the withheld evidence to delay the execution or to distract the public for unknown reasons.
-- The news media is exaggerating the importance of the evidentiary papers to overturn the death penalty.