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 postings 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.
"The American citizens have been propagandized about McVeigh the ‘lone bomber’ for so long that they'd be out in the streets screaming for blood if (his execution) were held up now," one person, under the name jimkress, wrote on the Internet. "It's in the Left's best interest to delay this execution. It provides them with a continuing opportunity to demonize all of us who believe that freedom is maximized when government is minimized."
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.
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. "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, 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."
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 evidenced 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.
The lead prosecutor in the case, Joseph Hartzler, said the 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.