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Context of 'July 28, 1945: Empire State Building Is Struck by a US Army B-25 Bomber'

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Crash by a US Army B-25 bomber on July 28, 1945.Crash by a US Army B-25 bomber on July 28, 1945. [Source: NPR]A B-25 bomber crashes into the Empire State Building in New York City, causing 14 deaths. Lieutenant Colonel William Franklin Smith Jr. is piloting the B-25 Mitchell bomber on a routine personnel transport mission from Boston to LaGuardia Airport. He asks for clearance to land, but is advised of zero visibility. Proceeding anyway, he is disoriented by fog and starts turning right instead of left after passing the Chrysler Building. At 9:40 a.m., the plane crashes into the north side of the Empire State Building, between the 78th and 80th floors, carving an 18-foot hole in the building where the offices of the National Catholic Welfare Council are located. One engine shoots through the side opposite the impact. It flies as far as the next block where it lands on the roof of a nearby building and starts a fire that destroys a penthouse. The other engine and part of the landing gear plummet down an elevator shaft. The resulting fire is extinguished in 40 minutes. It is the only fire at such a height that is ever successfully controlled. Fourteen people are killed in the incident and one person is injured. Despite the damage and loss of life, the building opens for business on many floors the following Monday. The crash helps spur the passage of the long-pending Federal Tort Claims Act of 1946, allowing people to sue the government for the accident. [National Public Radio, 7/28/2008]

Entity Tags: William Franklin Smith Jr., Empire State Building

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A B-29 bomber similar to the one that crashed in Georgia.A B-29 bomber similar to the one that crashed in Georgia. [Source: Global Security (.org)]A test flight for the Air Force’s Project Banshee, located at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, is set for 8:30 a.m. Banshee is an attempt begun in 1946 to develop and deploy a long-range missile ahead of both the Soviet Union and rival US military branches. The airplane used in the test flight crashes less than an hour into its flight, killing 9 of the 13 aboard.
Maintenance Problems - The plane assigned for the flight is a B-29 Stratofortress, a bomber made famous by its delivery of the atomic bombs to Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. B-29s are notoriously difficult to fly and maintain: their four wing-mounted engines almost routinely overheat and catch fire, causing engine shutdowns, sudden drops in altitude, and, often, crashes. The engines’ eighteen cylinders lack sufficient airflow to keep them cool, and the overheating often causes the crankcases, made of light but highly flammable magnesium, to burst into flames. Like so many of its brethren, the plane has suffered its share of maintenance issues, and is flying without numerous recommended maintenance and repair tasks being performed. Just five days before, it had been designated “red cross”—grounded and unfit for service. It was allowed to fly through an “exceptional release” signed by the squadron commander.
Crew Difficulties - The flight is moved back to the afternoon after some crew members fail to show up on time, and to allow last-minute repairs to be made. By takeoff, the flight crew is assembled: Captain Ralph Erwin; co-pilot Herbert W. Moore; flight engineer Earl Murrhee; First Lieutenant Lawrence Pence, Jr, the navigator; Sergeant Walter Peny, the left scanner; Sergeant Jack York, the right scanner; Sergeant Melvin Walker, the radio operator; and Sergeant Derwood Irvin, manning the bombsight and autopilot. The crew is joined by civilian engineers assigned to Banshee: Al Palya and Robert Reynolds from RCA, William Brauner and Eugene Mechler from the Franklin Institute, and Richard Cox from the Air Force’s Air Materiel Command. In violation of standard procedure, none of the crew or the civilians are briefed on emergency procedures, though Murrhee will later say that the crew were all familiar with the procedures; he is not so sure about the civilians, though he knows Palya and Reynolds have flown numerous test flights before. In another violation of Air Force regulations, none of the flight crew have worked together before. As author Barry Siegel will note in 2008, “The pilot, copilot, and engineer had never shared the same cockpit before.”
Engine Fire and Crash - Less than an hour into the flight, one engine catches fire and two others lose power, due to a combination of maintenance failures and pilot errors. The civilians have some difficulty getting into their parachutes as Erwin and Moore attempt to regain control of the aircraft. Four of the crew and civilians manage to parachute from the plane, but most remain on board as the airplane spirals into the ground on the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp, near Waycross, Georgia. Crew members Moore, Murrhee, and Peny survive, as does a single civilian, Mechler. Four others either jump at too low an altitude or die when their chutes foul the airplane; the other five never manage to leave the plane and die on impact.
Widows File Suit - Several of the civilians’ widows will file suit against the US Air Force, asserting that their husbands died because of Air Force negligence (see June 21, 1949). Their lawsuit will eventually become US v. Reynolds, a landmark Supreme Court case and the underpinning for the government’s claims of state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953). [Siegel, 2008, pp. 3, 14-17, 33-49]

Entity Tags: Derwood Irvin, Barry Siegel, US Department of the Air Force, Walter Peny, William Brauner, Air Materiel Command, Richard Cox, Ralph Erwin, Robert Reynolds, Al Palya, Radio Corporation of America, Eugene Mechler, Earl Murrhee, Franklin Institute, Project Banshee, Melvin Walker, Lawrence Pence, Jr, Herbert W. Moore, Jr, Jack York

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Initial Associated Press reports of a crash in Georgia of a B-29 that had been on a test flight for the Air Force’s secret Project Banshee (see October 6, 1948) acknowledge that “the plane had been on a mission testing secret electronic equipment which RCA developed and built under an Air Force contract… Full details of the plane’s mission were not disclosed.… The Air Force would say only that the bomber was engaged in ‘electronic research on different types of radar…’” Local papers have a bit more detail, with survivor accounts hinting at confusion and some contradictions between their versions of events and that being given out by official Air Force spokesmen. Later reports from the Air Force will downplay the B-29’s involvement in Project Banshee. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 56-58]

Entity Tags: Associated Press, US Department of the Air Force, Radio Corporation of America, Project Banshee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Army Air Force’s Air Materiel Command receives the initial report on an investigation of a B-29 crash in Georgia (see October 6, 1948). Perceptions of the crash are colored by the fact that the bomber was carrying equipment from Project Banshee, a secret Air Force missile development initiative. The initial report is meticulously factual, providing an almost minute-by-minute account of the events preceding the crash as told by the four survivors and intensive examination of the debris. The report concludes that it would benefit future B-29 pilots to have more training on flying the plane when it has lost both engines on one wing, and a general recommendation that the pilot and crew should give civilian passengers better instruction in emergency procedures. Though the report is circumspect in the extreme in finding fault with the pilot and military personnel for the crash, and gives only vague and generalized recommendations to help prevent future crashes, the Air Force will heatedly deny that the pilots or crew could have been in any way responsible for the crash. In 2008, reporter Barry Siegel will write, “Years later, this particular claim, in fact Air Materiel Command’s entire position, would cause various veteran aviators to hoot.” Pilot error causing the crash is obvious, they will conclude. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 62-65]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Air Force, Barry Siegel, Air Materiel Command, Project Banshee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Frank Folsom, the executive vice president of the Radio Corporation of America’s RCA Victor Division, writes a letter to General Hoyt Vandenberg, the commander of the US Air Force. Folsom is inquiring about the deaths of two RCA employees in a recent B-29 crash in Georgia (see October 6, 1948). The plane had been on a secret test mission for the Air Force’s Project Banshee, a missile development project in which RCA is heavily involved. Folsom believes that the Air Force is downplaying the likelihood that pilot error caused the crash (see October 18, 1948), and tells Vandenberg that “certain steps will [need to be taken] if we are to participate in the future in Air Force flight test programs.” Folsom wants more pay and compensation for RCA employees participating in Air Force test programs, as well as newer and safer airplanes to be used in the test flights and a higher caliber of test pilots and crew members. Perhaps the portion of the letter that causes the most consternation among Air Force officials is Folsom’s request to read over the official accident reports. “When a crash has occurred, a copy of the official report… must be made available promptly to us,” he writes. “Needless to say, the report will not be disclosed except to those who are directly concerned.” Folsom’s letter will spark a new round of Air Force investigations into the crash, in hopes of mollifying Folsom. However, the report from this investigation will be classified at the highest level of security and not provided to RCA. Additionally, though the second investigation will find a strong likelihood of pilot error causing the crash, the Air Force will not admit any such findings to RCA. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 65-80] These accident reports will play a key role in the lawsuit filed against the US government by three widows of killed crew members (see June 21, 1949 and August 7-8, 1950).

Entity Tags: Hoyt Vandenberg, Frank Folsom, Project Banshee, Radio Corporation of America, US Department of the Air Force

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Phyllis Brauner and Elizabeth Palya, who both lost their husbands in the “Project Banshee” B-29 crash (see October 6, 1948), file a civil action lawsuit against the US government in regards to the crash. The lawsuit claims that the US Air Force, in the person of the pilot and military crew members of the B-29, caused the deaths of their civilian husbands by “the negligence and wrongful acts and omissions of the officers and employees” of the US. The widows’ lawyer, Charles Biddle, asks the government for $300,000 per family. A third widow, Patricia Reynolds, will join the lawsuit in September 1949. One of the biggest issues surrounding the case is the lawsuit’s request that Biddle and his lawyers be given access to the official accident reports, which the government will claim cannot be revealed because they may contain classified information (see October 18, 1948 and August 7-8, 1950). Biddle’s promise that no one else will see the reports makes no impression on the government’s lawyers. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 100-101]

Entity Tags: Elizabeth Palya, Charles Biddle, Patricia Reynolds, Phyllis Brauner, US Department of the Air Force, Project Banshee

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A federal judge orders the Air Force to turn over copies of its classified accident reports about a B-29 crash (see October 6, 1948) as part of a lawsuit filed by three of the widows of crew members killed in the crash (see June 21, 1949). Claiming that the reports may contain classified information about a secret missile development project, Project Banshee, the Air Force not only refuses to turn over the accident reports to the widows’ lawyer, it refuses to allow even the attorney general to view the documents (see August 7-8, 1950). The lawyer for the widows, Charles Biddle, will continue to press for the release of the accident reports. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 120-123]

Entity Tags: Charles Biddle, Project Banshee, US Department of the Air Force

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Air Force refuses to meet the court-imposed deadline to turn over accident reports of a 1948 B-29 crash in Georgia (see October 6, 1948) to the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the government (see July 26, 1950). Instead, the Justice Department argues before the court that because the accident reports might contain “state secrets” that might imperil “national security” if made available to anyone outside the Air Force, the reports cannot be made available. “[T]he aircraft in question, together with the personnel on board, were engaged in a highly secret mission of the Air Force,” the government lawyers argue. “The airplane likewise carried confidential equipment on board and any disclosure of its mission or information concerning its operation or performance would be prejudicial to this department and would not be in the public interest.” Such a claim—that the production of the reports would “seriously hamper national security”—renders the reports “beyond judicial authority,” the Justice Department lawyers claim. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 124-126]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Air Force, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Weeks after the Justice Department refused to make accident reports of a 1948 B-29 crash (see October 6, 1948) available to the plaintiffs in an ongoing wrongful death lawsuit against the government (see July 26, 1950) because the reports are so highly classified that their disclosure might “seriously hamper national security” (see July 26, 1950 and August 7-8, 1950), the Air Force, in a routine review, drastically lowers the classification of the accident reports from top-level “Secret” to third-level “Restricted.” Whereas “Secret” documents supposedly contain information that “might endanger national security” if revealed, “Restricted” documents are “for official use only” and should not be disclosed “for reasons of administrative privacy.” The Air Force apparently no longer considers the documents a threat to national security. However, neither the plaintiffs’ lawyers, the judge hearing the lawsuit, or even the Justice Department lawyers are aware of the reports’ reduction in status. They continue to argue the merits of releasing the reports as if they are still highly classified. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 133]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Air Force, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Federal judge William H. Kirkpatrick rules that the US government must turn over the disputed, and supposedly highly classified (see September 14, 1950), accident reports from a 1948 B-29 crash (see October 6, 1948)—not to the plaintiffs in the lawsuit over the crash (see July 26, 1950), but to Kirkpatrick himself. He wishes to review the reports to determine if they contain any information that might threaten national security, and, before turning the documents over to the plaintiffs’ lawyers, will personally remove that information. In mid-October, when the government again refuses to turn over the documents, Kirkpatrick will find in favor of the plaintiffs (see October 12, 1950). [Siegel, 2008, pp. 133-134]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, William H. Kirkpatrick

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Federal judge William H. Kirkpatrick rules in favor of the plaintiffs in a wrongful death lawsuit against the US government (see October 6, 1948, June 21, 1949, and July 26, 1950), after the government refuses to turn over classified accident reports that have a direct bearing on the plaintiffs’ case (see September 21, 1950). Judge Kirkpatrick orders the government to pay the plaintiffs, three widows who lost their husbands in a 1948 plane crash, a total of $225,000. The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Charles Biddle, expects the government to balk at paying out the money, and to instead continue to challenge the court’s attempt to compel it to turn over the accident reports (see October 19, 1951). [Siegel, 2008, pp. 134-139]

Entity Tags: Charles Biddle, William H. Kirkpatrick

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Lawyers make their opening arguments before the Supreme Court in the case of US v Reynolds, the lawsuit that finds the government had no overarching right to unilaterally refuse to deliver classified documents in the course of a wrongful death lawsuit against the government (see December 11, 1951). The government has appealed the appellate court ruling to the Supreme Court (see March 1952). Because four of the nine justices had voted not to hear the case—in essence to let the appellate court ruling stand—the defense is cautiously optimistic about the Court’s decision.
Judiciary Has No Right to Interfere with Powers of the Executive, Government Argues - Acting Solicitor General Robert Stern tells the Court that the appellate judges’ decision, written by Judge Albert Maris, “is an unwarranted interference with the powers of the executive,” and that the decision forced the government to choose “whether to disclose public documents contrary to the public interest [or] to suffer the public treasury to be penalized” (a reference to the decision to award the plaintiffs monetary damages—see October 12, 1950). The judiciary “lack[s] power to compel disclosure by means of a direct demand [as well as] by the indirect method of an order against the United States, resulting in judgment when compliance is not forthcoming.”
Executive Has No Right to Unilaterally Withhold Information, Defense Counters - Stern’s arguments are countered by those of the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Charles Biddle, who writes, “We could rest our case with confidence on the clear opinion of Judge Maris,” but continues by arguing that if the government asserts a claim of executive privilege on the basis of national security, it must make the documents available to the Court for adjudication, or at least provide enough information for the Court to judge whether the documents present in fact a threat to national security if disclosed. This is particularly true, Biddle argues, “where there is no showing that the documents in question contain any military secret” (Biddle is unaware that the documents’ classification status had been reduced two years before—see September 14, 1950). “The basic question here is whether those in charge of the various departments of the government may refuse to produce documents properly demanded… in a case where the government is a party (see June 21, 1949), simply because the officials themselves think it would be better to keep them secret, and this without the Courts having any power to question the propriety of such decision.… In other words, say the officials, we will tell you only what we think it is in the public interest that you should know. And furthermore, we may withhold information not only about military or diplomatic secrets, but we may also suppress documents which concern merely the operation of the particular department if we believe it would be best, for purposes of efficiency or morale, that no one outside of the department, not even the Court, should see them.”
No Basis for Claims of Military Secrets - Biddle argues that because of responses he has received to his demands over the course of this lawsuit, he is relatively sure there are no military secrets contained within them. “[T]he proof is to the contrary,” he says, and goes on to say that had the Air Force disclosed from the outset that the plane crash, the fatal accident that sparked the original lawsuit (see October 6, 1948), was probably caused by pilot error and not by random chance, the plaintiffs may have never needed to ask for the disclosure of the documents in question, the accident reports on the crash (see October 18, 1948). “The secretary [of the Air Force]‘s formal claim of privilege said that the plane at the time was engaged in a secret mission and that it carried confidential equipment,” Biddle says, “but nowhere was it asserted that either had anything to do with the accident. The whole purpose of the demand by the respondents was for the purpose of finding out what caused the accident.… They were not in the least interested in the secret mission or equipment.” [Siegel, 2008, pp. 165-170]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Albert Maris, Robert Stern, US Department of the Air Force, Charles Biddle

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Chief Justice Fred Vinson.Chief Justice Fred Vinson. [Source: Kansas State Historical Society]The US Supreme Court upholds the power of the federal government’s executive branch to withhold documents from a civil suit on the basis of executive privilege and national security (see October 25, 1952). The case, US v Reynolds, overturns an appellate court decision that found against the government (see December 11, 1951). Originally split 5-4 on the decision, the Court goes to 6-3 when Justice William O. Douglas joins the majority. The three dissenters, Justices Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, and Robert Jackson, refuse to write a dissenting opinion, instead adopting the decision of the appellate court as their dissent.
'State Secrets' a Valid Reason for Keeping Documents out of Judicial, Public Eye - Chief Justice Fred Vinson writes the majority opinion. Vinson refuses to grant the executive branch the near-unlimited power to withhold documents from judicial review, as the government’s arguments before the court implied (see October 21, 1952), but instead finds what he calls a “narrower ground for defense” in the Tort Claims Act, which compels the production of documents before a court only if they are designated “not privileged.” The government’s claim of privilege in the Reynolds case was valid, Vinson writes. But the ruling goes farther; Vinson upholds the claim of “state secrets” as a reason for withholding documents from judicial review or public scrutiny. In 2008, author Barry Siegel will write: “In truth, only now was the Supreme Court formally recognizing the privilege, giving the government the precedent it sought, a precedent binding on all courts throughout the nation. Most important, the Court was also—for the first time—spelling out how the privilege should be applied.” Siegel will call the Reynolds ruling “an effort to weigh competing legitimate interests,” but the ruling does not allow judges to see the documents in order to make a decision about their applicability in a court case: “By instructing judges not to insist upon examining documents if the government can satisfy that ‘a reasonable danger’ to national security exists, Vinson was asking jurists to fly blind.” Siegel will mark the decision as “an act of faith. We must believe the government,” he will write, “when it claims [the accident] would reveal state secrets. We must trust that the government is telling the truth.”
Time of Heightened Tensions Drives Need for Secrecy - Vinson goes on to note, “[W]e cannot escape judicial notice that this is a time of vigorous preparation for the national defense.” Locked in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and fighting a war in Korea, the US is, Vinson writes, in a time of crisis, and one where military secrets must be kept and even encouraged. [U. S. v. Reynolds, 3/9/1953; Siegel, 2008, pp. 171-176]
Future Ramifications - Reflecting on the decision in 2008, Siegel will write that while the case will not become as well known as many other Court decisions, it will wield significant influence. The ruling “formally recognized and established the framework for the government’s ‘state secrets’ privilege—a privilege that for decades had enabled federal agencies to conceal conduct, withhold documents, and block civil litigation, all in the name of national secrecy.… By encouraging judicial deference when the government claimed national security secrets, Reynolds had empowered the Executive Branch in myriad ways. Among other things, it had provided a fundamental legal argument for much of the Bush administration’s response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Enemy combatants such as Yaser Esam Hamdi (see December 2001) and Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002), for many months confined without access to lawyers, had felt the breath of Reynolds. So had the accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui when federal prosecutors defied a court order allowing him access to other accused terrorists (see March 22, 2005). So had the Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar (see September 26, 2002), like dozens of others the subject of a CIA extraordinary rendition to a secret foreign prison (see After September 11, 2001). So had hundreds of detainees at the US Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, held without charges or judicial review (see September 27, 2001). So had millions of American citizens, when President Bush, without judicial knowledge or approval, authorized domestic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency (see Early 2002). US v. Reynolds made all this possible. The bedrock of national security law, it had provided a way for the Executive Branch to formalize an unprecedented power and immunity, to pull a veil of secrecy over its actions.” [Siegel, 2008, pp. ix-x]

Entity Tags: William O. Douglas, Zacarias Moussaoui, US Supreme Court, Yaser Esam Hamdi, Robert Jackson, Jose Padilla, Felix Frankfurter, Bush administration (43), Fred Vinson, Barry Siegel, George W. Bush, Hugo Black, Maher Arar

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A 1968 advert with an artist’s rendition of a plane hitting the WTC.A 1968 advert with an artist’s rendition of a plane hitting the WTC. [Source: Committee for a Reasonable World Trade Center]A civic group opposed to the building of the World Trade Center publishes a nearly full-page advertisement in the New York Times, warning that the new buildings will be so tall that a commercial airliner might crash into them. The group, called the Committee for a Reasonable World Trade Center, is mainly composed of New York real estate developers who are worried that the huge construction project will glut the market. Its leader is Lawrence A. Wien, a real estate mogul who is an owner of the Empire State Building in New York. [New York Times Magazine, 9/8/2002; New York Times Magazine, 9/8/2002] In July 1945, a B-25 Army bomber struck the Empire State Building, killing 14 people. [New York Times, 2/26/1981] The committee’s advertisement shows an artist’s rendition of a large jet plane about to strike one of the proposed towers. [New York Times Magazine, 9/8/2002; New York Times Magazine, 9/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Lawrence A. Wien

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Combat engineering vehicles (CEVs) lined up outside the blazing Branch Davidian compound.Combat engineering vehicles (CEVs) lined up outside the blazing Branch Davidian compound. [Source: PBS]The FBI and local law enforcement officials begin their planned assault on the besieged Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993, March 1, 1993, and April 17-18, 1993), despite indications that the Davidians inside the compound will retaliate either by firing on the gathered law enforcement officials, by torching the main residential building, or perhaps both (see April 18, 1993). [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Warning - At 5:55 a.m., Richard Rogers, the commander of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), orders two combat engineering vehicles (CEVs, unarmed modifications of Bradley fighting vehicles and the primary means for deplying CS “riot control agent” into the main building) deployed to the main building. One minute later, senior negotiator Byron Sage telephones the residence and speaks with Davidian Steve Schneider. At 5:59, Schneider comes to the phone. Sage tells him: “We are in the process of putting tear gas into the building. This is not an assault. We will not enter the building.” Schneider replies, “You are going to spray tear gas into the building?” Sage says, “In the building… no, we are not entering the building.” At the conclusion of the conversation, Schneider or another Davidian throws the telephone out of the building. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Minutes later, Schneider slips out, retrieves the phone, and ducks back inside. [Time, 5/3/1993]
Combat Vehicles Begin Deploying Gas, Davidians Open Fire - At 6:02 a.m., the two CEVs begin inserting CS gas into the compound, using spray nozzles attached to booms. The booms punch holes through the exterior walls of the building. The FBI uses unarmed Bradley Fighting Vehicles to deploy “ferret rounds,” military ammunition designed to release CS after penetrating a barricade such as a wall or window. As the CEVs and the Bradleys punch holes into the buildings for the deployment of the gas, Sage makes the following statement over the loudspeakers: “We are in the process of placing tear gas into the building. This is not an assault. We are not entering the building. This is not an assault. Do not fire your weapons. If you fire, fire will be returned. Do not shoot. This is not an assault. The gas you smell is a non-lethal tear gas. This gas will temporarily render the building uninhabitable. Exit the residence now and follow instructions. You are not to have anyone in the tower. The [guard] tower is off limits. No one is to be in the tower. Anyone observed to be in the tower will be considered to be an act of aggression [sic] and will be dealt with accordingly. If you come out now, you will not be harmed. Follow all instructions. Come out with your hands up. Carry nothing. Come out of the building and walk up the driveway toward the Double-E Ranch Road. Walk toward the large Red Cross flag. Follow all instructions of the FBI agents in the Bradleys. Follow all instructions. You are under arrest. This standoff is over. We do not want to hurt anyone. Follow all instructions. This is not an assault. Do not fire any weapons. We do not want anyone hurt. Gas will continue to be delivered until everyone is out of the building.” Two minutes later, Davidians begin firing on the vehicles from the windows. The gunfire from the Davidians prompts Rogers and FBI commander Jeffrey Jamar to decide to change tactics; at 6:07 a.m., the assault forces begin deploying all of the gas at once instead of dispersing it in a controlled manner over the course of 48-72 hours as originally envisioned. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; USMC Weapons, 2002] (Jamar will later testify that before the assault even began, he was “99 percent certain” that the FBI would have to escalate its assault because the Davidians would open fire.) [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] As a CEV demolishes the back wall of the gymnasium area of the compound, negotiators broadcast: “David, we are facilitating you leaving the compound by enlarging the door.… Leave the building now.” [Cox News Service, 1/30/2000] Jamar will later explain that the Bradleys do not carry military weaponry. “Of course we had all the firepower removed,” he will say in a 1995 interview. “There were no cannons or anything on them. We used them for transportation. And they’re more than a personnel carrier—they’re a track vehicle. I mean it’s mud, just thick mud there the whole time. And the agents learned how to drive ‘em. But the idea was to protect them as best we could. And we didn’t know—they talked about blowing a 50—did they have rockets? Who knows? Did they have explosives buried in various vicinities? Are they prepared to run out with Molatov cocktails? What’s in their mind?” Jamar is referring to threats made by Koresh and other Davidians to blow up FBI vehicles. As for the CEVs, they are tanks modified for construction and engineering purposes, and are often used as bulldozers. Observers watching the events live on television or later on videotape will sometimes mistake the CEVs for actual tanks, though two M1A1 Abrams tanks are actually on site and take part in the assault. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
House Report: Davidians Would Certainly Consider FBI's Actions an Assault - A 1996 report by a House of Representatives investigative committee (see August 2, 1996) will note that it is almost impossible for the Davidians not to consider themselves under assault, with tank-like vehicles tearing holes in the building, CS being sprayed everywhere, grenade-like projectiles crashing through windows, men in body armor swarming around the compound, and the sounds of what seems like combat all around them. “Most people would consider this to be an attack on them—an ‘assault’ in the simplest terms,” the report will find. “If they then saw other military vehicles approaching, from which projectiles were fired through the windows of their home, most people are even more likely to believe that they were under an assault. If those vehicles then began to tear down their home there would be little doubt that they were being attacked. These events are what the Davidians inside the residence experienced on April 19, yet the FBI did not consider their actions an assault.” Moreover, the FBI did not consider the close-knit, home-centered community the Davidians have long since formed. “Their religious leader led them to believe that one day a group of outsiders, non-believers, most likely in the form of government agents, would come for them,” the report will state. “Indeed, they believed that this destiny had been predicted 2,000 years before in Biblical prophecy. Given this mindset, it can hardly be disputed that the Davidians thought they were under assault at 6 a.m. on April 19.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Monitoring from Washington - At 7:00 a.m., Attorney General Janet Reno and senior Justice Department and FBI officials go to the FBI situation room to monitor the assault. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Buildings Breached - At 7:30 a.m., a CEV breaches the side of one of the main buildings and injects large amounts of tear gas into the interior of the compound. At 7:58 a.m., gas is fired into the second floor of the back-right corner of the building. The FBI asks for more ferret rounds, and by 9:30 a.m., 48 more ferret rounds arrive from Houston. The assault is hampered by the FBI’s dwindling supply of ferret rounds, a CEV with mechanical difficulties, and high winds dispersing the gas. Another CEV enlarges the opening in the center-front of the building, with the idea of providing an escape route for the trapped Davidians. A third CEV breaches the rear of the building, according to a later Justice Department report, “to create openings near the gymnasium.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Clinton Told Assault Progressing Well - At about 11 a.m., Reno briefs President Clinton, tells him that the assault seems to be going well, and leaves for a judicial conference in Baltimore. During this time, a CEV breaches the back side of the compound. At 11:40 a.m., the FBI fires the last of the ferret rounds into the building. At 11:45 a.m., one wall of the compound collapses. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Transcriptionist Escapes - Ruth Riddle, the typist and transcriptionist sent inside the compound by the FBI to help Koresh finish his “Seven Seals” manuscript (see April 18, 1993), escapes the compound before the fire. She brings out a computer disk containing the unfinished manuscript. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Davidians Set Fires throughout Compound - At 12:07 p.m., according to the Justice Department and House reports, the Davidians start “simultaneous fires at three or more different locations within the compound.” An FBI Hostage Rescue Team member reports seeing “a male starting a fire” in the front of the building. Later analyses show that the first fire begins in a second-floor bedroom, the second in the first floor dining room, and the third in the first floor chapel. Evidence also shows that the fires spread according to “accelerant trails,” such as a trail of flammable liquid being poured on the floor. Some of the Davidians’ clothing found in the rubble also shows traces of gasoline, kerosene, Coleman fuel (liquid petroleum, sometimes called “white gas”), and lighter fluid, further suggesting that the Davidians use accelerants to start and spread the fires. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Within eight minutes, the main building is engulfed in flames. One explosion, probably from a propane gas tank, is observed. Later investigation will find a propane tank with its top blown off in the debris. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] After the compound burns to the ground, FBI agent Bob Ricks tells reporters, “David Koresh, we believe, gave the order to commit suicide and they all willingly followed.” [New York Times, 4/20/1993] Some of the Davidians who survive the conflagration later claim that the Davidians did not start the fires, but arson investigators with the Justice Department and the Texas Rangers, as well as an independent investigator, will conclude that Davidians did indeed start the fires in at least three different areas of the main building. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] A 1993 Treasury Department report (see Late September - October 1993) will produce audiotapes of Davidians inside the compound and transcripts of conversations, secured via electronic surveillance, discussing the means of setting the fires. Voices on the tapes and in the transcripts say such things as: “The fuel has to go all around to get started.” “Got to put enough fuel in there.” “So, we only light ‘em as they come in,” or as a slightly different version has it, “So, we only light ‘em as soon as they tell me.” Once the fires begin, high winds and the breaches in the walls cause the flames to almost immediately begin consuming the compound. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995] In 1999, Colonel Rodney Rawlings, the senior military liaison to the HRT, will tell reporters that he heard Koresh give the orders to start the fires over FBI surveillance “bugs” (see October 8, 1999). Sage later describes the horror that goes through him and his fellow agents when they realize that the Davidians have torched the compound. He will recall “pleading” with the Davidians to leave the compound, and say: “I can’t express the emotions that goes through you. I had to physically turn around away from the monitor to keep my mind focused on what I was trying to broadcast to those people.” He will recall being horrified by the failure of people to flee the compound. “I fully anticipated those people would come pouring out of there,” he says. “I’d been through CS teargas on numerous occasions [in training exercises]. And I would move heaven and earth to get my kids out of that kind of an environment. And that’s frankly what we were banking on. That at least the parents would remove their children from that kind of situation.” Of Koresh, he will say: “By him intentionally lighting that place afire and consuming the lives of 78 people, including over 20 young children, was just inconceivable to me. In 25 years of law enforcement I’ve never been faced with someone that was capable of doing that.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Six years later, the FBI will admit to releasing two pyrotechnic grenades into the compound, but insists the grenades did not start the fires (see August 25, 1999 and After).
Plea for Release - At 12:12 p.m., Sage calls on Koresh to lead the Davidians to safety. Nine Davidians flee the compound and are arrested [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] , including one woman who leaves, attempts to return to the burning building, and tries unsuccessfully to fight off a federal agent who comes to her aid. [New York Times, 4/20/1993] One of the nine runs out of the building at around 12:28 p.m., indicating that even 21 minutes after the fire, it is possible for some of the inhabitants to make their escape. However, most of the Davidians retreat to areas in the center of the building and do not attempt to get out. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
'Systematic Gunfire' - At 12:25 p.m., FBI agents hear “systematic gunfire” coming from inside of the building; some agents believe that the Davidians are either killing themselves or each other. The House committee investigation later finds that FBI agents hear rapid-fire gunshots coming from the compound; while many of the gunshots are probably caused by exploding ammunition, “other sounds were methodical and evenly-spaced, indicating the deliberate firing of weapons.”
Fire Department Responds; Search for Survivors - At 12:41 p.m., fire trucks and firefighters begin attempting to put out the flames. HRT agents enter tunnels to search for survivors, particularly children. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] No fire trucks are at the scene when the assault begins, and it takes around 25 minutes for the first fire department vehicles to respond to emergency calls from their stations in Waco. Bob Sheehy, mayor of Waco, later says the city fire department “first got a call after the fire had already started.” Ricks explains that fire engines were not brought to the compound earlier for fear that firefighters might have been exposed to gunfire from the compound, and because FBI officials did not expect a fire. “We did not introduce fire to this compound, and it was not our intention that this compound be burned down. I can’t tell you the shock and the horror that all of us felt when we saw those flames coming out of there. It was, ‘Oh, my God, they’re killing themselves.’” [New York Times, 4/20/1993]
Death Toll - In all, 78 Branch Davidians, including over 20 children, two pregnant women, and Koresh himself, die in the fire. Nineteen of the dead are killed by close-range gunshot wounds. Almost all of the others either die from smoke inhalation, burns, or both. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] The number is improperly reported in a number of media sources, and varies from 75 to 81. Even the House committee report does not cite a definitive total. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Some of the FBI negotiators involved in the siege later say that they feel continued negotiations might have saved many, perhaps all, of the lives of those inside the compound. In an interview later in the year, one negotiator tells a reporter, “I’ll always, in my own mind, feel like maybe we could have gotten some more people out.” [New Yorker, 5/15/1995] But HRT member Barry Higginbotham, one of the snipers who observes the Davidians throughout the siege, will later state that neither he nor anyone on his team believed the Davidians would ever willingly surrender. Higginbotham will say: “We just felt that if you make them suffer a little more, deny them perhaps a little more food, lighting, power, things like that inside, that would cause more pressure on their leadership inside. And perhaps their leadership would go to Koresh and pressure him to start negotiating in good faith. It was hard to believe that Koresh was ever negotiating in good faith.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] In the hours after the conflagration, Ricks tells reporters: “We had hoped the women would grab their children and flee. That did not occur and they bunkered down the children and allowed them to go up in flames with them.… It was truly an inferno of flames.” Ricks says that authorities receive reports, perhaps from some of the survivors, that the children had been injected with some kind of poison to ease their pain. This claim is never confirmed. [New York Times, 4/20/1993]
In the Bunker - FBI investigators combing the building after the conflagration find an enormous amount of guns and other weaponry inside. Dr. Rodney Crow, the FBI’s chief of identification services and one of the officials who examine the bodies of the Davidians, spends much of his time in the compound’s underground bunker, where many of the bodies are found. Crow later says: “There were weapons everywhere. I don’t remember moving a body that didn’t have a gun melted to it, intertwined with it, between the legs, under the arm, or in close proximity. And I’d say 18 inches to 20 inches would be close proximity.… The women were probably more immersed in the weapons than anyone else, because there was so much weaponry inside the bunker. It was like sea shells on a beach, but they were spent casings and spent bullets. If you had rubber gloves and tried to smooth it away, you’d tear your gloves away from the bullet points that are unexploded, or unspent ammunition. Then as you went through layer after layer, you came upon weapons that were totally burned. Until we got down to the floor, and it was mint condition ammunition there. Ammunition boxes not even singed.” The most powerful weapon Crow finds is a .50-caliber machine gun. Some of the bodies have gunshot wounds. Crow will say: “My theory is there was a lot of euthanasia and mercy killing. That group probably were just about as active as anywhere in the compound, mercifully putting each other out of misery in the last moments.” In total, 33 bodies are found inside the bunker; almost all the women and children found inside the compound are in the bunker. Many are found to have died from suffocation or smoke inhalation (two died from falling debris), but some died from gunshot wounds, and one woman was stabbed to death. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Local medical examiner Nizam Peerwani later says he does not believe the people in the bunker committed suicide, saying: “There has been a lot of speculation if this is a mass suicide or not. And—did they all go there to die? Ah, we don’t really think so. What I feel personally is that they tried to escape. A bunker was perhaps the safest area in the compound.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Sage will say that he knew the children were dead sometime around 12:30 p.m. He recalls terminating the negotiations at that time, “because I didn’t want the loudspeaker bank to interfere with instructions being given on the ground. At that point in time, I walked over to the site in shock, basically. And, uh, the first thing I asked is, ‘Where are the kids?’” He is told, “Nowhere.” Sage will say: “They had not come out. They had been consumed.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Koresh's Fate - Koresh and Schneider are found in a small room the authorities call “the communication room.” Koresh is dead of a single gunshot wound to the forehead. Schneider is dead from a gunshot wound in the mouth. Peerwani later says: “Did David Koresh shoot himself and Schneider shoot himself? Or did Schneider shoot David Koresh and then turn around and shoot himself? Certainly both are possible. We cannot be certain as to what really transpired.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
No Ill Effects from Gas - Peerwani and his colleagues examine the bodies for damage caused by the CS gas used in the assault, and find none. While many of the Davidians were exposed to the gas, according to tissue and blood studies, none inhaled enough of it to cause anything more than short-term discomfort. Concurrently, Peerwani and his colleagues find no damage from the propellant used in the ferret rounds. A fire report later written by Texas-based investigators will call the tear gas operation a failure at dispersing the Davidians. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Medical examinations show that some of the children may well have been overcome by the gas, and rendered unable to escape, but the compound had not been gassed for an hour before the fires began, and CS has a persistence factor of only 10 minutes—in other words, the effects should have worn off by the time the fires broke out. The gas proves ineffective against the adults, because the adult Davidians are equipped with gas masks. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Wrongly Executed Plan - The plan as signed by Reno called on law enforcement forces to deploy tear gas into the compound at stated intervals, then have agents retreat to await evacuees before approaching again. This “passive,” “restrained” approach was to have been followed for up to 72 hours before using assault vehicles to force entry. Instead, the agents wait only 12 minutes before beginning a motorized vehicle assault. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]
Taking Responsibility - One of the unlikely “heroes” of the debacle is Reno. She signed off on the attack (see April 17-18, 1993), and within hours of the attacks, she holds a televised press conference where she says: “I made the decision. I am accountable . The buck stops here” (see April 19, 1993). She repeats this statement over and over again on national television. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]

Entity Tags: Bob Ricks, Bob Sheehy, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Barry Higginbotham, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Janet Reno, Jeffrey Jamar, Byron Sage, US Department of Justice, Nizam Peerwani, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Richard Rogers, Rodney Rawlings, Rodney Crow, Ruth Riddle, Texas Rangers, Steve Schneider

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Terry Nichols, conspiring with Timothy McVeigh (see 1987-1988 and November 1991 - Summer 1992) to blow up a federal building in Oklahoma City (see September 13, 1994 and 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), rents a second storage locker, Unit No. 37, in a Council Grove, Kansas, storage facility, using the alias “Ted Parker.” In October, Nichols rented a storage locker in Council Grove under the alias “Joe Kyle” (see October 17, 1994). [New York Times, 5/12/1995; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Washington Post, 12/24/1997] Nichols is preparing to leave for the Philippines (see November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995).

Entity Tags: Timothy James McVeigh, Terry Lynn Nichols

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Terry Nichols’s home in Herington, Kansas.Terry Nichols’s home in Herington, Kansas. [Source: Associated Press]White separatist Terry Nichols, conspiring with his friend Timothy McVeigh to bomb an Oklahoma City federal building (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990, December 22 or 23, 1988, October 12, 1993 - January 1994, February - July 1994, and 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), buys a $28,000 home in Herington, Kansas, near a ranch where he once worked (see (September 30, 1994) and November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995). The house is located at 109 South Second Street, not far from where McVeigh and Nichols lived while stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990). Nichols also persuades his wife Marife to return from the Philippines with their daughter Nicole, and live together in the new house. His payment for the house is unusual; because he does not believe in paper transactions, he has set up a special account at a local bank in which he puts cash. The only reason Nichols was able to buy the house under such circumstances is because the former owner, Kenneth Siek, was desperate to sell it quickly. [New York Times, 5/28/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 122] Before finalizing the purchase, Nichols lives in the Sunset Motel in Junction City, Kansas, for approximately three weeks. He will not take actual possession of the house until March 11. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Douglas O. Linder, 2001]

Entity Tags: Marife Torres Nichols, Terry Lynn Nichols, Timothy James McVeigh, Kenneth Siek

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Terry Nichols, who with his friend Timothy McVeigh is finalizing plans to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City (see September 13, 1994, October 20, 1994, and 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), considers backing out of the bombing plan entirely. He makes it clear to McVeigh that he does not want to be involved on the day of the bombing. Nichols obtains fake identification to help in avoiding the authorities after the bombing. He and McVeigh decide to detonate the bomb on April 19, the second anniversary of the Branch Davidian debacle in Texas (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). [Douglas O. Linder, 2001] Two inmates, David Hammer and Jeffrey Paul, who spend time on death row with McVeigh after his conviction (see June 2, 1997), will write in a 2004 book Secrets Worth Dying For that McVeigh solicits and receives assistance from residents of the white supremacist community Elohim City (see November 1994, (April 1) - April 18, 1995, and April 5, 1995). McVeigh, the two will write, wants to be considered the mastermind of the plot, and his future statements will downplay the role of Nichols and others in the bombing. After his arrest, McVeigh will take a polygraph test that shows he is truthful in discussing his own role in the bombing, but “evasive” about the roles others may play. Hammer and Paul will contend that four Elohim City residents with ties to the Aryan Republican Army (see 1992 - 1995, October 12, 1993 - January 1994, and November 1994) meet several times with McVeigh in March and April 1995 in the Arizona desert, where, the authors will claim, “they conducted ‘dry runs’ of the ‘planting the bomb and getting away.’” Hammer and Paul will also write that McVeigh informs them he consults with a man named “Poindexter,” an apparent bomb expert who advises McVeigh on bomb assembly. [Douglas O. Linder, 2006]

Entity Tags: David Hammer, “Poindexter”, Aryan Republican Army, Elohim City, Jeffrey Paul, Timothy James McVeigh, Terry Lynn Nichols

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

A 1977 Mercury Marquis similar to that owned by Timothy McVeigh.A 1977 Mercury Marquis similar to that owned by Timothy McVeigh. [Source: Classic Cars (.com)]Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see September 13, 1994, October 20, 1994, and 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) visits Oklahoma City and finds a place to leave a car after he bombs the Murrah Federal Building. He has left Kingman, Arizona, and stayed overnight at a motel in Amarillo, Texas. McVeigh arrives in Oklahoma City around noon, and does not drive by the Murrah Building, but instead finds the drop site for his getaway car. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996]
Buys Getaway Car - He then drives to Kansas, inspects his explosives stored in a Herington storage unit (see September 22, 1994 and (February 20, 1995)), and notes that his Pontiac is blowing smoke and stalling out, most likely from a blown head gasket. After making a quick run to a storage shed in Council Grove, Kansas, taking some of the explosive materials from that shed and combining them with the materials in the Herington unit, he buys a 1977 Mercury Marquis as a getaway vehicle from Thomas Manning, who owns a Firestone dealership in Junction City, Kansas. (McVeigh is using a similar plan to those executed by the Aryan Republican Army, or ARA, which uses “junk” cars to make their getaways after robbing banks—see 1992 - 1995. McVeigh has some affiliations to the ARA—see December 1994.) McVeigh trades in his deteriorating 1983 Pontiac station wagon (see January 1 - January 8, 1995) and $250 cash for the Mercury, telling Manning that he needs a “cheap car” to “get me to Michigan.” Manning, who recognizes McVeigh from his days as a soldier at Fort Riley (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990), has the Mercury, which he bought eight days ago for $150 and is planning to use for parts. Others at the dealership have used it for local errands, and they had worked on its transmission and other elements. McVeigh agrees to pay $300 cash, but when he tells Manning he will not have enough money to get back to Michigan, Manning knocks $50 off the price for McVeigh. McVeigh has Manning send the service form to the Nichols’s farm address in Decker, Michigan, and the bill of sale to his postal drop in Kingman, Arizona. “It doesn’t matter,” McVeigh tells Manning, “because I’m going to junk the Mercury out when I get to Michigan.” On the sale form, he lists his employer as the US Army, and claims he is still stationed at Fort Riley. Firestone mechanic Art Wells does some work on the Mercury to ensure it is road-ready, including swapping out a bald rear tire for a spare. McVeigh’s old Pontiac is later taken to a local junkyard and then confiscated by investigators. [New York Times, 4/22/1995; New York Times, 4/30/1995; New York Times, 12/3/1995; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 127-130; Douglas O. Linder, 2001] McVeigh buys an oil filter from a WalMart in Arkansas City, Kansas, near the state line, around 6 p.m. on April 13, and on the 14th, swaps the damaged Pontiac and $250 for the Mercury. Nichols tries to return the filter to another WalMart on April 15. The receipt will later be found in Nichols’s wallet; it bears the fingerprints of both McVeigh and Nichols. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; New York Times, 11/4/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 127]
Arranges Truck Rental - While Wells is prepping the Mercury, McVeigh goes to a pay phone in front of a nearby bus depot and makes two phone calls using a Spotlight telephone card (see August 1994). The first is to Nichols’s home in Herington, and lasts less than a minute. The second is to Elliott’s Body Shop in Junction City to inquire about the rental rates for a large Ryder truck capable of carrying 5,000 pounds of cargo (see April 15, 1995). He uses the alias “Bob Kling” (see Mid-March, 1995). Office clerk Vicki Beemer will later recall McVeigh asking how many pounds a 15-foot truck would hold; when she tells him around 3,400 pounds, he tells her, “I need a truck that will hold 5,000 pounds.” Beemer informs him he needs a 20-foot truck. She tells him he can reserve such a truck, but he will have to put down a deposit on April 15 or he cannot have the truck by April 17, as the shop is closed on Easter Sunday, April 16. McVeigh agrees, and walks back to the Firestone dealership, where he puts the Arizona license plate from the Pontiac onto the Mercury. He puts his belongings into the Mercury and drives away. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 130-131]
Rents Room - McVeigh then rents a room at a local motel, in which he will stay until he makes his final trip to Oklahoma City to deliver the bomb (see April 13-14, 1995).

Entity Tags: Terry Lynn Nichols, Elliott’s Body Shop (Junction City, Kansas), Aryan Republican Army, Timothy James McVeigh, Thomas Manning, Vicki Beemer, Art Wells

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Timothy McVeigh, preparing to execute the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), tells his friend and fellow co-conspirator Terry Nichols (see April 16-17, 1995), “Something big is going to happen.” McVeigh had mailed two letters to his sister Jennifer (see March 9, 1995 and April 7, 1995) telling her that “something big is going to happen,” and followed them with an envelope full of clippings from the novel The Turner Diaries (see 1978). When she learns of her brother’s arrest in connection with the bombing, she will burn the clippings. [New York Times, 4/26/1995; New York Times, 5/7/1997; Anti-Defamation League, 2005] Press reports will say that Jennifer in turn has already told friends in December 1994 that “something big is going to happen in March or April, and Tim’s involved” (see Mid-December 1994), but she will deny saying this. [New York Times, 8/4/1995] This information will later be included in an affidavit accompanying an arrest warrant for Nichols (see April 25, 1995).

Entity Tags: Timothy James McVeigh, Jennifer McVeigh, Terry Lynn Nichols

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Murrah Federal Building before the bombing.The Murrah Federal Building before the bombing. [Source: Oklahoma City National Memorial (.com)]Oklahoma City bomb plotter Terry Nichols (see October 12, 1993 - January 1994, November 5, 1994, and November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995) meets his partner Timothy McVeigh (see April 15, 1995) at a gas station next to a Dairy Queen in Herington, Kansas, where Nichols lives (see (February 20, 1995)). (McVeigh had expected to meet Nichols at Geary State Park in Kansas earlier this morning, but Nichols failed to appear.) The two travel separately to Oklahoma City to scout the location for planting the fertilizer bomb they have constructed (see December 22 or 23, 1988 and September 13, 1994); McVeigh leaves his getaway car (see April 13, 1995), backing it up against a brick wall and leaving a note (that obscures the car’s VIN number) asking that the car not be towed. They then drive back to Kansas, arriving sometime before 2:00 a.m on April 17. Nichols drops McVeigh off at a McDonald’s restaurant in Junction City, and drives back to Herington. Nichols has already told McVeigh he does not want to be directly involved in planting the bomb (see March 1995 and March 31 - April 12, 1995). When the bomb detonates three days later (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), Nichols is at his Kansas home. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Douglas O. Linder, 2001; Nicole Nichols, 2003]
Different Account of Events - In statements given to authorities shortly after the bombing (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995 and April 25, 1995), Nichols will tell a very different version of events. Nichols will say that on April 16, Easter Sunday, he plans on taking his family to mass at a local Catholic church, drives to the church, and returns with the news that there are no services being held. Instead, Nichols will say, he and the family drive 25 miles to St. Xavier’s in Junction City. They then return home and have an Easter meal. Sometime after 3:00 p.m., he will say, McVeigh calls him and asks him to pick him up in Oklahoma City, asks him to tell his wife Marife that he is driving to Omaha, not Oklahoma City, and asks him to “keep this between us.” McVeigh, Nichols will say, has a television that once belonged to Nichols’s ex-wife Lana Padilla, and wants Nichols to come get the television. Nichols will say he wants the television as his son Joshua, who usually lives with Padilla but is visiting him, wants to watch television during his stay. Joshua asks to go with his father to Omaha and Nichols turns him down. Nichols drives from Herington to Oklahoma City, a five-hour trip, picks up McVeigh, and drives to Junction City, Kansas. Nichols will say that he drives by the Murrah Federal Building two or three times before seeing McVeigh in an alley and picking him up. During the drive to Junction City, McVeigh tells Nichols, “Something big is going to happen” (see April 15, 1995). Nichols, who will claim to be unaware of any plans to detonate a bomb (see March 31 - April 12, 1995), asks, “Are you going to rob a bank?” to which McVeigh repeats his previous statement, “Something big is going to happen.” According to Nichols’s story, he then drops McVeigh off in Junction City and returns to Herington sometime after midnight. Marife Nichols will confirm that Nichols brings a television into the house with him; she will see it when she wakes up on April 17. It is old and almost completely unusable, being without an antenna; Nichols will later get cable television activated. Nichols will claim that on April 17, the family watches rented videos on the television, including The Lion King, and will claim that he spends some of the day puttering around the house, trying to fix a broken fuel meter that he wants to resell. He will say that he takes the family to eat dinner at a steakhouse that evening, then drives to the airport to see Joshua off (see (6:00 p.m.) April 17, 1995). Nichols will say that he will not hear from McVeigh again until April 18 (see Late Evening, April 17, 1995, 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, 8:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995, and Early Afternoon, April 18, 1995). [New York Times, 4/26/1995; Associated Press, 3/16/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 146-148]

Entity Tags: Timothy James McVeigh, Marife Torres Nichols, Geary State Fishing Lake And Wildlife Area, Murrah Federal Building, Terry Lynn Nichols

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see September 13, 1994, October 20, 1994, and 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) leaves the Dreamland Motel in Junction City, Kansas (see 3:30 a.m. April 18, 1995), and drives his rented Ryder truck (see 3:00 - 5:00 p.m. April 17, 1995) to Herington, Kansas, where he has planned to meet with his co-conspirator Terry Nichols (see (February 20, 1995)) at 6:00 a.m. The plan is for McVeigh and Nichols to meet in the parking lot of the Pizza Hut near the storage unit where they have stored materials for the bomb (see September 22, 1994), leave Nichols’s truck at the Pizza Hut, and ride in the truck to the storage shed. Nichols, who has told McVeigh he does not want to participate directly in the bombing (see March 1995 and March 31 - April 12, 1995), does not appear. Nichols will later tell FBI investigators that around 6:00 a.m., McVeigh calls him asking to borrow his pickup truck to pick up some items and look at vehicles, and asking him to pick up McVeigh on his way to an auction in Fort Riley, Kansas (see November 20-21, 1997). At 6:15 a.m., McVeigh begins loading the truck himself, first loading empty drums and then beginning to load the seven boxes of fuel-oil gel. At 6:30 a.m., Nichols arrives in his truck. McVeigh has already loaded 20 50-pound bags of fertilizer into the truck. Nichols wants to leave and wait until sunrise to finish loading the truck, but McVeigh refuses. Nichols drives his truck to the Pizza Hut and walks back to the shed. Nichols then helps McVeigh load another 70 bags of fertilizer and three 55-gallon drums of nitromethane. McVeigh and Nichols leave in the shed a Ruger Mini 30 rifle, a duffel bag, LBE rifles and extra magazines for the guns, a smoke grenade, a hand grenade, a CS gas grenade, a shortwave radio, three KinePal explosive sticks similar to dynamite sticks, two changes of McVeigh’s clothing, three license plates, and a shovel. McVeigh tells Nichols, “If I don’t come back for a while, you’ll clean out the storage shed.” Nichols and McVeigh drive to Geary Lake State Park, Nichols in his pickup truck, McVeigh in the Ryder. [New York Times, 4/26/1995; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 150; Douglas O. Linder, 2001]
Nichols Tells Different Story - Nichols will later describe to investigators (see April 25, 1995) a somewhat different chain of events. According to Nichols, McVeigh calls him at 6 a.m. and asks him to come to Junction City; according to Nichols’s statement, he drives to Fort Riley, where he intends to spend most of the day at an auction (see November 20-21, 1997), and lets McVeigh have the truck. Nichols will say that McVeigh returns the truck later this afternoon and the two drive to a storage shed, where McVeigh instructs Nichols to clean out the shed if he does not “come back in a while.” [New York Times, 4/26/1995; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996]
Witnesses See McVeigh in Junction City, McVeigh Will Say Witnesses Are Mistaken - Two witnesses will later say they see McVeigh and another, unidentified man park a Ryder truck in front of a Hardee’s restaurant in Junction City sometime during the morning, but McVeigh will later tell his lawyers that this does not occur. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996]

Entity Tags: Dreamland Motel (Junction City, Kansas), Geary State Fishing Lake And Wildlife Area, Timothy James McVeigh, Terry Lynn Nichols

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

A remote, yet accessible area of Geary State Lake Park.A remote, yet accessible area of Geary State Lake Park. [Source: Leisure and Sports Review (.com)]Oklahoma City bombing conspirators Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, having finished loading McVeigh’s rented Ryder truck with the bomb components (see 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995), arrive at Geary State Lake Park, Kansas, where they begin assembling the bomb. (A diner owner will later say she sees McVeigh, Nichols, and a third man eating breakfast at her establishment between 8 and 9 a.m.—see 8:00 a.m. April 18, 1995. It is possible that the 8:15 a.m. time of arrival is slightly erroneous.) Each 55-gallon drum has the contents of seven 50-pound bags of fertilizer and seven 20-pound buckets of nitromethane. They use a bathroom scale to weigh the buckets of nitromethane. They slit open the bags of ammonium nitrate, pour the fuel into empty plastic barrels, and mix in the racing fuel, turning the white fertilizer pellets into bright pink balls. After 10 minutes or so, the components will blend sufficiently to cause a tremendous explosion if detonated by blasting caps and dynamite, which they wrap around the barrels. McVeigh runs the main fuse to the entire batch through a hole in the storage compartment into the cab of the truck, allowing him to light the fuse from inside the cab. When they finish, Nichols nails down the barrels and McVeigh changes clothes, giving his dirty clothes to Nichols for disposal. Nichols also takes the 90 empty bags of fertilizer. The rest of the “tools” are placed in the cone of the bomb. They finish sometime around noon. Nichols tells McVeigh that his wife Marife (see July - December 1990) is leaving him for good. Nichols says he will leave McVeigh some money and a telephone card in the Herington storage shed (see September 22, 1994). They shake hands and Nichols wishes McVeigh good luck. Before they drive off in their separate vehicles, Nichols warns McVeigh that the truck is leaking. As they drive away, McVeigh sees two trucks pulling in. [New York Times, 4/26/1995; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 150-151; Douglas O. Linder, 2001] Nichols will drive from the lake to a military surplus auction at Fort Riley, Kansas. He then picks up address labels and business cards for his new surplus-reselling business (see April 6, 1995). McVeigh will drive back to the Dreamland Motel to check out, and head towards Oklahoma City (see Noon and After, April 18, 1995). [Serrano, 1998, pp. 151] Witnesses will later tell FBI investigators that around 9:00 a.m. they see a large Ryder truck parked next to a blue or brown pickup truck at the lake. Around 10:00 a.m., Sergeant Richard Wahl of Fort Riley and his son arrive at Geary Lake about 50 yards away from where McVeigh and Nichols are mixing the bomb. As the morning is cold and rainy, they wait for about an hour trying to decide whether or not to put their boat in the water. Wahl sees the Ryder truck and the blue pickup parked together near the boat ramp, though he cannot see anyone near the two vehicles. He will recall seeing the side door on the Ryder open and later seeing it closed. Other visitors to the park say they did not see any large yellow truck, and some will claim to have seen the truck at the park a week before, adding to the confusion surrounding the circumstances. Investigators will later find an oily substance which smells like fuel oil at the spot indicated by witnesses that the trucks were parked (see April 15-16, 1995). [New York Times, 5/12/1995; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 150-151]

Entity Tags: Terry Lynn Nichols, Geary State Fishing Lake And Wildlife Area, Marife Torres Nichols, Dreamland Motel (Junction City, Kansas), Timothy James McVeigh, Richard Wahl

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Alfred P. Murrah Building after being bombed.The Alfred P. Murrah Building after being bombed. [Source: CBS News]A truck bomb destroys the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people in America’s worst domestic terrorist attack. Timothy McVeigh, later convicted in the bombing, has ideological roots both in the Patriot world and among neo-Nazis like William Pierce, whose novel, The Turner Diaries (see 1978), served as a blueprint for the attack. [Washington Post, 4/20/1995; Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001; Clarke, 2004, pp. 127] Initially, many believe that no American set off the bomb, and suspect Islamist terrorists of actually carrying out the bombing (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After). Their suspicions prove groundless. Investigators will find that the bomb is constructed of some 5,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, carried in 20 or so blue plastic 55-gallon barrels arranged inside a rented Ryder truck (see April 15, 1995). The bomb is detonated by a slow-burning safety fuse, most likely lit by hand. The fuse is attached to a much faster-burning detonation cord (“det cord”) which ignites the fertilizer and fuel-oil mixture. [New York Times, 4/27/1995] The Murrah Federal Building houses a number of federal agencies, including offices for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF); the Social Security Administration; the Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Veterans Affairs, and Agriculture departments; and the Secret Service. [Washington Post, 4/20/1995] It encompasses an entire city block, between 5th and 4th Streets and Harvey and Robinson Streets, and features a U-shaped, indented drive on 5th that allows for quick pickup and delivery parking. The entire building’s facade on this side is made of glass, allowing passersby to see into the offices in the building, as well as into the America’s Kids day care center on the second floor, which by this time is filling with children. It is in this driveway that McVeigh parks his truck. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 99-102]
Entering the City - McVeigh drives into Oklahoma City, entering around 8:30 a.m. from his overnight stop in Ponca City, Oklahoma; the details reported of his entrance into the city vary (see 7:00 a.m. - 8:35 a.m., April 19, 1995). At 8:55 a.m., a security camera captures the Ryder truck as it heads towards downtown Oklahoma City [Douglas O. Linder, 2006] , a sighting bolstered by three people leaving the building who later say they saw the truck parked in front of the Murrah Building around this time. At 8:57, a security camera captures an image of McVeigh’s Ryder truck being parked outside the Murrah Building in a handicapped zone. One survivor of the blast, Marine recruiter Michael Norfleet, later recalls seeing the Ryder truck parked just outside the building next to the little circle drive on 5th Street leading up to the main entrance of the building. Norfleet had parked his black Ford Ranger in front of the Ryder.
McVeigh Lights Fuses - McVeigh drives the Ryder truck west past the Murrah Building on NW Fourth Street, turns north on a one-way street, and turns right on Fifth Street. He pulls the truck over and parks near the Firestone store, next to a chain-link fence. He then lights the five-minute fuses from inside the cab (see 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995), sets the parking brake, drops the key behind the seat, opens the door, locks the truck, exits, and shuts the door behind him. A man later claims to have hit his brakes to avoid someone matching McVeigh’s description as he crossed Fifth Street around 9:00 a.m. McVeigh walks quickly toward a nearby YMCA building where he has hidden his getaway car, a battered yellow Mercury Marquis (see April 13, 1995), in the adjoining alleyway, crossing Robinson Street and crossing another street to get to the alleyway. He begins to jog as he approaches his car. He later says he remembers a woman looking at him as she is walking down the steps to enter the building; he will describe her as white, in her mid-30s, with dirty blonde hair. According to McVeigh’s own recollection, he is about 20 feet into the alley when the bomb goes off. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 184-185; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 158; Douglas O. Linder, 2006; The Oklahoman, 4/2009]
Truck Explodes - At 9:02 a.m., the truck explodes, destroying most of the Murrah Building and seriously damaging many nearby buildings. Eventually, it will be determined that 168 people die in the blast, including 19 children. Over 500 are injured. The children are in the second-story day care center just above the parking space where McVeigh leaves the Ryder truck. McVeigh will later tell his biographers that he is lifted off his feet by the power of the blast.
Devastation and Death - When the bomb detonates, the day care center and the children plummet into the basement. The building, constructed with large glass windows, collapses, sending a wave of flying glass shards and debris into the building and the surrounding area. The oldest victim is 73-year-old Charles Hurlbert, who has come to the Social Security office on the first floor. Hurlbert’s wife Jean, 67, also dies in the blast. The youngest victim is four-month-old Gabeon Bruce, whose mother is also in the Social Security office. One victim, Rebecca Anderson, is a nurse who runs towards the building to render assistance. She never makes it to the building; she is struck in the head by a piece of falling debris and will die in a hospital four days after the blast. Her heart and kidneys will be transplanted into survivors of the bombing. [Denver Post, 6/3/1997; New York Times, 6/3/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 153-154; Oklahoma City Journal Record, 3/29/2001] Sherri Sparks, who has friends still unaccounted for in the building, tells a reporter in the hours after the blast, “Oh, I can’t stand the thought of… those innocent children, sitting there playing, thinking they’re safe, and then this happens.” The explosion leaves a 30-foot-wide, 8-foot-deep crater in the street that is covered by the wreckage of the building’s upper floors. The north face of the nine-story building collapses entirely. [Washington Post, 4/20/1995; Washington Post, 4/22/1995] Mary Heath, a psychologist who works about 20 blocks from the Murrah Building, says the blast “shook the daylights out of things—it scared us to death. We felt the windows shake before we heard the noise.” In a neighboring building, a Water Resources Board meeting is just commencing; the audiotape of the meeting captures the sound of the blast (see 9:02 a.m. and After, April 19, 1995). [Washington Post, 4/20/1995; The Oklahoman, 4/2009] Norfleet, trapped in the Marine Corps office, is thrown into a wall by the explosion. His skull is fractured, and a shard of glass punctures his right eye. Three separate arteries are pierced, and Norfleet begins bleeding heavily. Two supply sergeants in the office are far less injured; Norfleet asks one, “How bad am I hurt?” and one replies, “Sir, you look really bad.” One of the two begins giving Norfleet first aid; Norfleet later recalls: “He immediately went into combat mode and started taking care of me. He laid me on a table and he started looking for bandages to administer first aid. And while I was laying on that table, I just knew that I was losing strength and that if I stayed in the building, I would die.” Norfleet wraps a shirt around his head and face to slow the bleeding, and the two sergeants help him to the stairs, through the fallen rubble, and eventually out. Norfleet will later say that he follows “a blood trail of somebody that had gone down the steps before me” to get outside, where he is quickly put into an ambulance. He loses almost half his body’s blood supply and his right eye. He will never fly again, and will soon be discharged for medical incapacity. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 161-162] Eighteen-month-old Phillip Allen, called “P.J.” by his parents, miraculously survives the blast. The floor gives way beneath him and he plunges 18 feet to land on the stomach of an adult worker on the floor below, Calvin Johnson. Landing on Johnson’s stomach saves P.J.‘s life. Johnson is knocked unconscious by the blast and by the impact of the little boy falling on him, but when he awakes, he carries the toddler to safety. P.J.‘s grandfather calls the child “Oklahoma’s miracle kid,” and media reports use the label when retelling the story of the miraculous rescue. P.J. is one of six children in the day care center to survive the blast. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 275-277] Some people later report their belief that the Murrah Building was rocked by a second explosion just moments after the first one, the second coming from a secure area managed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) that illegally stored explosives. Law professor Douglas O. Linder will later write, “Both seismic evidence and witness testimony supports the ‘two blast theory.’” [Douglas O. Linder, 2006] That theory is later disputed (see After 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995).
Explosion's Effects Felt Miles Away - Buildings near the Murrah are also damaged, seven severely, including the Journal Record newspaper building, the offices of Southwestern Bell, the Water Resources Board, an Athenian restaurant, the YMCA, a post office building, and the Regency Tower Hotel. Two Water Resources Board employees and a restaurant worker are killed in the blast. The Journal Record building loses its roof. Assistant Fire Chief Jon Hansen later recalls, “The entire block looked like something out of war-torn Bosnia.” Every building within four blocks of the Murrah suffers some effects. A United Parcel Service truck 10 miles away has its windows shattered by the blast. Cars in parking lots around the area catch fire and burn. Millions of sheets of paper, and an innumerable number of glass shards, shower down for hundreds of feet around the building. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 28-30]
Truck Axle Crushes Nearby Car - Richard Nichols (no relation to bomber Timothy McVeigh’s co-conspirator Terry Nichols), a maintenance worker standing with his wife a block and a half away from the Murrah Building, is spun around by the force of the blast. They throw open the back door of their car and begin taking their young nephew Chad Nichols out of the back seat, when Richard sees a large shaft of metal hurtling towards them. The “humongous object… spinning like a boomerang,” as Richard later describes it, hits the front of their Ford Festiva, smashing the windshield, crushing the front end, driving the rear end high into the air, and sending the entire car spinning backwards about 10 feet. Chad is not seriously injured. The metal shaft is the rear axle of the Ryder truck. Later, investigators determine that it weighs 250 pounds and was blown 575 feet from where the truck was parked. Governor Frank Keating (R-OK) points out the axle to reporters when he walks the scene a day or so later, causing some media outlets to incorrectly report that Keating “discovered” the axle. The scene will take investigators days to process for evidence. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 32; New York Times, 6/3/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 187-189]
First Responders Begin Arriving - Within minutes, survivors begin evacuating the building, and first responders appear on the scene (see 9:02 a.m. - 10:35 a.m. April 19, 1995).
McVeigh's Getaway - McVeigh flees the bomb site in his Mercury getaway car (see 9:02 a.m. and After, April 19, 1995), but is captured less than 90 minutes later (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995).

Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see October 12, 1993 - January 1994, November 5, 1994, and November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995), having turned himself into the local police in Herington, Kansas (see 2:00 p.m. and After, April 21, 1995), is interrogated for nine hours by federal authorities and consents to have his home and truck searched (see Evening, April 21, 1995 and After). [Mickolus and Simmons, 6/1997, pp. 810; Douglas O. Linder, 2001; Nicole Nichols, 2003]
Nine-Hour Interrogation, No Recording Made - Starting around 3:15 p.m., FBI agents interrogate Nichols for over nine hours. Nichols agrees to speak without a lawyer present. The agents do not record the interview, instead making handwritten notes on it. Preliminary questions include verification of his Social Security number (which he says he never uses because he does not believe in having a federal government number; he also says he does not pay federal taxes (see March 16, 1994)) and his job (self-employed dealer of military surplus). They then ask him when he heard that he might have been involved in the bombing. Nichols says he only heard of his alleged involvement earlier in the day. He says he knew bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh during their stint in the Army (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990). He says that he saw the sketches of the two bombing suspects (see April 20, 1995), but does not believe the sketch of “No. 1” looks like McVeigh. He explains that once he heard about his being a suspect, he decided to go directly to the local police instead of federal agents, because “I didn’t want another Waco” (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). Apparently Nichols means he did not want to become involved in an armed standoff with police and FBI agents. He says he realized he was being followed when he pulled into the Surplus City parking lot, and came directly to the police station. Agents Stephen E. Smith and Scott Crabtree then begin asking him about his brother James, and he gives some information about his earlier life in Decker on his brother’s farm, and notes that McVeigh had lived with them for a time (see Summer 1992 and October 12, 1993 - January 1994). At this point, around 3:30 p.m., the agents inform him that he is not a suspect, but a witness. Nevertheless they ask him to read aloud a form titled “Interrogation; Advice of Rights,” that sets forth his rights to have a lawyer present or to remain silent. He refuses to sign the form. Smith will later testify, “He said the word ‘interrogation’ sounded like the Nazis.” The US Attorney for Kansas, Randall K. Rathbun, tells reporters, “He refused to sign the form, indicating that since it dealt with interrogation, he said that was a word that reminded him of Nazi Germany and he refused to sign the form dealing with his rights.” From Washington, lead FBI counsel Howard Shapiro advises the agents that they need to secure Nichols’s oral acknowledgment that he is waiving his rights to legal representation, and advise him again that he is free to go. Shapiro adds that if Nichols does leave, the agents should follow him and arrest him once a warrant for his detention as a material witness is available. Nichols waives his rights to a lawyer and agrees to continue speaking. Shapiro advises the agents not to tell Nichols about the warrant for his arrest being prepared, as it may discourage him from talking. [New York Times, 5/11/1995; New York Times, 7/2/1996; Denver Post, 12/24/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 203-205] He signs a Consent to Search form allowing agents to search his home and pickup truck, though his lawyers will later claim he believes his wife will be allowed to be present during the search. He says repeatedly that he hopes the agents searching his home can tell the difference between cleaning solvents and bomb components: “There is nothing in my house or truck that could be construed as bomb-making materials,” he says. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; New York Times, 7/2/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 205]
Denies Knowledge of Bombing - Nichols denies any foreknowledge of McVeigh’s bombing, saying merely that McVeigh had told him “something big” was in the offing (see April 15, 1995). He tells his questioners that the first he heard of the bombing was while watching a television demonstration at the Home Cable Television sales outlet in Herington. The agents ask him when he last had contact with McVeigh. According to Nichols, he sent McVeigh a letter in February 1995, asking McVeigh if the next time he was in Las Vegas, he could pick up an old television set from his ex-wife Lana Padilla; Nichols says he wanted the television set for when his son Joshua visited.
Tells of Long Easter Trip to Oklahoma City, Junction City for Television - On the afternoon of Easter Sunday, April 16, Nichols says, McVeigh called and asked him to come to Oklahoma City to pick up the television set (see April 16-17, 1995). “I’m pressed for time to get back east” to his family in New York, Nichols says McVeigh told him. “If you want your television, you’ll have to come to Oklahoma City.” Although Oklahoma City is some 250 miles away, Nichols agreed to make the trip. He also agreed to tell his wife that he was going to Omaha, not Oklahoma City, at McVeigh’s request. Nichols explains: “He [McVeigh] has a private nature. He has told me that no one is to know his business. Some of the things he wanted kept private were trivial matters. He just doesn’t want people to know what he is doing. That is just his nature.” Nichols tells the agents that before Easter, he had last heard from McVeigh in November 1994 or perhaps early 1995 (see February 20, 1995 and April 11, 1995). He then says: “In my eyes, I did not do anything wrong but I can see how lawyers can turn stuff around. I did not know anything. Lawyers can turn stuff around.” He denies ever seeing McVeigh at any motel in Junction City, Kansas (see September 22, 1994, January 19 - January 27, 1995, and (February 20, 1995)), says he has no knowledge of McVeigh renting a Ryder truck (see April 15, 1995, April 16-17, 1995, Late Evening, April 17, 1995, 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995), and was never asked by McVeigh to buy any materials related to making bombs (see September 13, 1994, September 22, 1994, September 30, 1994, October 3, 1994, October 4 - Late October, 1994, October 17, 1994, October 18, 1994, October 20, 1994, October 21 or 22, 1994, October 29-30, 1994, November 5, 1994, November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995, November 7, 1994, November 9, 1994, January 19 - January 27, 1995, January 31 - February 12, 1995, February 20, 1995, March 1995, March 17, 1995, April 5-10, 1995, April 15-16, 1995, 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, 8:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995). He says he drove to Oklahoma City and picked up McVeigh near the Murrah Federal Building (see April 16-17, 1995). McVeigh loaded the television into the pickup, Nichols says, along with a green duffel bag. They then headed towards Junction City. Nichols says he met McVeigh in an alleyway and never saw McVeigh’s car, which he says McVeigh claimed was broken down. Asked what they talked about, Nichols responds, “McVeigh talked in code.” He only later understood what his friend meant when he said “something big” was going to happen; he claims that he thought McVeigh was talking about robbing a bank. The conversation then turned to the Branch Davidian tragedy (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After), and McVeigh said he was interested in a protest rally for April 19 in Washington, DC. Nichols says he does not know why McVeigh wanted to go to Junction City. Maybe McVeigh had another car there, Nichols speculates. He let McVeigh off in Junction City, ate by himself at a Denny’s restaurant, and made the short drive home.
Second Trip to Junction City - On Tuesday, April 18, Nichols says, McVeigh called him around 6 a.m. and asked to borrow his pickup. Nichols says he met McVeigh in Junction City, and spent the morning at a military surplus auction while McVeigh used the truck. When they met up again in the early afternoon, all McVeigh had, Nichols says, was his green duffel bag. Explaining why McVeigh had had the truck for hours and brought back no items, Nichols explains, “Tim lives and travels light.” He then tells of picking up items from a storage locker McVeigh has rented (see April 20, 1995), and says that was the last time he saw McVeigh. The agents would find some of McVeigh’s belongings in his garage: a sleeping bag, rucksack, and rifle. [New York Times, 5/11/1995; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 205-208; The Oklahoman, 4/2009]
Morning's Events - Nichols says he spoke to his ex-wife Lana Padilla earlier that day, angering his wife Marife, who announced she wanted to go back to the Philippines. “I’ve got friends there,” he says she told him. “I don’t have friends here. You got friends like Tim.” Marife does not like McVeigh, Nichols says, complaining that he lives his life “on the edge” and drives too fast. As for his conversation with Padilla, Nichols says she asked him about $3,000 he had apparently given her for their son Joshua. Investigators will later speculate that the money came from a robbery Nichols perpetrated in order to fund the bombing (see November 5, 1994). He says he went to a local lumberyard, then came back home.
Turning Up the Heat on Nichols - Nichols and Marife watched a few minutes of television together, and that was when they saw news reports identifying McVeigh as a suspect in the bombing. “I thought and swore that I could not believe it was him because he was heading back to see his family!” he says. “And he was back there in Oklahoma City? When I heard his name on TV, that is when I figured out why my name was on the radio, because I was his friend.… I was feeling shock, because I heard my name. How am I involved? How am I connected to it? I must not have known him that well for him to do that.” Nichols says he and McVeigh had become somewhat estranged, in part because McVeigh did not like Nichols’s penchant for practical jokes. The agents lean in and begin demanding to know if McVeigh executed the bombing, and if Nichols had any role in it. It is apparent they do not believe Nichols’s stories. Nichols, talking fast, says: “I feel upset that I’m involved, in a sense, because of him, and knowing that I am not.… I feel I cannot trust anyone any more than Tim. I would be shocked if he implicated me. Tim takes responsibility for his actions, and he lives up to his arrangements.… I cannot see why he would do it.” The agents ease off for a bit, and ask Nichols about his recent fertilizer purchases. He admits buying two 50-pound bags of ammonium nitrate at a Manhattan, Kansas, elevator, for which he has the receipts. He intends to sell it in one-pound bags at gun shows, to be used as fertilizer. He has already sold a few bags at earlier gun shows, he says: “If I sell any more at these shows, they will question me.” He says he spread some of the leftover fertilizer on his lawn just recently. (Investigators will later determine that the fertilizer was probably left over from the bomb-making process (see 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995).) He did not mention the fertilizer earlier, he says, because ammonium nitrate can be used to make an explosive compound, and “[i]t would make me look guilty to a jury.” He says he is working to build a new career as a military surplus dealer and create a peaceful life for himself and his family (see April 6, 1995). While he has worked gun shows with McVeigh in the past, he says, he does not know any of the other vendors, and though they never associated with militia members, he did recently sell 30 MREs (military “meals ready to eat”) to members of the Michigan Militia. Sometimes he heard talk about the Davidian tragedy and federal law enforcement officials at the shows, but he rarely took part in the conversations. He admits to having some anti-government feelings, and has read some of the literature, but says others got “hyped” about it and talked about taking action. McVeigh “was much more hyped about Waco,” he says. McVeigh is very knowledgeable about explosives, and is “capable” of building a bomb such as the one detonated in Oklahoma City, he says, but the agents should not assume he actually carried out the bombing. Nichols denies having specific knowledge himself of how to build a fertilizer bomb similar to that used in Oklahoma City, though he says the information is readily available. McVeigh is particularly fascinated with guns, Nichols says, and is extremely knowledgeable about them. He notes some common acquaintances, including Michael Fortier (see December 16, 1994 and After, Mid-March, 1995, April 5, 1995, and April 19, 1995 and After). whom he merely identifies by his last name and does not disclose that the three of them served in the Army together. Nichols admits to having rented a number of storage facilities in Las Vegas (see November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995) and in Kansas, including one in Herington (see September 22, 1994) and another in Council Grove (see October 17, 1994 and November 7, 1994), but he just uses them for storing household items, he says, along with a few guns and ammunition. After more questioning, Nichols admits that he now suspects McVeigh might well be the bomber. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; New York Times, 7/2/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 208-214] One source says that the FBI first learns of Fortier from Nichols’s 12-year-old son Joshua, who phones the bureau from his Las Vegas home and speaks with agent Debbie Calhoun about Fortier. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 183]
Break and Resumption - Everyone, including Nichols, is tired. At 6:10 p.m., they take a break, and give Nichols a glass of water and two slices of pizza. They refuse to let him see his wife. Special Agent John F. Foley sits with Nichols, and they talk casually until about 7:00 p.m. Smith and Crabtree resume the questioning, and ask Nichols to verify that the house or garage is not “booby-trapped.” He says it is not, and gives them a map of his house that indicates where guns and ammunition are stored on his property. Nichols repeats much of what he said earlier, insisting that his story about McVeigh’s borrowing his pickup truck on April 18 is factual and that he fully intends to build a new life for himself with his family. While McVeigh had grown increasingly agitated about the federal government and had become more radicalized, Nichols says, he himself just wanted to settle down. At 11:15 p.m., they play him an audiotape of his ex-wife Lana and his son Joshua urging him to cooperate. The tape upsets Nichols. Just after midnight, they hand him copies of the letters he had left at his ex-wife’s house urging McVeigh to “Go for it!” (see November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995). Nichols says he wrote the letter to take the place of a will, worried that he might not return from the trip he took to the Philippines. During the last two hours of interrogation, a new pair of agents, Foley and Daniel L. Jablonski, begin pressuring Nichols, accusing him of lying. Nichols does not respond to the new tactics. He refuses to take a polygraph exam, and refuses to sign a form certifying that he has been advised of his Miranda rights. He ends by denying any involvement whatsoever in the bombing. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; New York Times, 7/2/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 208-214]
Wife Questioned for Six Hours - Marife Nichols is questioned for six hours (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21, 1995).
Warrants Signed - Oklahoma City’s chief federal judge, David L. Russell, is at the FBI’s command center, and after the decision is made in Washington to procure a material witness arrest warrant, Russell signs it. It is faxed to the police station in Herington at 4:46 p.m. FBI agents interrogating Nichols do not tell him that the material witness warrant is now available; lead agent Thomas A. Price will later say he did not want to interrupt the interrogation. Russell will say he is not aware that Nichols is being interviewed by the FBI, and, noting language on the warrant that says Nichols “has attempted to leave the jurisdiction of the United States,” will say that the language is “inconsistent” with Nichols’s voluntary presentation at the police station.
Public Defender Denied Access - Public defender David J. Phillips, the federal defender for Kansas, learns from television reports that Nichols is in custody and has asked for legal representation. Phillips repeatedly calls the Herington police station, but is told that no one is available to speak with him. At 9:10 p.m., he calls a federal prosecutor in Topeka and is told that Nichols is not being arrested, and that Nichols is not the “John Doe” the FBI is looking for. Price will testify that he is aware of Phillips’s attempts to contact the police, and has told Police Chief Dale Kuhn to write down Phillips’s number. “[I]f Nichols asked for counsel, we’d provide the number,” Price will testify. Phillips will represent Nichols beginning April 22. [New York Times, 7/2/1996]
Possible Militia Affiliation - The FBI says it has reason to believe Nichols is a member of the Michigan Militia (see October 12, 1993 - January 1994); spokesmen for the Michigan Militia say Nichols is not a member and their group has no connection to the bombing [New York Times, 4/22/1995] , though a relative says that both brothers are indeed members of the group. A neighbor of Nichols, Randy Izydorek, tells a reporter that Nichols is proud of his affiliation with groups such as the Michigan Militia. “He told me it’s nationwide and it’s growing,” Izydorek says. [New York Times, 4/23/1995] (Militia spokesmen have said the group ejected Nichols and his brother James for “hyperbolic language,” apparently referring to calls for violence.) [New York Times, 4/24/1995]
Nichols Arrested and Jailed, Admits to Using Aliases - Shortly after midnight, the agents formally serve the warrant on Nichols and arrest him. At 12:24 a.m., Nichols is incarcerated in Abilene, Kansas. The afternoon of April 22, he is transferred to a jail in Wichita, Kansas, in the custody of Smith and Crabtree, where he will make his initial court appearance. Nichols continues to talk; during the drive, he admits to using a number of aliases, including Ken Parker (see October 17, 1994, November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995, and November 7, 1994) and Jim Kyle (see October 17, 1994, October 21 or 22, 1994, November 5, 1994, January 19 - January 27, 1995, and January 31 - February 12, 1995). McVeigh, he says, often used aliases such as Shawn Rivers (see September 22, 1994 and October 1994) and Tim Tuttle (see October 12, 1993 - January 1994, November 22, 1993, December 1993, February - July 1994, and November 30, 1994). McVeigh liked to use aliases, he says, and Nichols went along with the practice. “But we parted ways last fall,” he says. “The way we both live did not jive.” His brother James always “got along well” with McVeigh, he says. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; New York Times, 7/2/1996; Denver Post, 12/24/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 215]

Entity Tags: Terry Lynn Nichols, Debbie Calhoun, David L. Russell, Scott Crabtree, Thomas A. Price, Timothy James McVeigh, Dale Kuhn, Ronald G. Woods, David J. Phillips, Daniel L. Jablonski, Randy Izydorek, Stephen E. Smith, Nicole Nichols, Howard Shapiro, Randall K. Rathbun, Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Nichols, Joshua Nichols, John F. Foley, Michigan Militia, Lana Padilla, Michael Joseph Fortier, Marife Torres Nichols, Murrah Federal Building

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Sheila E. Witnall, the secretary of the Air Force, declassifies all Air Force accident reports prior to January 25, 1956. The declassification includes the 1948 crash of the B-29 bomber that killed nine of 13 crew members during a secret “Project Banshee” mission (see October 6, 1948). The formerly classified reports had been at the heart of the case of US v Reynolds (see March 9, 1953) that sparked the so-called “state secrets” privilege. Four years after the declassification, the daughter of one of the slain civilians on board, Judy Palya Loether, finds the accident report on the Internet; the discovery spurs her to begin looking into the circumstances of her father’s death, and ultimately will result in a second lawsuit being filed on behalf of the families of the slain crewmen (see February 26, 2003). [Siegel, 2008, pp. 205-208]

Entity Tags: Project Banshee, Sheila E. Witnall, Judy Palya Loether, US Department of the Air Force

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Timothy McVeigh sits in the courtroom during his trial.Timothy McVeigh sits in the courtroom during his trial. [Source: India Times]Accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995) is convicted on all 11 counts of murder and conspiracy. [University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, 6/2/1997; Douglas O. Linder, 2001] The jury deliberates for over 23 hours, spread over four days (including a weekend), before announcing it has a verdict. McVeigh, who enters the courtroom with a smile on his face, shows no emotion when the guilty verdicts are read aloud by US District Judge Richard Matsch; Matsch polls the 12 jurors to ensure that they are indeed unanimous in their verdict. McVeigh is convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of eight law enforcement agents who died in the blast, one count of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, one count of using a weapon of mass destruction, and one count of destruction of a federal building. McVeigh awaits a trial in Oklahoma, where he will face 160 counts of murdering the civilians who died in the bombing; Oklahoma City district attorney Bob Macy says he will file state charges that will bring both McVeigh and fellow conspirator Terry Nichols to court to face the death penalty. Many family members break down in tears as the verdicts are read; one woman shouts, “We got him!” Lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler accepts an ovation from the gallery, and later says: “We’re obviously very pleased with the verdict. We always had confidence in our evidence. Now maybe everyone else will have confidence in our evidence.” Defense attorney Stephen Jones says he will prepare his client for the sentencing phase, where many feel McVeigh will be sentenced to death (see June 11-13, 1997). (Both sets of attorneys are under a judicial gag order preventing them from discussing the details of the case.) Jannie Coverdale, who lost her grandchildren in the blast, says she has mixed emotions: “This is bittersweet. After all, this is a young man who has wasted his life. I’m glad they found him guilty, but I’m sad for him, too. I feel sorry for him. He had so much to offer his country.… I want him to get the death penalty, but not out of revenge. It’s necessary. I haven’t seen any remorse from Timothy McVeigh. If he ever walked the streets, he would murder again. I don’t want to see that.” Asked if the verdict will bring her closure, she says: “I don’t think there will ever be closure. Too many people are missing.” Sharon Ice, whose brother Paul Douglas Ice was one of the federal agents killed in the bombing, calls McVeigh a “monster.” Former judge Durant Davidson says he supports the verdict: “I don’t have any question about that. There was a time before the trial started that I didn’t know. [But] after having followed it, there would not have been any question in my mind.” In Washington, President Clinton refuses to comment directly on the verdict, citing the judge’s gag order, but says: “This is a very important and long overdue day for the survivors and families of those who died in Oklahoma City.… I say to the families of the victims, no single verdict can bring an end to your anguish. But your courage has been an inspiration to all Americans. Our prayers are with you.” [Denver Post, 6/3/1997; New York Times, 6/3/1997; Washington Post, 6/3/1997; Associated Press, 1/11/1998] McVeigh’s father William and his sister Jennifer release a statement from their Pendleton, New York, home that reads in part: “Even though the jury has found Tim guilty, we still love him very much and intend to stand by him no matter what happens. We would like to ask everyone to pray for Tim in this difficult time.” [Washington Post, 6/3/1997] Later, a juror says he and his fellows grew more convinced of McVeigh’s guilt with each day that the trial continued. “There is no justification for that kind of action,” juror Tony Stedman will say. [Associated Press, 1/11/1998] As the prosecution leaves the courthouse, a weeping woman pushes her way towards lead attorney Joseph Hartzler, throws her arms around him, and says, “Dear God, thank you for what you have done.” [Serrano, 1998, pp. 292]

Entity Tags: Jannie Coverdale, Paul Douglas Ice, Jennifer McVeigh, Joseph H. Hartzler, Richard P. Matsch, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Robert (“Bob”) Macy, Tony Stedman, Sharon Ice, William (“Bill”) McVeigh, Terry Lynn Nichols, Stephen Jones, Timothy James McVeigh

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

James Blassengill and his wife, Willie, who lost six family members in the bombing, comfort one another after the verdict.James Blassengill and his wife, Willie, who lost six family members in the bombing, comfort one another after the verdict. [Source: AP / Washington Post]The jury in the trial of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997) unanimously decides that McVeigh should be sentenced to death by lethal injection. The verdict is written in heavy black ink by jury foreman James Osgood, a single word: “Death.”
Statements by Prosecution and Defense - The prosecution puts an array of survivors and family members of the victims on the stand to tell their harrowing stories, and shows videotapes of some of the surviving children battling grave injuries in the months after the bombing. The defense counters with testimonials from some of McVeigh’s former Army friends (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990 and January - March 1991 and After), and a presentation by McVeigh’s divorced parents, Bill McVeigh and Mildred Frazer; the father introduces a 15-minute videotape of McVeigh as a child and concludes simply, “I love Tim.” The defense emphasizes McVeigh’s far-right political views, insisting that his misguided belief that the government intended to impose tyranny on its citizens was fueled by the Ruby Ridge (see August 31, 1992 and August 21-31, 1992) and Branch Davidian (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After) incidents, and drove McVeigh to mount his own strike against a government facility. However, defense lawyer Richard Burr tells the jury, “He is just like any of us.” The defense brings in soldiers who served with McVeigh in the Army to testify about McVeigh’s exemplary service, but their statements are quickly neutralized when prosecutors remind them that they are all taught as their first rule of duty “never to kill noncombatants, including women and children.” Another damning moment comes when prosecutor Beth Wilkinson elicits testimony that shows McVeigh killed more people in the bombing than US forces lost during Desert Storm—168 to 137. Jones pleads for a life sentence without parole. At no time do defense lawyers say that McVeigh feels any remorse towards the lives he took.
Unanimous Verdict - The jury takes about 11 hours over two days to reach its verdict. The jury unanimously finds that at least seven “aggravating circumstances” were associated with McVeigh’s crimes, including his intention to kill, his premeditation and planning, that he created a grave risk to others with reckless disregard for their lives, that he committed offenses against federal law enforcement officials, and that he created severe losses for the victims’ families. They are split in consideration of “mitigating factors” proposed by the defense. Only two find McVeigh to be a “reliable and dependable person”; only four say he had “done good deeds and helped others” during his life; none see him as a “good and loyal friend”; and none agree with the proposition that he “believed deeply in the ideals upon which the United States was founded.” Lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler says: “This is not a day of great joy for the prosecution team. We’re pleased that the system worked and justice prevailed. But the verdict doesn’t diminish the great sadness that occurred in Oklahoma City two years ago. Our only hope is that the verdict will go some way toward preventing such a terrible, drastic crime from ever occurring again.” Juror Tonya Stedman says that the jury wrestled with the idea of taking McVeigh’s life for his crimes: “It was difficult because we’re talking about a life. Yes, 168 died as a result of it, but this is another life to consider. This was a big decision. I feel confident in the decision we made.” Most relatives of the bombing victims echo the sentiments expressed by Charles Tomlin, who lost a son in the explosion: “I could see the strain on them [the jurors]. You know it was a hard decision to make to put a man to death, but I’m glad they did.” However, some agree with James Kreymborg, who lost his wife and daughter in the blast. Kreymborg says he “really did not want the death penalty” because “I’ve had enough death.” Mike Lenz, whose pregnant wife died in the blast, says: “It’s not going to bring back my wife and lessen my loss. My reason for believing or wanting to put McVeigh to death is it stops. It stops here. He can’t reach out and try to recruit anybody else to his cause.” Marsha Kight, who lost her daughter in the explosion, says she would have preferred a life sentence in prison: “There is a lot of pain in living—death is pretty easy.” Lead defense attorney Stephen Jones acknowledges respect for the jury’s decision, and adds: “We ask that the barriers and intolerance that have divided us may crumble and suspicions disappear and hatred cease. And our divisions and intolerance being healed, we may live together in justice and peace. God save the United States of America. God save this honorable court.” President Clinton had publicly called for the death sentence after the bombing (see April 23, 1995), but avoids directly commenting on the jury’s decision, citing the impending trial of fellow bombing suspect Terry Nichols (see November 3, 1997). Instead, Clinton says: “This investigation and trial have confirmed our country’s faith in its justice system. To the victims and their families, I know that your healing can be measured only one day at a time. The prayers and support of your fellow Americans will be with you every one of those days.” McVeigh faces 160 murder charges under Oklahoma state law. [New York Times, 6/4/1997; Denver Post, 6/14/1997; Washington Post, 6/14/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 297-300, 308, 313-315; Douglas O. Linder, 2001; Douglas O. Linder, 2006; Douglas O. Linder, 2006] McVeigh shows no emotion when the sentence is read. When he is escorted out of the courtroom, he flashes a peace sign to the jury, then turns to his parents and sister in the front row, and mouths, “It’s okay.” [Serrano, 1998, pp. 315]
McVeigh Will Be Incarcerated in Colorado 'Supermax' Facility - McVeigh will be held in the same “supermax” federal facility in Florence, Colorado, that houses Theodore Kaczynski, the “Unabomber” (see April 3, 1996), and convicted World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef (see February 26, 1993 and February 7, 1995). In a letter to the authors of McVeigh’s authorized biography, American Terrorist, Kaczynski will later say he “like[s]” McVeigh, describing him as “an adventurer by nature” who, at the same time, is “very intelligent” and expressed ideas that “seemed rational and sensible.” [Douglas O. Linder, 2006] A person who later speaks to McVeigh in prison will call him “the scariest man in the world” because he is so quiet and nondescript. “There’s nothing alarming about him—nothing,” the person will say. “He’s respectful of his elders, he’s polite. When he expresses political views, for most of what he says, Rush Limbaugh is scarier. That’s what’s incredibly frightening. If he is what he appears to be, there must be other people out there like him. You look at him and you think: This isn’t the end of something; this is the beginning of something.” [Nicole Nichols, 2003] McVeigh is one of only 13 people to be sentenced to death under federal law. It has been 34 years since any prisoner sentenced to death under federal law was executed. [New York Times, 6/4/1997] He will speak briefly and obscurely on his own behalf when Judge Richard Matsch formally sentences him to death (see August 14, 1997).

Entity Tags: Joseph H. Hartzler, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Tonya Stedman, James Kreymborg, Charles Tomlin, James Osgood, Beth Wilkinson, Timothy James McVeigh, William (“Bill”) McVeigh, Terry Lynn Nichols, Marsha Kight, Theodore J. (“Ted”) Kaczynski, Mildred (“Mickey”) Frazer, Mike Lenz, Richard P. Matsch, Stephen Jones, Richard Burr

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The federal trial of Oklahoma City bombing co-conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and August 10, 1995) begins. As with Nichols’s accused co-conspirator Timothy McVeigh, recently convicted of murder and conspiracy surrounding the bombing (see June 2, 1997), the trial takes place in Denver, and is presided over by Judge Richard P. Matsch. Nichols faces the same eight counts of murdering federal officials and three counts of conspiracy that McVeigh was convicted of, and like McVeigh, he faces the death penalty if convicted. [New York Times, 11/4/1997; Douglas O. Linder, 2001] The jury consists of seven women and five men. It includes two bus drivers; a day-care worker; a bank clerk; a soda machine installer; a telemarketer; a loading-dock worker; a maintenance employee; an obstetrics nurse; a remedial reading tutor; a contract seamstress, whose husband is a corrections officer; and a geophysicist. Two members of the jury are African-American. As with the McVeigh jurors, their identities are concealed. Legal analysts say there is far less direct evidence of Nichols’s guilt than existed to use against McVeigh. [Washington Post, 10/31/1997; Fox News, 4/13/2005] Prosecutors tell the jury that Nichols worked “side by side” with McVeigh to build the bomb that destroyed the Murrah Federal Building. For his part, Nichols’s lawyer Michael E. Tigar says Nichols had nothing to do with the bomb plot, and is a victim of McVeigh’s deceit and a web of misleading circumstantial evidence. Lead prosecutor Larry Mackey (see October 31, 1997) says that the deceit was on the part of Nichols. Mackey acknowledges that Nichols was at his Herington, Kansas, home on the morning of the bombing: “Terry Nichols had planned it just that way,” he says. But Nichols had been involved in every aspect of building the bomb and plotting the attack. The prosecution’s case is far broader in its scope than the more narrowly focused case against McVeigh (see August 29, 1997). Tigar indicates that he plans to challenge what he calls the “junk science” used by the prosecution to forensically prove Nichols’s involvement in building the bomb. [New York Times, 11/4/1997]

Entity Tags: Timothy James McVeigh, Michael E. Tigar, Larry A. Mackey, Richard P. Matsch, Terry Lynn Nichols

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

FBI agent Stephen E. Smith testifies in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and November 3, 1997).
Nichols Told of Picking Up McVeigh - Smith testifies that Nichols told him and other FBI agents that on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1995, three days before the bombing, he drove around downtown Oklahoma City looking for his alleged co-conspirator, convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997). Nichols, says Smith, drove around the Murrah Federal Building, McVeigh’s target, several times before finding McVeigh in a nearby alley (see April 16-17, 1995). McVeigh, according to what Nichols told Smith, had asked Nichols for a ride from Oklahoma City back to Nichols’s Herington, Kansas, home (see (February 20, 1995)) because his car had broken down. Nichols found McVeigh, Smith says: “[H]e was standing in a light rain with Mr. Nichols’s TV set and a green laundry bag.” Smith was one of the agents who interrogated Nichols for nine hours after the bombing (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995). He was not allowed to testify in McVeigh’s trial, but was allowed to introduce the 22 pages of handwritten notes taken during Nichols’s interrogation. Smith’s testimony is the first to describe what Nichols said about the trip from Oklahoma City to Herington. McVeigh was going to bring Nichols a television set, Nichols told Smith, when his car broke down. Nichols said after he received the telephone call from McVeigh at around 3 p.m., he left about 10 minutes later and drove straight to Oklahoma City. McVeigh had told him to “drive around the block a couple times,” Nichols told the agents, and added that he passed “that building” several times. The alley McVeigh was standing in was, Smith testifies, next to the YMCA near the Murrah Building. Nichols told Smith and the other agents that McVeigh was “hyper” during the return trip to Herington, and they talked about the upcoming anniversary of the federal assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Texas (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After). Nichols told the agents that McVeigh told him “he would see something big in the future.” Nichols, Smith testifies, asked if McVeigh was planning to rob a bank; McVeigh replied, “No, but I’ve got something in the works.” Nichols was shocked to learn that McVeigh was a suspect in the bombing, Smith testifies: “He thought Tim was driving back east to see his family.” Nichols told the agents he could not discern any motive for the bombing, since McVeigh “was supposed to receive an inheritance from his grandfather and he would have money” to do whatever he wanted. Smith testifies that when the agents asked Nichols if he was worried about what McVeigh might say about him, Nichols replied that “he’d be shocked if Mr. McVeigh implicated him.… Terry Nichols said he trusted Timothy McVeigh more than anyone. Timothy McVeigh lived up to his arrangements and took responsibility for his actions.” Smith adds that Nichols never clarified what he meant. Nichols told the agents that the Easter telephone call was the first contact he had had with McVeigh since November 1994. However, other testimony has shown numerous contacts between McVeigh and Nichols since that time period (see November 7, 1994, March 1995, April 13, 1995, April 15, 1995, and April 15-16, 1995). [New York Times, 11/21/1997] Nichols also told federal agents that he spent the morning of April 18 at an auction in Fort Riley, Kansas, and that the same morning, McVeigh had borrowed his pickup truck to run errands. Nichols told agents that the morning of April 18, McVeigh called at 6:00 a.m. and asked to borrow the truck. Nichols agreed, and the two met at a McDonald’s restaurant in Junction City, Kansas, around 7:30 a.m. The two drove to the auction site, and McVeigh took the truck, leaving Nichols at the auction. McVeigh returned after 1:00 p.m. Nichols told agents he signed in at the auction site sometime around noon. [New York Times, 11/26/1997]
Story Contradicted by Other Evidence - Other evidence has shown that Nichols’s story about driving to Oklahoma City to pick up McVeigh and a television set is false. That evidence has shown that on April 16, Nichols met McVeigh at a Dairy Queen in Herington, then the two drove separately to Oklahoma City to scout the location for the bomb. McVeigh left his getaway car at the scene (see April 13, 1995) and the two drove back to Herington in Nichols’s pickup truck (see April 16-17, 1995). On the morning of April 18, McVeigh, staying at a motel in Junction City with his rented Ryder truck (see April 15, 1995), met Nichols at a Herington storage unit (see (February 20, 1995)). The two loaded bags of fertilizer and drums of nitromethane into the Ryder truck, and McVeigh told Nichols, “If I don’t come back for a while, you’ll clean out the storage shed.” They drove separately to Geary County State Fishing Lake, where they met and mixed the explosive components. Nichols later told investigators that he cleaned out the storage shed on April 20. One witness told investigators that he saw McVeigh with a man resembling Nichols at the motel. Other witnesses recalled seeing the Ryder truck parked behind Nichols’s house on April 17, and the Ryder truck and a pickup truck resembling Nichols’s at Geary Lake on April 18. Other witnesses said that on either April 17 or 18, they saw what appeared to be Nichols’s pickup truck parked behind the Herington storage shed (see 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995 and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995). Videotape from the Regency Towers Apartments, one and a half blocks from the bombed Murrah Federal Building, showed Nichols’s dark blue pickup with a white camper shell passing the building on April 16, though the videotape does not itself disprove Nichols’s claims of driving to Oklahoma City to pick up McVeigh and a television set. [Denver Post, 12/24/1997; Fox News, 4/13/2005] Prosecutors will soon submit evidence showing that Nichols’s claims of his whereabouts on April 18 are incorrect (see November 25, 1997).
Shared Interest in Bombs - Nichols also said that he and McVeigh were curious about bombs. They read books and magazines about them, and discussed how they worked. Nichols told the agents that “it’s possible he [McVeigh] could make a device to blow up a building without my knowledge.” Nichols, Smith testifies, insisted that their interest in bombs was strictly out of curiosity. Nichols told Smith and the other agents that he had learned about explosives from people “who came by the table at gun shows and literature he had read.” Nichols also said that he had learned “ammonium nitrate fertilizer can be used to make a bomb.… I imagine you have to put a blasting cap on it.” Smith testifies that someone had informed Nichols that ammonium nitrate could be mixed with diesel fuel to make a bomb, but adds that Nichols said he had not done that.
Cross-Examination - Nichols’s defense lawyer, Ronald G. Woods, has Smith read the entire 22-page sheaf of handwritten notes he took during his interviews with Nichols, then tells Judge Richard P. Matsch that the typewritten transcript of those notes “was not accurate or complete.” Woods also questions why the interviews were not tape-recorded. Smith calls his notes accurate, but admits that he had not written down what he now testifies was Nichols’s silence when shown a letter he had written to McVeigh the previous November urging him to “Go for it.” During the interview, Smith says Nichols admitted to having the knowledge needed to build a fertilizer bomb after initially denying it. [Washington Post, 11/21/1997; New York Times, 11/22/1997; Denver Post, 12/24/1997]

Entity Tags: Geary State Fishing Lake And Wildlife Area, Murrah Federal Building, Ronald G. Woods, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard P. Matsch, Terry Lynn Nichols, Stephen E. Smith, Timothy James McVeigh

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

As the prosecution in the trial of Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and November 3, 1997) prepares to rest its case, the prosecuting lawyers attempt to show that Nichols lied about his whereabouts on the day the Oklahoma City bomb was built (see November 20-21, 1997). Nichols claimed that the day the bomb was assembled, April 18, 1995, he was at an auction in Fort Riley, Kansas, from 8:00 a.m. until after 1:00 p.m., while his alleged co-conspirator, Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997), had borrowed his truck. Prosecutors introduce evidence that shows Nichols and McVeigh worked together to build the bomb in an isolated section of Geary Lake State Park, 16 miles from Nichols’s home in Herington, Kansas (see 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995 and 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995). Nichols has not yet testified; his version of events comes from statements he gave to FBI agents two days after the bombing (see 3:15 p.m. and After, April 21-22, 1995). Mary Garza, a civilian employee at Fort Riley and the overseer of the auction that Nichols claimed he attended, produces a document that shows Nichols signed in to the auction at 12:50 p.m. that afternoon, and another document showing that he submitted a sealed bid at 12:37 p.m. on March 18, 1995. Garza testifies that the time clock was off by one month and one hour, and in reality Nichols submitted his bid at 1:37 p.m. on April 18, 1995. Nichols said he wandered from one auction building to the next, but other witnesses testify that the morning of April 18 was extremely cold and windy, and only one building was open to the public. Visitors such as Nichols were required to sign in. Nichols could conceivably have spent five hours outside, examining two small outdoor sales areas, the witnesses say, but the sale was quite small, and none of the witnesses saw Nichols that morning. [New York Times, 11/26/1997]

Entity Tags: Timothy James McVeigh, Mary Garza, Geary State Fishing Lake And Wildlife Area, Terry Lynn Nichols

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Judy Palya Loether.Judy Palya Loether. [Source: SecrecyFilm (.com)]Judy Palya Loether, the daughter of a civilian engineer killed in a 1948 plane crash while on a secret government mission (see October 6, 1948), reads over the voluminous reports of the accident that claimed her father’s life. The reports, now declassified (see January 1996), had been at the heart of a landmark lawsuit that gave judicial recognition to the government’s “state secrets” privilege (see March 9, 1953). Loether is shocked to find that the reports contain nothing that could be construed as military or tactical secrets of any kind, though for decades the government has insisted that they could not be revealed, even to a judge (see October 18, 1948, July 26, 1950, August 7-8, 1950, September 21, 1950, and October 19, 1951). What they do contain is a compendium of witness statements and expert findings that indicate a number of mistakes and errors led to the crash. Loether begins contacting the families of the widows who had filed the original lawsuit against the government (seeJune 21, 1949) to share her findings. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 210-211] Loether is confused and angered over the contents of the reports, and the government’s response to the lawsuit. She cannot understand why the government pressed so hard to keep the reports classified, knowing that they contained no sensitive information about the secret missile program, and is particularly troubled by the fact that at least two senior government officials signed affidavits affirming the reports’ inclusion of such information while knowing that the reports contained nothing of the sort. She wonders if government officials had perhaps decided to lie about the reports in order to establish some sort of state secrets privilege. In September 2002, lawyers Wilson Brown and Jeff Almeida, retained by Loether and others who lost family members in the crash, come to the same conclusion. As Almeida will say to Brown: “I’ve read this report. There’s nothing in there.” [Siegel, 2008, pp. 219] As time goes on, Loether and her colleagues files a second lawsuit seeking to overturn the first Supreme Court verdict (see February 26, 2003).

Entity Tags: Wilson Brown, Jeff Almeida, Judy Palya Loether

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Lawyers Wilson Brown and Jeff Almeida file a request with the Supreme Court, asking it to reconsider its landmark 1953 case, US v Reynolds (see March 9, 1953). The lawyers are representing several family members who lost fathers (and, in one case, a husband) in the airplane crash that led to the original case (see October 6, 1948). The lawyers note that the government’s original claim that the accident reports could not be released due to the inclusion of “military secrets” (see July 26, 1950) is false, as the accident reports have been declassified and examined for such secrets (see February 2000). “Indeed,” the lawyers write, “they are no more than accounts of a flight that, due to the Air Force’s negligence, went tragically awry. In telling the Court otherwise, the Air Force lied. In reliance upon that lie, the Court deprived the widows [the three original plaintiffs] of their judgments. It is for this Court, through issuance of a writ of error coram nobis and in exercise of its inherent power to remedy fraud, to put things right… United States v. Reynolds stands as a classic ‘fraud on the court,’ one that is most remarkable because it succeeded in tainting a decision of our nation’s highest tribunal.” [Siegel, 2008, pp. 249-251] On July 26, 2002, one of the plaintiffs, Judy Palya Loether, wrote in an e-mail to Brown: ”US v Reynolds has come to be a landmark case that is used by the government when it claims that documents cannot be turned over to the courts because of national security. Yet this very case is now proven, in my mind, to be based on a lie that did injury to 3 widows and 5 little children (see February 2000)… It allowed the government an area of no checks and balances (see December 11, 1951). How many times has the government used this decision, not to protect national security, but for its own purposes?” [Siegel, 2008, pp. 237-238]

Entity Tags: Judy Palya Loether, Jeff Almeida, US Supreme Court, US Department of the Air Force, Wilson Brown

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Obama’s birth certificate, obtained from the Hawaii Department of Health.Obama’s birth certificate, obtained from the Hawaii Department of Health. [Source: FightTheSmears (.com)]Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), running for the Democratic nomination for president, releases a digitally scanned copy of his Hawaiian birth certificate. His campaign is responding to persistent rumors that he is not a legitimate American citizen. In the process of releasing the certificate, Obama’s campaign also launches a Web site called Fight The Smears, devoted to debunking the allegations that, among other things, Obama is not a citizen, he is a closet Muslim, he took his oaths for political office on a copy of the Koran, he refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance, and other falsehoods. As Obama was born in Kapiolani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital in Honolulu at 7:24 p.m. on August 4, 1961, his birth certificate comes under Hawaiian state law, and those laws state birth certificates are not public records. Only the individuals, or immediate family members, may request copies. The copy of the birth certificate released by the Obama campaign confirms that his name is legitimately “Barack Hussein Obama,” not “Barack Muhammed Obama,” “Barry Soetoro,” or other claimed variants, and states that Obama’s mother is Stanley Ann Dunham, an American, and his father is Barack Hussein Obama, an “African.” The birth certificate release only inflames the “birther” claims that Obama is hiding his true citizenship, religion, political alliances, and other such personal facts (see June 27, 2008). [St. Petersburg Times, 6/27/2008; St. Petersburg Times, 7/1/2009; Honolulu Advertiser, 7/28/2009]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Ann Dunham, Kapiolani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital, Barack Obama, Sr

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2008 Elections

Appearing on ABC’s Sunday morning talk show This Week, in an interview taped ahead of time but broadcast on Easter morning, Christian evangelist Franklin Graham gives his blessing to billionaire presidential candidate Donald Trump’s rumored presidential aspirations, saying: “When I first saw that he was getting in, I thought, ‘Well, this has got to be a joke.’ But the more you listen to him, the more you say to yourself: ‘You know? Maybe the guy’s right.’” Graham says he agrees with Trump’s allegations that President Obama may not be an American citizen. The Charlotte Observer notes, “There was no discussion of how Graham, a conservative Christian, could support a thrice-married owner of gambling casinos.” Graham has said in recent years that Obama was “born a Muslim” and Islam is a “wicked” religion. On This Week, he questions Obama’s Christianity (see January 6-11, 2008) and refuses to say that Obama’s birth certificate is valid (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, August 21, 2008, and October 30, 2008). “The president… has some issues to deal with here,” he says. “He can solve this whole birth certificate issue pretty quickly (see July 1, 2009). I was born in a hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, and I know that my records are there. You can probably even go and find out what room my mother was in when I was born. I don’t know why he can’t produce that.… It’s an issue that looks like he could answer pretty quickly.” In a subsequent interview for Christianity Today, Graham backs away from his previous claims that Obama is a Muslim, saying: “I do not believe for an instant that Obama is a Muslim. He has said he’s not a Muslim. I take him at his word. People say he’s not born in the United States. I take it on the word that they properly vetted him before they swore him into office. I’m sure somebody had to look at his credentials. I’m not saying the president is a Muslim, never said he’s a Muslim. He says he’s a Christian.… I’ve never said that Obama was born a Muslim.” However, he notes, “All throughout the Muslim world, every person whose father is a Muslim is recognized under Islamic law as a Muslim.” Obama’s father was a nonpracticing Muslim. [Charlotte Observer, 4/25/2011; Christianity Today, 4/26/2011] The Charlotte Observer publishes an op-ed in response to Graham’s claims that accuses him of “spouting… nonsense” about Obama’s birth certificate and “join[ing] Trump in fostering the bizarre and false birther allegations.” [Charlotte Observer, 4/26/2011] In 2010, Graham told a CNN reporter that Obama’s “problem” was that he was “born a Muslim” (see August 19, 2010).

Entity Tags: Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Charlotte Observer, Franklin Graham

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2012 Elections

Responding to recent comments by evangelist Franklin Graham that questioned President Obama’s US citizenship (see April 24-25, 2011), Fox News anchor Shepard Smith tells his viewers: “Fox News can confirm that the president of the United States is a citizen of the United States. Period.” Smith refers viewers to the validated copy of Obama’s birth certificate that has been available for years (see June 13, 2008) before making the assertion that Fox confirms Obama’s US citizenship. [Media Matters, 4/25/2011; Business Insider, 4/26/2011]

Entity Tags: Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Shepard Smith, Franklin Graham, Fox News

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

On Sean Hannity’s Fox News talk show, guest Tamara Holder, a Fox legal analyst, speculates why President Obama has not “released” his “real” birth certificate (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, July 2008, August 21, 2008, October 30, 2008, July 1, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 29, 2009, April 11, 2011, and April 25, 2011). “I would say that maybe there’s something on there that he doesn’t want people to know,” she says. When Hannity asks her what that might be, she responds: “Like who his father is. Maybe that the father isn’t listed on the birth certificate. That is my only idea.” The progressive media watchdog Media Matters equates Holder’s speculation with radical-right eccentric Andy Martin’s announcement that Obama was “fathered” by a black Muslim activist with Communist ties (see Before October 27, 2008), or blogger Pamela Geller’s speculation that Obama’s father might be civil rights activist Malcolm X (see October 24, 2008). The Media Matters analysis concludes with the observation, “Meanwhile, in the real world, the certification of live birth issued by the state of Hawaii does list a father: Barack Obama Sr.” [Media Matters, 4/27/2011]

Entity Tags: Sean Hannity, Anthony Robert Martin-Trigona, Barack Obama, Media Matters, Tamara Holder, Pamela Geller, Fox News

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Since billionaire television host, rumored presidential candidate, and “birther” enthusiast Donald Trump has garnered so much media coverage for his challenges to President Obama’s citizenship (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1-8, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7-10, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 10, 2011, April 14-15, 2011, April 21, 2011, April 24-25, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 27, 2011, and April 27, 2011), Fox News has tremendously increased its coverage of the “birther” controversy, according to a research analysis by progressive media watchdog Media Matters. “[S]everal Fox News figures have embraced the birther conspiracy theory, while others have repeatedly failed to debunk false claims about Obama’s birth,” the report finds. “So widespread was Fox’s coverage of Trump’s embrace of birtherism that some Fox News hosts reported on and joked about the birther conspiracy theory in segments not relating to Trump.” Since March 5, Fox News has shown 52 segments on the “birther” conspiracy theory, with few exceptions (see April 25, 2011), promoting and expanding on the allegations that Obama is not a legitimate US citizen (see April 26, 2011). According to Media Matters’s analysis, 44 of 52 segments—84 percent—made false claims about Obama’s birth that went unchallenged by hosts or guests, including claims that Obama has never produced a legitimate birth certificate (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, August 21, 2008, and October 30, 2008), his grandmother claimed he was born in Kenya (see October 16, 2008 and After), and that Obama has spent $2 million blocking the release of his “real” birth certificate (see April 7-10, 2011). In contrast, when Fox News host and presumed 2012 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee claimed Obama grew up “in Kenya” and then backtracked that claim (see February 28, 2011), Fox spent very little time covering Huckabee’s repudiation of his misstatement. Media Matters only covered Fox News “opinion” shows for its study, including Fox & Friends, Fox & Friends Saturday, Fox & Friends Sunday, Justice with Judge Jeanine, The O’Reilly Factor, Hannity, On the Record with Greta van Susteren, Glenn Beck, Huckabee, and Your World with Neil Cavuto. Author and columnist Eric Boehlert notes that before Trump’s media splash, Fox had spent far less time, percentage-wise, on the “birther” controversy, and prominent opinion show hosts such as Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly had criticized “birther” allegations (see July 29, 2009, August 4, 2009, and February 17, 2010). Boehlert writes: “I mean, what are the odds that Fox News would suddenly take a sharp turn towards birtherism at the exact moment Trump started raising questions about Obama’s birth certificate while busy promoting his kinda/maybe candidacy for president? Fox News’s about-face was especially odd considering that when the exact same bogus birther story was raised during the 2008 campaign Fox News virtually boycotted the story. Fox News refused to touch it. As Obama was running for the White House and questions from the far right were raised about Obama’s eligibility and his birthplace, Fox News paid the story no mind. Then in 2009, when Fox News personalities did address the birther issue, it was usually to belittle the story and mock its followers.… But then, just as Trump stepped forward for his Republican star turn, Fox News decided to alter years of editorial judgment and to fully embrace—to celebrate—the birther story, simultaneously aiding Trump’s (right-wing) political fortunes. It’s almost like the two events were coordinated, no? Either way, it’s now obvious Trump and Fox News formed a mutually beneficial political, and media, alliance: Trump used the Fox News platform to rise his profile, while Fox News used Trump’s birther attacks as cover to wallow in the non-story.” Boehlert quotes Fox News analyst Andrea Tantaros on a recent O’Reilly broadcast, explaining why she encouraged the media to cover Trump: “Let the man speak. He’s got a bigger megaphone than [GOP presidential candidates Mitt] Romney, [Tim] Pawlenty, [Newt] Gingrich, than all of them combined. And you know what; he can drive up Obama’s negatives more than any of the other of those GOP candidates.” [Media Matters, 4/27/2011; Media Matters, 4/27/2011]

Entity Tags: Glenn Beck, Barack Obama, Andrea Tantaros, Bill O’Reilly, Eric Boehlert, Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, Media Matters, Fox News

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Author and columnist John Avlon says the “birther conspiracy theory should now be placed on the ash heap of presidential derangement syndromes that date back to at least the John Birch Society’s founder declaring President Dwight David Eisenhower a ‘dedicated, conscious agent of the communist conspiracy’—or, a Soviet spy.” However, this will not happen, he predicts, because in part no respected Republican lawmaker or pundit will denounce it. “Today, because the fringe is blurring with the base, conservative leaders seem afraid to confront the unhinged extremists in their midst,” he writes. Avlon writes that the swirl of conspiracies and allegations contained in the “birther” controversy include a number of related conspiracies—Obama is a “Marxist Manchurian Candidate” (see May 7, 2010] and April 27, 2011), he is a “closet Muslim” (see October 1, 2007, December 19, 2007, Before October 27, 2008, January 11, 2008, Around March 19, 2008, April 18, 2008, and April 26, 2011), and others. However, he continues, “[i]t’s worth noting… that the birther equivalent of the Bush years—the 9/11 ‘Truthers’—would never have been allowed to make such inroads into national debates or presidential politics in 2004 or 2008, by Republicans or Democrats.” The recent “bump in the polls” earned by billionaire television host and rumored presidential candidate Donald Trump for his aggressive promotion of the “birther” conspiracy theory (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1-8, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7-10, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 10, 2011, April 21, 2011, April 21, 2011, April 22, 2011, April 24-25, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, and April 27, 2011) worried some Republicans, including former Bush administration political chief Karl Rove. The polls reflected what Avlon calls “evidence of the real costs that came with encouraging Obama Derangement Syndrome for political gain—the inmates start to run the asylum.” However, the birther controversy will continue unabated, he writes, no matter what documents or proof Obama releases (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, July 2008, August 21, 2008, October 30, 2008, July 1, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 29, 2009, April 11, 2011, April 25, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, and April 27, 2011). Now the birthers are moving towards Trump’s insistence that Obama is hiding something suspicious in his college records (see April 26, 2011), “an affirmative action dig that tries to deepen the narrative of Obama as a monstrous fraud.” Avlon concludes: “History will be more unforgiving and see the birther conspiracy more clearly than we have in our contemporary debates. It will be hard to miss the fact that so much time and energy was spent trying to prove the illegitimacy and un-American-ness of our first black president. It will seem shameful. And it is.” [Daily Beast, 4/28/2011]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Karl C. Rove, John Avlon, Donald Trump

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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