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Profile: Randall K. Rathbun
Randall K. Rathbun was a participant or observer in the following events:
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
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