Who is Timothy McVeigh
? Most people would answer that he is that sadistic, messed-up, psychotic sociopath
who took the lives of 168 innocent workers and children in Oklahoma City. However, these people do not
generally know much about McVeigh's history
, how he became the monster
that the news media paints him to be or why the government is so
anxious to put him to death
We need to understand that McVeigh acted out with the violence he learned in the U.S. Army against a government he felt was acting unjustly. Though I do not support McVeigh's actions in any way, I do not think he deserves to be put to death, because he merely masks the barbarism that is the institution of the death penalty. McVeigh was not born to kill; when he was two, he did not have a preference for AK-47s over normal children's toys. As a teen, he was not sitting around making pipe bombs in his garage or paying homage to Satan in his basement.
McVeigh's view of the world and of the role of government in his life changed drastically while serving in the Gulf War. McVeigh had a gruesome job manning the Bradley trucks that drove over trenches of Iraqi soldiers and literally buried surrendering soldiers alive. McVeigh was, at first, opposed to the killing of Iraqi soldiers. In an interview with "60 Minutes" after his sentencing trial, he commented, "I thought ... what right did I have to come over to this person's country and kill him? How did he ever transgress against me?"
But he soon learned to be a killer. In a letter to his mother during the war, McVeigh wrote, "After the first one, it got easier." He would later describe the deaths of 19 children in the Oklahoma City bombing as "collateral damage," a term used by the United States in Desert Storm for civilian casualties. For the killings of Iraqis, McVeigh was commended; he came home a decorated soldier with high aspirations of joining the Green Berets. McVeigh, however, did not make the cut into the specialized forces. He was disappointed and simultaneously coming to grips with his role in Desert Storm. McVeigh became angry and disillusioned.
Over the course of two years, two events, to McVeigh, clearly displayed the injustice committed by the U.S. government and led him to take action. The first event was the 1992 killing by a federal agent of the wife and son of Randy Weaver during a standoff in Idaho. The federal agent responsible for the deaths was dismissed of manslaughter charges by a judge and never reprimanded. McVeigh saw the ordeal as a gross injustice. The second event that set him off was the 1993 siege at Waco which caused the death of 70 Branch Davidians. McVeigh described his attitude to "60 Minutes" as "shaken, disillusioned, angered that that could happen in this country, where our core beliefs are freedom and liberty. And what did you do to these people? You deprived them of life, liberty and property."
Thus, the angered McVeigh acted out against the government in the way he was taught in Desert Storm: he mass-murdered innocent people. In his defense at his sentencing hearing, McVeigh quoted from Justice Louis Brandeis in the 1928 Supreme Court wiretapping case Olmstead vs. the United States. "Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy."
In his "60 Minutes" interview, when asked about violent acts against the government, he said, "If government is the teacher, violence would be an acceptable option." Now, six years after the blast, millions of Americans awaited the execution of the beast who killed 168 people. Perhaps the most important ones are those in Oklahoma City, the family members of those killed, and the 500 others injured in the blast. Attorney General John Ashcroft worked very hard to get a closed-circuit television so that the victims could watch the execution live and "begin the healing process," but those who wanted to watch are actually a very small minority getting the majority of press attention.
In fact, of all the family members sent letters asking if they would want to view the execution, a large majority didn't even respond. Those with the greatest interest in McVeigh's killing are not the victims or families, but members of the U.S. government, looking for public support for the death penalty.
In an interview, Bud Welch, whose daughter was killed in the blast, called McVeigh's execution a "staged political event." The government wanted the citizens to rally in support of the death penalty because it kills reprehensible people like McVeigh. This single execution has become a major justification for the existence of the death penalty in our society.
Few can find reason to disagree. They say, "Oh, yes, the death penalty is doing good things. We must need it." The truth though, is that McVeigh is nowhere near representative of the majority of people on death row. Most people on death row ended up there for a reason: they didn't have enough money to pay for their lives. Minorities and poor people disproportionately occupy death row. They couldn't afford the top lawyers like O.J. Simpson could and got the shoddy, overworked and underpaid court-appointed public defenders.
As Welch puts it, "With the exception of McVeigh and maybe one or two others, we only kill the easy ones in this country. And by easy ones, I mean the poor ones." Thus, support for the death penalty also means support for unjust punishment of the poor and minorities in this country. Timothy McVeigh is most certainly death row's atypical inmate. McVeigh will be the first person to undergo a federal execution since 1963. Most inmates on death row are executed after an average of 11 years. McVeigh is being executed in just over six years from the original date of the crime. McVeigh did not kill one or two people; he killed 168. When it comes to the death penalty, we need to realize that McVeigh is far from the rule; he is the exception.
McVeigh was taught violence by his own government in the Gulf War. When he saw governmental injustices, he felt it was his job to act. Now, he must pay the ultimate price. However, that price is not being paid back to the families, or even to society. That price is being paid in the interest of a political campaign to support a barbarian, classist, racist institution known as the death penalty. McVeigh is being used as a poster boy for a population he far from represents.