Since Joseph Farah at WorldNetDaily maligned me for saying there are “extremists” within the Christian faith, a number of right-wing bloggers have echoed his statements over the internet.
In addition to denying Christian extremism, Farah and his blogging buddies are distorting the record regarding the beliefs of Timothy McVeigh. They contend that McVeigh distanced himself from Christianity in an interview he gave to Time magazine in 2001.
Did he? Here’s what he said:
Time: Are you religious?
McVeigh: I was raised Catholic. I was confirmed Catholic (received the sacrament of confirmation). Through my military years, I sort of lost touch with the religion. I never really picked it up, however I do maintain core beliefs.
Time: Do you believe in God?
McVeigh: I do believe in a God, yes. But that’s as far as I want to discuss. If I get too detailed on some things that are personal like that, it gives people an easier way [to] alienate themselves from me and that’s all they are looking for now.
All this text discloses is that McVeigh distanced himself from Catholicism, not Christianity. It also reveals that he did not want to discuss his faith further because he knew most people would find it repulsive. What was repulsive about his faith? Was he an atheist? No. Was he a secular humanist? No. What do we know about his beliefs at the time he was bombing the federal building in Oklahoma City?
There is no doubt that Timothy McVeigh was deeply influenced by the Christian Identity movement. Christian Identity is a profoundly racist and theocratic form of faith that developed in the late 1970s and spread like wildfire through rural communities throughout the U.S. in the 1980s.
The chief guidebook for Christian Identity eschatology is “The Turner Diaries” written by William Pierce under the pseudonym Andrew MacDonald. The book is a fictional account of the “day of judgment” for which Identity adherents are preparing. Here’s a summary of the book by Joel Dyer, author of “Harvest of Rage: Why Oklahoma City is Only the Beginning” (1997) – by far the best explanation in print for what led to the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City:
In his book “The Turner Diaries,” Pierce describes a race war that ends with the government being overthrown. Pierce’s book is more than fiction. The most radical elements of the movement view it as a vision or blueprint for action. In the book, the Aryan forces used armored car robberies to finance their revolution. In real life, the radical white supremacist group called “the Order” used Pierce’s book as a guide to their armored car robberies in the Northwest. In the book, the revolutionaries blow up a federal building as part of their antigovernment war. In real life, the bombing of Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Building was almost a carbon copy of the incident in Pierce’s book. As I mentioned earlier, Timothy McVeigh had photocopies of a portion of “The Turner Diaries” with him when he was arrested. McVeigh also sold copies of the book at gun shows around the country.
Later in Dyer’s book he describes the obsession McVeigh had with “The Turner Diaries”:
And then there was “The Turner Diaries.” Friends have said that it was McVeigh’s favorite book. Some accounts have described McVeigh’s appreciation for William Pierce’s violent book of racist fiction as something more than literary zeal. McVeigh is said to have slept with the book under his pillow. After leaving the [military] service, McVeigh sold the book at gun shows, sometimes for less than his own cost. Fellow gun-show merchants said it was as if the contents of the book were his religion and he was looking for recruits. “The Turner Diaries” apparently changed McVeigh’s life.
Some researchers deny that William Pierce is an adherent of Christian Identity faith and contend that he merely uses God-talk to appeal to his more religious readers. Pierce’s personal religious beliefs are not at issue here. In my opinion, McVeigh was one of those who responded to the traces of Christian Identity beliefs that are woven into Pierce’s book. This opinion is supported by Dyer’s belief that McVeigh felt the need to receive advanced authorization from a secret common-law or military court:
By holding a military court, hard-core radicals can keep their violent plans a secret, while still using the idea of a court to cleanse their conscience. Based upon the movement’s almost sacred need to justify its actions, we can assume that for many pipe-bomb incidents, assassinations, church burnings and acts of paper terrorism, there is a cell of at least five people involved and that there was a common-law or military court trial that took place beforehand, …
Did the cell of radicals who blew up the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City hold a military-style trial beforehand? I suspect the answer is yes. Many of my contacts within the movement have told me it’s likely such a trial took place. But they deny having any firsthand knowledge of such an event.
Dyer does not mention all the evidence that exists that ties McVeigh to the Christian Identity movement. More than anyone else, Dyer provides the deepest insight into the traumatic psychological experiences that have created a void in the lives of people who find Christian Identity appealing.
In a nutshell, orthodox Christianity ignored the pain and neglected the injustices that were being inflicted on rural America by our government. Christian Identity offered those in the absolute depths of despair convenient scapegoats to blame. Then they offered them a revolutionary purpose that gives meaning to their lives and hope for the future. Unfortunately, the future they hope for has little room for people of other races or of other faiths.
Dyer’s worry about the possibility of upheaval at the turn of the century is now dated, but the subtitle of his book still holds true. Oklahoma City was only the beginning of the harvest of rage. Our current “Great Recession” has recreated and compounded conditions almost identical to those that led to rage in the heartland in the mid 1990s. This time the entire country is being affected.
It’s time for Dyer to do an update and revision of his outstanding book.
Bruce Prescott, now retired, served as executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists from 1998-2014.