Wissot: Vigilante justice is a vote for violence
I was in Oklahoma City on April 24 to run the city’s tragedy-touched marathon.
The OKC Memorial Marathon was first held in 2001, six years after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which claimed the lives of 168 innocent men, women and children.
Before 9/11, the bombing was the single worst act of terrorism on American soil.
I’ve finished 96 marathons in the past 46 years, but none of them were held to mourn so many victims of senseless violence and celebrate the perseverance of a community steadfastly devoted to honoring their memories.
The emotional poignancy of the event hit me full force toward the end of the race. Around mile 24 I noticed a large poster on a lawn with the picture of a young man I judged to be in his 20s. The words below the picture read: “Remember Michael Weaver — 8th floor HUD office.” I don’t know what relationship the home’s owners had with Michael, but I do know that had the bombing not occurred, he’d likely be in his early 50s today.
Support Local Journalism
As the runners enter the finishing gates near the finish line, posters with the photos and names of all the 168 victims suddenly appear. At that point in a marathon, all a runner usually thinks about is getting to the finish line. Not that day. Not in that race. Any feelings of exhaustion quickly vanished as I looked up at the names and photos hanging from tall poles overhead. The words “A Run To Remember” written on each runner’s race bib took on a somber meaning.
I visited both the museum, which methodically recounts the horrible aftermath of the bombing, and a memorial field where 168 chairs are arranged in uniform rows. Although no human remains lie underneath the chairs, the site offers the sanctuary of a cemetery for the many family members, friends and colleagues who come there to mourn. I noticed a woman sobbing softly by one of the chairs. As I passed by her, she felt compelled to tell me a family member’s child was one of the 19 children murdered that day.
Those who make the pilgrimage to the memorial field are doing what the French philosopher Henri Bernard-Levy described as the “necessary work of remembering, which while unable to do what cannot be undone, nevertheless, prevents a repetition of the worst.”
Timothy McVeigh, and his accomplice, Terry Nichols, were convicted of the Oklahoma City bombing. McVeigh was executed in 2001; McNichols is serving 10 concurrent life sentences at Colorado’s supermax prison in Florence.
McVeigh made clear in letters, which were made public a month before his execution, why he targeted a building that housed federal law enforcement offices. He was angry over how the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms handled a 1992 siege at the home of a religious fundamentalist family in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and a standoff with the Branch Davidians religious cult at Waco, Texas, in 1993. McVeigh chose to bomb the federal building on the two year anniversary of Waco.
To be fair, McVeigh had a right to question the tactics used by the government in the siege and the standoff. The raids resulted in the deaths of five people at Ruby Ridge and 75 deaths, including 25 children, at Waco.
But McVeigh chose not to wait for a congressional investigation into the incidents, which eventually took place. Instead he decided to act as an army of one on a military mission to bomb a federal building that he felt deserved to be destroyed. As he said in one letter, which reflected his absence of conscience, “my mindset was and is one of clinical detachment.” He went on to frankly acknowledge: “The bombing of the Murrah building was not personal, no more than when Air Force, Army, Navy, or Marine personnel bomb or launch cruise missiles against government installations and their personnel.”
To McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bombing was a proportional military response to what took place at Ruby Ridge and Waco.
McVeigh’s reliance upon violence to settle political grievances is embraced by a current generation of domestic terrorists. It was evident on Jan 6. 2021, when a mob of morons too stupid to know they were being lied to by a pathological liar defaced the Capitol and disgraced the country. We saw another manifestation of it last weekend when an 18-year-old white racist opened fire on Black supermarket shoppers in Buffalo. Ten people were murdered in the rampage. The unhinged gunman believed in the crackpot theory that blacks, Hispanics and Asians are part of a Jewish-led plot to replace white people.
When McVeigh was arrested in Perry, Oklahoma, on an unrelated weapons charge two days after the bombing, he was wearing a T-shirt with the following words from Thomas Jefferson printed on the back: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of Patriots and Tyrants.”
I really don’t think Jefferson had the spilled blood of 19 innocent children in mind when he wrote about refreshing the tree of liberty nor would he have had any admiration for a demented vigilante posing as a counterfeit patriot like Timothy McVeigh.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at email@example.com.