Thursday, August 1, 2013

Oklahoma City Revisited: Book & Film reviews

One of my main areas of interest is researching "overlooked" conspiracies.  These are often events that were hot topics for a short while but were later overshadowed by other events.  Most of the conspiracies of the eighties and nineties fall into this category, having been eclipsed by 9/11. 

There is still a lot of information to uncover about many of these.  In particular, the Iran/Contra scandal, Waco, and the tragedy of Columbine have aspects that haven't been fully explored yet.  Furthermore, many events of the Clinton administration need to have an objective analysis; one removed from the political gamesmanship and the (very real) "vast, right wing conspiracy."  Several of these will be subjects of future posts.

I have been recently been revisiting the Oklahoma City bombing conspiracies and delving into the small amount of existing scholarship on the topic.  There are two excellent books on OKC, both written shortly after the event took place: Jon Rappoport's Oklahoma City Bombing: The Suppressed Truth and the legendary Jim Keith's OKBOMB!: Conspiracy and Cover-up.  The latter uses the former as a source frequently, so most of my comments will be based on Keith's more thorough analysis.  Rappoport's book is still quite useful, though, especially for the immediacy of his prose, but it is often repetitive and meandering.  It is a work based in the world of emotion, whereas Keith provides the reader with hard, verifiable facts.

A broad-stroke summary of the OKC conspiracies can be found in several places on the Internet, so here is a run down of the two most tantalizing points addressed in the books not found elsewhere:
  1. The "partially-employed"/unemployed McVeigh and Nichols both had large amounts of cash coming in from sources unknown.  Nichols had $45,000 in cash (New York Times, June 16, 1995) and news reports vary on the exact amount, but McVeigh was reportedly carrying anywhere between $1,500 and $2,000 in cash at the time of his arrest.  Who exactly was funding the pair is an important thread of the investigation that was quickly glossed over in the official version, which claims that McVeigh and Nichols were suspected of a bank robbery in Arkansas, about which specifics were never given.  According to sources who spoke to the media, money was coming in from somewhere for the pair as far in advance as a year or two before the bombing; a curious fact given that neither was gainfully employed for most of that time.  This aspect of the case has resonances with many other conspiracies, where the alleged perpetrators seem to have a ready supply of cash despite having a low-paying job or being unemployed.  To tie this to another "overlooked" conspiracy, John Lennon's assassin Mark David Chapman was a lowly hospital security guard, but somehow found the funding to amass an expensive art collection and travel the world extensively, including a trip to NYC prior to the assassination seen by some as a "trial run."  More on that topic in a future post.
  2. McVeigh and Nichols had some interesting inconsistencies in their military careers.  McVeigh was an exemplary solider, promoted ahead of the rest of his platoon, and seemed to be heading towards a prestigious position in the Special Forces.  He allegedly failed the psychological tests -- given after he was mid-way through the training, rather than before as is standard procedure -- and reportedly quit the military shortly thereafter in despair.  This incident could be interpreted as "sheep dipping," the term used by intelligence agencies to establish plausible deniability for an agent.  As in, "McVeigh failed out of the Special Forces...see, it says so right here...he's not working for us," when in reality he would be.  This is part and parcel with the old adage "there's no such thing as an 'ex'-CIA agent," keeping in mind that military intelligence would likely work the same way.  McVeigh allegedly stated to several individuals, including his sister, that he was working in Special Forces.  For his part, Terry Nichols had a much less distinguished military career.  Nichols received a hardship discharge -- the same type Lee Harvey Oswald received shortly before heading to the Soviet Union.
The remainder of points raised in the books have been seen elsewhere, although Keith's book especially goes into these issues in greater detail than is the standard.  It would be pointless to review the multiple theories regarding what actually brought the Murrah building down; conspiracists disagree on practically every point except the fact than an ANFO bomb would have been incapable of doing so. 

The recent conspiracy cinema film A Noble Lie neatly summarizes those more familiar aspects of the case, and is a concise summary of the many theories surrounding OKC.  Summary is the name of the game here, as you're likely to have seen these same arguments made more convincingly in other films.  It is therefore a "greatest hits" of OKC conspiracy theories and as such will appeal much more to newcomers than to seasoned researchers.

Revisiting these two books and A Noble Lie illuminated a point that I had been considering for some time now: it is very rare that time improves the quality of information regarding a conspiratorial event.  Eighteen years separates the event and A Noble Lie, and in those eighteen years, no new information was uncovered that wasn't already known in 1995 and 1996 when Rappoport and Keith were writing their respective works.  A quick survey of the Internet and various conspiracy message boards confirms that most researchers have abandoned the topic -- or the trail has simply gone cold. 

The fact that nothing new has emerged regarding OKC confirms two things for me:
  1. It is valuable to continue reviewing source material made immediately after the event.  Whether this is something like a late-sixties book on the JFK assassination or a film like Cover-up in Oklahoma (95-96), old information is just as important -- if not more so -- than whatever the latest and greatest theory may be.
  2. There are still avenues left to explore in so-called "settled" topics.  Most conspiracy researchers agree on the general outlines of the OKC conspiracies, but until definitive proof is found there is still work to be done.
So going forward, I will attempt to put a spotlight on some of these forgotten conspiracy theories in an effort to hopefully generate some new interest in them.  At a minimum, I will at least present you with my findings as I continue to survey the existing information.