Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Timothy McVeigh & Terry Nichols: Oklahoma Bombing

Soldiers of Misfortune

McVeigh had finally found his calling. The Army was everything he wanted in life, and more. When he joined, he was no leader, but an eager follower. There was discipline, a sense of order, and all the training a man could want in survivalist techniques. Most of all, there was an endless supply of weapons, and instruction on how to use and maintain them.

An army photograph with McVeigh in the back row
An army photograph with McVeigh in the
back row (AP)

The tough basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia saw him determined to excel — if he did, he could earn entrance into the Army's elite Special Forces club. His sights were set on the Green Beret. Had he stayed focused, he likely would have made it.

But fate derailed his ambitions in many ways.

In basic training, he met two other soldiers who were to support his obsessive journey into crime: Terry Lynn Nichols and Michael Fortier.

For the Army, Terry Nichols joined up at a relatively mature age. Called "the old man" by the other recruits, he was 12 years older than McVeigh. They connected on the rifle range at Fort Benning and quickly formed a bond. Initially, McVeigh looked up to Nichols, but the balance shifted as their friendship grew. Nichols, who was married with a son did not warm to the strict Army regimen, although he liked the weaponry. He had joined only because his other attempts at holding down a job had failed. He didn't last, finally taking a hardship discharge after his wife had left him — he felt required to go home to raise his son.

Michael Fortier
Michael Fortier (AP)

Fortier, like McVeigh, was young, and his profile very different. He was a pill-popping, pot-smoking man who probably signed up because of his family's military background. Fortier and McVeigh became closer after Nichols had opted out of the service.

The three went from basic training to Fort Riley, Kansas. There, McVeigh became a gunner on the Bradley fighting vehicle. He'd already excelled in marksmanship and he exhibited an unusually high level of skill with every weapon he encountered. As a result, he quickly advanced and was remembered as "an excellent soldier."

His military prowess earned him an invitation to try out for the Special Forces and he trained hard on his own time to ensure his chance to wear the Green Beret. But before he was due to be evaluated, Saddam Hussein cast a shadow over his plans.

In 1991, the Gulf War erupted and McVeigh's First Infantry Division was dispatched to the Persian Gulf to serve in Desert Storm. Again, McVeigh excelled as a soldier and served with distinction. He became lead gunner on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle in the first platoon. In the Army, Tim had become a VIP.

When he returned home, he'd earned a fistful of decorations including the coveted Bronze Star.

Now, he renewed his attempt to gain acceptance into the Special Forces. But against advice to wait until he built up the stamina lost in Desert Storm, he tried out anyway. He was simply not fit enough to cut it. This failure triggered a waning interest in military life and he quit the Army.

Life as a civilian was disillusioning. It seemed nobody was interested in welcoming a war hero back into the workforce, and he became increasingly embittered with the system. He'd traded his Army uniform for that of security guard.

Now, The Turner Diaries assumed an even greater importance. Without the Army — and its discipline — he'd lost his identity, and his loathing for government festered. He sounded off daily to workmate Carl Lebron, Jr. He railed against the Army and government that had failed him, gun control and the abuse of power. He also spouted conspiracy theories and seemed to believe in UFOs. He even told Lebron he'd seen documented evidence the government was importing drugs from Canada in mini-subs. When Lebron asked to see a copy of the document, McVeigh claimed it was on secret paper that couldn't be copied. But what concerned Lebron most — to the point where he wrote it down — was McVeigh's statement that he knew how to steal guns from the military. McVeigh had said it would be "very easy to rob a base of guns... two people could easily get away with it." He also claimed to have an Army post in mind where M-16 rifles could be confiscated.

Finally McVeigh left his rent-a-cop job and the Buffalo area saying, "I gotta get out of this place, it's all liberals here." Then, early in 1993, he took off with everything he owned, and began driving around America, hoping to find some meaning in his life.

But he began by looking in all the wrong places.


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