Gore Vidal Casts McVeigh as a hero

from James Bone in New York

GORE VIDAL, publishing the first extracts of his death row correspondence with Timothy McVeigh, has described the executed Oklahoma City bomber as a hero and cast doubt on whether he acted alone.

The American man of letters became an unlikely soulmate for McVeigh, a self-styled anti-government warrior, when he published a 1998 essay in Vanity Fair magazine lamenting the Government's assault on Americans' liberties and the "shredding of our Bill of Rights." McVeigh, already in prison for the worst terrorist attack on US soil, wrote to Vidal to commend the piece, initiating what would become an off-and-on three-year correspondence that culminated in an invitation to witness his execution.  

Vidal has now published parts of his pen pal's letters along with his own often polemical analysis of the case in Vanity Fair, hinting that government infiltrators may have had a hand in the 1995 bombing that killed 168 people.  

The kinship between the two men is apparent from the start. Writing with perfect grammar and spelling in a slanting hand, McVeigh tells Vidal in his second letter that he had read his "political musings" and "I think you'd be surprised at how much of that material I agree with".  

"As to your letter, I fully recognise that "the general rebellion against what our government has become is the most interesting (and I think important) story in our history this century'," he wrote. "In the four years since the bombing, your work is the first to really explore the underlying motivations for such a strike against the US Government and for that, I thank you.  

"Although I have many observations that I'd like to throw at you, I must keep this letter to a practical length , so I will mention just one: if federal agents are like so many Jacobins at war with the citizens of this country, and if federal agencies daily wage war' against those citizens, then should not the OKC bombing be considered a 'counterattack' rather than a self-declared war? Would it not be more akin to Hiroshima than Pearl Harbor?" Vidal, whose historical fiction displays a penchant for conspiracy theories, seems won over by McVeigh's logic. Noting that McVeigh made no final statement before his execution other than copying out the poem Invictus by W.E. Henley, he points out that Henley's other works included an anthology entitled Lyra Heroica, (1892) about those who performed selfless heroic deeds.  

"The stoic serenity of McVeigh's last days certainly qualified him as a Henley-style hero," Vidal writes. "He did not complain about his fate; took responsibility for what he was thought to have done; did not beg for mercy as our always sadistic media require. He seems more and more to have stumbled into the wrong American era. Plainly, he needed a self-consuming cause to define him.  

"The abolition of slavery or the preservation of the Union would have been more worthy of his life than anger at the excesses of our corrupt secret police."  

Vidal missed McVeigh's execution when it was rescheduled because the FBI found new documents that it had not provided to his defence lawyers. But his subsequent investigations have left him deeply suspicious of the FBI's case and convinced that, despite his own confession, McVeigh was part of a wider conspiracy.  

"Evidence . . . is overwhelming that there was a plot involving militia types and government infiltrators as prime movers to create panic to get Clinton to sign that infamous Anti-Terrorism Act," Vidal writes.