I recently posted a poll on my Facebook readers’ page, “Readers Who Love Real Spies with Real Lives,” asking what my readers would like me to blog about. The overwhelming response was the inspiration or background for my novels. So, here we go. I’ll start with the motivation behind the series, A Perfect Hatred.
What follows will eventually be the Afterword for A Perfect Hatred, at the end of book four.
The Germ of the Story
I didn’t know it at the time, but the germ of the story that became the four-book series, A Perfect Hatred, stirred in my brain on April 19, 1995, as I watched news coverage of the Oklahoma City bombing. That germ lay dormant but sprouted two years later when I was in Oklahoma City teaching aviation safety inspectors. Midway through my two weeks there, a jury in Denver, Colorado, rendered its verdict in the trial of Timothy McVeigh, the man who drove a truck bomb up to a federal building with a daycare center and detonated it.
Guilty on all federal charges, which carried the death penalty as punishment, and the jury recommended just that.
Businesses in Oklahoma City came to a standstill. Though the largest city in Oklahoma, Oklahoma City has a small-town feel. Indeed, with more than 160 people killed in the bombing and more than 500 injured, almost everyone in the city knew someone affected by the bombing. After the verdict was announced, people went into the streets, to the site where the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building had stood but which hadn’t yet been transformed into a permanent memorial.
The local media were in the streets, too, doing impromptu interviews. I was originally trained as an historian, and I was watching history unfold around me. My enthusiasm was soon tempered by listening to people who purported to be Christian suggest with white-hot anger the un-Christian things they wanted done to McVeigh–and wanted to do themselves.
I decided I needed to understand more about the event and McVeigh himself beyond what I’d watched of the trial coverage.
But Back to 4/19/95
On that day, a few hours after the explosion, with images of a gutted building as his backdrop, a “terrorism expert” declared everything known so far pointed to middle eastern terrorists. After all, two years before, a truck bomb had exploded in the parking garage of the World Trade Center in New York City, later attributed to the then-obscure Osama bin Laden. Truck/car bombs were the favorite weapons of warring clans in Lebanon and among the Basques in Spain. In 1983, two massive truck bombs destroyed the Marine Barracks in Beirut, killing 241 Marines.
That terrorist expert had a point. His conclusion was logical: Oklahoma City was the work of Islamic terrorists.
But, I thought, consider the target. A U.S. government building in a modest-sized city in an average-sized state.
A U.S. government building housing field offices of agencies that had experienced a lot of bad press and popular resentment in the past decade: FBI, ATF, DEA, IRS, among them.
And that date. April 19. Didn’t it ring a bell?
Exactly two years before, the FBI had ended its almost two-month standoff with the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, by charging the compound with military tanks altered to fire tear gas. A fire broke out, and dozens of men, women, and children perished in an inferno seen around the world.
Waco, which had become a rallying point for dozens of right-wing, anti-government groups.
A government building. The anniversary of Waco. Could this, I wondered, be homegrown terrorism?
What Did I Know?
So, what did I, a pilot and technical writer, know that an expert didn’t? Nothing, except I knew that since Waco the anti-government, hateful voices had moved from private AOL chat rooms to television programs and news broadcasts. The target was of no significance to bin Laden’s al Qaeda, whom I’d begun to study with an historian’s eye.
That building, however, did have significance for American religious extremists and patriot fundamentalists who were convinced “the government” was coming to take their guns and put white people in concentration camps for Christians.
I kid you not.
After the election of a dreaded “liberal” (even though he was often right of center) as president (William Jefferson Clinton) in 1992, hate crimes became a thing. Scholars who studied American extremist movements suddenly had a wider sample to explore. They wrote about a growing “patriot movement” whose origins lay in the farm crisis of the 1980s. Conservative “entertainers” (who are still around) dominated talk show air waves on radio and television. Even though they cleaned up their language about Jews, blacks, and feminists for those media, the message of hate remained the same: fear the other. Vilification of government employees became the norm, and on occasion physical violence had been directed at them.
Why Did I Care?
Why? Because I was a federal employee of a regulatory agency, and I would go on to serve my country in public service for thirty-plus years.
My aviation knowledge and ability to turn a phrase while writing meant I was often tasked to draft responses to constituent letters sent to my agency by congressional offices. The uncensored language in those letters was sometimes bewildering, often frightening. And if the reply wasn’t what the correspondent wanted to hear, letter after letter would follow, each more threatening than the last.
This wasn’t only happening in my agency; it was government-wide. In some parts of the country, even today, government vehicles can’t have any government agency markings, lest they get shot up.
Who were these people?
Continued in the next blog post, scheduled for January 30.