The first part of this post was published on January 16. Click HERE to read.
Who Were These People?
The people in this so-called patriot movement were the absolute fringe of Richard Nixon’s Silent Majority, Ronald Reagan’s ultra-conservative base, people who cheered G. Gordon Liddy when he bragged on air about shooting at life-sized targets of President Clinton and the First Lady, Hillary Clinton. (Lest you think this fiction, I saw such targets at gun shows.) Conservative pundits declared the intention to reduce government until it was small enough to be drowned in a bathtub. (Grover Norquist)
On the floor of Congress, instead of denouncing such rhetoric, elected representatives often doubled-down on it and outdid each other to see who could use the most tasteless metaphor to describe people on welfare. The rising class of Republicans in Congress sounded as virulently anti-government as those on the fringe. Compassion seemed nonexistent. Grievances, real and imagined, against the government and its employees amassed; racial divides were wider than ever. People in the “Me” generation cared only for themselves as they accumulated wealth and position power without regard for anyone’s life and liberty. The pursuit of happiness, in the form of bulging stock portfolios, was worshipped over any god.
Sound familiar? They didn’t call themselves the Tea Party then, but the racism, hate, and anti-government message was the same.
But I Digress
Into this hostile environment on a beautiful spring morning, a disgruntled ex-soldier drove a bomb-laden truck up to a federal building, lit the fuse, and walked away. A moment of perfect hatred.
He walked away certain his act would be acknowledged as patriotic by those voices he’d heard on radio and television; he was certain he’d started a second American Revolution, the country would rise up, and America would be great again.
And we all wondered, how could this happen here?
I wanted to know that, too. I wanted to know what we as a country could have done to stop it and what we could do to keep it from happening again. And that’s all a writer needs: a what-if.
Again, I was trained as an historian, and that’s how I approached writing what was, in the beginning, a single novel. As I researched, I found source after source, another piece of the puzzle, and that convinced me this story couldn’t be contained in one book.
Furthermore, I decided part of my research had to be firsthand, that I needed to experience people who believed in such extremism. For verisimilitude. I didn’t have to go far; members of my own family were involved in these dark beliefs. I also went to gun shows and “prayer” meetings, to seminars and lectures by members of the patriot movement. I began to wish what I’d heard was fiction.
In the process, I discovered if you sit and watch, if you don’t participate in chanting “white power” or “burn the Jews,” you’re considered suspicious. I decided it would be safer to use a fabricated online persona to lurk in chat rooms and news groups, to ask pointed questions to elicit answers that defined those beliefs. My performance was so good, it cost me a friendship of long standing.
These experiences, the books I read, filled my dreams with dark figures in camouflage. Like the author of one my source books on the dangers of private militias, I began to imagine being followed. My friends and family worried about the bleak and disturbing material I read (Too many copies of Soldier of Fortune magazine ended up in my house.) and the off-work hours I spent writing.
I wouldn’t, I couldn’t stop; this was a story I needed to tell.
They Haven’t Gone Away
In this country twenty-plus years ago and likely more so now, there were and are compounds and paramilitary camps and hate groups, some masquerading as churches. I’m not talking Islamic madrassas either. These are people who consider themselves Christian warriors; they believe everyone who is not Christian is at war with them, against them. Not all Christians, of course, but you’d be surprised how many.
Oh, and if you think the violence these extremists extol has gone away, think again.
I started writing A Perfect Hatred in 1997, in the era of Newt Gingrich’s Republican Revolution. I finished it twenty years later amid birthers and truthers, tea-partiers and Proud Boys, alt-right and Antifa.
As I drafted A Perfect Hatred‘s Afterword, someone was mailing pipe bombs to Democratic politicians. Someone else, frustrated that the doors to a black church were locked, went to a Walmart and killed two black people–after assuring the white shoppers with, “Whites don’t kill whites.” Yet a third person posted on social media that “his people” were being slaughtered and it was up to him to stop it; he went to a synagogue and shot eleven Jews during a Shabbat service.
All of this in the space of six days.
Those couched words we hear about the evils of globalism and the perfection of nationalism and a war on Christianity, born decades ago and hidden among those on the fringe, are now mainstream, have become everyday speech from certain politicians.
And that should f**king scare you.
Monsters are Never Simple
I understand that some who’ll read one or all of the four books of A Perfect Hatred might be upset that I didn’t portray the character based on Timothy McVeigh as a one-dimensional, evil monster, that I showed him as a full-fledged human being. We don’t like acknowledging it, but that’s what he was, a human being with dreams, aspirations, future plans, none of which involved blowing up a federal building.
But he did, and because we executed him, we’ll never know why an awkward kid, loved by his family, trusted by his neighbors, admired by his fellow soldiers, could sink so low, could murder the innocent.
I’ve tried to understand his actions. Not excuse them, not admire them, not support them, not condone them. His act of perfect hatred was inexplicable even if you knew nothing of his life before that act, before something twisted him. He was not the simplistic monster we needed him to be. None of us are.
When I studied his life like an historian and found the distant but dutiful father, the erratic mother, the small-town upbringing imbued with unintentional bigotry, I realized he could have been me in the turbulent 1960s and 1970s. Why did I chose public service and why did he want to tear the government down? I have my theory, but I can’t prove it. I hope, however, I’ve taught the lesson of how an all-American boy, a model soldier, could become an American monster.
Thank you for sticking with this to the end, and there are a few things I need for you, the reader, to understand.
I feel for the victims and survivors of Oklahoma City. I worked with a woman who lost her husband in the Murrah Building. I also feel for the dead at Waco and for McVeigh’s family, who were as bewildered as everyone else about what he did. I feel for all of them because I’m a humanist who strives to believe there is good in everyone.
I feel for the victims whose pain remained so strong it consumed them and rendered them unhappy and unsatisfied with how McVeigh died. They had suffered; he didn’t.
How incredibly sad victims of a horrible crime wanted and needed someone else to suffer for them to be made whole.
Even sadder is the fact McVeigh’s death made no one whole except, perhaps, him.