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March 1991 and After: Future Oklahoma City Bomber Displays Eccentric Behavior upon Returning from Desert Storm

Sergeant Timothy McVeigh, a decorated Army gunner, returns from serving three months in Operation Desert Storm (see January - March 1991 and After). Disillusioned and discouraged by his experiences and his failure to succeed in Special Forces training, McVeigh returns to Fort Riley, Kansas, and begins displaying increasingly odd behavior, always carrying a weapon and talking incessantly about the constitutional right to bear arms. His friend and fellow soldier Bruce Williams later recalls that McVeigh is no longer the “Iron Mike” that he had known during training at Fort Benning. “I’d hang out and go to the parties and drink Budweiser,” Williams will recall. “Tim just stayed in his room playing Nintendo.” McVeigh rents a house off post with two fellow soldiers, Corporal John Edward Kelso and Sergeant Rick Cerney, in Herington, Kansas, some 40 miles from Fort Riley. Kelso later recalls he and Cerney trying to “josh with him” and get him to relax. “It was so easy to put him over the edge,” Kelso will recall. “He was so gullible, so vulnerable. He was so unbalanced about being tough. He was just kind of a nerd.” Sergeant Royal L. Witcher, McVeigh’s assistant gunner during active duty in Kuwait and Iraq, later recalls that McVeigh is uncomfortable sharing the house with the two, and persuades Witcher to let him move in with him instead. McVeigh moves into Witcher’s Herington home and immediately claims the larger of the two bedrooms, blocking the window with a camouflage poncho. Witcher later says he knew better than to enter McVeigh’s room. McVeigh keeps at least 10 guns in the house, Witcher will recall, saying: “They weren’t exposed, they were hidden. He had a couple in the kitchen, a couple in the living room under the couch. I think there was one in the bathroom, behind the towels. As you go up the steps there was a little ledge and he kept one in there, a .38 revolver.” McVeigh also keeps two guns in his car and a shotgun at the home of a sergeant who also lives off post. Witcher never asks why McVeigh keeps so many guns. “I don’t know if he was paranoid or what,” Witcher will recall. “Or maybe he had some friends that were after him. I don’t know.” On occasion, McVeigh sells guns to fellow soldiers. He cleans all of his weapons twice a week, and takes them to a lake to shoot every weekend. Witcher never recalls McVeigh having any dates. On a few occasions, the two have conversations. “He was a very racist person,” Witcher will recall. “He had very strong views against, like, political things, like that.” Witcher will say he does not share McVeigh’s racist views: “He pretty much knew my views and he didn’t talk too much about it around me.” McVeigh constantly complains about government intrusiveness, Witcher will recall, taking umbrage with items he reads in the newspaper on a daily basis. Witcher will remember McVeigh dropping out of the National Rifle Association (NRA) when that organization seems to be softening its stance on the banning of assault rifles. He begins spending more and more time poring over gun magazines, and spends more and more time in the pawnshops and gun dealerships in nearby Junction City. [New York Times, 4/23/1995; New York Times, 5/4/1995; New York Times, 7/5/1995; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 42; Douglas O. Linder, 2001; CNN, 2001]
Becomes Conspiracy-Minded, Involved with Extremist Groups - Ives will recall that after his failed attempt to join Special Forces, McVeigh becomes involved with extreme right-wing political groups off-post. Ives cannot identify the groups, but, he will say, “cults is what I call them.” Witcher will recall nothing of any such involvement. [New York Times, 4/23/1995; New York Times, 5/4/1995] Ives may be referring to a group of soldiers who begin meeting off-base to take action against gun control and government interference in their lives, a group McVeigh meets with at least once. His unit member Robin Littleton later recalls McVeigh becoming increasingly “bitter” and conspiracy-minded, reading books about the Kennedy assassination and becoming “convinced that the government was behind it all. He also started reading a lot of fiction, all of it to do with big business and the military planning on overthrowing the government. He started to rant on about the private armies that were springing up inside the federal government, and how the CIA and FBI were out of control.” At least one local girl, Catina Lawson, shows some interest in McVeigh, but his anti-Semitic rants and his professed admiration for Adolf Hitler quickly terminate her interest. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 120, 125-127] Warnement later recalls corresponding with McVeigh in 1992 and 1993, after Warnement is transferred to Germany. “He sent me a lot of newsletters and stuff from those groups he was involved in,” Warnement will recall. He will say that because the literature is so extremist, he throws it away rather than being caught with it. “There were newsletters from [militia leader] Bo Gritz’s group, some other odd newsletters, some from the Patriots; then he sent that videotape ‘The Big Lie’ about Waco. He seemed quite a bit different after the war than he’d been before.” The Branch Davidian debacle (see April 19, 1993) infuriates McVeigh, Warnement will recall (see April 19, 1993 and After). McVeigh is also angered by the use of Army units for drug-enforcement duties on the US-Mexican border, the deployment of infantry during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, and UN command over US forces during fighting in Somalia. “He thought the federal government was getting too much power,” Warnement will recall. “He thought the ATF [the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms] was out of control. Then, of course, when Waco happened, he really felt the ATF was out of control.… He wasn’t happy about Somalia, that if we could put the United States under basically UN command and send them to Somalia to disarm their citizens, then why couldn’t they come do the same thing in the United States?… It had a kind of logic to it, but it really didn’t take into account the flip side of things. I kind of had the feeling that he might be headed for trouble because he was never the type of person to back down.” [New York Times, 7/5/1995] In February 1992, McVeigh sends Warnement a copy of The Turner Diaries, a racially inflammatory novel about a white supremacist genocide in the US (see 1978). He also includes a news article concerning a black militant politician. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996]
Accepts Early Discharge - Like many soldiers, McVeigh is encouraged to leave as part of the military’s postwar “drawdown.” McVeigh soon takes an early discharge and leaves the Army entirely (see November 1991 - Summer 1992). Sergeant James Hardesty, who served in Kuwait with McVeigh, later says that many soldiers such as McVeigh and himself felt like “discarded baggage.” [New York Times, 5/4/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 42-43] Fellow soldier Roger L. Barnett later recalls: “He wasn’t the same McVeigh. He didn’t go at things the way he normally did. It used to be, a superior commanding soldier would tell him to do something and he’d do it 110 percent. He didn’t have the same drive. He didn’t have his heart in the military anymore.” [New York Times, 7/5/1995]
Future Oklahoma City Bomber - McVeigh will go on to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995).

Entity Tags: John Edward Kelso, Catina Lawson, James Hardesty, Albert Warnement, Rick Cerney, Bruce Williams, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, US Department of the Army, Robin Littleton, Roger L. Barnett, Timothy James McVeigh, Royal L. Witcher

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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