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Profile: Anthony Thigpen
Anthony Thigpen was a participant or observer in the following events:
Entrance to Fort Riley, Kansas. [Source: US Military (.com)]Terry Nichols, a 33-year-old Michigan farmer and house husband described as “aimless” by his wife Lana, joins the US Army in Detroit. He is the oldest recruit in his platoon and his fellow recruits call him “Grandpa.” During basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, Nichols meets fellow recruits Timothy McVeigh (see 1987-1988), who joined the Army in Buffalo, New York, and Arizona native Michael Fortier. All three share an interest in survivalism, guns, and hating the government, particularly Nichols and McVeigh; unit member Robin Littleton later recalls, “Terry and Tim in boot camp went together like magnets.” For McVeigh, Nichols is like the older brother he never had; for Nichols, he enjoys taking McVeigh under his wing. Nichols also tells McVeigh about using ammonium nitrate to make explosives he and his family used to blow up tree stumps on the farm. The three are members of what the Army calls a “Cohort,” or Cohesion Operation Readiness and Training unit, which generally keeps soldiers together in the same unit from boot camp all the way through final deployment. It is in the Army that McVeigh and Nichols become enamored of the novel The Turner Diaries (see 1978), which depicts a United States racially “cleansed” of minorities and other “undesirables” (McVeigh is already familiar with the novel—see 1987-1988). All three are sent to the 11 Bravo Infantry division in Fort Riley, Kansas, where they are finally separated into different companies; McVeigh goes to tank school, where he learns to operate a Bradley fighting vehicle as well as becoming an outstanding marksman. [New York Times, 5/4/1995; New York Times, 5/28/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 91-95; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 30; Nicole Nichols, 2003] McVeigh later says he joined the Army because he was disillusioned with the “I am better than you because I have more money” mindset some people have, and because he was taken with the Army’s advertisement that claimed, “We do more before 9 a.m. than most people do all day.” [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996] Fellow unit member Specialist Ted Thorne will later recall: “Tim and I both considered ourselves career soldiers. We were going to stay in for the 20-plus years, hopefully make sergeant major. It was the big picture of retirement.” [Serrano, 1998, pp. 31]
Nichols Leaves Army, Tells of Plans to Form 'Own Military Organization' - In the spring of 1989, Nichols, who planned on making a career of military service, leaves the Army due to issues with an impending divorce and child care, but his friendship with McVeigh persists. Fellow soldier Glen Edwards will later say that he found Nichols’s choice to serve in the Army unusual, considering his virulent hatred of the US government: “He said the government made it impossible for him to make a living as a farmer. I thought it strange that a 32-year-old man would be complaining about the government, yet was now employed by the government. Nichols told me he signed up to pull his 20 years and get a retirement pension.” Before Nichols leaves, he tells Edwards that he has plans for the future, and Edwards is welcome to join in. Edwards will later recall, “He told me he would be coming back to Fort Riley to start his own military organization” with McVeigh and Fortier. “He said he could get any kind of weapon and any equipment he wanted. I can’t remember the name of his organization, but he seemed pretty serious about it.” [New York Times, 5/28/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 96, 101]
McVeigh Continues Army Career, Described as 'Strange,' 'Racist,' but 'Perfect Soldier' - McVeigh does not leave the Army so quickly. He achieves the rank of sergeant and becomes something of a “model soldier.” He plans on becoming an Army Ranger. However, few get to know him well; only his closest friends, such as Nichols, know of his passion for firearms, his deep-seated racism, or his hatred for the government. McVeigh does not see Nichols during the rest of his Army stint, but keeps in touch through letters and phone calls. Friends and fellow soldiers will describe McVeigh as a man who attempts to be the “perfect soldier,” but who becomes increasingly isolated during his Army career; the New York Times will describe him as “retreating into a spit-and-polish persona that did not admit nights away from the barracks or close friendships, even though he was in a ‘Cohort’ unit that kept nearly all the personnel together from basic training through discharge.” His friends and colleagues will recall him as being “strange and uncommunicative” and “coldly robotic,” and someone who often gives the least desirable assignments to African-American subordinates, calling them “inferior” and using racial slurs. An infantryman in McVeigh’s unit, Marion “Fritz” Curnutte, will later recall: “He played the military 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All of us thought it was silly. When they’d call for down time, we’d rest, and he’d throw on a ruck sack and walk around the post with it.” A fellow soldier, Todd Regier, will call McVeigh an exemplary soldier, saying: “As far as soldiering, he never did anything wrong. He was always on time. He never got into trouble. He was perfect. I thought he would stay in the Army all his life. He was always volunteering for stuff that the rest of us wouldn’t want to do, guard duties, classes on the weekend.” Sergeant Charles Johnson will later recall, “He was what we call high-speed and highly motivated.” McVeigh also subscribes to survivalist magazines and other right-wing publications, such as Guns & Ammo and his favorite, Soldier of Fortune (SoF), and keeps an arsenal of weapons in his home (see November 1991 - Summer 1992). Regier will later tell a reporter: “He was real different. Kind of cold. He wasn’t enemies with anyone. He was kind of almost like a robot. He never had a date when I knew him in the Army. I never saw him at a club. I never saw him drinking. He never had good friends. He was a robot. Everything was for a purpose.” [New York Times, 5/4/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 86; Serrano, 1998, pp. 30; Nicole Nichols, 2003] McVeigh is taken with the increasing number of anti-government articles and advertisements in SoF, particularly the ones warning about what it calls the impending government imposition of martial law and tyranny, and those telling readers how to build bombs and other items to use in “defending” themselves from government aggression. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 27-28] McVeigh is not entirely “by the book”; he knows his friend Michael Fortier is doing drugs, but does not report him to their superior officers. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996] McVeigh is promoted to sergeant faster than his colleagues; this is when he begins assigning the undesirable tasks to the four or five black specialists in the group, tasks that would normally be performed by privates. “It was well known, pretty much throughout the platoon, that he was making the black specialists do that work,” Regier will recall. “He was a racist. When he talked he’d mention those words, like n_gger. You pretty much knew he was a racist.” The black soldiers complain to a company commander, earning McVeigh a reprimand. Sergeant Anthony Thigpen will later confirm Regier’s account, adding that McVeigh generally refuses to socialize with African-Americans, and only reluctantly takes part in company functions that include non-whites. Captain Terry Guild will later say McVeigh’s entire company has problems with racial polarization, “[a]nd his platoon had some of the most serious race problems. It was pretty bad.” In April 1989, McVeigh is sent to Germany for two weeks for a military “change-up program.” While there, he is awarded the German equivalent of the expert infantryman’s badge. In November 1989, he goes home for Thanksgiving with Fortier, and meets Fortier’s mother Irene. In late 1990, McVeigh signs a four-year reenlistment agreement with the Army. [New York Times, 5/4/1995]
McVeigh Goes on to Serve in Persian Gulf War - McVeigh will serve two tours of duty in the Persian Gulf War, serving honorably and winning medals for his service (see January - March 1991 and After). Nichols and McVeigh will later be convicted of planning and executing the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995).
Entity Tags: Ted Thorne, Terry Guild, Todd Regier, Terry Lynn Nichols, Robin Littleton, Michael Joseph Fortier, Charles Johnson, Glen Edwards, Marion (“Fritz”) Curnutte, Anthony Thigpen, Timothy James McVeigh, US Department of the Army
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
Timothy McVeigh during the time he served in the Army. [Source: Viceland (.com)]Sergeant Timothy McVeigh (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990) gives three months of military service in the Persian Gulf War as a gunner on a Bradley Fighting Vehicle before returning home; during his time there, he paints the name “Bad Company” on the side of the vehicle. “He was a good soldier,” Sergeant James Ives, who serves with McVeigh, will later recall. “If he was given a mission and a target, it’s gone.” [New York Times, 4/23/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 34; Douglas O. Linder, 2001; CNN, 2001] McVeigh earns a Bronze Star and the Army Commendation Medal while overseas, along with a number of citations and ribbons. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 25-26] Staff Sergeant Albert Warnement, the commander of McVeigh’s Bradley Fighting Vehicle in Kuwait, later recalls: “He was against the National Command Authority’s decision to go to war. McVeigh did not think the United States had any business or interest in Kuwait, but… he knew it was his duty to go where he was told, and he went.” [Stickney, 1996, pp. 110]
Experiences in Kuwait, Iraq - Fellow soldier Todd Regier later recalls that McVeigh was “definitely excited about going to Desert Storm. He was a perfect gunner. He was the best gunner we had.” McVeigh is part of a Bradley crew which spends its first few weeks sitting idly in the Saudi Arabian desert while American aircraft attack Iraqi defenses (see January 16, 1991 and After). Sergeant Anthony Thigpen later recalls that while the other soldiers play cards, write letters, and chat to relieve their boredom, McVeigh spends his time cleaning his weapons. The 2nd Battalion of the 16th Infantry Regiment, McVeigh’s unit, is one of those that makes the initial drive into Kuwait when the invasion begins (see February 23, 1991 and After). McVeigh’s unit sees less intense action than some, and fellow soldier Roger L. Barnett will later recall that McVeigh shows little interest in shooting unarmed and defenseless Iraqis. At one point, McVeigh shoots an Iraqi soldier from some 2,000 yards away in the head, using the Bradley’s 25mm cannon. McVeigh wins a medal for the shot. He later recalls of the shooting: “His head just disappeared.… I saw everything above the shoulders disappear, like in a red mist.” He becomes angry when he learns that many Iraqis do not want to fight, and are equipped with inferior gear. According to an aunt, McVeigh is deeply disturbed about the fighting in Iraq. “When he came back, he seemed broken,” she later tells a reporter. “When we talked about it, he said it was terrible there. He was on the front line and had seen death and caused death. After the first [killing], it got easy.” While posted in Kuwait, McVeigh writes to a friend in the US that he hates Saddam Hussein: “Chickensh_t b_stard. Because of him, I killed a man who didn’t want to fight us, but was forced to.” However, a fellow soldier, Kerry Kling, later recalls McVeigh being proud of the shot that killed the Iraqi. Sergeant Royal L. Witcher, McVeigh’s assistant gunner on the Bradley, later recalls the soldiers’ dismay at their experiences with Iraqi soldiers. “I think it kind of shocked most of us,” he will say. “We had thought that they were our enemies, and then for us to encounter something like that with a mass of people giving up.” After the offensive, McVeigh’s unit is assigned to guard duty, and spends the remainder of the war relatively inactive. [New York Times, 5/4/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 113; Serrano, 1998, pp. 36-38; CNN, 12/17/2007] McVeigh will later recall being angry at the situation in Kuwait. In a letter to a reporter, he will write: “We were falsely hyped up [about the enemy]. And we get there and find out that they are normal like you and me. They hype you up to take those people out. They told us we were to defend Kuwait where the people had been raped and slaughtered (see October 10, 1990). War woke me up. War will open your eyes.” Of the Iraqi soldiers, he will write, “I felt the army brainwashed us to hate them.” [Serrano, 1998, pp. 36-37]
Withdraws from Special Forces Training - After returning to the US, McVeigh begins 21 days of Special Services training at Camp McCall, west of Fort Bragg, North Carolina (see October 1990). He is thrilled to be joining Special Forces, and is confident that he will pass the grueling physical and psychological assessments. However, he leaves the training at Camp McCall during the second day. He later tells people he withdraws because of a leg injury. Some military officials will say that preliminary psychological screening shows him to be unfit for Special Forces, leading some reporters to conclude that McVeigh was kicked out of training, but those conclusions are inaccurate: McVeigh’s screenings are not processed until long after he leaves, and his withdrawal is entirely voluntary. McVeigh later says that he begins training with a friend, Specialist Mitchell Whitmire (one source spells his name “Whitmyers,” apparently in error), days after returning from overseas duty. He will say that he is in poor physical condition, mentally and physically exhausted from his time in combat, and unready for the physical demands of Green Beret training. He does not accept an offer extended to him and other combat veterans to take some time off and try again at a later date. Instead, after two arduous days of physical workouts, McVeigh and Whitmire leave the training program before McVeigh’s assessments can be graded and reviewed. On his Statement of Voluntary Withdrawal, McVeigh writes, “I am not physically ready, and the rucksack march hurt more than it should.” Ives will recall McVeigh as being “extremely disappointed.” Thigpen later recalls: “Everybody knew he was highly upset. We never knew the reason why he didn’t make it. We figured, you don’t make it, you don’t make it. But he was definitely angry. He was upset, very upset.” Fellow soldier James Fox later tells a reporter that McVeigh’s withdrawal from Special Forces training was a defining moment for him, saying, “Whether he withdrew or was kicked out, it still was a failure and very easily he could externalize blame.” McVeigh then takes a 30-day leave to visit his sister Jennifer in Florida, and to spend some time in upstate New York, where he grew up (see 1987-1988). [New York Times, 4/23/1995; New York Times, 5/4/1995; New York Times, 7/5/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 115-119; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 41-42] Author Brandon M. Stickney later writes, “It was revealed in confidence to [me] that answers McVeigh gave on the psychological tests were apparently a bit off-center, not the answers of a man capable of long-term assignments with the exclusive and tight Special Forces.” Stickney will also write that McVeigh may be suffering from “Gulf War Syndrome,” a mysterious series of maladies apparently caused by exposure to toxic chemicals. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 117-118] In 1993, McVeigh will write a letter to his sister Jennifer giving a very different explanation of his reason for withdrawing from Special Forces tryouts (see October 20, 1993). After he returns from active duty, he begins displaying increasingly eccentric behavior (see March 1991 and After). 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: Brandon M. Stickney, Timothy James McVeigh, Todd Regier, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, US Department of the Army, Albert Warnement, Anthony Thigpen, Roger L. Barnett, Royal L. Witcher, Rick Cerney, Bruce Williams, Robin Littleton, James Fox, Catina Lawson, James Ives, James Hardesty, Mitchell Whitmire, John Edward Kelso
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
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