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Monday, 11 June, 2001, 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK
McVeigh - a pointless death?
Warden Harley Lappin announces that McVeigh died at 7:14 at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana
Warden Lappin confirms McVeigh's execution
By Paul Reynolds, outside the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana

"Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord" - it did not feel like that outside the federal penitentiary in the flat countryside on the edge of Terre Haute in Indiana, America's heartland as it calls itself.

It felt like man, indeed almost a whole nation, had taken revenge on Timothy McVeigh - led by the federal government

It felt like man, indeed almost a whole nation, had taken revenge on Timothy McVeigh - led by the federal government whose institution he had bombed and in whose execution chamber he died.

And also by many survivors and relatives, 10 of whom watched the actual execution, with 200 or so others watching by closed circuit television at another federal building in Oklahoma.

Wear shorts, Tim - it's hot where you're going tomorrow

Car window slogan

And it seems that, overwhelmingly, Americans approved of this revenge, or, as many would prefer to put it, of seeing justice done.

There were remarkably few protesters.

McVeigh got attention, but he did not get sympathy.

Local people drove past the prison on Sunday night as the sun went down over the barbed wire fences.

Daily Oklahoman reporter Nolan Clay holds up a copy of the final statement of Timothy McVeigh
Timothy McVeigh's handwritten statement - a 19th century poem

One slogan hanging from a car window read: "Wear shorts, Tim. It's hot where you're going tomorrow."

McVeigh appears to have faced death with the same single-mindedness with which he dealt death to 168 others. He saw himself as a soldier whose mission might be fatal to himself.

It was. It was the way he wanted it.

Eyewitnesses from the media spoke of McVeigh looking each of them in the eye and nodding briefly and then laying back and staring at the ceiling while the lethal drugs were fed into his veins. One said he seemed to have a sense of pride but another said he saw, not a solider, but a man, about to die, and afraid.

It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley's poem

His attitude, as he projected it, was summed up in the words of the Victorian poem Invictus (Unconquered), written by William Ernest Henley, who himself defied suffering after having had a leg amputated.

The key verses for McVeigh seemed to be the second and fourth:

"In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeoning of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
"It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul."

McVeigh had almost invited this punishment.

He showed reckless indifference to hiding his own tracks before and after the bombing - giving his own name at the motel where he stayed before loading the truck with explosives, and leaving license plates off his getaway car, which is why he was arrested.


He showed defiant indifference to his own death, even joking in a letter that if he went to hell, he would have "plenty of company".

He showed indifference to the suffering of others. An expression of regret over the deaths he caused was no apology, more of a justification.

He was sorry that people "had to die", not that he had killed them.

He also showed anger. He told the world why he had acted.

He believed, or hoped, that one day he would be seen as a "freedom fighter". He saw himself in a line of succession to great American patriots.

A mother cries with her daughter as they visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial in Oklahoma City
Mourning for victims killed by McVeigh

The day of the bombing was not just the anniversary of the FBI assault on Waco, it was the anniversary of the first shot fired in the American Revolution.

But did he change anything? Did he reign in the power of the federal government?

It is possible that he did have some effect. But the botched operation at Waco was having its own impact.

The federal authorities knew that they would have to be much less aggressive in future.

Pointless death

But McVeigh's fears, paranoia really, about plots and threats are not shared by most Americans.

He probably died a pointless death, therefore. He is more likely to be remembered as a John Wilkes Booth, who also railed against tyrants after murdering Abraham Lincoln.

And he has made it hard for opponents of the death penalty to gather support.

Just as a movement was getting underway questioning capital punishment in the United States comes a case where the doubters are pushed onto the defence.

Death row

Even the condemned accepts the sentence.

This was the first execution by the federal government since 1963 - and it will make it much easier for the government to carry out more of them.

Nineteen others are on death row in Terre Haute, the only execution prison, at this stage, in the federal system.

McVeigh has left another legacy of death.

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See also:

11 Jun 01 | Americas
Defiant McVeigh dies in silence
10 Jun 01 | Americas
McVeigh: Countdown to death
04 Jun 01 | Americas
Prosecutors oppose McVeigh delay
31 May 01 | Americas
McVeigh's on-off date with death
16 May 01 | Americas
FBI admits McVeigh blunder
12 Apr 01 | Americas
Live from death row
11 Jun 01 | Americas
Barriers separate death protesters
11 Jun 01 | Americas
McVeigh: Countdown to death
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