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Monday, 11 June, 2001, 10:08 GMT 11:08 UK
McVeigh author Dan Herbeck quizzed

To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:

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Timothy McVeigh has finally expressed some regret for the1995 Oklahoma bombing which killed 168 people and injured more than 500.

But his execution is set for Monday and his lawyers have said he is making his final preparations to die.

A new book, American Terrorist, by journalists Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck, examines McVeigh's actions.

The pair have been researching the crime since the week the tragedy occurred. They have interviewed more than 150 people from every stage of McVeigh's life, from his childhood friends to the psychiatrist hired by the defence team to examine him before his trial.

What does Dan Herbeck believe was the motive for McVeigh's actions? Did McVeigh really act alone? Why has he shown so little remorse?

Dan Herbeck joined us for a forum and answered a selection of your questions.


Transcript:


Newshost:

Our first question is from Amy in the UK who asks: Have you met McVeigh and if so what is he like?


Dan Herbeck:

Yes I have met him on a number of occasions and he has written dozens and dozens of letters to me. What kind of person is Tim McVeigh? If most people met him and they didn't know he was the bomber they would be shocked at how easy-going, affable and easy he is to talk to. Then as you get talking to him though and he starts talking about certain topics, like the US Government, he gets a look in his eyes that changes his whole appearance and his voice comes up and he gets very angry and you see it is a completely different person.


Newshost:

A lot of people have asked me in conversations how does someone go from being a veteran in the US Army to becoming someone who can carry out the greatest act of terrorism on American soil?


Dan Herbeck:

Part of it started when he was a boy and he was picked on by bullies in his school. Part of it was when his parents had a difficult divorce and he was very hurt by that and part of it was when he was taught to kill in the US Army. A then a big part of it was that he really fights for gun rights and he believes that everyone should have the right to own guns and when he felt the US Government was trying to take that away from him he snapped and he decided he was going to take action against our government.


Newshost:

Speaking about the action against the government, Jessica of Toronto asks: Where any of the victims or families of the survivors in contact with McVeigh after his capture, perhaps through letters? Was he ever made fully aware of the degree of suffering they had to endure and does he now think of himself as a martyr to his cause?


Dan Herbeck:

I know he has received letters from some of the victims' families and even though he has been told about it over and over again, I don't think he really comprehends the suffering that he caused in Oklahoma City. There is something missing in his personality that he just can't seem to understand what it is like for these people to lose a loved one.


Newshost:

He actually wrote some letters, I believe, to your newspaper just recently about that. What did he say in those letters?


Dan Herbeck:

He has written letters to Lou Michelle and I at the Buffalo News over the last few years but in the most recent ones he has told us again that there was absolutely no John Doe two or any other person involved with the bombing. It bothers him - I think it bothers his ego a little - that people don't believe that just he and Terry Nichols could have pulled this horrible crime off by themselves. He also wrote us a letter that we wrote about in today's paper where he said that he was sorry that all those people had to die. But it wasn't really an apology because in the very next sentence he said - I am sorry they had to die but it is the fault of the US Government not my fault.


Newshost:

So as Jessica asked, does he think himself a martyr to a cause?


Dan Herbeck:

He doesn't use the term martyr but he has told us that he considers himself a freedom fighter - he said one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. I think that is how he wants to be remembered even though I think most Americans will just remember him as a heartless murderer rather than a freedom fighter.


Newshost:

That brings us to the issue of anti-government militias. Patrick in London asks: How much popular support do anti-government militia groups really have in the United States? How plausible is there talk of another civil war? Was Timothy McVeigh involved in any of these groups and did he further their cause?


Dan Herbeck:

One of the most surprising things about this bombing is that McVeigh did his bombing to advance the cause that is championed by the militias and yet I think his bombing did more than anything else to hurt the militias. The militias groups have really retreated into the background in this country since the bombing. They don't want to be associated with this bombing. Even the craziest of militia groups have been very reluctant to associate themselves with Tim McVeigh.

As to whether he has ever belonged to a militia group - he never actually belonged to one but he supported a lot of their views.


Newshost:

The issue of the execution obviously has raised talk about the death penalty and there will be several protestors on the grounds. Tim of South Korea asks: I do believe human beings don't have the right to allow executions - what do you think?


Dan Herbeck:

I am Catholic and I agree with the Catholic view on executions. I am against the death penalty. At the same time I understand how many people believe that this crime is so horrific that if any crime deserves the penalty this is probably it. I personally don't think it is the right thing for our society to do but I respect the opinions of others.


Newshost:

Your colleague Lou Michel is going to be witnessing the execution. Have you discussed what that is going to be like for him and what he is doing in preparation to witnessing it?


Dan Herbeck:

My good friend Lou Michel is a very emotional person. He also is a Catholic and he is also very against the death penalty. He got to know McVeigh a lot better than I did during this project. I think it is going to be very difficult for him to witness this execution but he is a professional newsman and he wants to follow this story through right to the very end. By McVeigh allowing Lou into cover the execution is really part of the research for our book because we are covering this story right to its very end and then will eventually write an additional chapter for our book for the paperback version.


Newshost:

There are obviously some people who had some questions about the level of coverage. E. Sanders in Dallas asks: What makes people like you try to make a hero out of low-lives like McVeigh when there are thousands of other things to write about it?


Dan Herbeck:

I respect the right of the gentleman to ask that question but clearly he hasn't read our book because anyone who reads out book and says it makes a hero out of Tim McVeigh must have been reading the book backwards or something. The book does humanise McVeigh, it tells his story but in no way does it glorify him or make him a hero. I think there is a very good reason for writing a book like this. None of us want to see another Oklahoma City bombing or in any other city. The more we can learn about people like Tim McVeigh and what makes them tick, the more valuable it is for society. I have had teachers, law enforcement people, school principals thank us for writing the book - even people in Oklahoma City have thanked us for writing the book because we got McVeigh's confession down on paper.


Newshost:

Stuart in Cheshire in the UK asks: Is it true that the FBI knew about the bombing in advance and how was it possible to park a truck next to the building? How did it happen and did we have any sense that it was going to happen?


Dan Herbeck:

There was no sense that it was going to happen and it was very easy for him to park that truck next to the building. I have been covering the US Government for a long time - I am a cynical person somewhat - I don't believe for a minute that our government knew about this bombing ahead of time or would allow all those people to be killed. I have heard rumours about it but I haven't seen one bit of proof to show that the government knew ahead of time. I would be willing to believe a lot about our government but I don't believe they would have let this go on.


Newshost:

What effect do you think it had on the American people of having an act of terrorism on US soil? It just seems such a foreign concept to a lot of Americans?


Dan Herbeck:

I think it affects almost every American every single day of their lives. There is added security in almost every public building that you go in because of Tim McVeigh and his bomb. I often go into federal buildings and you see the intense security, you see the cameras, you have to walk through a metal detector and it is a shame that we have to live that way in our country but that is what Tim McVeigh's bomb has done to us.


Newshost:

Dave Steinberg in Brisbane, Australia asks: Did McVeigh feel that the American services had run roughshod over the rights of US citizens and viewed himself as a avenger of the American people or was he just a right-wing Nazi?


Dan Herbeck:

He did view himself as an avenger for personal rights in America and especially with regard to gun rights. He is not a Nazi - he is not a crazy man and that is what scares a lot of people. He is not delirious - he knew exactly what he was doing and why he was doing it.


Newshost:

What was the most striking thing that you found about McVeigh in your contact with him?


Dan Herbeck:

The most striking thing is that when we asked him over and over again whether he had any kind of remorse for the victims - he was just stone cold and never showed an ounce of remorse. That is what I will always remember.

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