MSNBC's 'McVeigh Tapes' acts as Oklahoma City bombing killer Timothy McVeigh's megaphone
Monday, April 19th 2010, 11:45 AM
Using bomber Timothy McVeigh's recorded words to illustrate and explain his crime, "The McVeigh Tapes: Confessions of an American Terrorist" is designed as a somber warning about the dangers of unchecked fanaticism.
It is. At some point, though, it also starts to feel a little like a megaphone for a killer to sell the murder of children as an act of high patriotism.
It's not that MSNBC host Rachel Maddow shows a shred of sympathy for McVeigh. The 7,000-pound bomb with which he blew out the front of the Murrah Federal Building 15 years ago today, killing 168 people, was and remains the most lethal single act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history.
Maddow, who is only on camera briefly, explains that McVeigh's story has a new dark urgency today because we are seeing a rise in the kind of "anti-government extremism" he represented.
In 45 hours of interviews he gave to two Buffalo News reporters before he was executed in 2001, McVeigh says a dangerous government was destroying America's freedom and the only way to get that government's attention was with "a body count."
To the parents of the 19 children killed by his bomb, he says, "Get over it."
It's arguable that if this special were just two minutes long, and had featured only that one quote, it would have packed as much power as the two-hour version.
As it stands, the special has three primary components: the tapes; commentary from law enforcement officials, McVeigh's attorney, victims and their families, and digitally altered film that put McVeigh's face on characters re-enacting his life up through the bombing.
The tapes and the re-enactments get most of the airtime, suggesting the producers felt nothing would chill us like McVeigh's own words.
To an extent, that's true.
But after an hour or so, his self-congratulatory tone begins to feel more disturbing.
He talks like a man who figures that if he can keep repeating one endless mantra - that he was a soldier who conceived a sound plan and carried it out with calm military discipline - he can block out the idea anything else mattered. The Columbine shooters probably felt the same way.
He won, he says, even though he immediately got himself arrested and there was no evidence anyone saw his "revolutionary" act as anything other than murdering the innocent.
If mass murder weren't involved, McVeigh's story would simply be sad - a kid who left only a trail of failure.
When he set off a bomb, the story also became ugly, and that's a story we should hear. We just don't need two hours to get it.
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