Aberration in the heartland of the real: The many faces of Timothy McVeigh
Painting, Wendy S.
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The 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was characterized as 'the most deadly attack on American soil' and Timothy McVeigh, the man convicted for it in 2001, "The Face of Terror," "The Most Hated Man in America," and an "All American Monster." He continues to personify a wide range of prototypical Cold War and Post-Cold War era identities: a Self-Styled Rambo, Survivalist, Militia Type, Gun Nut, Lone Nut, Disgruntled Soldier, Rogue Avenger, the Boy Next Door Gone Bad and Quintessential Conspiracy Theorist turned Rabid Homegrown Lone Wolf Domestic Terrorist. In him can also be seen 'The Ghost of Lee Harvey Oswald' and, like a number of other American 'Lone Gunmen,' before and after, multiple, highly conflicting narratives about the bombing continue to circulate. In them, McVeigh appears as one of several unnamed accomplices: a witting or unwitting 'patsy' steeped in a world of shadows, spies, cross-dressing Neo-Nazis and doppelganger decoys; a victim of nightmarish schemes and drug experiments hatched by faceless conspirators willing to use McVeigh for nefarious purposes; a modern day 'Manchurian Candidate'; or some combination thereof. Recurring plot elements sometimes include black helicopters, mysterious clandestine 'black operators,' mad scientists, brainwashing, implanted tracking and mind-control bio-technologies, faked executions and from time to time, UFOs. I compare and contextualize these publicly and privately told stories, test them against newly introduced oral and archival records and, through multiple perspectives, position McVeigh as a shared yet contested signifier used to discuss a broad range of historically and currently controversial social, political and cultural events, circumstances, identities and subcultures. I do so, not with the hope of articulating a singularly correct story or justifying his act of terror but with the intent of identifying, discussing and better understanding existing tensions, fissures and conflicts between institutional and popular depictions and memories and the porous boundaries between fact, fiction and folklore. This study illustrates how a singular event and a dead man who symbolizes it act as sites upon which to wage struggles over meaning.