Halting Future McVeighs

Where did Timothy McVeigh go wrong? Americans need to know. We must try to prevent others from becoming obsessed with distorted views of the world.

McVeigh was no Eichmann. In the only real war in which he served, the Gulf war, he committed no atrocities. But the mass murder he did commit - killing 168 innocent children, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, parents (the largest such crime in American history) - was tempered by no excuse of wartime urgency.

Only in McVeigh's twisted mind was he a patriot, an agent of revenge for the siege at Waco, a spark for general rebellion, a self-justifying militiaman killing fellow Americans because they were "feds." That's feds as in day-care infants, taxpayers, clerks. A purposely big body count, according to his army buddy, Michael Fortier.

The 11 guilty verdicts handed down by the conscientious Denver jury served two purposes.

For the injured and relatives of those killed, the verdicts showed that the enormous crime was not to go unsolved, unexamined, unpunished - just another 15 minutes of US infamy.

For the rest of America, the trial brought the perpetrator's motive and method out of the shadows in which they lingered while O.J. Simpson, the Unabomber, World Trade Center bomber trial, TWA flight 800, Atlanta, Tokyo subway gassing, and IRA and Hamas bombs grabbed the news.

For that rest of America, Tim McVeigh's motive holds lessons - heightened versions of themes that have previously troubled US history.

Lesson 1: Beware of conspiracy theories run amok. In a land of free expression, it's all too easy to let dark tales of plotters - right, left, robber barons, or wobbly rabble rousers - spread and fester. According to McVeigh's loving sister, he was consumed by such theories.

Lesson 2: Try to include loners in community activities. Keep them from becoming drifters. Church and civic groups are particularly well suited to such an effort.

Lesson 3: Pay more attention to hate groups. Challenge their mistaken beliefs early. Don't let them feed on the disaffected, the left-behind members of American society.

The founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, got to the core issue of motive when she wrote: "Our courts recognize evidence to prove the motive as well as the commission of a crime. Is it not clear that the human mind must move the body to a wicked act?"

That's where future McVeighs must be stopped: by getting at the distortions such human minds fall prey to.

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