A question has been raised, particularly in comments on a post of mine (which has now sunk below the “Recent Posts” horizon), as to whether Timothy McVeigh can properly be characterized as a Christian. A few quotes have been offered in which he describes himself as Agnostic. The original post posed as a repartee to Newt Gingrich’s latest cutesy twitters, “We can ban a mosque at ground zero, when we ban churches in Oklahoma City.”
Is it either fair or accurate to describe Timothy McVeigh as a “Christian”? This is not a question to be answered by cherry picking from a few casual web sites. It is either a matter for library research, or at the least, Google Books previews from actual pages of published work. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it, we’re all just indulging in debates after all, not setting policy or writing authoritative reference works.
I found a brief hint in The Evil 100, by Martin Gilman Wolcott, p. 111:
McVeigh’s motive in carrying out the Oklahoma City bombing was to send the federal government a message, a warning that they should be — and will be — held accountable for “fascist” (McVeigh’s words) acts such as the conflagrations at Waco and Ruby Ridge, and the Constitution-attacking efforts to impose gun control on American citizens.
Both the residents of Ruby Ridge and the Davidian compound in Waco are some sort of would-be Christian, perhaps not what any of us would choose for ourselves as true Christianity, but they manage to find a Biblical basis for what they offer the world.
One could counter that relying on this connection, to call McVeigh a Christian, is Christianity by association, not by direct profession of faith. But when we get to the point of apocalyptic violence in the name of religion, neither a personal relationship with Jesus, nor submission to the will of God, are really the essential point. It is the rationale the terrorist wraps around themselves that is at issue.
I also consulted Terror in the mind of God: the global rise of religious violence by Mark Juergensmeyer. A section beginning on page 30 is perhaps unfair in linking Eric Rudolph, definitely a “Christian” terrorist, and Timothy McVeigh. But the following several pages establish pretty clearly McVeigh’s roots and inspiration in the Christian Identity movement, which is based on racial supremacy and Biblical law – at least as they manage to read Biblical law. McVeigh had plenty of association with Elohim City, and was a devoted exponent of the Turner Diaries.
William Pierce, the author of the Turner Diaries, provides for me an amusing counterpoint to the association of intellectualism with liberalism. The man had a Ph.D in physics and taught college courses in Oregon. (Two thirds of Hitler’s SS had Ph.D’s also). For liberals who think education insures liberal thinking, or “conservatives” who think pointy heads are all liberals, take a look at Pierce.
Of most relevance though, see page 32, is that Pierce advocated apocalyptic violence to overturn “the mindset of dictatorial secularism that had been imposed on American society as the result of an elaborate conspiracy orchestrated by Jews and liberals hell-bent on depriving Christian society of its freedom and its spiritual moorings.” Many Identity groups live in theocratic societies.
So, while those who wish to deny it can make a plausible case that McVeigh is an agnostic, this is not far different from various Muslims denying that Osama bin Laden is a true Muslim. If McVeigh’s act of terror had actually motivated an effective uprising, a series of continuous disruptive terrorist campaigns, they would have arisen in the name of some twisted theory of Aryan Christianity.
It is to the credit of Christianity in America that even the violent apocalyptic groups realized they were NOT going to mobilize resistance through such acts, which revulsed rather than inspired even those individuals who held some sympathy for their ideology. If any distinction can be drawn between Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center, it is that there were SOME Muslims, somewhere in the word, who found some inspiration in the vulnerability of America to asymmetrical attack.
Juergensmeyer freely admits (page xii) that “Perhaps it is not fair to label Osama bin Laden a Muslim terrorist or to characterize Timothy McVeigh a Christian one – as if they were violent because of their Islamic and quasi-Christian beliefes.” Virtually every major religion has served as a resource for violent actors. But he notes, accurately I think, that “Behind convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh and Buford Furrow, the alleged attacker of a Jewish day care center, was a subculture of militant Christian groups that extends throughout the United States.” (p. 11)
So I say again, we can ban a mosque at ground zero when we ban churches in Oklahoma City. No, Christian churches in Oklahoma City did not inspire, rejoice in, or approve of, what McVeigh did. But, neither did the originators of Cordoba House collude with al Qaeda. So let’s back off this hysterical puffed up hot air balloon, and get on with the serious business of real problems confronting our nation.