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THE MCVEIGH VERDICT

Suspicion Pervades Militia Reaction to Verdict

Trial: Numerous theories surround Oklahoma City bombing, many implicating the U.S. government. 'The American people can see half-truths,' one leader says.

June 03, 1997|JUDY PASTERNAK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

EGELSTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Behind the American flag and the Michigan flag flying on separate poles, behind the two outside dogs and the two inside dogs straining at their leashes, the proprietor of LJ Guns, who is also the state commander of the Michigan Militia, leaned back to puff on a tapered Swisher Sweet.

Lynn Jon Van Huizen was not surprised by the Timothy J. McVeigh verdict on Monday. Cigar notwithstanding, he was also far from serene.

Van Huizen figures that the seven men and five women who spent nearly 24 hours weighing the case against McVeigh concluded correctly that the young Gulf War veteran probably bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City more than two years ago. "I think," said Van Huizen, "he was definitely involved."

But he also figures that the American people have not been told the entire story behind the worst terrorist act on this country's soil. And he's not certain they ever will be.

"We need something new and different," Van Huizen said. "We need the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

As the leader of the militia group fingered early on--falsely, he insists--of fomenting the bombing plot, Van Huizen knows something about the danger of rumors. He remembers how the media and even President Clinton talked about his group in the days just after the bombing, as federal agents raided the farm on the other side of the state where McVeigh spent a summer with his friends, the Nichols brothers. Yes, they may have gone to a militia meeting, he says.

And he remembers how Norm Olsen, his predecessor as commander, was deposed for telling everyone he could that the Japanese government bombed the Murrah building--in retaliation for the United States poisoning the Tokyo subway.

Yes, Van Huizen has seen gossip sting.

So, he said, he tries to be cautious in passing information along about the bombing. "We get little tidbits here and there," he said. "But a lot of stuff you can't confirm."

What he had hoped was that the Denver courtroom where McVeigh stood trial would be the forum where both sides could pan for truth, unearthing nuggets that would explain away the lingering questions.

So, why, he wondered from behind the counter on a deep-blue country evening, why did Judge Richard P. Matsch prevent McVeigh's defense from putting on the stand a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms informant who was prepared to testify that she'd heard others, who may or may not have known McVeigh, scheming to blow up federal buildings? What about claims that there was more than one explosion at the Murrah building on April 19, 1995?

"That judge ruled 75% of the evidence inadmissible," Van Huizen said. "That threw me. How are we going to find out the rest of the story?"

Internet traffic in militia chat groups, a favorite method of communication, mirrored Van Huizen's concern during the trial's waning days and the jury's deliberations. Mistrust and suspicion of the federal government is so great that a common thread ran through the voices of moderation and the most lathered rants. Everyone wanted to know: What is the scam? What is the secret we will never be told?

No one was satisfied with the story that Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols simply grew very angry with the system, especially after the fiery Branch Davidian deaths near Waco, Texas, and together built a bomb in a truck that would take 168 lives and injure 500 more.

"There are other possibilities that are not being explored because of the rules of this trial," read a post to the talk.politics.guns Internet group, where 13% of the messages include the word "militia."

"McVeigh might have driven the truck thinking it contained furniture. He might have been on the BATF payroll, not knowing that he was the selected patsy . . . I would love to hear his version but I'll probably sooner hear from Oswald's assassin Ruby," said one.

"The whole system is fixed," wrote another. "The judiciary in this country is so corrupt that it is unbelievable. McVeigh may be guilty, but he sure has a right to a fair trial."

A few heralded McVeigh as a martyr to the "patriot movement" cause. "Is McVeigh a Jesus who'll die for our sins?" one posting in the misc.activism.militia group asked. "Tim McVeigh is YOU," another announced.

Many of the messagers objected to such statements. "Some contributors to this board have said things about the U.S. government to the point of even declaring war on the U.S. and seem to be none the worse for it," responded one. "McVeigh's different. He acted on his hatred."

But there was no wholehearted defense in militia cyberspace for federal authorities. As families of the bombing's victims and survivors of the day the building flew apart grew tense, wondering aloud if the jury could possibly deadlock or even acquit McVeigh, the militia Net talk turned to the possibility that the government was planning to let the defendant off the hook.

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