Re: Timothy McVeigh Was Not “Anti-Government”

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In an earlier post, I linked to an item by law prof Ilya Somin suggesting that Timothy McVeigh was not “anti-government” at all, but was instead a neo-Nazi. The basis for Somin’s conclusion was McVeigh’s heavy interest in the bizarre neo-Nazi book, The Turner Diaries.

In the short time since I posted that link, many people have e-mailed questioning whether Somin’s interpretation makes sense in light of Gore Vidal’s article linked on LRC yesterday, which I had not read since around the time it was first published in 2001. According to Vidal’s piece, McVeigh’s interest in The Turner Diaries pertained only to its war-on-the-federal-government aspects, not its racist aspects.

If that’s Vidal’s judgment, I am inclined to defer to it, since he corresponded personally with McVeigh. Still, it seems odd to like and disseminate The Turner Diaries but reject the Nazism. Then again, it would take an odd person, to say the least, to bomb a federal building.

If Somin answers this criticism (which others have made in his blog comments), I’ll add an update to this post.

Here’s the relevant quote from the Vidal piece:

The Turner Diaries is a racist daydream by a former physics teacher writing under the pseudonym Andrew Macdonald. Although McVeigh has no hang-ups about blacks, Jews, and all the other enemies of the various “Aryan” white nations to be found in the Patriots’ ranks, he shares the Diaries’ obsession with guns and explosives and a final all-out war against the “System.” Much has been made, rightly, of a description in the book of how to build a bomb like the one he used at Oklahoma City. When asked if McVeigh acknowledged copying this section from the novel, Dr. Smith said, “Well, sort of. Tim wanted it made clear that, unlike The Turner Diaries, he was not a racist. He made that very clear. He did not hate homosexuals. He made that very clear.” As for the book as an influence, “he’s not going to share credit with anyone.”

[UPDATE: Somin has updated his post to address various criticisms. Among other things, he adds that he suspects “that in later years, McVeigh sought to characterize his motives in ways that would be more likely to win a measure of mainstream sympathy and perhaps help him avoid the death penalty.”]

6:43 pm on April 20, 2010