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Friday, June 1, 2001

Everybody's Happy Now
The Martyrdom of Tim McVeigh

by Clinton Fein

Monday finds you like a bomb
That's been left ticking there too long
You're bleeding
Some days there's nothing left to learn
From the point of no return
You're leaving

Hey hey I saved the world today
Everybody's happy now
The bad things gone away
And everybody's happy now
The good thing's here to stay
Please let it stay

I Saved the World Today by Annie Lennox, Eurythmics

Today we killed Tim McVeigh. I waited to publish this piece because we have reason to believe Mr McVeigh may have been aware of annoy.com and I didn't want him to have an opportunity to gloat in what I am saying before we poisoned the poor bastard with lethal chemicals far worse than the arsenic in our drinking water. McVeigh was executed by lethal injection at a federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, for the April 1995 bombing in Oklahoma that killed 168 people. And when I began writing this piece, I didn't think I would feel as profoundly effected emotionally by his execution than I am, for some reason still unbeknownst to me.

The notion of killing someone for murder is logically preposterous. Much like cutting off someone's tongue as a gesture of free expression or shooting an abortion doctor to advocate a pro-life position. America's relationship with death however is not logical. I remember exploring America's dysfunctional relationship with death in 1998, and very little has changed since then. About the only difference really, is that MSNBC's Jon Benet Ramsey specials have increased from one to two hours now and John Gibson is now spewing his vile at Fox.

June 11, 2001 will become -- to use an overused cliché du jour -- an anniversary that will live in infamy - and one that NBC president, Andy Lack, will put on his recurring calendar for Tim McVeigh specials forever more. CNN's emotionally charged collages accompanied by choral audio accompaniments remain as nauseating as the piano piece they use when they project JonBenet walking down the runway in full drag.

Earnest journalists, woefully incapable of even faking dignity anymore, will pose supposedly profound questions to complement their over-produced nescience. How are the survivors coping a year since he was put to death? Two years? Have any of them changed their mind on the death penalty? Have they finally found the closure they were seeking? Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw will piously proclaim how the public's right to learn from this terrible disaster is what prompts the bloated coverage year after year. Certainly not an acknowledgement of their contribution to the martyrdom status that McVeigh has already achieved in life, let alone the magnification it will see in death, milked for every last blood stained penny from every last media outfit until we rid ourselves of our morbid fascination with death or until someone white, famous, rich or identifiably American blasts a bigger, more destructive bomb. (Does ANYONE remember the World Trade Center?)

I believe that if we as a State are going to murder our citizens, we need to do it out and openly. This bizarre Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy surrounding our execution precision (Florida, once again, being a notable exception until it retired its famously defective electric chair) is ultimately as effective a deterrent for murderers as George Bush's hiding of his alcoholic, drunk-driving booze days was at teaching Jenna to stick to iced tea (of the non-Long Island variety).

Capital punishment opponents who spearheaded efforts by death row inmate Joseph Minerd to video tape the McVeigh execution as a visual demonstration of cruel and unusual punishment were blindsided by the U.S. Supreme Court who refused on Sunday June 10, 2001 to allow the videotaping. Given the cruel and unusual punishment in the selection of George W. Bush they too should have been video taped giving their justifications, but that's another story.

If in the not-so-unlikely event hackers penetrate the closed circuit transmission of the execution from Terre Haute, Indiana to Oklahoma, the media, once given access, will play them repeatedly - most likely snippets before a hard commercial break to keep viewers tuned in. Unfortunately, that is the more motivating factor for this morbid display rather than an examination of the death penalty as a civilized society's remedy for murder or the extent to which it might serve as a deterrent. The media display is tragically and predictably the most sickening part of this high stakes, high ratings spectacle. It leaves little doubt as to whether the Rupert Murdochs, Gerry Levins, Steve Cases, Bill Gates' and other entertainment conglomerate media moguls would transmit images of Holocaust victims writhing in agony as gas fills their lungs, given half a chance. Or how much they would pay for the footage.

When Tim McVeigh decided to exact revenge for Waco, Ruby Ridge and other incidents for which he harbored and built resentment for the US government, Janet Reno was the Attorney General that embodied everything McVeigh resented. After McVeigh was caught, Reno declared icily that the United States could and would seek the death penalty. Little did anyone know that Reno's successor, John Ashcroft would ultimately do to the credibility of the justice system what Marcia Clarke and Mark Fuhrman were able to do to it by ensuring OJ Simpson spent the rest of his life playing golf in Florida.

After it was discovered that the F.B.I. had withheld thousands of documents, it is likely that every level headed person, who until then had dismissed McVeigh's reasoning as extremist and lunatic fringe, was forced to gulp at the enormity of the error and the extent to which it strengthened everything McVeigh had been rambling about. John Ashcroft postponed the execution until June 11, 2001 so that McVeigh's attorneys could assess the new material, but at the same time vowed that he would not extend the execution again. In so doing, the very basis for which he purportedly had postponed the execution to begin with was revealed for nothing but a farce, for although no new evidence was found that would have changed the outcome, Ashcroft made that determination before the facts were fully known.

In the final analysis, McVeigh checkmated Ashcroft revealing him for the pro-life hypocrite he is, whilst simultaneously having him actively participate in his meticulously planned, expertly choreographed, assisted suicide. Ashcroft, in Oklahoma at the time of the execution, did not watch his handiwork. President George W. Bush, an executions expert having signed a mere 152 as Texas governor, commented wryly on McVeigh's rights before departing on his first trip to increasingly warm overseas soil. "The rights of the accused were protected and observed to the full and to the end. Under the laws of our country, the matter is concluded." No one bought it.

These are complex issues on an emotional level. While one can appreciate the notion of the enactment of revenge, we have to look beyond it. For those who lost loved ones in Oklahoma that fateful day on April 19, 1995, one cannot blame for wanting to see McVeigh dead. A punishment to fit the crime is a delicious way of dealing with the horror such heinous crimes produce. A man in a fit of road rage throws a woman's dog into oncoming traffic on a freeway. Throw the man into oncoming traffic on a freeway. A bunch of men drag a man tied to the back of a truck through Jasper. Tie them to the back of a truck for a similar joyride. Men beat to a pulp a man and then tie him up like a scarecrow in Wyoming, beat them to a pulp and tie them up to die. It makes sense. It feels fitting. Thinking such thoughts is all too human.

An emotional wreck grieving the loss of someone they loved dearly did not conduct this execution. The first federal execution since the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it was performed with the cool precision of an emotionless State. And that is all the more difficult to understand.

As we continue to execute those who were minors at the time of their crime, the mentally retarded, women and the elderly, we ought to pause before we listen to government bureaucrats and elected officials, quick to use the nineteen children murdered that day to defend and justify America's killing industry. One can only wonder what lesson they might have learned today, had they not been in so unfortunate a place at so awful a time.

 
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