Being the story of Timothy McVeigh, convicted mass-murderer, now deceased, and Michael Fortier, reluctant government informant, late of the United States Federal Witness Protection Program, as narrated by John Doe No. 2, a suspect, still at large, in the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
You are riding with Timothy McVeigh across the barren Texas plains, gradually making your way into the comparatively fertile environs of the hill country. Mike Fortier reclines in the backseat of the Road Warrior, your driver's prized silver-colored 1987 Chevy Geo Spectrum. With his feet dangling outside of the vehicle's passenger's side window, Mike has been lost in a deep sleep since Albuquerque. He has proven to be an unobtrusive third wheel — quiet, unassuming, and compliant. The sun sets at your back as you travel eastward, through Amarillo and Wichita Falls. Towards the outer reaches of Waco.
Timothy McVeigh pilots the Road Warrior across the Brazos River, its waters silty and unmoving. On the far side of town — only a few scant miles from the Tradinghouse Creek Reservoir that feeds Waco — your driver leaves the main highway for the decidedly more rural Farm Road 2491. And beyond that, the infamous Double-E Ranch Road.
"I wore a special tee-shirt for this occasion," your partner announces, as he turns the Road Warrior onto a gravel road. The words "FBI — Federal Bureau of Incineration" are emblazoned across Timothy McVeigh's chest.
"We're here, boys," he exclaims, as he parks the car on the side of Double-E Ranch Road. Mike climbs lazily out of the backseat, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. As you walk away from the vehicle, Timothy McVeigh hands you the Smith and Wesson Airlite revolver. "It's zero hour," he warns, "and this is posted government land." You observe the Glock resting casually in the holster draped across your partner's shoulder. You can only assume that Mike will have to make do with hand-to-hand combat, should it come to that. From the looks of him — with his eyes droopy and glazed over — you'd be surprised if he even knows he's in Texas.
You are astounded by the lack of security. There is no one else around — not so much as a tractor or a combine in the vicinity. Just a simple perimeter fence, with a crude rectangular sign as its only deterrent.
Following Timothy McVeigh's lead, you leap over the flimsy wooden barrier, with Mike loping off to the rear. Still lost in his post-somnambulant haze.
"The compound was off on the hilltop to the right," your partner announces, gesturing in the direction of a gentle grade sloping off to the east through the brushland. A dirt road snakes its way from Double-E Ranch Road, to the rear, towards the hillock in the distance. Towards your destination. Towards Mount Carmel.
Hiking along the dirt road, Timothy McVeigh breaks into an impromptu narration. "This is a crime scene, fellas. A cover-up," he says. "I'm surprised there isn't yellow tape around the premises."
The sun is setting in the west as you stroll towards the hilltop. "Welcome to the hallowed ground where the federal government of these United States of America declared war on the American people," says Timothy McVeigh.
You turn around slowly, gazing at the panorama that unfolds before you. The primitive swimming pool is still there, overbrimming with brown, dirty water. Oozing in its staleness. Off to the right lies the rusting hulk of a school bus, oxidizing in the unforgiving Texas sun.
Before you sits a motorcycle, still standing erect on its kickstand, the weeds growing through its spokes and threading their way, slowly but surely, among the putrefied innards of its engine. In the extreme background, you can make out the remnants of a series of underground tunnels snaking their way through the decaying foundation.
Yet another school bus, semi-buried in its earthly tomb, rises off to the left. Its absent roof, having been sheared from its frame, leaves the vehicle's interior — strangely, inexplicably — exposed to the elements. Like its counterpart, it has been rudely discarded to suffer the Texas weather in all its brutal whimsy.
In the foreground lies a corroded bathtub, perched awkwardly on its side. Random and out of place, it seems somehow emblematic of the vanquished compound in miniature: lost and a kilter — the virtual shadow of its former, living self.
Aside from the prairie brush and the rampaging weeds, there is really nothing to see. Only history's unspoken, silent misery.
Timothy McVeigh trolls about the site as if he were exploring the vagaries of some ancient Mediterranean ruins. Giving them their reverential due as if he were staring at the lifeless, stone-like bodies of Pompeii. Their final moments frozen for all time.
But there are no bodies, of course, at the former home of the Mount Carmel Center. Only the weeds — scads of them. Growing as high as an elephant's eye.
"It started over there," says Timothy McVeigh, pointing to an area just beyond the dirt road. "A slew of cattle trucks roared in from the highway. For the Branch Davidians, they may as well have been arriving from outer space. They were loaded to the gills with ATF agents. Here to arrest David Koresh, the Davidians' spiritual leader, on illegal weapons charges and allegations of child-abuse."
You follow your partner as he strolls about the compound's decrepit, crumbling foundation. Mike lingers just behind.
"Never mind the fact that they could have arrested Koresh at virtually any time. He went into Waco nearly every week. They had a warrant — they could have busted him at will. But instead, they came out here — to his homestead. To the homestead of nearly 100 people pursuing their inalienable right to enjoy life, liberty, and happiness. Like everybody else."
Timothy McVeigh pauses for effect. "And they came out here like hit men. Not like federal agents dispassionately doing their jobs. There were 75 ATF agents in full combat gear rushing onto the scene like an invasion force. At the same time, a convoy of some 80 vehicles rumbled into the area, including an unholy trinity of helicopter gunships circling overhead like vultures. Helicopter gunships to corral a splinter sect of Seventh-Day Adventists! You can throw in another dozen or so Texas Rangers, along with snipers training their sights on the compound from various locations around the prairie. And what you have is a turkey shoot. All in an effort to bring down a single, solitary guy."
Timothy McVeigh stakes out a position where the compound's front stoop once existed. "Imagine what it was like to stand right here on February 28th, 1993, watching your government shower hell down on you from out of nowhere. Do you know what the Davidians were doing when the attacks started?" he asks. "They weren't breaking out their arsenal. They weren't rushing for the priest-holes. They were praying."
"And the first thing that the ATF agents did was shoot the compound's pets — Alaskan Malamutes, mostly," says your partner. "They executed a dynamic entry, hurling flash-bang grenades into the compound — into the vicinity of dozens of families. Within spitting distance of a houseful of innocent men, women, and children. More than 40 children. You have the ATF agents itching to serve a warrant, and meanwhile, the Branch Davidians think that the End Times are upon them. It was the perfect prescription for wholesale death and destruction."
"And that's before the psychological warfare even started," Timothy McVeigh continues. "Before the ATF teamed up with the FBI and built a gigantic PA system around the perimeter." He gestures off into the distance to where the agents erected the scaffolding. "With amplification appropriate for a Led Zeppelin concert, they projected the mind-bending sounds of seagulls and sirens, of bagpipes and crying babies, of dental drills and rabbits being slaughtered. All to the titillating soundtrack of Nancy Sinatra singing 'These Boots Were Made for Walkin.' Throw in the über-bright stadium lights that they set up around the compound, and we're talking about brute human torture. Cruel and unusual punishment doled out, over and over again, throughout the 51-day siege."
"And when it all finally ended, on April 19th," your partner adds, "there was no mercy. There was no reprieve for the troubled souls still trapped inside. There was the deployment of 100 canisters of highly concentrated CS gas — tear gas that is especially toxic and highly flammable in close quarters like, say, the wooden Branch Davidian compound. On that final day, the government brought in Bradley Fighting Vehicles and a pair of M1 Abrams Battle Tanks, specially fitted with battering rams, in order to punch holes in the building and shoo the Branch Davidians out of their home. And by noon, the fate of some 76 people was sealed, as smoke billowed out from the compound. And there they died, trapped like rats. Surrounded and trapped like worthless, disenfranchised rats."
"And I'm here to tell you that nobody deserves to be burned, gassed, and killed for their religious beliefs — no matter how whacked-out they are," he continues. "This wasn't routine police work. It was out-and-out warfare. Where is it written in the Constitution that the government has the right to wage war against its own citizenry?"
As Timothy McVeigh speaks, you can almost glimpse the flames licking at the wooden compound. You can feel the heat rising up from the final conflagration. "How was this any different from the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto?" he asks. "At the end of the goddamned day, do you know why they did it?" asks Timothy McVeigh. "Why they burned this whole place to tarnation?"
You have no idea, really. You stare at him, blankly.
"'Cause the Branch Davidians were just a little too weird. Just too different for decent folks like you and me. This wasn't a cult. It was just a bunch of people living together, raising a whole mess of children, and sharing their fascination with the Good Book."
"So tell me, JD, where is God in here? And how can our government — how can this government — be the defender of virtue and all that is good in the world if it can do something like this?" he asks, gesturing towards the silent wreckage, the smattering of brush, and the empty Texas plains.
This must be a rhetorical question, you think. How could it possibly be otherwise?
As dusk settles over the ruins, you find it hard to imagine that the annihilation of Mount Carmel went down only 20 months ago. Right here on this very spot. This quiet and lonely spot in the hills just outside of Waco. An eerie silence, accented by the whirring buzz of cicadas, begins to set in. And with Mike straggling behind, you and your partner hike the short distance back to the junction at Double-E Ranch Road.
You observe — in a kind of awe — as Timothy McVeigh hastily sets up camp in a clearing just beyond the roadside. Gathering up a parcel of stones to create a fire ring, your partner fills the interior with stray brush and twigs for tinder. A pile of yellow wooden boards — slats from the perimeter fence perhaps? — serves as his kindling.
Fetching a trio of bedrolls from the trunk of the Road Warrior, he unfurls them and arranges the bedding in a semicircle around the fire pit. Meanwhile, Mike tends to the growing fire with the skill and dexterity of a confirmed pyromaniac.
"This is a military mission now," says Timothy McVeigh, producing a fistful of MREs. "We've got to start acting the part." He proceeds to tear open a package of instant spaghetti and meatballs with his teeth.
A military mission? How does he figure that? you wonder. As if to validate your confusion, you glance over at Mike, who turns away from your stare, gazing blankly off into the distance. As if he were scanning the horizon in search of relief.
Timothy McVeigh hands you a packet of instant chicken tetrazzini, tossing Mike a container of chicken and dumplings in the bargain.
Bon appétit, you think to yourself.
After supper, you sit around the campfire, with the flames licking up — higher and higher — into the darkening night.