Grand Jury and Oklahoma Conspiracy Theories
The bomb that ripped apart the Oklahoma City federal building more than two years ago killed 168 people and gave almost immediate birth to an array of conspiracy theories that show little evidence of fading away.These theories became so pervasive, screaming out from newsgroups on the Internet and in the so-called fringe publications, that a county grand jury was convened to get at the truth -- a truth the conspiracy advocates say has been covered up by a massive government campaign.Everyone agrees the building was bombed on April 19, 1995. But a number of people from all walks of life disagree on the version of events put out by the government and various federal agents.In general, they contend there was a far-reaching conspiracy involved in the bombing, a conspiracy that went well beyond the two people charged and that may have had its origin in some foreign country.They say the federal grand jury that indicted Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols was deliberately kept from investigating this wider conspiracy and that the government failed to follow up on a search for another person allegedly seen with McVeigh before the bombing.They even contend the government is not telling the truth in saying only one truck bomb was involved, that there must have been other charges inside the building to have caused such massive damage. And, they say, the government, at the least, had advance knowledge of the bombing -- or maybe was even involved in the plot. They say federal agents were warned not to go to work that day.It's not going to be easy for the grand jurors to decide what really happened. Testimony from some witnesses has contradicted testimony from others.McVeigh, a 29-year-old former Army sergeant who supported himself after military service by selling bumper stickers and other items at gun shows, was convicted of the bombing in June and sentenced to death.Trial for Nichols, a 42-year-old Herrington, Kan., farmer who met McVeigh in the Army, is underway now in Denver with opening arguments starting the first week of November.The government said McVeigh rented a truck in Kansas, loaded the 4,800-pound ammonium nitrate fertilizer bomb aboard, and drove it to Oklahoma City, where he detonated the bomb outside the federal building.Around the grand jury is a cast of colorful characters, beginning with state Rep. Charles Key, an Oklahoma City Republican who is the main impetus for the hearings. Key has travelled the country discussing conspiracy theories and selling a $19.95 videotape.Helped by a man who lost two young grandsons in the bombing, Key successfully mounted a petition drive to have the grand jury called. They were opposed by Gov. Frank Keating, a Republican who at one time headed all the federal law enforcement agencies under the Treasury Department, and by the local district attorney.Key was an early witness before the grand jury and said he gave the jurors a list of witnesses who should be called. He said they included people who said they saw McVeigh and another man before the bombing, but who were not called to testify at McVeigh's trial.In addition to having the grand jury called, Key and a group of people have hired three investigators to perform an independent probe. They are trying to raise $10,000 a month to finance that investigation.George B. Wallace, one of Key's associates, was summoned before the grand jury, and told reporters later he provided the jurors with some information on the organization's financial affairs and gave them another list of potential witnesses.Wallace, another man and William F. Jasper, a reporter for the New American Magazine, several weeks ago were ordered to leave a restricted area of the Oklahoma County Jail where the grand jury was meeting.What happened is in dispute; Wallace said they were escorted the entire time they were inside and that they never misrepresented themselves. But Sheriff John Whetsel said initially that Wallace and Jasper were allowed in because they told a deputy they were the lawyer and doctor for a testifying witness. Whetsel said an investigation has been completed and a report has been given to the grand jury and D.A.Testifying at the time of the confrontation with Wallace and Jasper and officers was Carol Howe, an undercover operative for the ATF who had infiltrated Elohim City, a white supremacist enclave in northeastern Oklahoma.Howe, a former Tulsa debutante, provided testimony that excited conspiracy theorists. She has said she warned her ATF handlers that white supremacist forces were talking about bombing a federal building, possibly in Oklahoma City or Tulsa.But Howe's credibility was shaded by revelations that she was also acquitted earlier this year in Tulsa federal court on conspiracy and bomb threat charges in an unrelated incident. A government agent testified that Howe was dropped as an informant in March 1996 because of concerns about her mental stability.She was briefly reactivated by the ATF and the FBI shortly after the federal building bombing, but government agents said she did not provide any useful information.Yet Howe's testimony intrigues. She claims that Dennis Mahon, leader of the White Aryan Resistance, and German national Andreas Strassmeir had made two trips to Oklahoma City to case the building. Strassmeir -- allegedly a white supremacist -- left the United States shortly after the bombing to return to Germany.David Snider, an Oklahoma City warehouse worker, said he told the grand jury he saw Mahon with Timothy McVeigh in a truck in the downtown area the morning of the bombing.Another who brought up Mahon's name was Johnny Lee Clary, the former grand dragon of the Oklahoma Ku Klux Klan who says he now is an ordained minister."I believe Dennis Mahon is guilty of committing this bombing," Clary told reporters as he prepared to testify before the grand jury. "I believe the grand jury needs to listen to what I say."Although Clary said Mahon talked about blowing up buildings, Mahon never made a specific threat against the Oklahoma City federal building.Mahon, leader of the White Aryan Resistance, took the Fifth Amendment and refused to testify when he was called before the grand jury earlier. He has denied any connection with the bombing and called Clary a con artist who "is lying." He also referred to Howe as a "pathological liar."One of the most touchy issues is whether the government had foreknowledge of the bombing plan and whether federal agents -- particularly those of the ATF -- were warned not to come to work that day.Among the grand jury's witnesses were two men who said they rushed to the federal building immediately after the explosion. They said they met an ATF agent -- whom they could not identify -- who told them that he and the other agents had been told not to report to work that morning.ATF officials, who deny there was advance warning of the bombing, say they investigated and found no one who had talked with the two men. And, the officials said, there were agents on duty in the building that morning and some were injured.But the story told by two federal agents, and contradicted by elevator company employees, has provided fuel for the conspiracy advocates.David Schickendanz, a retired agent for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, went before the jury to tell his dramatic tale of falling five stories in one of the building's elevators after it was shaken loose by the blast. He said he was in the elevator with Alex McCauley, an ATF agent.His story was contradicted by Oscar Johnson, general manager of the Mid-Western Elevator Co. who arrived at the building shortly after the bombing. Johnson not only contends none of the building's elevators fell, but says it would have been physically impossible for any to have done so.Johnson also said it would have been impossible for anyone to have gotten out of the elevators because the doors were blocked.Duane James, a Mid-Western Elevator service technician, backed up his boss. "None of the elevators fell, according to all the physical evidence we observed," James told reporters after spending 90 minutes before the grand jury. "All the elevators stopped when the power was cut."But, James said, it is possible the two agents really believed the elevator had fallen. "When an elevator jerks or stops under a power loss, you get different sensations," James said. "They might have thought the elevator fell, but the physical evidence shows they did not fall."Schickendanz, who was forced to retire because the bomb damaged his hearing, was asked by reporters how he reconciled his testimony with that of elevator technicians. "They weren't there," he said, refusing further comment except to add that he had been "admonished not to say anything."Johnson was called before the grand jury a second time, and showed up carrying a 20-gallon container of photographs taken at the federal building. He told reporters he had given the grand jurors between 300 and 400 photos, including a 30- by 40-inch photo of the bomb crater outside the building.The Federal Emergency Management Agency has reported the bomb left a crater 28 feet in diameter. Johnson claims the crater was only about 16 feet in diameter.Some people said they saw the Oklahoma County bomb squad in the vicinity of the building before the blast, a sighting they say indicates the government did have advance warning. But a member of the bomb squad said he was en route to a demonstration and had stopped briefly in the area to handle some court work.Conspiracy theorists early on said one clue that federal agents had been warned of the bombing was that no FBI agents were killed or injured in the blast. That particular theory died when it was pointed out that the FBI did not have its offices in the building, but were located in a privately owned building several miles to the northwest.As for claims that the ATF knew in advance, officials point out that five ATF employees were in the office when the bombing occurred. Their other eight employees were out of the office at the time. They said one was in Pawnee auditing a gun shop, three were out of town for court appearances, two were across the street preparing for a trial in U.S. District Court and two had worked late the night before and were en route to the office at the time.The U.S. Department of Justice issued two composite drawings of suspects shortly after the bombing, labeling them John Doe 1 and John Doe 2. McVeigh, who was arrested on Interstate 35 in northern Oklahoma some 70 minutes after the bomb went off because his car had no license tag, was subsequently identified as John Doe 1.No trace of John Doe 2 was ever found despite a worldwide search. The government eventually said the suspect turned out to be an Army enlisted man who had no connection with the bombing but who had happened to be in the truck rental facility around the time McVeigh was.At least four witnesses have gone before the grand jury to testify that they saw McVeigh with another man before the bombing. Those sightings occurred from several days before to just minutes before the bomb went off. And each of those witnesses said McVeigh was with another man, although they do not agree on what that man looked like.One of those was Michael Moroz, who told the grand jury that two men in a Ryder truck asked for directions to the federal building just minutes before the explosion.Debbie Nakanashi, a postal clerk who was working at the downtown Post Office the day of the blast, testified a man she identified as McVeigh and another man came in several days before the bombing and asked for directions to the federal building, saying they were looking for a federal job.Jeff Davis, who delivered an order of Chinese food to the motel room in Junction City, Kan., the FBI said was rented by McVeigh using an alias, told the grand jury the man he saw in the room was not McVeigh. He testified at McVeigh's trial that the man he saw in the room had collar-length hair. McVeigh had a close, military-type haircut.But Hilda Sostre, who was a maid at the motel at the time, said she saw the man who had rented the room, and that the man was McVeigh. She also said she saw a Ryder truck parked in the motel parking lot.The grand jury also heard from Jayna Davis, a former reporter for KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City. She aired reports in the weeks after the bombing that suggested an Iraqi refugee living in Oklahoma City could have been the mysterious John Doe 2.Although the man's name was never used and his face was electronically blurred on TV, Al-Hussaini Hussain said he had been identified by "innuendo." He said he had been harassed, spit on and feared for his life after the reports were aired.Because of that, Hussain said he lost his job, was beaten and spit upon and feared for his life. In a TV interview, he said he was forced to sneak into and out of his home in the dark in an effort to protect his wife and children from those would sought to take revenge for the bombing.Hussain since has filed a federal court lawsuit aginst Davis, the television station, the former news director and the station's owner.Several sources have contended there was more than one bomb involved. They argue that a single truck bomb could not have caused such extensive damage. One of those who has championed the second bomb theory is retired Air Force Gen. Benton K. Partin.Partin said he told the grand jury there was no way the federal building could have been damaged so extensively by a single truck bomb. He said his analysis of photographs of the blasted building led him to believe that additional charges had to have been planted inside the building to knock down load-bearing concrete and steel pillars.But Dr. Charles J. Mankin, director of the Oklahoma Geological Survey, testified there is no seismographic evidence of a second bomb.Seismographs at the Geological Survey in Norman and at the Ominplex museum complex in Oklahoma City clearly recorded explosion. But the seismograph in Norman also recorded a second event, just seconds after the first. That has led many to believe that another bomb or bombs had been planted inside the building.Mankin, in remarks to reporters after his testimony, pointed out that the two readings are identical. If they were recording separate bomb blasts, the readings would be different, Mankin said."We are not in a position to rule out" a second bomb, but "our data will not support a two-bomb theory," Mankin said.Some scientists have speculated that the second reading was caused by the shock wave traveling at a different speed through the ground than the first shock wave.Raymond Brown, a scientist at the Oklahoma Geological Survey who also testified, said seismic readings did not indicate whether there was more than one bomb.Bill Johnson, who covered the Martin Luther King assassination for the Associated Press, has covered the Oklahoma City bombing since the day it occurred.