On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh parked a Ryder truck outside Oklahoma City's Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
Moments later the truck, packed with a five-ton fertilizer bomb, exploded and decimated the building resulting in the deaths of 168 people, including 19 children, and injuries to 675 others.
It was easy at the time to dismiss McVeigh as an exception of sorts, a former soldier who'd grown disillusioned with what he perceived as a bullying United States, a perception that was exacerbated following the Waco siege, which McVeigh had visited, and the passage of the Brady Bill, a bill perceived by McVeigh to be a sign of the government's intended taking away of guns and gun rights.
Oklahoma City, a riveting documentary by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Barak Goodman, digs a little deeper and reveals the intense far-right influences that helped develop McVeigh into a man capable of such intense destruction and taking of human lives. Goodman makes the connection between McVeigh's actions, the birth of the Aryan Nation in Idaho, Ruby Ridge, Waco, and other events that supported the beliefs by a small yet growing group of people on the far right that the government had declared war on guns, Christianity, and, in essence, the American people.
McVeigh, while still largely believed to have pulled off the Murrah bombing largely alone (with modest help from Army buddies James Nichols and Michael Fortier; Nichols was sentenced to life in prison while Fortier, who testified against the other two, received twelve years), may have acted alone but was far from alone in the beliefs he held. As is now widely known, these beliefs are rising to the surface of American religion and, indeed, American politics.
Oklahoma City covers facts from the basics - the bombing occurred on April 19th, the same date of the Waco siege and McVeigh intentionally went after a large target believing he wouldn't sufficiently get the government's attention by destroying a building. He had to destroy lives. A little over six years after the bombing, McVeigh was executed by lethal injection.
Oklahoma City is never less than riveting, though Goodman covers quite a bit of material, though this approach occasionally mutes the film's impact. At one point, Oklahoma City spends so much time focused on the Waco siege that I found myself actually forgetting I was watching a film about Oklahoma City.
That's a problem.
Oklahoma City is at its most riveting early on, an audio recording of the city's Water Resources Board meeting capturing the moment the explosion occurred and seguing into archival footage that remains heartbreaking over twenty years later. The film is also remarkably effective in developing the timeline of McVeigh's life from an anti-bullying young man in upstate New York through his Army years, initially successful until McVeigh's growing discontent in the first Gulf War and failure to make the Army Rangers, and into his increasing obsession with guns and the gun shows where he began encountering various figures within the far right movement.
In a world now where any terrorist act is immediately suspected to be the work of ISIS or the Mideast, as was the Murrah Building bombing, Oklahoma City is a reminder that as much as we worry about the perceived enemies from across the ocean it's the enemies who may very well live next door that may be our biggest threat of all.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic