Others Unknown

“Wind out of Oklahoma this morning Smelled like blood and smoke And the crows discussed their future In the branches of their Louisiana live oak” —the Mountain Goats, “Pink and Blue”, 2002

At 9:02am on April 19th, 1995, jihad came to the American heartland: an improvised truck bomb ripped through the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168—including 15 children in the building’s daycare—in what remains America’s deadliest act of domestic terrorism. As firefighters and other heroes ventured into the wreckage, a scene described as “hell on earth”, to save as many people as they could from the rubble, the city’s cable news stations scrambled to begin broadcasting about the bombing—and its rumored Middle Eastern connection. Reports soon trickled in that three Middle Eastern-seeming men had been seen speeding away from the building in a brown Chevy pickup truck (Oklahoma City had a sizable Islamic population); Iranian radicals had issued a fatwa on buildings under the protection of the U.S. Marshals Service, such as the Murrah building’s neighboring federal courthouse, weeks earlier (and it was noted that the type of bomb used on the Murrah resembled that of the Iranian-backed AMIA bombing in Argentina the year prior); a local Jordanian man, said to resemble an eyewitness report of the Chevy’s passengers, was even detained by officials for questioning. It seemed obvious.

And it was untrue.

When Texan FBI agent Danny Coulson heard about the bombing, he immediately hopped in his car and sped, through a rainstorm, from his office in Dallas to Oklahoma. As journalists Andrew Gumbel and Roger Charles wrote of Coulson’s long drive in their book Oklahoma City: What the Investigation Missed—and Why It Still Matters[^1], citing his memoir:

On his way, he received a phone call from Rita Braver, a correspondent with CBS.

“Everybody in Washington is saying it’s Middle Eastern,” she said. “Do you think that’s right?”

“No it’s not. It’s a Bubba job.”

“It looks like all the other truck bombings coming out of the Middle East,” Braver persisted.

“It’s Bubbas,” Coulson said. “It’s April 19.”

Coulson was right. The Murrah building had not, as was assumed, been struck by Middle Eastern terrorists, but by members of America’s homegrown militia movement—Bubbas. The FBI quickly landed upon a culprit: a young, lanky Gulf War veteran named Timothy James McVeigh had, just four days shy of his 27th birthday, struck the Murrah building as revenge for the federal government’s disastrous handling of its siege on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, which had, with its fiery end that killed 76 Branch Davidians—including 46 children—grown into a rallying cry for the militia movement. April 19th, 1995 was the fire’s second anniversary.

Aside from a handful of army buddies—bit players who had somewhat reluctantly assisted McVeigh thanks to a combination of charisma and coercion—the government insisted that he had executed the plot alone. In a fortuitous twist of fate, the desire of the authorities—humbled by a barrage of embarrassments in its handling of the radical right—to focus on McVeigh and McVeigh alone was surpassed only by McVeigh’s megalomaniacal desire to be recognized as the sole culprit. Alongside reports of the mysterious Muslims in the brown Chevy pickup, countless other eyewitness testimonies which placed McVeigh alongside a stocky, olive-skinned man—who, from the initial manhunt, earned the nom de guerre “John Doe Two”—were quickly dismissed, with none of the countless officials and civilians who doubted the official narrative finding themselves in a position to challenge it.

Except for Stephen Jones.

Jones, McVeigh’s lawyer, was a flamboyant Southern gentleman known for his defenses of controversial clients—the two despised each other. Refusing McVeigh’s demand to make a necessity defense in court, Jones became obsessed with the prospect that “others unknown”, as the indictment called them, had orchestrated the bombing and set up McVeigh to be their fall guy. Suspecting either broader members of the militia movement or those phantom Middle Easterners—probably both, in some perverse show of extremist unity—the Jones team quickly amassed a confederacy of citizen and professional journalists, Oklahoma residents, inveterate conspiracists and freelance investigators, all united by the common goal of proving that the bombing was anybody’s fault but McVeigh’s.

Some of Jones’s hunches were good: for instance, he tried (and failed) to get testimony from one of those bugaboos of his investigative alliance, a debutante-turned-ATF informant with a penchant for taking suggestive photos featuring swastikas who had been pulled out of an extremist compound with alleged ties to the bombing in the weeks prior thanks to the government’s desire to avoid another Waco siege. Most of his ideas were worse: in one episode, he used defense funds to travel to the Philippines, hoping to track down a connection to Ramzi Yousef, the al-Qaeda terrorist behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, based on the fact that one of McVeigh’s bumbling army sidekicks had a Filipino mail-order bride.

Jones’s unusual tactics largely failed to net results. Prior to McVeigh’s trial, in an elaborate attempt to strongarm the government into handing over any information it had on various members of the militia movement who had been connected to the bombing by his team, Jones released a lengthy brief pinning it on Middle Eastern agents (likely working for the government of Iraq) who had given the bomb to the militia movement to detonate. Strangely, his gambit failed. McVeigh, who railed against his lawyer as a bumbling, attention-seeking fraud, was eventually sentenced to death, a verdict to which Jones responded by formally informing the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals that he considered his client to have “raised the definition of the term ‘ingratitude’ to new meanings”, before resigning as his counsel.

Jones would eventually publish his theories in a book, Others Unknown: The Oklahoma City Bombing Case and Conspiracy, to which McVeigh retaliated by giving a book-length interview to two journalists from his hometown of Buffalo, New York, which was released as American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing, in which he largely reiterated his sole guilt and general brilliance.

While Jones’s efforts helped to spawn a paranoid subculture which even today attempts to pin the bombing on the broader militia movement, or the dropped jihadi lead, or the obligatory suspicion of the federal government, alongside even more fringe theories, which blame a Communist plot or Mexican drug lords or claim that the Murrah had been hit by a secret nuclear warhead (these went too far, even for Jones)[^2], government officials largely dismissed any questioning of their conclusions, even from within the FBI and prosecution team. Jones’s inveterate habit of hogging the media spotlight and ramshackle, leak-prone team made it easy for the government to dismiss any objections to their account of the bombing: throughout the trial, in a clear snipe against his opponent, McVeigh’s chief prosecutor, whose door proudly bore a sign reading “DON’T BURY THE CASE IN THE EVIDENCE”, would ridicule “wacky theories” to the media.

It was, again, a fortuitous convergence of fate. Refusing further appeals, McVeigh went to his death in 2001, unrepentant. For his final words, he left the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley—ending with the lines “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul”—and the suspicions of Jones and his ilk were forever consigned to the dustbin of conspiracy theory.

Image: Timothy McVeigh and lawyers Jones (right), McVeigh (center), and Rob Nigh, McVeigh’s #2 (eventually #1) lawyer and Jones’s contrastingly competent sidekick (left). Photo excerpted from NBC News.

In “Excursus III: Occult, the State’s Macropolitics, and Political Pollution” from his book Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials—a “theory-fiction” bricolage of essays orbiting but never solidifying around a central motif of sentient oil puppeteering humanity before and during the War on Terror in service of its own arcane, apocalyptic ends—Iranian philosopher Reza Negarestani describes conspiracy and occult theories as “offbeat signal”, distracting noise which pollutes the channels through which the state transfers political information. For Negarestani, while such strategies can be leveraged by the state for its own ends, they will always in turn co-contaminate and erode so-called “real politics”, a contamination “which can never be undone, even by overthrowing the State’s regime”.

Some American readers of Cyclonopedia end up using Negarestani’s account of a Lovecraftian conspiracy of sentient oil as a metaphor by which to express what they see as the real conspiracy, which turns out to be fairly benign paranoia about the plotting CIA and oil companies, domesticating his writing as a result. Negarestani, who begins “Excursus III” by discussing Iranian historian Esmail Raeen’s writings on freemasonry in the country, is westernized: instead of viewing Cyclonopedia in its Iranian context, such readers ignore “Excursus III”, reducing the stylistic choice of conspiratorial writing to a vulgarized mode of resistance against encroaching state hegemony and imposed “truth”.

Negarestani and Raeen, however, write specifically about conspiracy in its Iranian form—what Iranian historian Ervand Abrahamian calls the nation’s “paranoid style”—manifesting as a universal fixation with the sabotage of strange, foreign puppet-masters, from Raeen’s freemasons to Jews, or Baháʼís, or western intelligence agencies. Abrahamian writes:

Although the paranoid style can be found in many parts of the world, it is much more prevalent in modern Iran than in most Western societies. In the West, fears of plots, both real and imaginary, emerge in times of acute insecurity — during wars, revolutions, or economic crises. In Iran, they have been pervasive throughout the last half century. In the West, they tend to be confined to fringe groups, causing more ridicule than concern in the mainstream. In Iran, however, the paranoid style permeates society, the mainstream as much as the fringe, and cuts through all sectors of the political spectrum — royalists, nationalists, Communists, and, of course, Khomeinists. What stirs ridicule in Iran is not the style itself but the rival reading of the grand “conspiracy.” One man's particular interpretation becomes for others not ridiculous but a deliberately misleading misinterpretation.

It’s this Iranian trend of conspiracy as omnipresent, a xenophobic, paranoid political weapon that frames Negarestani’s definition of it as a strategy which, in its retooling for political ends, autonomously “gunks up” the channels of proper politics regardless of the identities of the ruling class[^3]. Such conspiracism, less a project of uncovering truth than one of creating it, haunts acts of terrorism like Oklahoma City: for instance, the Iranian government has blamed, at different times, at least five separate and opposed parties for the 1981 Haft-e Tir bombing on its party headquarters.

Why, then, is Negarestani’s discussion of conspiracy theory relevant at all, if it’s so localized to his geographic and cultural milieu? What recent event, what conspiracy in America can even be said to represent a pseudo-Iranian xenophobia targeted at foreign agents, a strategy weaponized by the state which erodes the channels of its politics?

Here we return to Oklahoma City.

Photo excerpted from Twitter.

In 2002, Robert James Woolsey Jr., Former Director of Central Intelligence, had a problem: Iraq.

In the propaganda blitz that preceded our 2003 invasion of the Middle Eastern state, officials such as Woolsey worked overtime to find a way to rile up Americans for war, eventually falling back on that same strategy Negarestani describes: conspiracy. It’s these conspiracies which seem to better fit his definition of tools which plot against the state even in its deployment of them—hasn’t the canard that “Weapons of Mass Destruction were never found in Iraq” exceeded even the original claim that Iraq did possess WMDs in its cultural staying power? An example: a while ago, an Iranian kid I’m acquainted with—a high schooler, mind you—started posting to his public Instagram story conspiratorial reels about how, if WMDs were never found in Iraq, the objective of the war must have been instead to sow division between Christian and Islamic fundamentalists, who, the reels claimed, are natural brothers against the decadence of the nebulous “elites”.

What this discourse forgets, however, is that claims of WMDs weren’t the only conspiracy which the government attempted to weaponize in the leadup to Iraq. Unlike the WMDs, these other conspiracies sabotage the state not by virtue of their being proven untrue, but the very mode of discourse they encourage. In introducing an aura of conspiracy to discourse surrounding the war at all, the Bush administration dug its own grave in the court of (often fringe) public opinion: the premier example here is Oklahoma City.

Despite Jones’s failures, the Middle Eastern theory of the bombing lived a good (after)life as a conspiracy, eventually finding new blood in the form of one Jayna Davis—one of those very cable news reporters who, on the frontlines of the Murrah in the immediate wake of the bombing, had blamed the perfidious Arabs with alacrity[^4]. Davis’s 2004 book—the final manifestation of years of theorizing—The Third Terrorist: The Middle East Connection to the Oklahoma City Bombing, begins with a dedication praying for the “Lord’s divine protection” over the nation’s troops before setting the mood with its Forward, written by David P. Schippers—chief investigative counsel in Bill Clinton’s impeachment—which describes Davis as a “young and beautiful investigative reporter” daring to challenge orthodoxy in tracking down the “sleazy haunts”, as the dust jacket calls them, of the Islamist conspiracy behind the bombing.

Building on the initial report of the brown Chevy pickup, alongside a handful of witnesses who claimed that John Doe Two was a bit on the swarthier side, Davis’s detective story has her intrepidly stumble through Oklahoma City’s Islamic community until landing on an Iraqi contractor, who, in spite of what she called his “buffoonish, protruding curly hair”, she became convinced was John Doe Two. Her suspect in hand, Davis “paraded his picture around town for months and found a clutch of eyewitnesses willing to say they had seen him with McVeigh”. The Middle Eastern theory had found new life: Davis eventually pinned the bombing on a Hamas and/or PLO-supervised cell of Iraqi Gulf War veterans with ties to al-Qaeda who, after being snuck into the nation via a secret government program, committed the bombing under the auspices of the Iranian government.

Strangely, her theories are yet to catch on.

Initially, Davis’s theories received little attention outside of “fringe internet chat rooms” and laudatory Fox News features, but they eventually found recognition as the looming Iraq war created a demand for anti-Iraqi agitprop. Woolsey would spotlight Davis’s reporting in a 2002 Wall Street Journal article alongside that of Laurie Mylroie, a former Jones team consultant whose attempt at pinning the 1993 World Trade Center bombing on Saddam had been, at the time, thoroughly “debunked by most experts along with the Pentagon, CIA and Senate Intelligence Committee”[^5]. Undeterred by “facts”, in his column, Woolsey saluted these “brave women”, praising Davis for “shift[ing] the burden of proof to those who would still contend that McVeigh and [Terry] Nichols [McVeigh’s primary army sidekick] executed the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing without the support of a group or groups from the Middle East”.

Like the Nayirah testimony which had led McVeigh himself—alongside Davis’s phantom bombing cell—into war in Iraq ten years earlier, once again, the government’s deployment of conspiracy paid off: Davis’s theories succeeded in justifying the very war whose soldiers she opens The Third Terrorist by praying for. In being so nakedly xenophobic, so obviously in service of politically ends, so blatantly absurd, the frenzied attempt to blame McVeigh’s brutality on Middle Eastern powers becomes cousin to the tropes those very Middle Eastern powers leverage against America. Just as how America’s interventions in the Middle East grow exponentially more brutal than the Islamist attacks they retaliate against, in gazing into the face of the Islamist Other, we become our worst stereotype of it. We become jihadis.

But just as Negarestani writes, this kind of deployment of conspiracy is always a double-edged sword. A state propagating conspiracism about acts of terror does not inoculate it against allegations of culpability, or even just a search for truth which may contradict its narrative, but the opposite—consider how some pin the aforementioned Haft-e Tir bombing on members of the same Islamic government which used it as a pretext for waves of executions, or how so many blame Bush for 9/11 given his government’s own finger-pointing about the event, turning that very finger-pointing into his motive.

After all, while Davis’s allegations are spurious, the dust jacket of her book notes that “[a] CNN/USA Today poll revealed that 68 percent of Americans believed other bombing conspirators were still out there, somewhere”. To be able to pursue her Islamic enemies, Davis must first go through the stories of John Doe Two and the brown Chevy pickup, stories which lead, in most conspiracist accounts, not to Middle Eastern powers, but some conspiracy of the militia movement and/or federal government—accounts of the bombing which pose the state infinitely less value. When California Representative Dana Rohrabacher took a break from having arm-wrestling competitions with Putin and dressing in drag to trick RFK’s assassin into giving him information about nonexistent Islamist jihad plots to call for a congressional probe into the bombing’s Middle Eastern connection, he also called for further scrutiny into a favorite topic of the other conspiracist camps—a gangly, mysterious German national, who, after spending some time taking side-quests in his homeland’s military intelligence service and Israeli kibbutzim, moved to Oklahoma and decided to become a militant Nazi revolutionary. Any claim that Oklahoma City was the result of a conspiracy necessarily raises questions about if the government could have stopped the bombing before the fact, about what stopped it from doing so, and about why it didn’t pursue co-conspirators after.

Even in Davis’s casting, the government come across as bumbling and incompetent. To most of her conspiracist ilk, they did it.

Photo Excerpted from the Dallas Morning News.

What, then, are we to make of the Oklahoma City bombing, if the opportunity to conclusively say what happened beyond the clean-cut narrative of American Terrorist and McVeigh’s prosecution—that a bad man did it alone and paid—was squandered by an incompetent lawyer and a federal government happy to let him waste time chasing after ghosts? All that we’re left with is a web of murky, dubious connections, all centering around a single, enigmatic figure: Timothy James McVeigh.

“The Meaning of Timothy McVeigh”, as writer Gore Vidal—a correspondent of the murderer and inveterate conspiracist in his own right, who once said that the only reason he didn’t believe Bush orchestrated 9/11 is that he didn’t find the President competent enough[^6]—put it, eludes accounts of his crime. McVeigh has alternately been read as a freedom fighter and a mentally ill glory hound, a brilliant operator and an overzealous amateur who got lucky, a puppet of conspiracies domestic and abroad and, for the most paranoid, a government agent himself. Vidal, for his part, did believe that McVeigh’s primary motive was avenging Waco, but, perhaps finding this conclusion unsatisfying, believed the bombing was the work of some broader conspiracy—perhaps Middle Eastern, but more likely far-right and government in origin—with McVeigh electing to take the fall to die a martyr.

Something, in all the revisionist accounts of the bombing, comes across as unsatisfying about the Waco motive, driving the proponents of such accounts to search for some alternate explanation—why, of all those radicalized by the siege, did McVeigh end up both committing the bombing and fighting tooth and nail to inherit all of its dubious glory? Jones himself eventually concluded that while Waco might have been a motive for McVeigh—it was April 19th, after all—it wasn’t even the main reason for the choice of date: the conspiracy surrounding him, Jones argued, was aiming to avenge the execution of a far-right hero which, coincidentally, fell on the same day.

Despite his rejection of the Middle Eastern connection, Andrew Gumbel—one of the authors of Oklahoma City—once again found the meaning of McVeigh in the Middle East[^7]. In Gumbel’s account, McVeigh begins eerily mirroring Negarestani’s avatar of the Gulf War in Cyclonopedia, Colonel Jackson West of Special Forces, who, after his failure to enact the tactics of jungle warfare on the Middle Eastern desert, in a process Negarestani calls NAM-ification[^8], deserts the American military and becomes a renegade, proclaiming that his “enmity with Islamists has been exacerbated into a raging enlightenment”.

West ends up finding this enlightenment in destruction: as a character, he serves as a pastiche of Special Forces Colonel Walter E. Kurtz from Francis Ford Coppola’s classic Apocalypse Now—a renegade American officer and philosopher of war declared insane by his government after “going native”, convinced that his superiors failed to understand the brutal laws of the terrain on which he fought (of course, Apocalypse Now is itself a Vietnam War adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, in which Kurtz is a mad ivory trader in the Belgian Congo). West’s own Kurtzian philosophizing is encapsulated in a primer on what he calls “Urbanized Warfare”, the transformation of the urban center into the desert, in which he claims that “Jihadis and western soldiers lend a hand to each other from opposite sides to flatten the city”. For West, he and the Islamic Other fight on the same side: that of war itself, which must endlessly consume warmachines as it accelerates towards complete desertification. This apocalypse, for Negarestani, is the end towards which oil puppets us—its freedom.

It’s in this sense that the Gulf War was a failure: Vietnam, even if we lost, allowed for the American warmachine to continue accelerating—continue, in symbiosis with the jungle, producing—but the desert, in providing no cover, lays bare the destructive alliance between the Middle East and the west so that war may eat them both. Just as the war’s justifications plot against the state, so too does the actual war itself. Of course, just like those justifications, in Cyclonopedia West’s pamphlet is integrated as a strategic weapon, edited down and domesticated into a tactical guide for American forces. After his defection, attempts are made to “smear” him for “attempts to contact Islamists inside and outside of Iraq”.

Just like West, it’s said that, before turning on America, Timothy McVeigh was a model soldier—that is, he was a war criminal. Serving as the gunner of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle on the infamous “highway of death” in the final and bloodiest phase of the Gulf War—the 1991 ground war, during which the exhausted Iraqi conscripts, engaged in a chaotic retreat, were buried alive in their trenches en masse—McVeigh and his platoon were told to expect 70% casualties. If the Iraqis managed to escape their trenches, they would face Bradleys like McVeigh’s, who delighted in killing soldiers as they attempted to surrender. Scenes of brutality became the norm. Broken vehicles dotted the roads, often still containing the remains of their operators. Interviewed for Oklahoma City, members of McVeigh’s unit vividly recounted scenes of death which, as Gumbel and Charles write, “[e]ven battle-hardened veterans of Vietnam” found horrifying. They were “high on killing”.

And it broke McVeigh.

After returning to the states, struggling with what was later identified as post-combat depression, he became a purveyor of that same rhetoric as Colonel West, or my Iranian acquaintance—Iraqis, he would later proclaim to a journalist, as if it was a revelation, are “normal like you and me”. He quickly became convinced that the government had duped him into killing innocents on behalf of a war it had no right to be involved with in the first place. Having discovered white supremacist literature from his earliest days in the army, he became convinced that “the United States’ true enemy was an international cabal of money-grubbing liberals, multiculturalists, and Jews intent on stripping citizens of their basic rights, starting with the right to bear arms”[^9]. When Bill Clinton became the first President to genuinely attempt some form of gun control, he was incensed. Stuck in a dead-end minimum wage job after leaving the army, he had nothing better to do but stew in hatred and the traumas he’d been given—he soon joined the Ku Klux Klan.

In one of his monologues in Apocalypse Now, Colonel Kurtz recounts the trauma of, having vaccinated a group of Vietnamese children, returning to the area only to find a pile of limbs—Viet Cong militants had severed the inoculated arms to send a brutal message. Just as Kurtz “went native” at the deaths of children, so too did McVeigh: watching Infantry Fighting Vehicles like the Bradley he’d piloted in Kuwait surrounding the Branch Davidian Compound at Waco, McVeigh became obsessed with the siege, and, after its fiery end, the children who lost their lives. In Oklahoma City, Gumbel and Charles argue that, having been given an explicit assignment by the radical right to either strike the Murrah at night or instead park the bomb at the neighboring federal courthouse, McVeigh, obsessed with avenging the children at Waco and convinced the Murrah served as a headquarters for the “New World Order” which had murdered them, purposefully parked his truck-bomb underneath the federal daycare.

Only once read through a Middle Eastern lens does the Waco motive begin to make more sense: McVeigh can only be understood through the Middle East, even if the belief that he was a jihadi is nonsensical, for the Middle East sculpted him into what he became—a soldier, like West, fighting on the side of war itself. One of the initial events which radicalized him, after all, was Clinton’s threat to strip weapons of war from American citizens. It’s this view of McVeigh which explains his unrepentant death—reviled as a “baby killer”, he would joke to lesser-known fellow inmate Ted Kaczynski that in Iraq he received medals for killing people. McVeigh, as a soldier, can himself be understood as one of Negarestani’s “strategic weapons”: the soldier is mobilized for the state’s own ends, but, in his deployment—being trained to kill—his eventual turning on the state becomes inevitable because, as West argues, his loyalties definitionally lie elsewhere. Just as the Gulf War lays bare the process of desertification which the American warmachine is embroiled in, McVeigh—as a soldier of that war—makes apparent the sheer extent to which all warmaking is implicated in it. Even his bombing can be read as him bringing the war home—attempting, however unsuccessfully, to “desertify” the heartland. To again quote Oklahoma City, on an encounter McVeigh had with his company’s supply sergeant right before leaving the military for good:

Rockwell [the Sergeant] asked why he would throw away his promising military career and the recognition he had earned. McVeigh delivered a line Rockwell later recalled with a shiver. “There’s things I got to do, Sergeant Rock,” he said, “and I cannot do it from within here.”

In some sense, then, McVeigh serves as an even sharper avatar for the War on Terror as a whole than the unsubtly-named Colonel West. Given the seeming incoherence of American justifications for war abroad, coupled with the tendency of the government’s various strategic tools to betray it, engaging in war becomes, to an outside observer, deeply irrational. To go to war is so inexplicable that spectators expecting rational justifications (my Iranian acquaintance, and even McVeigh himself come to mind here) can only understand it via some shadowy, all-consuming conspiracy in the same way that conspiracy theorists about McVeigh’s bombing can only understand it through the involvement of others.

It’s that same irrationality which Negarestani rhetorically explains with his uniquely Middle Eastern reading—that of oil as the puppet master, with all wars fought by dupes on behalf of a sentient process of destruction—and it’s how that same lens, a Middle Eastern one, can shine light on McVeigh’s crime. Such an occult explanation is even one which, in the vulgar sense, McVeigh himself seemed to subscribe to as an explanation for his own behavior, which is why he serves as an even clearer analogue for the War on Terror than West. After all, his final conversation with Sergeant Rockwell had begun with McVeigh, seemingly unable to comprehend what he had done in Iraq, explaining his belief that the government had anally injected him with a computerized microchip to brainwash him into killing.

Coppola’s Kurtz and his literary predecessor showed that the so-called “savagery” of the Other—Congolese tribes; the Viet Cong—was present in western hearts as well, and West furthered Negarestani’s argument that every warrior in the Middle East fights, ultimately, on the same side, but all of them remained, at the end of the day, where they learned that lesson—their message was unable to return to their homelands. McVeigh, in his “going native”—or, more specifically, going Islamic—laid bare, to America, the savagery at its heart by bringing that savagery home. From this perspective, of course after honoring troops fighting in a mirroring Iraq war, Davis went on to try and convince herself that McVeigh was a jihadi all along.

Perhaps, then, I’ve been too hard on McVeigh’s official biographers in their attempt to cast him as a uniquely American terrorist.

But maybe—given the enthusiasm of Jones, West, my Iranian acquaintance, and even McVeigh himself to draw a linkage between Bubbas and jihadis—I’ve been too hard on the Middle Eastern truthers, too. Maybe there is, beyond just “American”, a unique term for what came to the American heartland at 9:02am on April 19th, 1995: a terrorist bombing against America, inspired by its invasions of Islamic states, inextricably linked with a uniquely Middle Eastern brand of paranoia, and inexplicable to Americans as a result.

Welcome back, jihad.

[1] Credit where credit is due: unless otherwise cited, Oklahoma City is my primary source on the bombing, and just generally a fantastic book and example of investigative journalism.

[2] I come across as pretty negative about conspiracy theories in this article, and I largely am, but I do think that Oklahoma City lays out a compelling case that other members of the radical right were involved in the bombing, and that intelligence failures allowed them to both commit it and effectively walk free. Here I focus largely on the accounts of the bombing I find less believable (the Middle Eastern connection; an inside job; American Terrorist).

[3] Iran gives us countless examples of this: for instance, in The Coup: 1953, The CIA, and The Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations, his history of the overthrow of Iran’s populist Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, Abrahamian writes about how, in the leadup to the coup, its plotters began accusing Hossein Fatemi, Mossadegh’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, of being “a homosexual, a convert to Christianity and Baha’ism, [who] had been expelled from a missionary school for stealing money”. Fatemi was one of only two major figures in Mossadegh’s coalition government who was executed following the coup.

Continuing this trend, in the 1979 revolution, one of the most common charges against the overthrown Shah, whose power was consolidated with Mossadegh’s displacement, was that he was a British agent, a homosexual, and a puppet of freemasons. Nowadays, its diasporic opponents often accuse the Islamist government which succeeded the Shah of being brought to power by a conspiracy of the Iranian military acting under the orders of Jimmy Carter.

[4] My source for the Middle Eastern conspiracy’s life comes from Oklahoma City’s “Expanded Edition”—a digital version of the book that contains cut sections and supplementary photographic/video material—which isn’t sold by HarperCollins anymore.

[5] Lest someone take issue to my lumping in of the Iraq WMD reporting with the other conspiracies—or even my referring to it as a conspiracy theory at all—Judith Miller, The New York Times reporter who would become the primary proponent of the WMDs theory, had previously co-written a book with Mylroie on Saddam.

[6] Vidal’s hatred for Bush serves as an amusing mirror to another curio surrounding the bombing: in an attempt to convince Andrew Gumbel—one of Oklahoma City’s authors—that he wasn’t involved in the bombing, Dave Holloway, a flamboyant white supremacist lawyer, said that “The guys weren’t exactly the brightest bulbs on the tree. . . . If they had had any kind of guidance—if I’d been doing it—there would have been nothing left of the building”.

Of course, Vidal still believed that Bush had foreknowledge of 9/11 and allowed it to happen. The jury’s still out on whether the same is true of Holloway—who had fielded a ranting phone call about Waco from McVeigh the day before the bombing—regarding Oklahoma City.

[7] Gumbel’s personal reading of McVeigh is also from the Expanded Edition.

[8] Negarestani highlights Vietnam in an extension of his obsession with oil—napalm is a petrochemical, after all—and, if nothing else, the Gulf War represented NAM-ification driven into overkill: oil fires, armory bombings releasing clouds of Iraqi nerve agents into the air, depleted uranium weapons and chemical pesticides.

[9] McVeigh, as with most far-right militants, was an obsessive conspiracist himself, a connection I probably don’t fully probe the explanatory possibilities of in my general attempt to not belabor every last point of correspondence between Oklahoma City and Cyclonopedia.