It was a clear blue day and I cut a religious studies class and went to drop off my laundry in the basement of the old stone building. A couple of workmen were down there, fixing the steam pipes or some such, and I overheard one of them tell the other that a bomb had gone off in Oklahoma City. I unshouldered my laundry bag and asked if I’d heard them correctly. Yeah, sixty or eighty people dead. Who do they think did it? They think it was terrorists.
I kinda chuckled. “There aren’t any terrorists in Oklahoma,” I told them. There were, I know now; Steven Emerson discovered some of them on Christmas in 1992 just a couple of miles away at the OKC fairgrounds.
Oklahoma is a close-knit state; everyone knows someone who knows everyone else. I was incredibly lucky that I didn’t lose any friends or family that day. A friend, a great philanthropist who worked tirelessly to improve the state’s schools, was talking on the phone in the old Journal-Record building across the street. She was facing her plate glass window when the shock wave hit and the flying glass slashed her throat. She was bleeding to death, but her secretary found her and carried her down to the ambulances just in time. The last time I saw her she still spoke in a whisper, but she still spoke.
The daughter of an old deer hunting buddy of mine was going down a staircase inside the Murrah building when the blast threw her down the stairs. According to the second-hand account I heard, she woke up, and walked out of the wreckage. Her officemates never did.
There are terrorists in Oklahoma. They murdered 168 good people ten years ago today. And they disrupted the innocence of a fine old town that had nothing to do with the twisted politics of the terrorists. Oklahoma City and those people’s lives were nothing but stage dressing in their ugly little fantasy ideology. OKC wasn’t even my hometown, nor a favorite city–just a place I had lived near and come to recognize as an outpost of decency and civilization, of faith and honesty and hard work. It was the sort of sprawling all-American flyover town my classmates out on the East Coast didn’t have much regard for, but for which I was desperately homesick. The condescension was palpable, and it culminated in a question by Connie Chung that (along with some other gaffes) cost the anchor her job:
“Can you people in Oklahoma handle something this big and disastrous?”
Well we did, Connie. We handled it. Thanks for your concern.
I wish I was alone here. I wish this was just an Oklahoma thing and nobody else really understood the insult and the grief this kind of attack leaves on your psyche. But I’m afraid you all do understand now, after another fine clear morning in 2001, when we were all New Yorkers. That old scar for us Okies was torn anew, and it’s still raw and aching.
I don’t know if we have them all. I like to think we do. For a long time I dismissed the voices that said we didn’t have the full story as nuts and cranks and tinfoil-hat conspiracists. Most of them are, but since then I’ve talked to some people who aren’t nuts who think there’s more to it. I’m certain the two goblins (three if you count Michael Fortier) we’ve caught were the right ones. But I’m keeping an open mind about whether they had help.
A couple of weeks ago, for some reason, the Feds searched a crawlspace under Terry Nichols’ old home and found detonators. The case is still being investigated. It’s possible there is still more evidence waiting to be discovered about what went on that day. And if new culprits emerge, at home or abroad, there will be a thorough reckoning with them.
We’ve not forgotten. There are terrorists in Oklahoma and across the US and around the world, terrorists who want to turn our cities into giant slumped puddles of concrete and steel, with our sons and daughters and our deer-hunting buddies buried and bleeding within them. Evil stalks the world like a roaring lion, seeking whom it may devour. My patience for those who pretend otherwise ran out long ago.