A Noble Film

Engage in water cooler conversation over the subject of terrorism and almost invariably the Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building bombing and Timothy McVeigh will be proffered as vivid examples of what can happen when right wing extremism mixes with dangerous conspiratorial thought. Their relatedness to the ongoing “war on terror” will likely be an afterthought.

A fashioned recollection of the Oklahoma City bombing exemplifies the corporate-government-media complex’s domination over how an event can be carefully cast in public consciousness and memory. Such strategic conditioning at the time performed the significant function of driving home the notion of seemingly ubiquitous terrorism and the patriot or constitutionalist movement’s purportedly dangerous admixture of deviant thought and action.

Yet Oklahoma City was also a key precursor to the present American police state, hastening development of the Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of 1995 that set the legislative stage for the US PATRIOT Act. As Joseph Biden put it, “I drafted a terrorism bill after the Oklahoma City bombing. And the bill John Ashcroft sent up was my bill.” The event also handily did away with important evidence stored at the Murrah Federal Building on investigations into then-President Bill Clinton’s past deeds as Arkansas governor.

A Noble Lie: Oklahoma City 1995 is an important film chronicling the Oklahoma City incident released in December 2011 and directed and produced by Oklahoma City residents James Lane, Chris Emery, and Holland Vandennieuwenhof. Running two hours, the documentary provides a crucial overview and analysis of the significant events surrounding the fateful day.

The noteworthy film skillfully arrays television news footage of the bombing and interviews with key officials and survivors. A compelling argument emerges that far more took place on April 19th than what Timothy McVeigh could have possibly carried out alone. For example, witnesses claim McVeigh was seen with accomplices, and experts maintain the truck bomb McVeigh famously detonated could never have created the degree of devastation sustained by the Murrah building.

Rather, the US veteran was a central figure in “a noble lie”–one put forth by elites, as Plato describes in The Republic, to keep the masses docile and contented with their lot in life.

One of the especially fascinating observations of the film for this writer involves the role played by the news media in propagating the dominant account—a narrative of events consistent with a broader project of message creation and propaganda intended to bring about a certain public anxiety and thereby acceptance of incrementally heightened policing and control.

For roughly the first 24 hours following the bombing Oklahoma City journalists accurately reported on the event and asked necessary questions of witnesses and authorities. For example, reports indicated how undetonated bombs were removed from the building following the initial explosion. Yet when federal authorities arrived the media’s investigatory efforts were consciously altered to conform with a predetermined narrative of McVeigh as central culprit. One outlet proving  the exception to the rule, KFOR Television, was subsequently bought by the New York Times Company’s broadcasting arm that proceeded to fire the program director and squelch further inquiry into the incident.

Another of A Noble Lie’s many thoughtful facets is the valuable account of citizens’ actions to find the truth following the insufficient federally administered trials of McVeigh and alleged accomplice Terry Nichols. Oklahoma State Representative Charles Key headed up the independent Oklahoma Bombing Investigation Committee. “If you don’t ask questions and hold government accountable,” Key observes, “then things like this will happen again and again and get worse as time goes on.” The Committee’s detailed findings were released three weeks before September 11th, 2001.

Further developing their case, the filmmakers point to the existence of the PATCON operation—short for Patriot Conspiracy—initiated in the early 1990s where government agents sought to design or infiltrate purportedly right wing anti-government groups and implicate them in terrorist acts. Along these lines redacted government documents reveal how the Southern Poverty Law Center—an informal intelligence gathering arm of US lettered agencies—and the FBI had successfully infiltrated one such community, Elohim City, in an attempt to incriminate McVeigh and the broader Patriot movement through their associations with the group. PATCON brings to mind the ways in which the FBI today seeks to cultivate and all but entrap otherwise hapless individuals in potentially violent “terrorist” acts.

More obvious unresolved questions and government obstruction concerning the Oklahoma City bombing include the failure to produce the many relevant hours of surveillance tapes of the crime scene, which the government claims to have misplaced. And, as with the curious circumstances in the wake of 9/11, the remains of the Murrah building that could have provided a wealth of forensic information on what actually took place were tidily demolished in May 1995.

In 1999 it was confirmed that McVeigh’s accomplice Andreas Strassmeier was a US government informant and former German intelligence officer. Shortly after the bombing Strassmeier was ferreted out of the US through Mexico. And in 2007 Terry Nichols, imprisoned for life for his association with McVeigh, filed an affidavit revealing that McVeigh was in US Army Special Operations and worked with two or more paid government provocateurs.

In a society where the mass media and those who pull their strings typically determine the parameters of common thought and exchange, A Noble Lie is not just an important political documentary and forthright journalistic exposé with much to reveal on an event of marked importance; it is also a compassionate commemoration of those who lost their lives on that fateful day 17 years ago.

James F. Tracy 2012, Some Rights Reserved