Woman’s journey leads to film alleging Oklahoma City conspiracy

The Kansas City Star, via The News-Sentinel, Dec. 8, 2002

A woman’s seven-year search for what was behind the Oklahoma City bombing that killed her two grandchildren and 166 other persons has culminated in a 90-minute documentary that suggests a radical right conspiracy in the crime.

Kathy Wilburn did research for “Terror From Within: The Untold Story Behind the Oklahoma City Bombing,” which producers are hoping to show at independent theaters across the country or on cable television.

The film, produced by Colorado-based MGA Films, had a weeklong public screening in Los Angeles in September to qualify for Academy Award consideration. It has been shown at film festivals, and it won the grand jury award at the Houston Film Festival earlier this year.

Wilburn has investigated the April 19, 1995, bombing since it happened. She has traveled abroad for interviews, visited right-wing extremists at remote camps, and slept in the same Kansas motel room where convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh stayed the night before the bombing.

“It’s become my life,” Wilburn said. “I am still investigating. I will continue to investigate. I have a lot of the pieces to the puzzle, but I don’t have all the pieces.”

Wilburn, 49, was an Internal Revenue Service employee in Oklahoma City when a truck bomb blew up the Murrah Federal Building. Her two preschool grandsons, Colton and Chase Smith, were among 19 children killed in the explosion.

A federal jury convicted McVeigh, who was executed in June 2001. Another jury found Terry Nichols guilty of manslaughter and conspiracy, and sentenced him to life in prison for helping McVeigh build the ammonium nitrate bomb.

The FBI concluded that no one else plotted the attack, but the documentary contends that McVeigh carried out the wishes of a right-wing paramilitary group based in Oklahoma.

Kerry Noble, former member of a group called the Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord, or CSA, is quoted in the film as saying there was a plan in 1983 to blow up the Murrah building with a rocket launcher.

Noble and another CSA leader testified in a 1988 Arkansas court case that CSA member Richard Wayne Snell plotted the attack. Snell was later convicted of killing a black state trooper in Arkansas and a pawnshop owner he thought was Jewish.

The day McVeigh chose to blow up the Murrah building was the same day that had been scheduled for Snell’s execution. It was also the 10th anniversary of a federal raid on a CSA compound along the Missouri-Arkansas border and the second anniversary of the FBI raid at Waco, Texas.

The film says Snell had predicted a catastrophic event around the time of his execution. It cited prison logs noting that Snell smiled as he watched television coverage of the bombing.

McVeigh picked April 19 to avenge Snell’s execution and the federal raids, the film and Wilburn suggest. The film’s narrator said Snell’s execution was “a call to arms” for the right-wing movement.

“Think about it,” Wilburn said. “What are the chances Tim McVeigh would randomly select the same building Snell targeted in 1983 and that he would blow it up the day Snell was executed?”

Two weeks before the bombing, McVeigh called a white separatist religious compound in Elohim City, Okla., where leaders of the Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord and other groups lived. A few days before the bombing, he called a lawyer who represented extremist groups at Elohim City and elsewhere.

The FBI and other federal agencies investigated McVeigh’s ties to Elohim City but found no evidence worthy of a conspiracy case. McVeigh denied conspiring with right-wing groups.

“It is my very personal opinion and that of the FBI that everyone involved in that bombing was brought to justice,” Danny Defenbaugh, lead investigator in the case, says in the film. Other agents of the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are also quoted in the film.

Wilburn believes that agents did not want to dig deeply into the conspiracy because it would produce evidence questioning whether the attack was predictable.

“They were trying to keep egg off their face,” she said.

McVeigh is a hero to some extreme right groups, Wilburn learned in her research. One trip took her and a film crew to an Aryan Nations compound in rural Idaho two years ago.

“You drive up this long, ominous driveway, and there’s a sign that says `whites only,’ ” she recalled. “The building has a big swastika on it. The guys are carrying guns. I get out of the car and two big German shepherds come at me, barking.”

Wilburn said she endeared herself to the Aryan Nations founder, Richard Butler, by saying she lost two grandsons in the bombing and didn’t trust the government’s account of what happened in Oklahoma City.

She interviewed Butler and the next day attended the compound’s church, which had a bust of Adolf Hitler near the pulpit. People at the church wore Nazi uniforms, she said.

“I was humiliated and embarrassed,” Wilburn said. But Wilburn said she was willing to “dance with the devil” to learn more about people like Tim McVeigh.

Wilburn is now employed as a motivational speaker to people who have suffered tragedies.

“Kathy is probably the strongest woman I have ever met,” said Jason Van Vleet, producer of the documentary. “It’s a shame something so horrible had to happen to her and her family.”


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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday December 20, 2002.
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