The Oklahoma City Bombing of 1995: A Detailed Look at the Attack and the Men Behind It

April 19, 2024

The Oklahoma City Bombing of 1995: A Detailed Look at the Attack and the Men Behind It


By Daniel Brunner | Chief Operating Officer | Brunner Sierra Group

29 years ago, on this date, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, became the site of one of the deadliest acts of domestic terrorism in United States history. The attack, which claimed the lives of 168 people, including 19 children, and injured over 600 others, was orchestrated by Timothy McVeigh, an Army veteran with deep-seated extremist views. This tragedy not only shook the nation but also spurred changes in U.S. security and anti-terrorism policies.

During my time as a Special Agent for the FBI in Newark, New Jersey, I spent 4 years on a Domestic Terrorism (DT) squad investigating White Supremacy matters. I often was called upon to speak regarding this incident to countless law enforcement agencies around New Jersey. My presentation focused on identifying early warning signs and red flags, equipping street-level officers with the knowledge necessary to potentially prevent incidents akin to the Oklahoma City bombing.

The Perpetrators and Their Collaboration

Timothy McVeigh, the primary architect of the bombing, was joined in his plot by Terry Nichols, a fellow Army veteran whom McVeigh had met during basic training. United by their shared disdain for the federal government, the pair bonded over their white supremacy extremist ideologies. Nichols proved instrumental in the logistical planning of the attack, helping to procure and store the materials needed to create the bomb, although he was not present in Oklahoma City on the day of the bombing.

Michael Fortier, another associate of McVeigh's, was also aware of the bombing plans. Fortier chose not to participate directly but failed to alert authorities about the impending attack. After the bombing, he testified against McVeigh and Nichols in exchange for a reduced sentence, providing critical details about their preparations.

Execution of the Attack

The bomb used in the attack was constructed from ammonium nitrate fertilizer and nitromethane, which were packed into 13 plastic barrels stored in the back of a rented Ryder truck. McVeigh selected the Murrah Federal Building as the target to avenge what he perceived as abuses by the federal government, particularly the events at Ruby Ridge and Waco. McVeigh reportedly selected the Murrah Building based on a blue pages search. While looking through the blue pages he found numerous US Federal Law Enforcement agency had offices in the Murrah building. 

On the morning of April 19, McVeigh donned a T-shirt with a picture Abraham Lincoln, the statement "Sic Semper Tyrannis" then drove the yellow Ryder truck to the front of the Murrah Building. After McVeigh lit a two-minute fuse and walked away, he immediately walked down a side alley to a prepositioned vehicle to begin his escape. The resulting explosion ripped through the building, collapsing its north face and causing widespread devastation.


Capture and Arrest

McVeigh’s capture was fortuitous; he was stopped by Oklahoma State Trooper Charlie Hanger for driving without a license plate just 90 minutes after the bombing. During the course of the stop, the Trooper discovered a concealed weapon in the vehicle and was subsequently taken into custody.

Meanwhile, investigations at the scene of the explosion quickly linked McVeigh to the bombing by evidence collection teams through forensic evidence found at the site, including traces of explosive materials and a receipt for the fertilizer used to make the bomb. When his name was run through the fingerprinting system they discovered he was in custody at a local police department for that weapons arrest. 

Motivations Behind the Attack

McVeigh’s radical beliefs were shaped by a mixture of white supremacist ideologies and a fierce opposition to federal authority. His participation in the gun show circuit and his distribution of anti-government propaganda highlighted his intent to incite rebellion against what he viewed as a tyrannical government. The siege at Waco was particularly influential; McVeigh was present outside the compound during the final days of the siege, selling anti-government and pro-gun paraphernalia.

His writings and statements during the planning of the Oklahoma City bombing reflected a desire to inspire a larger uprising against the federal government. McVeigh hoped that his act of violence would serve as a catalyst for other dissidents to join his cause. 

Aftermath and Legacy

The Oklahoma City bombing had profound impacts on America, influencing legislation like the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which was designed to improve the federal government’s ability to respond to and prevent future terrorist acts. The bombing also led to increased security measures at federal buildings nationwide.

In the years following the attack, McVeigh granted only one reporter access for a full interview. It was during these interviews he provided a glimpse into his twisted mind and his desire to start a "holy war" between the races. In possibly the most alarming statement McVeigh was asked if he felt bad about killing so many people such as janitors, children or others who had no association with the Federal Government. McVeigh stated:

"Did people feel bad when the Death Star blew up? Did people feel bad when all those workers and cleaning people on there died? When Luke Skywalker blew up the Death Star, the movie audiences cheered. The bad guys were beaten. That was all that really mattered."

Timothy McVeigh was executed in 2001, and Terry Nichols received multiple life sentences without the possibility of parole. The memories of the victims and the resilience of the survivors continue to serve as a stark reminder of the dangers posed by domestic extremism and the importance of vigilance in combating it. This tragic event underscores the ongoing need to address the root causes of radicalization and the devastating impact it can have on society.