Timothy J. McVeigh was so determined to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City that he considered driving the truck packed with explosives through the front door on a suicide mission, according to a former Army buddy who also said he had cased the site with McVeigh.
Michael J. Fortier, 28, testifying in chilling detail before a federal jury here on Monday, said that when he raised concerns about innocent government workers being killed in a bomb attack, McVeigh, 29, told him their deaths would be justified because “they were part of the evil empire.”
Fortier provided the court with the clearest picture so far of McVeigh’s alleged motives and plans for carrying out the deadliest domestic terrorist attack in U.S. history, the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in which 168 people were killed and about 500 injured.
“He told me he wanted to do it at 11 a.m. because everyone would be getting ready for lunch,” said Fortier, who has pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for his testimony. Fortier said that when he asked McVeigh about all the people in building, McVeigh told him that they were like the storm troopers in “Star Wars.”
“They may be individually innocent,” Fortier quoted McVeigh as saying, “but they were part of the evil empire; they were guilty by association.”
The massive bomb, packed in a yellow Ryder rental truck, ultimately was detonated at 9:02 a.m.
Fortier said his friend was so intent on accomplishing his goal that he talked about staying in the truck to make sure the bomb detonated. “Now you’re talking about committing suicide,” Fortier said he told McVeigh, advising him instead to be more outspoken in his criticism of the federal government.
Fortier, the star witness in the case against McVeigh, also testified as others have that McVeigh had chosen April 19 to detonate the bomb because it was the second anniversary of the government assault on Branch Davidian cultists near Waco, Texas, in which at least 76 people died. Fortier said his former friend also believed, wrongly, that officials in the Murrah building were somehow involved in ordering that attack.
Fortier’s appearance was startlingly different from how he looked at the time of his arrest 21 months ago. Gone was the scraggly beard, stringy hair and earrings. Monday, Fortier was clean-shaven and sported short hair, an olive suit and a white button-down shirt. He looked more like a young banker than a federal prisoner. Fortier rarely made eye contact with McVeigh, who stared intently at him from the defense table.
But under aggressive cross-examination by McVeigh’s attorney, Stephen Jones, Fortier admitted that he used and trafficked in methamphetamines before his arrest and that he boasted to friends in the days after the blast that he could make up a story and sell it to the tabloids and movie makers.
“Were there months that went by that you didn’t use drugs?” Jones asked.
“There were certainly days,” Fortier responded.
While Jones attempted to portray Fortier as an unsavory, untrustworthy character, the prosecution elicited testimony in which he came across sympathetically.
When prosecutor Joseph Hartzler asked Fortier why he had repeatedly lied to the authorities, his friends and his family about his knowledge of the plot in the weeks after the blast, Fortier broke down on the stand. “My father was taking this very hard - he was going through a nervous breakdown,” he said, taking off his glasses and wiping tears from his eyes. “He asked me one night if I had any involvement or knew anything.”
Fortier said McVeigh first told him during a 1994 visit to Fortier’s home in Kingman, Ariz., that he and co-defendant Terry L. Nichols, who will be tried separately, were “thinking of blowing up a building and he asked me to help them.”
“He told me they wanted to bomb the building on the anniversary of Waco … to cause a general uprising in America … hopefully that would knock people off the fence,” he said.
Fortier said he told McVeigh that he “would never do anything like that.” But under direct questioning by prosecutor Hartzler, the former hardware store bookkeeper said he did not go to the authorities because he did not believe McVeigh would do really it.
“If you don’t consider what happened in Oklahoma, Tim was a good person. He would stop and help people on the road,” Fortier said. “I just didn’t think Tim had it in him.”
Fortier described how he watched his friend’s transformation from decorated Army sergeant for his service during the Persian Gulf War to paranoid, anti-government drifter. He said that when McVeigh moved into a house near Fortier in Kingman in 1994, he kept weapons near his front door and stacked wood in his back yard to be “used to stop bullets in case there was ever a Waco-type attack at his home.”
After Waco, Fortier said, McVeigh “thought the U.S. government had declared war on the American public.”
In December 1994, Fortier said, he agreed to accompany McVeigh to pick up guns that McVeigh told him Nichols had stolen from an Arkansas gun dealer to help finance the bombing. En route, he said, they stopped in Oklahoma City and drove around the Murrah building, where McVeigh laid out his plans for Fortier.
Using a huge model of the building and a pointer, Fortier showed jurors where McVeigh said he planned to park the truck and the getaway car. He said that when he asked McVeigh why he didn’t park his car closer to the site, McVeigh told him “he wanted to have a building between him and the blast.”
Fortier said his relationship with McVeigh, who had been the best man at Fortier’s wedding, began deteriorating in early 1995 when he turned down McVeigh’s final request to help with the bombing. “He told me Terry Nichols didn’t want to help him and he wanted me … to help mix the bomb,” said Fortier.
“He called me domesticated and said it like it was a curse word,” said Fortier. “He wanted me to leave my wife and travel on the road like a couple of desperadoes. … He gave me a little lecture that he was traveling the high road and I was traveling the low road and we could be friends no longer.”
When he saw the first news reports of the bombing, Fortier said, “Right away, I thought Tim did it. I think I thought, ‘Oh, my God, he did it.”’
He said that in the days after the blast he repeatedly lied to investigators because he was afraid he would lose his family, go to prison or even be executed.
In exchange for his testimony, Fortier was allowed to plead guilty to four lesser charges of trafficking in the stolen firearms, lying to federal officials and knowing about a felony and neglecting to report it.
His testimony will continue today.