Our Own Private Afghanistan

by This Land


Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from the chapter “Interview with John Millar, Head of the Christian Identity Community” from Oklahoma City: What the Investigation Missed—and Why It Still Matters, by Andrew Gumbel and Roger G. Charles, Copyright @ 2012 by William Morrow, and reprinted here with permission. The passage below contains graphic descriptions involving an intimate physical encounter between Timothy McVeigh and Richard Rogers.

The government, of course, had every reason to be defensive. The ATF had had a pair of eyes and ears in Elohim City and pulled her1 out, not because she was failing to pick up indications of serious criminality—she was—but because the agency was too afraid to act on them. It adopted a posture of studied ignorance and hoped for the best.

After the bombing, the ATF wanted desperately to avoid talking about Elohim City. Even after the FBI was given the Carol Howe file, [agents] Bob Ricks and Danny Defenbaugh never quite believed they had the full story. “Shame on them,” Defenbaugh said. “In upper case—SHAME ON THEM. Sometimes dealing with other players in this is like pulling teeth from a toothless tiger. Ask them why [they didn’t tell everything they knew]. They didn’t ever give me a good reason.” A contrite Magaw2 did not say a lot in the ATF’s defense. “He’s right,” he responded when Defenbaugh’s words were read back to him. “If we did know something and didn’t bring it forward, then shame on us.”

Hear Andrew Gumbel expound on Timothy McVeigh’s connection to the extremist far right.

The FBI was far from blameless itself, having avoided looking into Elohim City for years. The decision to expend only token energy on the community after the bombing was the bureau’s alone. That mystified some of the FBI’s old pros, none more than Danny Coulson, who had spent his career chasing right-wing radicals and found the idea of shying away from Elohim City offensive and ridiculous.

“You still do your job, I’m sorry,” Coulson said. “You’ve taken an oath. You’re a professional, you figure out a way to do it. They’re afraid of another Waco … If that’s your attitude, get out of the business. Go into the shoe business. Be a chef. By its nature it’s risky. You’ve got to be smarter than that.”


Late one night in February 1995, Tim McVeigh was walking across the Colorado River bridge from Nevada to Bullhead City, Arizona, when a man in a Ford Mustang slowed down and asked if he wanted a ride. McVeigh had no better idea how to get back to Kingman, which was thirty miles away, and offered him $5. The man, whose name was Richard Rogers, laughed off the offer; he was looking not for payment but for casual sex. He had spent the evening at a casino in Laughlin and, as he later told the FBI, was feeling “a little horny.”

McVeigh’s camouflage fatigues and combat boots did not exactly fit the sexpot mold. But Rogers recognized him from an earlier hitchhiking encounter and remembered how McVeigh played with his penis and asked if he wanted to party. Rogers hadn’t been interested at the time, because he was on his way to meet another friend.

The conversation quickly turned to sex, and McVeigh asked Rogers, as he had six months earlier, if he wanted to party.

Rogers responded: “What do you mean?”

McVeigh spread his legs and groped himself. “We could have a really great time,” he said. McVeigh started rubbing Rogers’s penis through his clothes.

An hour later, the two of them were in Rogers’s trailer ten miles north of Kingman, sizing each other up and half-wondering if this was really a good idea. McVeigh talked about Waco, nobody’s idea of good foreplay, and peppered Rogers with questions about an airstrip in the desert hills. At 3:00 a.m., McVeigh grabbed his crotch again and said it was time for bed.

They took their clothes off and went at it. McVeigh’s tongue and throat action, Rogers later told the FBI, was “incredible”: “He was good at what he did.” McVeigh expressed an interest in anal sex, but Rogers turned him down, because he didn’t have a condom. According to Rogers, they were both too tired to reach orgasm. In the morning, Rogers made McVeigh eggs and bacon, and drove him into Kingman. Apart from brief sightings in the grocery store, they never saw each other again.

Assuming this story is broadly true—the FBI found Rogers credible enough to interview him seven times—it suggests that McVeigh, like Pete Langan3, had some personal baggage he was not in a rush to share with the rest of the Patriot Movement. Rogers thought it unlikely he was actually gay, just fooling around. He told the FBI McVeigh was most likely bisexual.

Intriguingly, this is the one intimate encounter of McVeigh’s anybody has ever come forward to describe—either in the graphic detail offered by Rogers, or any other way.

Of all the mysteries surrounding Elohim City, none is more vexing than the question of whether McVeigh visited and, if so, whether he derived any part of the bomb plot—inspiration, training, manpower—from the contacts he established in the community. Nobody has come forward with definitive evidence that McVeigh spent time at Elohim City. On the other hand, a large number of people—from law enforcement, the federal prosecution team, the radical far right, and even Elohim City itself—have dropped hints that he was there, that the government either knew or strongly suspected he was there, and that the information was kept quiet to prevent the criminal case spiraling out of control.

We know McVeigh called Elohim City for just under two minutes on April 5, 1995, because there is a record of it on the Daryl Bridges4 card. Millar’s daughter-in-law took the call and later said the young man on the line was looking for Andi the German5. McVeigh told her he was thinking of visiting in the next few days, and Joan Millar replied that, as a friend of Strassmeir’s, he was welcome any time.

The timing of the call was interesting: McVeigh had just spoken to a Ryder truck rental agency in Lake Havasu City, not far from Kingman, and was presumably making his bomb delivery plans. Was Strassmeir, or his planned visit to Elohim City, part of the calculation? Was he, as an FBI teletype later surmised, looking for new recruits because he did not think he could count on Nichols or Fortier?

The FBI files contain a reference to a second call from McVeigh to Strassmeir at Elohim City, this one on April 17, the day the Ryder truck used in the bombing was rented from Eldon Elliott’s. The information on this call is sketchier, because it was never linked to a specific set of phone records. According to an FBI teletype discovered in 2003, the bureau heard about the call from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the anti-extremist campaign group, but the SPLC has been reluctant to vouch for its authenticity ever since. Richard Cohen, the group’s president, said it was possible that the line in the teletype referring to a call “two days prior to the OKBOMB attack” could have been a clerical error and that the line should have read “two weeks.” In other words, just another reference to the April 5 call.

Over the years, the SPLC has backtracked from a lot of information connecting McVeigh with Elohim City. Twice in the 1990s, the group’s founder, Morris Dees, was quoted saying that he had information that McVeigh visited numerous times. He said it in answer to a reporter’s question at the Denver press club in May 1996, and he said it in an interview with the Indiana State University criminologist Mark Hamm in 1999. But when he addressed the issue again during a talk at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in 2004, he played down his previous statements. “McVeigh probably was at Elohim City, based on evidence we’ve been able to pick up—stuff I really can’t go into,” he said. “But I don’t think the entire connection is really there.”

If Dees was suddenly tentative on the question, other SPLC officials were emphatic: as far as they knew, McVeigh never went to Elohim City. “[Dees] may have said it,” a surprisingly dismissive Mark Potok, editor of the SPLC’s Intelligence Report, said in 2010, “but I very much doubt it’s true.” Both Potok and Cohen sought to minimize Dees’s role in the organization’s intelligence-gathering, and refused to make him available for interview.

All of this was starkly out of character for the SPLC, which usually broadcasts any sinister connection involving the radical right as loudly as it can. One possible reason for its reticence was its close relationship with the Justice Department, which had every reason to play down links between McVeigh and Elohim City. (Its official position throughout the federal trials was that no such link existed.) If the government had information, even secondhand information, placing McVeigh at Elohim City, failing to hand it over to the defense teams could have constituted a serious violation of the rules of evidence.

Did the government have such information? Bill Buford, the former ATF chief in Arkansas, said he was briefed on both verbal and written reports putting McVeigh at Elohim City. The material was not handed over in discovery, he said, but was put into a summary report written by the FBI and sent to the Justice Department. “I’d heard it by word of mouth and it was also in the report,” Buford said. “There’s a lot of information in there that has not been made available to the public.”

Buford could not remember the specifics, but the information referred to an actual visit, not just the April 5 phone call. How sure was he about this clamorous revelation? “I’m sure,” he said.

A number of other senior law enforcement officials were approached about Buford’s information, and none denied it. Bob Ricks said the FBI had found no evidence that McVeigh spent evenings or nights at Elohim City, but acknowledged: “He was always passing through.” Danny Defenbaugh said he could not remember what was in the FBI reports sent up to the Justice Department, but did not exclude it. Perhaps the most revealing line came from Scott Mendeloff, one of McVeigh’s prosecutors, who sought to argue forcefully that Elohim City was irrelevant to the investigation. “It’s not like we didn’t think he was there,” he said testily. “So he visited, but so what?”

When McVeigh’s own legal team asked about Elohim City, he did not acknowledge having been there, but he seemed to know all about Strassmeir patrolling the perimeter and standing guard in the driveway when visitors pulled up. McVeigh told his defense lawyer Randy Coyne that Elohim City was “pretty fucking hard- core.” And he said that Strassmeir and he were “brothers in arms.”

When would McVeigh have been at Elohim City? He received a traffic ticket just over the Arkansas state line in the fall of 1993, and spent the night in a nearby motel on September 12, 1994. Those have to be strong possibilities. Another intriguing date is November 1, 1994, when Tom Metzger, one of the godfathers of the radical right, paid a visit to Elohim City with Dennis Mahon. As Metzger remembered it, he spoke for half an hour in the church, watched the kids perform a dance, shook a few hands, and left again. But he also dropped a hint of more. “Those stories about sitting in another room and talking about stuff,” he said, without prompting, “that didn’t happen.” Was this Metzger pointing to the very thing he sought to deny? It is tempting to think McVeigh would have been there to take lessons from the master, and it was not far out of his way—he was driving from Kansas to upstate New York at the time. It would also have been an opportunity to meet Strassmeir, McCarthy, and Brescia.

The last time McVeigh could have visited—following the intentions he announced in his phone conversation with Joan Millar—was during the two weeks before April 19. This would put Elohim City at the center of the bomb plot. The timing would have been tight: McVeigh checked out of the Imperial Motel in Kingman on April 11, bought an oil filter in Arkansas City, Kansas—just over the Oklahoma state line—on April 13, and arrived at the Dreamland in Junction City on April 14. But it is also possible that he made a quick trip to the Midwest between April 7 and April 11. He was checked into the Imperial Motel on those dates, but the owner later said he did not see him, he used no towels, and his bed was undisturbed. There was a flurry of Daryl Bridges calls from the Imperial up to April 6, then nothing. Would McVeigh have wanted to keep paying for an empty motel room? He might have done if, say, he was transporting blasting caps, or the second Ryder truck seen by Lea McGown and her son on Easter Sunday. It was one way to cover his tracks and minimize the risk of exposure.

If all that sounds speculative, it is. The first two weeks of April are a big mystery when it comes to McVeigh’s movements, activities, and associations. On Saturday evening, April 8, a dancer at the Lady Godiva strip club in Tulsa was told by someone she later believed to be McVeigh that on April 19, 1995, she would remember him for the rest of her life. He was with two other men. Did they travel from the club to Elohim City? Kirk Lyons, of all people, did not exclude it—and he would have had an opportunity to know, because he was Strassmeir’s lawyer and confidant. “It’s possible he went through there on a weekend before the bombing,” Lyons said of McVeigh. “That’s possible.”

Grandpa Millar also did not exclude that McVeigh had been to Elohim City. A defense investigator who spoke to him in 1995 reported Millar saying “it was possible that he could have met Mr. McVeigh once or twice and that it was also possible that Mr. McVeigh could have visited Elohim City.” Millar was fiercely protective of his community, more interested in damping down speculation about criminal associations than in talking them up, so the indiscretion was unusual. In 1997, he was strikingly forthcoming once again when asked by the journalist Jonathan Franklin if any Elohim City residents were involved in the bombing. “There are legitimate questions to be asked, though I don’t know the answers,” he said. “I don’t mind an honest investigation.”

By that point, of course, Millar knew that no investigation had taken place, and after the trials there was little danger of one starting up. He had played the government masterfully for more than a decade. Jim Ellison’s disenchanted former deputy Kerry Noble summarized it neatly. “Two things the government doesn’t want,” he said, “another sedition trial that fails, and another Waco that fails. What have you got with Elohim City? A possibility of another sedition and conspiracy trial that fails, and another raid that fails. That makes Elohim City, unfortunately, have the upper hand.”