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Authors Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck on their book about Timothy McVeigh


(CNN) -- Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck are the co-authors of the book "American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing." Both Michel and Herbeck serve as reporters for The Buffalo News. Michel has won numerous awards for his writings about the Oklahoma City bombing.

Chat Moderator: Why did you write this book?

Lou Michel: It was the worst mass murder in American history. We felt it would provide a unique opportunity into the window of someone who could commit so horrific an act. We're hoping that society can learn something to thwart another atrocity like this from happening.

Chat Moderator: How were you two able to cultivate a relationship with McVeigh that resulted in these exclusive interviews?

Dan Herbeck: Hundreds of reporters from all over the country had tried to get interviews with Tim McVeigh, including reporters from Oklahoma City and many other communities. The way this all came about is that, a few days after the bombing, people in western New York were shocked to learn that the bomber was from our community.

Lou Michel was able to establish contact with Bill McVeigh, Tim McVeigh's father. Lou treated the family fairly. They were going through a lot of stress like everyone else. Lou treated them fairly, and ultimately Bill McVeigh introduced Lou to Timothy McVeigh, and Timothy McVeigh finally decided to cooperate with interviews for our book. This took place over the course of several years.

Death penalty

Question from chat room: Is McVeigh getting any money from this book?

Lou Michel: Not a dime. Son of Sam state and federal laws prohibit it, and it would be morally wrong for him and his family to profit in any way.

Dan Herbeck: He had no control, whatsoever, over the content of this book. This is our book, and we interviewed 150 people, not just Timothy McVeigh. We don't even know if he has read the book. He has received no money, and he has no control over what is in the book.

Chat Moderator: What did you learn about Timothy McVeigh throughout the course of your interviews with him?

Lou Michel: We learned, of course, that he has no remorse for his acts. We also found common threads in McVeigh's early life that exists among these school shooters. One, McVeigh was from broken family bonds. Two, he was bullied as a boy. He was scrawny, and an easy target. Three, he had failed relationships. Four, he was steeped in a culture of violence.

Question from chat room: Do you feel that your book gives unwarranted attention to McVeigh?

Dan Herbeck: The horrible crime itself already attracted a lot of attention, and if we could turn the clock back six years and make this bombing go away, we'd do it in a minute. We don't believe it serves any purpose to try to ignore this event, or try to ignore the story of Timothy McVeigh and how he became a terrorist.

We think people will learn from this story. We think law enforcement, school officials and psychologists can learn from this story what makes a terrorist tick. We don't think any other terrorist has ever opened up and told his whole life story in this manner.

We're not ashamed of our book; we're proud of our book. As journalists, we felt this story needed to be told.

Chat Moderator: Does McVeigh consider himself a martyr?

Lou Michel: No, he doesn't. He, in a recent letter to The Buffalo News, said that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. He views himself as a freedom fighter, against what he believes were egregious actions of the U.S. government against American citizens.

Question from chat room: Have you heard from any of the victim's families, either for or against this book being published?

Lou Michel: Yes, we've heard from a number of family members with mixed reactions. Dr. Paul Heath, who represents hundreds of victims from the bombing, publicly thanked us for providing this window into Timothy McVeigh's mind.

Others, however, have been very, very hurt by the extremely harsh comments McVeigh has made. As inconceivable as it may sound, we left out very, very hurtful remarks he made about some of the victims.

Chat Moderator: Did McVeigh talk about his upcoming execution?

Dan Herbeck: Yes. He has talked quite a bit about the upcoming execution. He in a way welcomes it because he has developed an indifference to life. His death to him is just the next step.

He has also said that he feels that by executing him, the U.S. government is showing that it can be very barbaric to its own citizens. He says that in using the death penalty, the U.S. government is doing the same thing that law enforcement put Dr. Kevorkian in jail for doing.

Question from chat room: Does McVeigh have a following of anti-government people? Any supporters?

Lou Michel: In the course of the last couple of years, we received Timothy McVeigh's mail. McVeigh would forward the letters he received to us from prison. We read thousands of letters. Many, many of those people shared his hateful views of the United States government. But, thank God, only a handful endorsed his attack on the Murrah Building.

Question from chat room: Do you think McVeigh acted alone?

Dan Herbeck: Contrary to some predictions that were made before the book came out, our book in no way states that McVeigh acted alone. In fact, in the book, he makes it very clear that he had help in the early stages of preparing for the bombing, from his two old army friends, Michael Fortier and Terry Nichols.

McVeigh even explains how Nichols helped him assemble the bomb the day before the bombing. Some people believe there was a much wider conspiracy in the bombing. The $82 million dollar investigation conducted by the FBI and other agencies concluded that there was no conspiracy. After doing our own extensive research, we concluded that the FBI is correct on that one.

Question from chat room: Does McVeigh have any spiritual-religious beliefs?

Lou Michel: McVeigh is agnostic. He doesn't believe in God, but he won't rule out the possibility. I asked him, "What if there is a heaven and hell?"

He said that once he crosses over the line from life to death, if there is something on the other side, he will -- and this is using his military jargon -- "adapt, improvise, and overcome." Death to him is all part of the adventure.

Chat Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts to share?

Dan Herbeck: We would just like to say that we understand that this book is painful for people to read, especially for people from Oklahoma City. In many ways, it was a painful book for us to write. It's a true story, but more horrifying than anything even Stephen King could dream up. We want people to understand that we wrote this book in hopes that understanding McVeigh and this horrible crime can help us somehow avoid having more terrorist acts like this in the future.

Lou Michel: My fervent hope is that somehow this book becomes an instrument of peace and creates a greater awareness so that, as a society, we can better care for and nurture our children, the most sacred thing we have.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today.

Lou Michel: Thank you for taking time out to chat with us.

Dan Herbeck: Thanks for hearing us out.

Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck joined the chat via telephone from New York. CNN provided a typist for them. The above is an edited transcript of the chat on Wednesday, April 4, 2001 at 2:00 p.m. EDT.

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American Terrorist
Lou Michel

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