Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Don't Tread on Him

Remember Michael Fortier?

For those of you who don't live in Oklahoma, the name might not immediately register. Fortier was the onetime pal of Timothy McVeigh who knew about his plot to bomb the Oklahoma City federal building but did nothing to stop it. As McVeigh's best friend, he was aware of the bomb plan from the beginning, and even cased the building with McVeigh during a side trip to Oklahoma City in December, 1994. Over the span of several months, Fortier and his wife Lori helped McVeigh sell stolen guns to finance the plot. Lori helped hide blasting caps by concealing them in Christmas wrapping paper. Michael took steps to help stow away incriminating evidence for after the bombing.

But Fortier, a meth-addled militia sympathizer who proudly flew a "Don't Tread on Me" flag outside his Arizona trailer home, eventually became a chief prosecution witness against McVeigh and Terry Nichols. In exchange for that star testimony, Fortier received a 12-year prison sentence.

That time ends Friday, as Michael Fortier, who has earned some time off for good behavior, will again be a free man.

His culpability in the bomb plot remains decidedly more significant than federal prosecutors have been willing to acknowledge. Fortier did more than simply know about the plot in advance and keep his mouth shut -- although that is certainly deplorable enough. Fortier helped fence guns with the full knowledge that it would help fund the needed explosives. He stood by while McVeigh sharpened his bomb-making acumen in the Arizona desert.

But sometimes prosecutors have to make deals with the devil (Jack Abramoff, anyone?), and so it was with Fortier. His testimony helped thread a narrative to a largely circumstantial case.

During the McVeigh trial, Fortier testified that "if you don't consider what happened in Oklahoma City, Tim was a good guy." That remark elicited gasps in the courtroom (I was there at the time), but it made sense in a crazy sort of way. McVeigh's unthreatening persona was perhaps the scariest thing about him -- the fact that this gangly Army dude who liked comic books and sci-fi movies could justify the murders of innocents by likening them to Star Wars' storm troopers.

The same sentiment, in a way, applies to Fortier.

Testifying against McVeigh and Nichols certainly did not, and does not, make him a good guy. And one can only hope that Fortier's conscience is not immune to remorse.


At 2:14 PM, Anonymous Robert Millar said...

Well, I see somebody's going to need a nice place to take it easy and breathe the clean air of rural eastern Oklahoman once he's out of stir. I've got a pot of beaver stew and a granddaughter waiting for you, Mikey.

P.S.: You ain't Jewish, are you?


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