An American Bombing: The Road to April 19th (2024)


An American Bombing: The Road to April 19th Review

The Gist: Kathy Sanders doesn’t forget the morning of April 19, 1995. She woke her grandsons up singing, fed them breakfast and drove to the daycare center in the Oklahoma City federal building. A little later that day, her son — at that time off-duty from his job as a police officer — saw his nephew’s body among those of other dead children. He wanted to hug him and say goodbye but he couldn’t; this was a crime scene, they said, the body was evidence. We see people staggering away from the destroyed building, bleeding; officials cradle injured children, taking them to get medical help. The media immediately leapt to a huge, stupid conclusion that this horror was Islamic terrorism. We see President Bill Clinton asking Americans to let the investigation play out before casting blame. Then we see Clinton today saying that he had always thought it looked like an attack of domestic terror with a lot of hallmarks of what he saw brewing among militias when he was governor of Arkansas.

We probably know the rest: McVeigh was oddly already in custody for driving without a license plate and carrying an unlicensed gun. He was tried, convicted and executed by lethal injection in 2001 — showing no remorse. His motive was starting an American revolution — among his last words he called himself its winner because McVeigh 168 US GOVERNMENT 1. From here, Levin interviews journalists, victims’ family members lawyers on McVeigh’s case many government officials even a former right-wing extremist — assembling a much larger picture around the bombing itself so as to contextualize it better.

According to Levin, this is part of the same mosaic of modern American history. What movies does it remind you of? Four Hours at the Capitol, HBO’s Jan. 6 doc, is certainly an American Bombing spiritual predecessor. What performance should we keep an eye on? Sanders has always been firm in her belief that McVeigh did not act alone and that the government did not try hard enough- they only went after McVeigh and one accomplice, Terry Nichols. Sanders even corresponded with Nichols while he was in jail, claiming she found solace in forgiveness because she believed there were more people involved than just them two

Levin moves from one period of McVeigh’s life to another, showing that far-right media influencers have been complaining about Democrats taking away their guns since long before the recent spate of mass shootings, and keeps coming back to Sanders and Welch so that the documentary balances its emotional and intellectual sides. The larger story involves religion, racism, capital punishment, cults and the spread of firearms in America — too much for 106 minutes. But eventually it makes two claims: “This was a wake-up call,” journalist Mike Boettcher says plainly about the bombing. And Clinton says McVeigh’s statements and reasons “literally sound like the mainstream today.”

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