Published: June 1, 1999 By


[1]  This essay is a reading of the events that surrounded Edye Smith, the mother of two children who died in the daycare housed in the Murrah federal building that was bombed in Oklahoma City, April 19, 1995. The essay has several goals. First, it reads these events through the lens of ideologies and demonstrates just how complex and concerted the effort is that hegemonic (or dominant) ideology makes to guarantee a unified take on the Oklahoma City bombing. Reading the events of the first months following the bombing through their representation in mainstream media, I show how the process of multiple interpellation is used in order to fix Edye Smith into a specific national symbolic. The work also sets the stage for how crucial the proliferation and hyperproduction of specific images are to the effective reproduction of ideology.

[2]  Along this same line, the essay illustrates how necessary gender is in codifying this ideological take of the bombing. It is, of course, no mere happenstance that the individual that comes to embody this national trauma is a woman, a mother, and also a woman who has taken permanent sabbatical (or so we thought) from the task of reproduction. The tragic proportions of the bombing are heightened when loss centers not just on the more gender-generalized loss of the many individuals who died in the bombing, but also on the gender-specific losses of a mother (a "pure space" of loss that no one dares to question). Such seemingly natural elevation of feeling leaves little room for questioning the necessity of such magnification but leaves plenty of space for the translucency needed for the optimum functions of dominant ideology.1 As the body of the essay illustrates, questions of virginity and reproduction, as well as ensuring the safety of the fetus, become relevant points of concern due in large part to the dominant ideology's use of gender via Edye Smith.2 Furthermore, gender plays an equally important role in the codification of non-dominant ideologies (militia and libertarian conspiracy theory). Their quest to reveal the "truth" of the Oklahoma City bombing benefits not only from the ability to appropriate the Virgin Madonna for their own causes, but also from the placement of a woman into their ideology–particularly in the case of militia ideology, an opportunity normally unavailable due to the militia's almost exclusive male membership. Adding Edye-icon (woman/patriot/truth-seeker) into the mix makes their libertarian claims all the more potent.

[3]  The other major goal of this essay is to offer a corrective, if you will, to one of Jean Baudrillard's major theoretical assumptions regarding the conditions of postmodernity. Throughout much of his works, Baudrillard argues (stated here in very abbreviated form) that once "the real" becomes indistinguishable from the simulated, ideological discourses are unable to function as they did during what may be called the pre-postmodern era.3 This is due in large part to the undecidability of what "reality" is and the subsequent inability (as Baudrillard sees it) to invest this now precarious real with meaning or ideological stakes. This essay challenges these assertions and demonstrates how two ideological formations (the dominant ideological discourse of the government/mainstream media and the non-dominant ideological discourses of militia and conspiracy theory) invest "the real" with meaning without jeopardizing their understanding of the truth of the events surrounding the Oklahoma City bombing despite revelations of the presence of simulation in the construction and maintenance of their "real." This is demonstrated in the essay by reading the bombing through the multiple media appearances of Edye Smith. Tracing Ms. Smith's televisual and electronic ubiquity, this essay argues that it is the effective transformation of Edye Smith into Edye-icon, a hyperreal, simulated figurehead for hegemonic ideology, that makes this icon so easily appropriated by non-dominant ideologies. Baudrillard's assumptions regarding the impossibility of the success of ideological investment in the postmodern era are challenged by showing that even though both the dominant and non-dominant ideologies rely on an empty sign (Edye-icon) and strategies of simulation to effectively reproduce themselves as ideologies (strategies made plain in the body of the essay), the meaning and identities generated by these ideologies are never destabilized or threatened. In short, this work illustrates how, at least in these instances, the recuperative power of "the real" has been underestimated.

[4]  A few caveats, necessary or not, before entering the body of the work. The essay does not simply observe and report on ideologies, but performs them as well. The reader should simply take note that the shifting voices within the essay are to be taken more as the author's attempts to "channel" these many tongues rather than as an illustration of the author's authentic voice. To suggest that there exists a strict barrier between what is being channeled and what is the "real" voice of the author would be in obvious contradiction to the theoretical perspective from which this piece is being written. Take it as you will. Furthermore, full consideration has been given to the fact that much of Edye Smith's behavior vis a vis the media was obviously precipitated by the tremendous grief she experienced with the loss of her two children. The essay should in no way be viewed as a personal deprecation of Edye Smith. Rather, it is a reading of the mediascape (or datasphere) that surrounded the bombing, and Edye Smith's placement and proliferation within this mediated arena.4

Cornfed Madonna

[5]  Edye Smith, mother of Chase and Colton Smith, two of the children killed in the Oklahoma City bombing, devours her spontaneous celebrityhood with unabashed zest and why not? She truly adores her own mediation and is not shy about publicly embracing it. Immediately after the bombing her televised appearance is ubiquitous, and for several weeks Edye assumes a role similar to that of Shannon Doherty's in Heathers. She runs from station to station, at each site reproducing one more precious Chase and Colton anecdote; these memorialized images are bathed in an endless bounty of Edye-tears, rendering them more and more translucent with each re-telling. Raised in a world that reeks of the rotting myth of self-motivated success (one doesn't have to look any farther than an Anthony Robbins' infomercial to get a whiff of this scent), Edye is starved for any measure of fame, wealth, or identification. She takes all that she can get from being positioned as the lost Virgin Mother of the American Tragedy with Machiavellian resolve.

[6]  Divorced four months prior to the bombing, Edye accepts a nationally televised proposal for re-marriage from the father of her lost beloveds on Leeza, a daytime talk show. Subsequently, she takes up The National Enquirer's offer to pay for her post-bombing-marriage-reconciliation second honeymoon in exchange for exclusive coverage rights, coverage that is guaranteed to be followed by all Americans, because we all are, by this point, transfixed by the reigning Queen of Tragedy.5 We cannot get enough of her in any form and eagerly await the next installment.

[7]  In an effort to regain her fertility in order to both cement the cracks left over from the failed marriage as well as to transform what are now actual cherubs back into their earthly form (Edye had her tubes tied post-Colton), she accepts a pro-bono untying from a local ob-gyn. Step-by-step coverage of this procedure (all but operating room footage) is carried by People Weekly.6 Chase and Colton cannot, however, be lured away from their newfound positions as the beautiful innocent adornments in the gardens of Our Lord Jesus, and who can blame them? Made flush and buoyant by the ethereal grace of God, no amount of technology or collective prayer can persuade them to return to the constraints of earth-bound tethers-our cornfed Madonna must remain barren.

[8]  This is indeed the only available outcome for Edye. She presides over the Church with a glow normally reserved for virgins. No matter; in this rare and unique instance (after all, we have never experienced domestic terrorism, at least not to this degree), we suspend the prerequisite of virginity for canonization in exchange for the next best thing–the guarantee of a young woman's motherhood permanently cut short, first by the bomb, and next by a cruel twist of gynecological fate. In this way, Edye embodies the oxymoronic but eternally reoccurring figuration of the Virgin Madonna. As the post-trauma narrative reveals, Chase and Colton were always already earth-bound angels simply waiting to ascend. When at last they are given this opportunity by means of the bomb, Edye is subsequently revealed as Virgin as well, because it is only possible to conceive demi-gods if one's hymen stays intact (or so the legend goes). Her inability to re-conceive makes this retroactive decree by the Church of Tragedy all the more potent, thus making the interplay between gender and the dominant ideological fixing of the event all the more apparent. She too must sacrifice, and despite the successful rejoining of marital vows and fallopian tubes these seeds find no fertile place to rest: no reproduction of the angels is forthcoming and our Madonna remains forever preserved in a state of perpetual loss, as do we all in these moments of national grief.


[9]  What does Edye-icon give us during those early hours after the bombing? She gives us what we wanted … easily identifiable visual access to the pain of our nation. Whenever we saw a flash of the perfectly puffed and feathered red hair we could instantly jack into the trauma and get a fix of the suffering. Because of the media's incessant fixation on the losses of a young mother, we never questioned (or at least never felt quite comfortable doing so) the legitimacy of elevating grief to such heights. When I saw her I just cried and cried. Checks pour in from around the country–For The Red Haired Woman; For the Mommy of Chase and Colton. Everyone assumes a shared general knowledge of who she is, and they assume correctly. Everyone does know this icon of the National Tragedy and we all want to be her or, at the very least, to know her pain.

[10]  In an effort to memorialize these events, we are walked through each detail of the last moments of their life: From Chase's imploring last words to a teasing Grandpa–" I'm not Shirley!" — to the remains of a powdered-sugar breakfast on their cheeks; from the identification of the white-blanketed corpses to the single white coffin, filled with two dead boys, hand-in-hand making their way to a final resting place over which presides a five foot sculpture of our beloved Barney. Nose prints remain on the bathroom mirror, never to be removed not yet, I can't bring myself to do it just yet because they must serve as a permanent reminder of these now priceless shards of lost-life.

[11]  Each time closet doors are opened showing clothes never to be worn again and each time toys are found strewn on the bedroom floor never to find their way back to the loving caresses of Chase and Colton, we think back to those nose prints adorning Edye-icon's mirror and we remember those precious last moments and the stoic grace of the virginal mother; we are immediately transported into this National Shrine of Lost Souls.

[12]  On initial comparison, the museuming that takes place in regard to Edye Smith appears analogous to the museuming that takes place within the Oklahoma City Bombing commemorative book, In Their Name: Dedicated to the Brave and the Innocent, Oklahoma City, April 1995.7 In both instances, the event is transformed into a collection of frozen artifacts placed in proper chronology, archived with a palpable splash of ideology, and available for frequent revisitation. But, the key difference between these two phenomena is the mediatic fluidity of Edye-icon.

[13]  At first, Edye Smith appears the perfect candidate for sainthood and iconization–she is easily accessible, purely distraught, stereotypically Sooner. She is seemingly fixed, yet still abundant enough in her own willingness to proliferate that the icon will be guaranteed instantaneous national and international identification. Yet, as Edye-icon becomes increasingly detached from its initial site of signification as the presiding Virgin Mother of the Tragedy (with all the dominant ideology that such designation entails) the icon is given the opportunity to be ideologically reinscribed by non-dominant or non-hegemonic ideologies. She is reinscribed as the "speaking subject" and it is a position that Edye-icon never assumes in the dominant ideology.

[14]  Initially, Edye-icon assumes a uni-dimensional, representational status; even though her appearances were abundant and varied, in both visual and verbal dimensions, her functionings were uniform: the icon was always in the service of reproducing, at some level, the ideology of the Church of the Tragedy.

[15]  In this capacity, Edye-icon did speak but it was never with the force of the "knowing subject." Rather, her speech was simply in the order of constantly replaying/restating the discourse of the dominant ideology. To put this another way, Edye-icon speaks but it is only to confirm what is already known. This was a position easily maintained given the heavily gendered orientation offered by the dominant ideology. She speaks to provide a blessing for what has already been spoken about the event. She visually/viscerally embeds the tragedy in our consciousness by extending the details and hyper-realizing the event in a variety of public arenas (CNN, Larry King, Leeza, National Enquirer, Time,People Weekly, Newsweek). Edye-icon gives us all of the details of the bombing with enhanced digital surround-sound effect. Through her we receive an expanded taste of the Tragedy. The flavor is nothing new; the discourse is, at this point, all too familiar– it is simply amplified, enhanced. The icon is never positioned as "speaking her own words" as such, but simply provides enhancements and guarantees for the ideology already in place.

[16]  This uninterrupted magnified flow of ideology is ruptured, however, by the very abundance of the icon itself. The hyper-production is bound to lead to some uncontrolled excess, to an overflow, a non-homogenized icon-remainder that escapes representation by the dominant ideology. In this case, the excess is sucked up for use by a non-dominant ideology, by militia/patriot/For The People/conspiracy ideology.

[17]  In the case of Edye-icon, this spillage comes forth in the form of a May 23,1995 CNN interview which takes place immediately following the demolition of the remains of the Murrah building, and which has been recast/re-titled by Conspiracy Nation (along with others) as "Shut Up!: AKA: The Government Gags Victims. Subject: BATF to OK Victims: SHUT YOUR MOUTH!?"8

[18]  The interview begins as just another in the series of multiple appearances by Edye-icon. CNN's anchor Gary Tuchman is interviewing spectators gathered to watch the felling of the building, among whom are the now always anticipated Smith/Wilburn family. Following a series of Questions and Answers, all of which take on what has become an expected Church of the Tragedy ideological slant, Edye-icon responds to Tuchman with an uncharacteristic twist. GARY TUCHMAN: Edye, at this point you're very busy. You've been talking to people like us, you've been talking to police officials, you've been with your family. But in the next couple of months when things start to get quieter here in Oklahoma City, do you think it will begin getting tougher for you? EDYE SMITH: Yeah, but I don't think things are going to start getting very quiet, you know? There's a–there are a lot of questions that have been left unanswered, a lot of question we don't have answers for, we're being told to keep our mouths shut, not talk about it, don't ask those questions, and I think things are going to get a lot busier. GARY TUCHMAN: What kind of questions have people been telling you to keep your mouth shut about? EDYE SMITH: Well, we've–just from the very beginning, we, along with hundreds and thousands of other people, want to know just–and we just innocently ask questions, you know–where was ATF? All 15 or 17 of their employees survived, and they live–they're on the ninth floor. They were the target of this explosion, and where were they? Did they have a warning sign? I mean, did they think it might be a bad day to go in the office. They had an option to not go to work that day, and my kids didn't get that option, nobody else in the building got that option. And we're just asking questions, we're not making accusations. We just want to know, and they're telling us 'Keep your mouth shut, don't talk about it.' GARY TUCHMAN: Well, Edye Smith and the Wilburns, thanks for joining us. Obviously, there are still a lot of questions that have to be answered about this investigation, and I'm sure you'll be seeking answers to those questions.

[19]  Such slippages in the maintenance of the icon are inevitable, and for non-dominant ideologies the imagined voice of the producer of this segment is audible through Tuchman's earpiece: "End the interview now, idiot! Get them off the air! The truth is spilling forth!" And it is this imagined leak, this realization/fabrication that the Edye-icon is not as firmly anchored, as completely homogenized as formerly suspected that fuels the appropriation of the icon by these non-dominant ideologies.

[20]  Indeed, for the militia and the conspiracy theorists Edye-icon's knowledge of the truth of the bombings is evidenced by this leakage and now all the other artifacts attesting to this truth are able to be threaded through this newly appropriated icon. But first the icon itself must be anchored, recast, regraphed into the seductively low-budget bunker world of the patriots and conspiracy theorists.

Recasting of an Icon: Edye for the People

[21]  Edye-icon appears in militia videos, on militia and conspiracy theory radio shows, and on Internet web sites.9 She no longer glows with the illumination she possessed when presiding over the Church; rather, Edye-icon now reeks of the real of the people. No longer is she the mourning mother of lost children or woman striving to regain her fertility. This Edye is ironically-given the heavily gendered orientation of much of the militia's ideology-gender neutral, at least in comparison to her casting in the dominant ideology. Edye is The People first; mother, child bearer second. Cast as an intentionally unmediated-mediation, she is placed in a raw, dim, indistinct, poorly edited, rambling, paranoid, obsessive text. With these images and techniques, we are assured that the videos and radio broadcasts have never been touched by any agency's hands; they are scrubbed clean of any such bureaucratic contamination because we all agree that this is the one thing no one can stomach. We see only solitary head shots or, when space does not permit, a camera simply panning between talking heads taking turns on a couch in what appears to be a low-rent hotel room.

[22]  But in this case, location does not matter; in fact, the absence of any adorned placement is the point of these broadcasts. The truth does not need the glossy spin of Big Government public relations hype. With it all bearings are lost. We've become used to the familiarity of the unprofessional stilted splicing-in of the head of Janet Reno and the seemingly mis-timed eruptions of the tinny voice of former President Bush exalting the virtues of the New World Order. It is what makes this home. It is the quick editing flips between the arrogant smiles of Clinton Inc., the eternal image of the ATF breaking in Branch Davidian glass, a UPC bar-code tattooed on the back of some poor unsuspecting sucker's head, and the apocalyptic visions of the insertion of the ever-present, ever-undetectable microchips under that oh-so-thin layer of forearm skin that we've grown so incredibly in love with. We would be disappointed if theses image were not present and this is why images such as the U.S. Constitution engulfed in flames and BATFers encased in black riot-gear, looking down at us from on high, overcharged with the power of the Anti-Terrorism bill, are ubiquitous to this scene.

[23]  This is porno for patriots, the wet dream inspired by TheTurner Diaries, and the apocalypse prophesied by Randy Weaver et al wrapped into one. Everything we had feared might happen has happened, indeed is happening: at last, state terror is upon us and WE are fighting back because there is no way we are taking this.

[24]  Cast into this raw scene is Edye-icon. She is neither the Virgin Madonna of the National Tragedy nor a glorified parrot of national ideology. Gone are those days when she is played as a veritable patsy of the bombing, positioned as that inescapable image which circumvents the sight of the nation away from the Truth of the event. Edye-icon is redeemed from her status as co-conspirator to the cover-up of the bombing as she is liberated from such abuse through the triumph of appropriation. She is successfully recast into the thick of the non-dominant scene. This transformation is, however, not (we are assured) one motivated or artificially engineered by the progenitors of the non-dominant ideology; no, such fraud is left to others. This transformation begins with her voice, the voice of the privileged witness. Edye-icon is no longer filled with the loss, misery, and sacrifice of its original casting. She is now pregnant with the truth of the event and is able to speak in ways formerly not possible. Never again will Edye-icon be silenced by the quick-thinkings of the CNN staff. This voice escaped from the world of spin with a reason that can never be contained: the pursuit of truth will always prevail and the embodiers of such pursuits shall be rewarded.

[25]  With such intent, Edye-icon is repositioned into this scene of the patriot, of the People, of those whose mission it is to reveal what has been concealed. She is given the only reward befitting such redemption: Edye-icon is given the power that she would have never been allowed to touch had she remained firmly affixed to the Church of the Tragedy. She is given the power to speak, and it is a gift she neither turns her back on nor takes for granted. Again, Edye whole-heartedly embraces her fame.

Threading the Truth Through Edye-icon: Evidence of a Conspiracy

[26]  At last, Edye-icon is adequately primed and the true events of the bombing can be thread through her; she is firmly embedded in the non-dominant ideology and can be used effectively without fear of rupture. The depth of Edye-icon's knowledge of the truth of the bombing can be revealed; it is no longer limited to the simple queries regarding the absence of the ATF agents prior to and during the bombing, but this is indeed where the pursuit of truth begins. From this point, we are shown the extent of the deception and it extends far beneath these initial "surface" leaks. Edye-icon is there to lead us through it all; she is not a mere representative of the pursuit of the truth but, like any true revolutionary, she transforms representations into actions and is instrumental in the revelation of the truth as well.

I. Government Prior Knowledge

Exhibit A: The ATF Escapes Unhurt

[27]  Not only are ATF agents absent prior to and during the bombing, escaping all the explosion's harm, but the agents are mysteriously present immediately following the bombing. Eyewitnesses see ATF agents, uniformed and in plainclothes, rummaging unscathed through the rubble in traditional investigatory style, zip-loc-ing away evidence crucial to proving the existence of the second and third explosions. Ah, the tricky bastards! How was it possible for the ATF to escape such damage, and why are these same ATF agents present immediately following the bombing? Just ask the eyewitnesses and the truth will be told. These "people's testimonies," inspired by the courage that Edye-icon showed in the face of the fascists at CNN, make the process of revealing the truth all the more important, all the more necessary. Edye-icon stands as an example of how the truth of what the people see can never be suppressed, can never be shut up, and leads others to actions based on similar values.

[28]  All of the evidence proving that the government had prior knowledge of the bombing is saturated in the people's ability to see the truth. One victim of the bombing states that while he was looking through the rubble searching for a lost loved one, he overheard an ATF agent saying that he had survived the blast because "We were tipped by our pagers not to come into work today."10 Claims that ATF agents were indeed caught in the blast but miraculously saved–as the fifth-floor elevator that they were trapped in was mysteriously able to deliver them to safety–are dismissed by elevator experts and other eyewitnesses as pure rubbish.

[29]  Evidence of government prior knowledge is unending because eyewitnesses to the bombing are equally unending. An unusually heavy presence of law-enforcement agents is seen around the Murrah building hours prior to the blast. "Inside sources" reveal that several calls were received by government agencies prior to 9:02 am April 19th, 1995, announcing that the Murrah building will be attacked. Prior knowledge of the blast runs deep as even the Executive Secretariat's Office at the Justice Department in Washington D.C. received a call 24 minutes prior to the bombing. This fact is revealed by a government document that states: "The caller said 'The federal building in Oklahoma City has just been bombed.'"11 The overwhelming amount of evidence confirms what we have always suspected: the Government knew full well what was going to happen at the Murrah building that fateful day. Not only did they know and do nothing, but also they were key in orchestrating a cover-up. None of this comes as a surprise. We've seen it all along.

Exhibit B: Undercover Government Operative: Carol Howe and Andreas Strassmeir.

[30]  Carol Howe and Andreas Strassmeir are both enigmatic players in this scene. They are figured as ATF undercover agents or federal informants who have worked intensely with the extreme right wing in the United States. Both are the subjects of countless works by authors bent on proving not only that the U.S. government had prior knowledge of the bombing, but that the government, primarily the BATF, had informants in place within certain extreme right-wing movements and were responsible for inciting and then orchestrated the bombing, leaving McVeigh (and whoever else) as unwitting stool pigeons, duped into taking the rap.

[31]  In typical ideological fashion, most of the evidence regarding Howe and Strassmeir are derived from a single source but reprinted and cited so frequently that one is given an illusion of in-depth research. In this case, the single source is an article written by Ambrose Evans-Prichard, reporter for London's Sunday Telegraph.12 Evan-Pritchard reports that the U.S. Government had been frequently warned of the bombing by Carol Howe, a 26-year-old former Miss Teenage America semi-finalist turned ATF federal informant. After high school, Miss Howe becomes active in the militant racist group White Aryan Resistance (WAR). In 1994, Carol Howe turns informant and is paid to infiltrate the Christian Identity white-separatist commune "Elohim City." She was paid $120 a week in 1994 to monitor the neo-Nazi compound on the Oklahoma/Arkansas border and "wrote monthly reports for her ATF case officer in Tulsa, warning that the group was planning to blow up a federal building, with a probable target date of April 19th, 1995." Howe eventually narrows down the location of the target to three sites, one in Oklahoma City and two in Tulsa.

[32]  Carol Howe embodies the spirit of the newly appropriated Edye-icon; she too is classified as another privileged witness who won't shut up.13 She takes Edye-icon's lead after the bombing and declares that the truth can never be suppressed, regardless of the pressure placed on them by the government. Edye-icon has first-hand experience with such pressure. Following the infamous CNN interview, both Edye Smith and Kathy Wilburn, Edye's mom, have their Workers' compensation checks cut off. This is read as a reprisal for not keeping quiet and not believing the bullshit that the government feeds its people.14

[33]  Howe receives similar treatment at the hands of the Agencies. Not only is she declared emotionally "unstable" and "cut loose by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for unreliability," but also she is arrested on "trumped-up" bomb-making charges–a supposed effort to taint her image because she is a hoped-for key witness for McVeigh's defense.15

[34]  Howe is not, however, allowed to testify at the McVeigh trial. Her role at Elohim City is regarded as irrelevant by Judge Richard Matsch system servant and therefore cannot be included in the McVeigh trial. This is a particularly sore spot for Stephen Jones, lead defense attorney for Timothy McVeigh. He argued that without her testimony evidence of an international conspiracy to bomb the Murrah building would go unexplored, resulting in an incomplete and therefore inadequate defense for his client. Jones' complaint falls on deaf ears and, once again, the truth is kept from light. At least Carol Howe, with the inspiration offered by Edye-icon, continues on in the efforts to reveal the truth of the bombing.

[35]  Investigations into Andreas Strassmeir provides more evidence of government prior knowledge; however, unlike Howe, he is still considered to be under government protection, thus making his role in the bombing all the more profound. Many argue that Strassmeir is in fact John Doe #2 and was swiftly relocated after the bombing by the U.S. Government to Germany. This explains the mysterious and hasty disappearance of the one-time hotly hunted "harsh and swarthy" accomplice of McVeigh.

[36]  Strassmeir's placement in the "true" events of the Oklahoma City bombing is almost too stereotypical, making his role in the bombing all the more compelling because those often involved inactual covert activities (take for example Oliver North and any of the other individuals actually involved in aiding the Contras) possess a larger-than-life, movie-fied persona. In other words, Strassmeir fits in just perfectly for anyone concerned with painting the "real" of the conspiracy behind the bombing.

[37]  Strassmeir is son of German politician Gunther Strassmeir, often referred to (we are constantly reminded throughout the literature) as the "architect of German reunification." Drawn directly out of a German version of True Lies, he is considered a highly trained Germany intelligence operative and member of the elite German counter-terrorism unit, GSG-9. Strassmeir is covertly hired by the ATF to spearhead a sting operation of the extreme right. He becomes chief of security and weapons training at Elohim City in 1993 but when the operation fails (the bombing is not prevented) Strassmeir is hidden away by the government so as to erase any tracks. Elohim City is one of the last calls McVeigh makes before the bombing, providing further evidence of the link between government informants and the blast.

[38]  How is Strassmeir and the activities at Elohim City threaded through Edye-icon? Again, she is instrumental in not allowing the truth to be suppressed as the wrongful death suit that Edye Smith files against Timothy McVeigh advertises the non-dominant ideologies' investigation into the truth.

[39]  The original wrongful death suit filed by Smith in January 1996 only includes Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. But, a new suit, filed in October 1996, is expanded to include both the original defendants andAndreas Strassmeir as well.16 The wrongful death suit is a written testimony to the speaking power that Edye-icon assumes via her appropriation by the non-dominant ideologies. Her suit identifies those who, up until this point, had been conveniently classified by the government as simply "others unknown to the grand jury."17 This ambiguous classification makes it easier, as Edye-icon and others see it, for the Government to never look beyond McVeigh and Nichols in terms of locating the truth of the Oklahoma City Bombing. By naming the "others unknown," Edye-icon makes the circumvention of the truth all the more difficult. No longer a mute, whose only function is to reproduce that ideology that keeps the people in the grips of false consciousness, Edye-icon speaks. Through her speaking, she becomes instrumental in the lifting of the blinders so that others can also see the truth.18

II. The Bombing is Not the Work of a Lone Bomber: The Proof of Government Involvement.

     Exhibit C: USAF Brigadier General Ben Partin

[40]  Edye-icon opens the doors on the revelation of truth; others open it wider. One of the most compelling pushes on the door is the testimony offered by the former USAF Brigadier General Ben Partin. Convincingly cast as a renowned munitions expert throughout the non-dominant ideologies' investigation, it is clear that Partin concerns himself with nothing but the facts, only with the truth of the bombing. He is shrouded in graphs and pictorials depicting shock waves and internal building structures, all illustrating the extent and limitations of fertilizer bombs. He appears seemingly outside of any "deviant" ideology and negotiates this world with only the aid of Armed Forces training and the never-deceptive remains of the bombs.

[41]  General Partin is more than convinced that there could be no explanation for the devastation reaped upon the Murrah building other than the presence of multiple internal explosives rigged to four of the supporting columns of the structure itself. With this assurance, Partin moves beyond mere conviction and assumes a categorical level of confidence possible only with military training or an unflinching faith in science. Given the extent of damage, the former General concludes that, even with flawless assembly and execution, no such type of fertilizer bomb (as was claimed to be in the Ryder Truck) could cause such damage. Partin argues that the bulk of the impact originated at an internal, not external, point. This is evidenced by the cleanly sheered columns, the particular types of fractures found in the rebar, the length and depth of the bomb-crater outside the building, the direction in which the debris was thrown, and the density and color of the cloud that floated above the wreckage. The most important evidence of the internal origination of the impact is the smooth, granular surface and protruding steel reinforcements that remained on the internal columns. All of this points to the evidence of a much higher detonation velocity, much higher than a mere fertilizer truck-bomb could produce.

[42]  All of this evidence–the massive as well as the minute–leads the General to the conclusion that the bombing was masterminded by expert individuals, highly knowledgeable in the field of explosives and who definitely had considerable access to the building prior to the explosion. Again, all evidence in support of the truth.

Exhibit D: The Secret Pentagon Report

[43]  The retired Brigadier General Partin's analysis of the bombing is further vindicated (as if such additional support is necessary), as knowledge of the Secret Pentagon Report on the Oklahoma City bombing is leaked to the Internet via J. Orlin Grabbe's homepage.19 These secret reports reveal that the Pentagon "commissioned nine explosive experts to write independent reports on the bombing" all of who draw conclusions that are similar to those drawn by General Partin. None of the authors of the Secret report would agree to speak publicly (citing confidentiality agreements with the pentagon). No surprise there.

[44]  In regards to the above reference to the secret Pentagon reports, I emailed Mr. Grabbe.20 I did this not so much to see if I could get some true "confirmation" regarding these papers, but rather just to see what, if any, kind of a response I may receive. His curt to-the-point response to my inquiry–"Better check with the Pentagon"–lured me back to explore, in more depth, his homepage.

[45]  What can be discovered on the homepage is that Mr. Grabbe is the ill-famed individual who is fingered by the telemagazine 60 Minutes as being a prime example of the proliferation of misinformation on the Internet, specifically in regards to what caused the TWA Flight 800 crash (a missile).

[46]  On many levels the site is typical of the conspiracy genre: there are little to no graphics, the articles are presented in a simple textual presentation, and many of the articles spin out into long, tightly wound series, all of which are written by a single source, Grabbe. The subjects of the articles change over time, but they generally examine those topics that are viewed as being swept under the rug by the mass media. Grabbe extensively details Vince Foster's death, the criminalities of Clinton's presidency (including a cocaine habit), the Oklahoma bombing, the missiles which destroyed TWA 800, and the coming war in the Middle East, among other topics.

[47]  Perusing Grabbe's homepage, one finds an amusing level of self-reflexivity, sort of a parodying, or more precisely, a playfulness with the conspiracy genre itself. This is an element that is either often missing from other conspiracy events or is simply overlooked when being observed in order to maintain a consistent "what-a-bunch-of-freaks" take on it.

[48]  This self-reflexivity comes out most clearly in Grabbe's reflections on his 60 Minutes interview with Leslie Stahl. Most likely an intelligent man–he received a Ph.D. from Harvard in economics in 1981 and taught at the prestigious Wharton School of Business for five years (Grabbe seems a likely candidate for Son of the Unabomber; unlike Mr. Kaczynski, however, Grabbe seems to have retained a vibrant sense of humor)–Grabbe does not miss a step in illuminating the irony of 60 Minutes' efforts to identify what in effect serves as a deterrence machine so as to further reinforce the failing boundaries between "real" (60 Minutes) and "simulated" (Internet) research within electronic media.

[49]  Grabbe lives near the infamous Area 51, U2/Stealth test arena and/or UFO harbor, and it is here where he agrees to conduct the interview–a perfect background, so thinks Stahl, to confirm the assertion of the lunacy and disrepute of much of the "so-called research" found on the Internet. In an amusing twist, however, Grabbe agrees to meet Stahl at another "Area 51," the local alternative music bar, a hangout for drunks and pre-Xfilers. It is here that the interview takes place. Grabbe is dressed in over-the-top conspiracy garb and gives Stahl precisely what she wants, but all with a palpable sense of self-parodying and play. All of this appears to miss Stahl, at least from Grabbe's perspective.

[50]  What is interesting about Grabbe's homepage is not only its ability, as already stated, to find the irony and general absurdity in mainstream media's attempts at purifying mediated information, but also its ability to illuminate the complexities of the Conspiracy genre itself. To simply relegate all conspiracy theory to the lunatic fringe is to overlook not only much of the humor that certain aspects of the genre possess, but also to disregard the important questions the genre raises considering the fluidity of information and the rapid transfer and transformation of texts. In many ways, Grabbe is correct when he states "The Internet, in general, and the published pages of the World-Wide-Web, in particular, undermine the authority of the priestly caste of Editors presiding over the NYTimes."

[51]  An argument is not being made here as to the validity of what is posted on the Internet or on Grabbe's page. But, to simply make suspect all information presented on the net, particularly by theorists of conspiracy, ultimately acts only in the tabooing of the text. This is a mechanism that not only serves to invest the text with a certain level of power or meaning but, more importantly, the tabooing of texts on the net provides the reader with a strategy for continuously distancing oneself from potential objects of inquiry. To taboo a text based on a preconception of worthlessness, and to in turn provide a continuous mechanism for distancing oneself from a text/object, is a useless strategy. Not only does such a strategy provide prejudicial categories by which to guide one's investigation and inquiry, but it further installs an attitude that demands the world reveal itself to you rather than giving yourself the ultimate freedom to explore the world, in whatever capacity that it presents itself.

[52]  Nevertheless, here it all is: The Truth. A case proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The evidence goes on and on and on; the result of this accumulation of evidence is a twisting but delightfully coherent and seductive conspiracy narrative of the bombing. The truth of the event is no longer confined to what now appears as the simple queries presented by Edye-icon on CNN. It runs much deeper; not only did specific governmental agencies have advanced knowledge of the bombing, but also they were in fact part of the bombing itself. As with any great conspiracy theory, any event or piece of evidence that is presented by the theory is seamlessly woven into the conspiracy web, each event acting only to strengthen and proliferate the theory. No evidence is counter-productive or damaging as it is simply brought into the web.

[53]  Throughout the entire presentation of the evidence of conspiracy, there is one element that is ever-present: Edye-icon. Even as the evidence of conspiracy moves beyond Edye-icon's initial stance against CNN's efforts to misinform, she reappears with amazing frequency in the conspiracy literature–an appearance on a public-access talk show here, a quote supporting another theory there, as if every additional event must at some level be thread through Edye-icon, linked back to her initial act of daring. All of this becomes a genuflection made to the presiding anointed-witness turned semi-activist. After all, what could be a greater coup for the truth than to take away from the falsifiers their one major icon? She is no longer theirs but ours and we worship her by making her omni-present.


[54]  Given the necessity by both dominant and non-dominant ideologies to have Edye-icon "ever-present" in order to continue the smooth reproduction of these ideologies, one could conclude that there are few differences between Edye-icon as Virgin of the Tragedy and Edye-icon as Truth Seeker. In both instances, the icon is held up as that element that signifies or provides specific and necessary meaning for the event. What, then, is the difference? Is it only a question of appearance? When in service to one ideology the icon assumes one appearance–blessed mourner–and when in service to the other, assumes another appearance–victim turned people's activist–? In both instances, the icon is used in the effective reproduction of whatever ideology it serves; Edye-icon seems to be easily passed between ideologies, at least when one looks at the one-way movement from the dominant to the non-dominant.

[55]  Given this ease of movement, its fluidity of transfer and the facility of its appropriation, Edye-icon can be considered a perfect example of the postmodern empty sign. Incapable of absorbing any of the meaning that an ideology invests in it, but perfect in its capacity to reflect, even magnify this meaning back into the ideology itself, Edye-icon aids in the reproduction, perhaps simulation, of whatever ideology it serves. All of these examples provide Edye-icon with the necessary attributes for being classified as an empty sign or, even more accurately, an illustration of Baudrillard's third order simulation: an image that does not reflecta true reality but rather one that, in its reflection of everything, anything, or nothing, masks the absence of a true reality. Indeed, Edye-icon's role is to reflect and that is all.

[56]  Perhaps such a reading of Edye-icon as an empty sign is possible if one only looks at the appropriation of Edye-icon by the non-dominant ideologies from the dominant. A truer test of being an empty sign comes from a consideration of whether Edye-icon can be re-reappropriated back into use by dominant ideology. In other words, could the icon be as easily reappropriated back into service for dominant ideology–as would be expected of an empty, referentless sign–or has Edye-icon assumed, through the process of ideological investment and reinvestment a residue that makes future reappropriation impossible? Is Edye-icon permanently stained with the investments of non-dominant ideology?

[57]  It would appear that on certain levels Edye-icon most definitely functions as an empty sign. She remains firmly affixed to the dominant ideology despite reinscription by the non-dominant. She does appear in the dominant ideology's media coverage prior to and following the McVeigh trial but without as much frequency as before. In fact, many other victims take center stage during the trial and Edye-icon is rarely present to referentialize the event.

[58]  Even though Edye-icon does not appear as much during the dominant media's coverage of the McVeigh trial, it would be difficult to link this diminishing appearance to her appropriation by non-dominant ideologies. The first year following the bombing, Edye-icon appears with equal frequency in both dominant and non-dominate literature, suggesting that her reign as the Virgin Madonna was in no way jeopardized by her reign as Truth Seeker, making it difficult to argue that this would become the case during the trial.

[59]  Furthermore, the specific ideological slant offered by the dominant media coverage of the trial demanded a different victim-icon to magnify and reproduce this new dimension of the dominant ideology. Edye-icon was too saturated in mourning, loss, and nostalgia to effectively reproduce the new ideological twist. The new victim-icons of the trial are able to change the focus from that of loss to that of demands for confession and remorse, both elements necessary for the reproduction of judicial truth. This is a task Edye-icon would not have been capable of effectively undertaking. Given this analysis, perhaps it is safe to conclude that there are limitations to icon reinscription; at least within the sphere of one ideology, it seems difficult for a single icon to act as an empty sign, immediately available for reinscription.21

[60]  Yet, despite decreasing appearances and the introduction of new icons, Edye-icon still plays an integral part in the reproduction of the dominant ideology, especially the dimension of the ideology introduced the first months following the blast. It is as if we now have nostalgia for the originary loss of the bombing and Edye-icon needs to occasionally pop up to provide us again with easy access to this pain. Photos of Chase and Colton's decimated bodies are introduced during the trial, giving the jurors a quick fix of The Tragedy. Another fix follows the McVeigh trial, as an article appears in a popular woman's magazine entitled "That Mass Murderer Killed My Boys." In the article, not only are the eternal Chase and Colton stories retold and Edye-icon re-crowned Madonna, but the whole of the Church of the National Tragedy is refreshed for us. We need these reminders of the pain McVeigh inflicted on us, especially at this sacred post-trial time.22

[61]  The best example of Edye-icon's role post-trial, however, is her appearances the night the guilty verdict is announced. On the night the verdict is announced, Edye-icon makes a brief appearance on CNN to declare that, at last, after years of trying, she has finally received word that very afternoon–of all days!–that she is "safely" pregnant. This reference to being "safely" pregnant has two levels of meaning. On one level, she is referring to her several failed attempts at conception and the complications that have accompanied these attempts. But, on another level, Edye-icon, in perfect dominant ideological fashion, links the "safety" of her new fetus to the verdict of McVeigh's guilt and the death sentence that awaits him. States Edye-icon: "It's ironic to find out today, but he (McVeigh) can't have this one, he can't take this one away from me." The fetus is inscribed not only as the fruits of Edye-icon's tenure as Virgin Madonna, but it is further inscribed as the first generation safe from the evils of McVeigh. At last, closure is found and it is located in the same site as the initial loss originated … in the womb of Edye-icon.

[62]  And there goes Edye-icon, the travels of an empty sign, able to satisfy the desires of many a different ideology. Equally available to the dominant and the non-dominant alike, each get what they want and neither are jeopardized by the other's use of the sign. In fact, the non-dominant ideologies benefit from Edye-icon's travels through the Church of the National Tragedy. As Edye-icon is reinscribed by non-dominant ideologies as The Truth Seeker, so too is the non-dominant's quest for the truth inscribed–via the residue left on Edye-icon by the dominant inscription–as the Real Church of the National Tragedy. They needed the residue of that other National Tragedy because it assists them in inscribing the cover-up of the Oklahoma City bombing, along with the equally hidden massacre at Waco, as the Real National Tragedies that face this nation. Both ideologies benefit and Edye-icon gets free re-fertilization to boot.

[63]  One final comment that addresses the statement made in the introduction that this essay offers a corrective to Baudrillard's assumptions regarding conditions in postmodernity. One could argue that Edye-icon, as an empty sign, plays a role not in the effective reproduction of these ideologies but rather in their effective simulation. And, indeed, this is the case. It is difficult to regard the manifestations of either the dominant or non-dominant ideologies–the endless memorialization of the victims, the endless reenactments of the blast, the equally endless evidence disproving the Ryder truck as the origination of the blast, the endless duplications of the CNN Edye interview–as anything but simulations. In the case of both ideologies, however, these simulations are taken for the real and that is all that matters. The conspiracy theorists take the simulations for the real, the militia undoubtedly take the simulations for the real, and the bombing victims take it all for the real. In all of these instances, too much meaning is at stake in these ideologies, and reality and meaning are not as easily orbitalized as theorized by Baudrillard. Questions of indifference, of inertia, and of the hyperreality that results from the real being threatened are moot, as no such threat is perceived. The real is so heavy with ideological investment that even its own use of simulation is of no harm to itself. In these instances, simulation is in service to the real and it is here where we find an adjustment to Baudrillard's theory. In the ideologically and politically heated times of the late 1990s-times so different from the politically cool and culturally playful times in which Baudrillard developed his theory of simulation-we see individuals and groups living well within the realm of simulation, putting their bodies (as well as those of others) on the line in a very visceral, indeed very real way. Timothy McVeigh is, of course, just one of many examples. The flourishing of the militia movement, the rise of the conservative but still mainstream right (Pat Buchanan et al), and even the most current example of Kenneth Starr and his undying quest to undo Clinton at any cost, all attests to the fact that many are not only motivated by an ideology thick with simulation, but can and do find an agreed upon reality from which to act. They act with vigor previously thought impossible, at least given the parameters of Baudrillard's work.



  1. For more on the role of transparency and the workings of ideology, see Louis Althusser's discussion of 'obviousness' in his essay "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971). back
  2. For more on children, the fetus, and citizenship see Lauren Berlant, The Queen of America Goes to Washington City: Essays on Sex and Citizenship (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997). back
  3. Baudrillard uses the term "simulated" in reference to those events or images that are models of the real but are without origin or relation to a reality. One example Baudrillard uses to clarify this term is his differentiation between the feigning and simulating of an illness. To feign an illness, one simply pretends to be sick and goes to bed. To simulate an illness on the other hand, one actually produces some of the symptoms in the body-a rash, a fever, a twitch-but without evidence of a real internal disorder-a high blood count, nerve damage, etc.-in which to find origin or a "reality" for these symptoms. Unlike the feigner, who is unable to produce "real" symptoms and thus never brings into question the reality of illness, the simulator's ability to produce "true" symptoms brings into question the "real" of illness. Is s/he ill or not? It is this destabilization of what is real via simulation that Baudrillard argues makes it difficult to invest the real with meaning. For further clarification of how the real is destabilized by simulation see Jean Baudrillard'sSimulacra and Simulation, particularly the section "The Precession of Simulacra" (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994). back
  4. Datasphere is a term used by some media critics to express the notion that the media is no longer an inert, objective reflector of events but is rather an independent organism in which information circulates freely and in many instances takes on a cultural and political significance beyond the intentions of the original event/actor. For more see Douglas Rushkoff, Media Virus!:Hidden Agendas in Popular Culture (New York: Ballentine Books, 1996). back
  5. See Alex Witchel, "Edye Smith to Rise From Ashes," The New York Times News Service. back
  6. Nancy Gibbs, "The Blood of Innocents: In the Bombs Aftermath, Tales of Horror and Heroism," Time, 1 May 1995. See also Richard Jerome, "A Time For Healing," People Weekly, 8 May 1995 and Richard Jerome, "Once More With Feeling," People Weekly, 11 September 1995. back
  7. Clive Irving, ed., In Their Name: Dedicated to the Brave and the Innocent, Oklahoma City, April 1995 (New York: Random House, 1995). back
  8. This article, along with numerous others, is located atConspiracy Nation's Internet Site on the World Wide Web. back
  9. Edye Smith makes appearances on the Militia of Montana video, The Bombs of Oklahoma, as well as the short-wave radio and public-access television broadcast of For the People. back
  10. Ian William Goddard, "Federal Government Prior Knowledge of the Oklahoma City," Oklahoma City Bombing Information Center, Goddard bases much of his research on an ABC 20/20 report on bombing conspiracies that aired on 17January 1997. See also Edward Zehr, "Oklahoma City Cover-up Collapsing?" Washington Weekly, 10 February 1997. back
  11. Goddard. back
  12. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard and A. Gimson, "Did Agents Bungle U.S. Terror Bomb?" The Sunday Telegraph, 20 May 1996. Similar evidence is found at E Pluribus Unum hompage ( as well as in many articles by J.D. Cash of the McCurtain Daily Gazette of Idabel, Oklahoma. His work, like Evan-Pritchard's, is virtually synonymous with the truth in the non-dominant ideological circles. back
  13. This theme is developed by J. D. Cash in "Howe: I'm Not Keeping My Mouth Shut Any Longer," John Doe Times. This is an electronic newspaper published by 1st Alabama Cavalry Regiment (Constitutional Militia) and can be found at back
  14. Galvin Phillips, "The Bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City," Oklahoma City Bombing Information Center Internet Site. back
  15. Paul Queary, "Bombing Informant Ruffles Case," Associated Press, 23 February 1997. back
  16. Associated Press, "Three Added to Suit in OKC Bomb Deaths." 6 October 1996. back
  17. The federal Grand Jury indictment reads "Timothy James McVeigh and Terry Lynn Nichols, the defendant herein, did knowingly, willfully and maliciously conspire, combine and agree together and with other unknown to the Grand Jury to use a weapon of mass destruction…"(my emphasis). back
  18. Also named in Smith's revised wrongful death suit are Michael Fortier, accomplice turned government informant, and Michael Brescia. The latter is a member of the Aryan Republican Army as well as a former resident of Elohim City. See also Erich Smith, "Leading White Supremacist, Four Others Charged in Midwest Bank Robberies." Associated Press. back
  19. Grabbe, J. Orlin, "Secret Pentagon Report on Oklahoma City Bombing– Evidence of an Inside Job?", 1997. back
  20. Grabbe's homepage is located at back
  21. Edye Smith and Hallie Levine, "That Mass Murderer Killed My Boys," Cosmopolitan, August 1997. back
  22. Reuter Press Service, "Bomb Victims' Mother Pregnant," 3 June 1997. See also CNN's evening coverage, 3 June 1997. back