(LEX 18) — Michelle Rauch teaches broadcast media arts at Eastside Technical Center in Lexington, having previously worked as a television reporter. She attended Southern Methodist University in the early-1990s and wrote for the school newspaper. During her senior year, the Waco siege played out not far away. During spring break, she and a classmate drove to Waco in search of a story.
"I didn't know what I was looking for. I just knew I would find a story when I would get there,"
Along the road leading to the compound, Rauch spotted a few people with signs. She decided she had found her story. There was a Seventh-Day Adventist, some people selling shirts, and another man wearing a red, plaid shirt and camouflage hat.
"This lone man, sitting by himself, unassuming, on the hood of his car and had some anti-government, anti-gun control bumper stickers he was selling," Rauch said. "I just walked up and was like, 'Hi, I'm a college journalist and I'd love to talk to you about why you're here.'"
She said the man was passionate but calm.
"He just feared the government and that was the message I walked away with. Here's this man, about my age. We both grew up in America and he has this fear of the government, that they're in our lives and that they're snooping on us and we need to be afraid of them taking our rights away. I left thinking, 'Wow, how did we grow up in the same country and have completely different views of the government?'," Rauch said. "That said, I really was fascinated to talk to him because I enjoy talking to people who have differing views to find out why do you think this way?"
The man's face and name faded from Rauch's memory over the next few years. The Oklahoma City bombing happened on April 19, 1995. On the one-year anniversary, Rauch was working her first television news job. That day, another station in town aired a story about a newly-discovered video showing Timothy McVeigh at the Waco standoff. She recognized the man in the red shirt and camo cap instantly.
"I just stood there and blurted out, 'I interviewed that man'," she said. "No one in my newsroom could believe me."
Soon, Rauch's previous encounter with McVeigh drew the attention of the FBI, and she was ultimately called to testify about that conversation at McVeigh's trial.
"He looked at me and he mouthed, 'Hello'. Then I did my testimony, which wasn't too long, and then when it was over, I looked over one more time and he mouthed, 'Thank you'," Rauch said.
Rauch was confused by what McVeigh said. She later asked his defense attorney what he meant.
"I said, 'Why did he say thank you?' and Steven said, 'Because you were his voice in a very small way.'"
In her testimony, Rauch described the conversation she had with McVeigh on the side of the road, two years before the bombing. In that interview, he talked about his frustration with the government. He told Rauch that the government was growing too large and that people needed to defend themselves. McVeigh's attorney told Rauch that her account of the conversation on the witness stand gave him an opportunity to have his voice heard.
"He said, 'We, clearly, were not going to put him on the stand and you were, in a very small way, able to express his views at that time. He wanted people to know what he thought and he said that you represented him fairly and he appreciated that,'" Rauch said. "Any good journalist, that's what you're going to do. You're going to represent people fairly."
McVeigh was convicted and executed. His bomb killed 168 people in Oklahoma City 27 years ago today. What stuck with Rauch all these years was how normal her conversation with him seemed. She said he gave no indication of violent tendencies that would later result in the deaths of so many people in Oklahoma City. She said it shows how good some people can be at masking their true nature.
"A lot of people have asked over the years, 'Wasn't he scary? Didn't he scare you?' because I think, by nature, someone who's going to commit this horrific crime and kill men, women, and children, federal employees, innocent people, must be a monster. Yes, what he did is monstrous, but we can see scary coming. When someone is the guy next door and you don't see scary coming, you don't know what might be boiling right next to you," Rauch said.