This is part 2 of a play.
Part 1 http://www.dailykos.com/...
Your writings about Timothy McVeigh are an example. Can you
explain to us how you got involved with his story?
I had followed his case in The New York Times, which is
something like Pravda was under the Soviet Union. In other
words, you can get the news if you know how to read between
the lines--but it's hard. And I heard that this lone crazed
killer, had blown up a building in Oklahoma City. Then he
was condemned to death after what was a very hasty trial,
with a terrible defense, and he got up--he didn't speak
during the trial--he had denied having done it--and the judge
was about to sentence him to death and said, "Do you have
anything to say to the court?" And he said, "I would like to
quote Justice Brandeis dissenting in Olmstead versus US--the
Supreme Court case--and he recited it, he said, "Our
government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher, for good
or ill it teaches the whole people by example." He didn't go
to the end of the dissent--it's a couple of paragraphs--but
it was at the very end that Brandeis said--this was a
dissenting opinion, not a majority one--"if the government
feels that in the pursuit of what it regards as crime, that
it may itself commit criminal acts, retribution will be
terrible." Well what happened at Oklahoma City was
retribution done by one man because of what the government
had done at Waco. Janet Reno ordered the FBI to take out
this perfectly harmless bunch of religious nuts, evangelical
Christians, who had withdrawn from the world. They cooked up
some charges against them, needless to say all false. The
leader was a pedophile and a Nazi--kept a picture of Hitler
under his bed. Just the usual nonsense of demonizing--and
the Clinton Administration ordered the FBI in to take them
out. They killed 180 people. 27 children were killed to
protect them from the pedophile. The government then said
the cultists had set the fires upon themselves and shot each
other and so on--total lies. And a former hero of the Gulf
War called McVeigh who had won the Bronze Star--which is the
highest medal for infantrymen outside of the Medal of Honor-
a perfect soldier, a kind of Eagle Scout, a straight-arrow
type, he was just out of the army, and he went to Waco, and
he watched this 52-day siege. And so, he said, "Any
government that does this is going to suffer terrible
retribution," and he decided he would be the one to do it.
And you had a correspondence with him for a bit.
We started to correspond, and in a letter to me he said, "my
first impression when I saw contrary to all law, that the FBI
was using military army tanks to attack the building--I
thought only the Chinese did that sort of thing to their
people, and here is the Federal Bureau of Investigation doing
that." After 52 days the FBI went in and killed people, and
destroyed the building--they called it Showtime--a giggly
sense of humor our secret police has. Well, he decided he'd
give them another Showtime--he'd blow up the building which
housed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and the
FBI--which had jurisdiction over the Branch Davidian
compound. I wrote a piece in Vanity Fair in '98 by which
time he was in the federal prison at Denver. And I go into
what the feds did at Ruby Ridge where they killed an innocent
family called Weaver, that wanted to live in the woods and be
left alone. They shot the wife, she came out the door of
their cabin holding a baby and they shot her through the
head. And up until 9/11 they were talking about re-opening
the case to see what really happened there. So here is
McVeigh, one man who just declares war on the federal
government, and he started to write me letters after he read
my piece on the shredding of our Bill of Rights by the Drug
Enforcement Agency, and the Internal Revenue Service. We
conducted a correspondence over three years. He was a
marvelous writer and he knew a great deal of American
history. In the Vanity Fair article, I quote several of his
letters. He was a very shrewd analyst. He knew they had to
get rid of him. He had two choices--to spend 50 years or so
living in a box, or to be executed. He seems to have had no
fear of death, he preferred an execution--or as he said in
one of the letters to me, "state assisted suicide." At the
end when they ask, "do you have any last words," the press
was there, and he said, "Yes, I have a poem." Our press is
about as illiterate as everybody else, and they didn't
recognize it, but it was by W.E. Henley, Invictus. In my
day, every school kid knew the poem, "I am the master of my
fate/I am the captain of my soul." He had that distributed
but nobody understood what it meant. Because they don't know
who Henley is. But what was happening? He was reflective of
a government totally out of control, a secret police--which
is what the Federal Bureau of Investigation is--which is not
accountable to anybody--they don't tell Congress anything.
No country is secure with that sort of thing. So we have a
country now, which really isn't much of a country, it's a
plutocracy. Corporate America paying for campaigns, and
paying for Congress. Twenty percent of Americans are doing
very well working for the one percent. Eighty percent are
doing very badly, and we never hear about them.
Now out of that pool of eighty per cent of the country are
out-of-work farmers who've been driven off the farms out in
the mid-west by the agriculture corporations. They are the
backbone of the militia movement, they feel that they have
been robbed of their livelihood--which is true. They number
over forty million--and presumably growing. So what we have
is a revolutionary situation. It's just a matter of getting
the majority to understand they've been duped. McVeigh sent
a letter to a number of us, and to the press, and gave his
reasons: when a government turns against its own people, uses
tanks, commits murder against innocent people, a government
out of control, a government that answers to no one, a
government bought by corporate America. Well, decorated
soldier and patriot McVeigh wasn't having any of it.
So, looking back--and we don't have all of the story about
what did and did not go into the bombing--but it's possible
McVeigh was not a terrorist at all, but a type of Paul
I think that's indeed what he was saying. He was saying,
"The feds are coming. The feds are coming."
Did I read you were going to attend his execution?
Not out of morbid love of executions--I generally avoid them.
He wrote to me and asked if I'd like to be one of the
witnesses. What do you say with an invitation like that?
"No" is really rude, "Yes" could be worse, you know. So I
said, "well, if I'm in Indiana at the time, I'll come by." At
the last minute they had a stay of execution for one month
and I was all set to go. Then it was too much of an effort
to get there. But he had a sort of girlfriend who had worked
with his lawyers and I asked her what the last day was like.
They get you up around 5 in the morning to kill you at 7. He
was in total control of himself. The Oklahomans wanted to
watch him die so they had a camera in the ceiling looking
down on him. The first shot put you to sleep--well he
refused to go to sleep--he kept his eyes open. The second
shot collapses the lungs and he prepared for that, he was
rationing his breathing, and the third one stops the heart.
It took all of four minutes to do him in. But he kept his
eyes on the Oklahomans all the way through, glared, and died
with his eyes open. That's powerful I think.
(She adjusts piece of paper on
table, glances at it.)
Well, if he was warning us that the feds were coming.
They certainly arrived after 9/11. Let's discuss 9/11. What
do you think happened?
Well I don't think we, the American people, deserved what
happened. Nor do we deserve the governance we have had since
1947 and the National Security Act. In my little book
Dreaming War, I go into detail about what was not done, and
done, on 9/11 by the president, and by the military. None of
my sources are obscure--my main source is usually The Wall
Street Journal. So what do I think happened on 9/11? From
our vantage point now, it appears 9/11 was more than one
force at play. It seems to have been orchestrated. Or if it
wasn't, it was more than one force meeting up at an opportune
moment. One force was the Oil and Gas industry. They wanted
to get that oil by pipeline through Afghanistan to Pakistan
to Karachi and from there to ship it off. Whichever big
company could cash in would make a fortune. And you'll see
that all these companies go back to Bush or Cheney or to
Rumsfeld or Rice or Norton on the Gas and Oil Junta. Another
force involved were the Neo-Cons. They believe in unilateral
action by our U.S. Military.
If 9/11 was allowed to happen, or orchestrated as a means for
the United States to embark upon an overt agenda of
imperialism--have we lost our spirit as a nation? Is there--
Yes I think we have. The core of the American spirit, as we
have discussed, is the Declaration of Independence--Life,
Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness--the provisions set
forth in the Constitution--the Bill of Rights. Or if you
want to be more pedestrian, let's go to President Coolidge
who said the business of America is business--and I go right
along with that--nothing wrong with that. Not very
glamorous, but imperialism has always gone against the
American grain. We've all been conditioned to think that
there are no conspiracies in American life. Unless it's
Enron and Anderson. But there is no longer much doubt-
across the board--conservative to liberal--we all know there
is something terribly wrong--I mean look at the last election
the voting machines-we recently had a departing Senator
tell 60 Minutes that lobbyists now write the legislation that
they sign off on.
Yes--yes--yes! Such a nightmare! And I think, for those of
us still paying attention--who are aware of what's happened
to constitutional rights since 9/11--what's happened to
journalism and the flow of information--and you look at
history--and how elements from past empires and fascist
regimes have come to the fore since 9/11--and I just wonder-
how should I be living today as an American? Is moral
Well, this is an interesting question--and especially today.
First, in order to be morally outraged one has to prove harm
is being done. If you consider close to one hundred thousand
Iraqis dead--not to mention many Afghanies--to be evidence of
harm--then yes--any American citizen ought to be morally
outraged today. And what should an individual do? Stand on
their street corner with a bullhorn? Plaster their car
bumper with stickers? Write a letter to the editor? Because
the great corporate powers have the flow of information in
their clutches, even if the vast majority of people are
morally outraged--as I believe they are--there's no way to
bring them together. Without access to prime time broadcast
frequencies, even an issue that both conservative and liberal
Americans are united on--there are so many lies being told-
it is now like herding cats to get people to go in the same
direction. So as I said, I don't believe we Americans
deserved what happened on 9/11, nor any of the problems that
have come in its aftermath, but I don't think this has
happened because Americans no longer care--it's because there
is no way for us to come together. So, no, I don't think
moral outrage is dead, we just don't have any way to express
it in a collective way.
Well, coincidentally, as things sometimes happen, I was
working on a poem around the time I was invited to be here
this evening. And I was searching, trying to find something,
something that could become an imago for this generation of
Americans. Not an imago in the strict psychoanalytic sense-
but something--an idea--a kind of mental and emotional life
raft that would embody for us--for those of us who are
indignant--or terrified--or a combination of those things--at
what has happened to our country. Those of us who are old
enough to know how things worked before 9/11, and are now
trying to move on in the aftermath.
And did you come up with something?
Yes I did, and it turned out that I found it in your work. I
found an essay you had published in The Nation back in the
nineties. It's the one about Article V of the Constitution,
and the provision for a convention.
Oh yes.... Yes, it would be nice, wouldn't it? It might
have been possible sometime ago, but now, even if there was a
popular movement for a convention, one half of the country
wouldn't hear about what the other is--
No--well--what I meant was, that that was the imago to hang
onto. The imago of true American spirit, if true American
spirit still exists and was to be carried on into the future.
Searching for what it might be, and there it was in your
essay. I am a college educated American who thinks themself
somewhat politically astute, and I had never heard of the
provision for a convention--
And there's a reason for that.
Well, I did some research and there are a few books on the
history of Article V, did you ever happen to read a book
titled Constitutional Brinksmanship?
No I have not, what did you find?
By the way, I thought you might be interesting to talk to,
but I had no idea!
I guess it goes to show what you said earlier is true!
History is the most interesting thing--because it's us--it's
where we came from!
This particular subject though, a national convention, this
mechanism available to us, seemed to me what the imago of
true American spirit is.
This has become sort of a parlor game--well, to set things up
for anyone in the audience--and you correct me if I've
misconstrued anything (she looks to Vidal who nods
affirmatively). OK. America was thirteen colonies, and the
British had us under their thumb, and we finally organized,
threw off a long train of abuses, and secured freedom. We
had a document in place, the Articles of Confederation, and
it kept us and our new freedom in tact. And then some people
thought some revisions needed to be made, and Alexander
Hamilton led a group selling the idea that it was time to
call a convention. Except Rhode Island--they never made a
sale there--everyone finally agreed, and the Framers convened
in Philadelphia. After the first few hours, they all
realized they were split in two. It was between the
Federalists, and the Anti-Federalists. The Federalists
wanted a centralized government. The Anti-Federalists were
like, "What?! A centralized government?! We just got out
from under the British! Only a matter of time before money
corrupts the system! And then what?! We go through another
war for independence?!" Some representatives who had shown
up turned heel right then and there and went home hollering
at the top of their lungs that something was afoot.
Rhode Islanders no doubt.
Yes--and a few others who did not like the smell of things.
But Hamilton and the Federalists assured everyone, this time
they'd build in a mechanism--a reset button--for in case
corruption ever got out of control. Then they hashed things
out, and after it was written, the Federalists had to go out
and sell this new Constitution to the thirteen. The final
rebuttal to the Anti-Federalists, who thought it was a
mistake to place all that power into three branches of
government, was Federalist 85. And Hamilton wrote that
himself. He said, look, if things ever get out of control,
if congress ever becomes so corrupt that it's no longer
expressing the will of the people--if corruption ever becomes
institutionalized at the federal level--the states can step
in with a convention and purge it. That was the rebuttal
that made the sale, and why we eventually ratified and
adopted the Constitution, and became the U.S.A.
I've never read or heard it put that way, but it rings true.
Well, it's interesting, because there's a suit currently
before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and it deals
specifically with whether Congress must call a convention or
not--whether it must obey the Constitution or not.
The case comes down to this: the Constitution--Article V-
says once thirty-four applications from thirty-four states
are cast, Congress "shall" call a convention--meaning they
don't have the choice of whether they want to or not--once
thirty-four applications hit the doorstep--they have to call
And the case is that--what? That thirty-four applications
have been cast?
Yes. In the office of the secretary of Congress there are
over five hundred applications from all fifty states.
Well this is news to me. But my dear, even if all the
requisites for a convention call are in order, the case is
not likely to surface--such a thing is a threat to the
Yes--I understand that--but I bring it up because the lawsuit
legitimizes and manifests this imago. If a national
convention is the thing which most embodies true American
spirit at this point in our history.... Some of us are so
upset at what has happened to our country, and we want to
know why--why are things as corrupt as they are? Why are we
living under a cap of disinformation? Why is there no health
care for those who need it but can't afford it? Or an
education for whoever wants it? It's because there are over
five hundred applications requesting a convention, and
Congress has never called it. Laches it's known as legally-
ignoring something on purpose.
Yes. Well that is brilliant that someone put together such a
lawsuit, but as I mentioned, with information under the thumb
of the great corporate powers, it would be like herding--
No, no, no--don't get me wrong--I'm not holding my breath for
CNN or FOX to start talking about a national convention--or
the Supreme Court taking the case and forcing Congress to
call one. But the possibility--I guess what seems important
goes along the lines of what you said earlier: How can we
know where we want to go if we don't first know where we're
at?Even if our nation is beyond repair in some sense, isn't it
important to know--at the very least--to be aware of what
ought to be taking place?
I see what you mean. Yes, if something is broken, it's
always nice to know why it is broken--
And what could fix it--
And what could fix it.
So when we have corporate media tell us we are blue states
and red states, that is one way to define how we are divided.
What if we were allowed to find out what percentage of
Americans are Conventionists, and what percentage are Anti
That's an interesting way to look at things. I quite like
the way you think Ms. Herbert.
For myself I will say, as an American, I am a Conventionist.
Me too.... But imagine the states sending delegates--the
government would not have to shut down--the current Congress
could continue on as they would anyway. Imagine the evening
news where modern-day Jeffersons and Madisons would emerge--
And I'm sure a few Washingtons and Hamiltons.
Well, if you mean that the same forces that are in control
now, would just as likely take over a convention, I like to
make the distinction between what would happen in theory, and
what would happen in practice.
Yes, I see what you mean. If the ball got rolling it would
be such a novel event that it might take on a life of its
own, and sweep away any attempts at controlling it. When a
new manager walks onto the factory floor, anyone who had
previously enjoyed sleeping on the job, well, you would see
then standing at attention.
Right. And if you raise this subject with most people, they
have the same concern: what if the convention ends up
destroying the entire Constitution? And this was the
argument made in the 1960's and 1980's when we were close to
calling a convention. If you go back to the editorial pages
of the national newspapers, they all trot out that same fear,
that a national convention would be dangerous. But what they
all fail to mention is, that whatever is proposed--even if
someone proposes we tear up the Constitution--whatever the
idea is--it has to be sent off to the fifty states and you
need three quarters--thirty-eight states--to agree to it
before any idea is ratified.
Once we the people are assembled, we can do anything, we can
throw out the whole executive branch and put in a Tibetan
lama. Or turn the country into one big Scientological
clearing center. But you are right, Americans have been
conditioned to think that a convention means the end of the
Constitution, and it doesn't mean the end of the
Constitution, or that it needs to be changed, it is simply
the alternative way to amend it. It has been amended twenty
seven times now, and it is still there, and when there are
two ways to do something, and one way is broken--well--what
do sensible people do in a situation like that?
Imagine how riveting the news would be then! We have all
these reality TV shows today--imagine one where we got to
watch American democracy in action!
You know President Lincoln said once, "I am a firm believer
in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon
to meet any national crises." So let me ask you a question:
if we the people were to convene a national convention, have
you an idea what amendments should be hammered out there?
Oh yes I do.
I thought you might.
Well, when a corporation is allowed to own a broadcasting
company and a company that makes bombs, that kind of insanity
is what I think a twenty-eighth amendment should be concerned
with. It would protect information the way a village would
protect its source of water. I heard an idea that I thought
In essence it would divest the media corporations of the
broadcast frequencies. They could keep all their cable
channels, and their movie studios, and internet--but the
publicly-owned broadcast frequencies--
Put them under the control of the government?
Not that that isn't happening in essence already--
Well, the idea is to take ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS and turn
them into elected offices. The candidates would be
programming groups, and if a particular group did a good job
of reporting--if voters felt it was doing a good job in
presenting what is going on in the world--they would be re
Another amendment might be concerned with electoral reform.
One that would outlaw proprietary source code in voting
machines, standardize and make uniform the voting process.
Let's just hit the reset button, re-establish democracy, and
let all the other issues follow.
And with traditional American ingenuity, modern-day delegates
would hammer those things out, and get that job done.
Well it certainly doesn't hurt to dream. We must keep hope
Yes keeping hope alive, but also--you know--if the physicists
are correct when they say that merely watching an event--your
perception--how we perceive things--has an effect on how it
unfolds--the way we collectively see our situation--then
maybe it's important for Americans to simply be aware of the
provision for a convention.
Maybe. And I would not argue with you, though my experiences
have left me less.... Well, I certainly admire your passion.
I'll be the first to admit I'm a dreamer. But on the
possibility that we ever have a chance to change the way
things are--well--as you said--it doesn't hurt to dream.
The imagination is a curious thing. No telling what it is
And there lies hope. Wonderful. OK, before we run out of
time, if anyone has a question for Mr. Vidal.... (She points
to someone in the audience) Yes, did you have a question?
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1
In one of your articles in Vanity Fair, you mentioned Opus
Dei. Could you tell us just a little bit about them?
I wish I could tell you a lot about Opus Dei but I don't know
that much about it. Opus Dei is a right-wing Catholic
organization, started in the 1930s in Spain by a Spanish
priest, who was just beatified by the pope, and the godfather
of it was Francisco Franco, a bona fide fascist leader. It's
a right-wing group with about fifty thousand members around
the world and growing. They infiltrate in governments, the
clergy, the corporate world. They believe in helping each
other, like the Masons. They go in for self-flagellation.
There's a group of them up at Columbia University in
Manhattan, and I know some students who had to move out of
their building due to the screams of the Opus Dei people next
door, who were beating themselves to pieces morning, noon and
night. So we can say they have a certain nuisance value.
Where they entered my piece on McVeigh--well the villain of
the piece is pretty much the FBI out of control. For eight
years the director of the FBI was a man called Lewis Freeh-
he was the one they switched out for Mueller just a couple
weeks before 9/11--and it had been revealed that he's a
member of Opus Dei. Well I don't want to go back to the know
nothing days of 'send the pope back to Rome,' but you get
suspicious. We had a difficult election in 2000, and due to
the Supreme Court's intervention, they gave the election to
the actual loser, George Bush--for which we are all grateful.
Now in addition to Freeh of the FBI, we now discover that
Justice Scalia is Opus Dei, and his son is a priest who
converted Clarence Thomas to Catholicism, and is probably
Opus Dei too.
Now two members of the court are Opus Dei, I mean this is
enough to remind me of my Protestant roots you know, suddenly
there I am ready to post something on the door of the church!
We're all conspiratorial minded in America because there are
so many conspiracies. We saw the Supreme Court conspiring to
deny the presidency to the popular winner, it pulled every
trick in the book and in full view of the world.
Yes, did you have a question?
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2
Yes, Mr. Vidal, which book that you've read do you think has
been most important to your intellectual development?
I suppose Thucydides' The Peloppenesian War which showed how
through sheer pride and stupidity the Athenian empire wrecked
itself. At the end, there was nothing but a great speech by
Pericles mourning the dead.
Having said that, what's your feeling about all this then?
What do you say in the face of all this we're experiencing
Well, I say that eternity is a very long time, if it could be
called time. I don't believe in afterlife, but that's why I
believe all the more deeply in this life, being the one thing
that we can fix. And why I am often in a state of outrage at
how badly we screw everything up in the United States, which
is basically the most blessed of countries--Native Americans
to one side--but it was a fairly empty place for a lot of
Europeans to come to. How we could have come to this, all
because of the theater of something called the Cold War and
the profits for corporations.... I have hope. I have hope
when I talk with Americans like yourself. I have hope that
someday your imago becomes our reality. Things are bleak,
but there are always possibilities on the horizon. We never
know what tomorrow may bring.
No we don't, do we? Thank you for being with us this
May we close with that poem of yours?
Certainly. We.... We want to talk about impregnable
innocence,/ blue-green/hazel eyes so profound no guitar/
could ever reverb them/ into the maelstrom of our
discontent.// We want to imagine the scent of our dream
lover/ wrapped in cotton sheets of the highest count,/ and
the ocean breeze passing the verdigris/ of the screen set in
a window/ above the shimmering water.// We want to talk about
this,/ and us--earth's-consciousness--/as moss on a rock;//
and our invincibility no matter the monsters feeding in the
dark.// It is only night.
It has been a pleasure.
Ladies and gentlemen--Mr. Gore Vidal.