It is hard not to overreact to the uniformly dismal news that streams across our television, booms over our airwaves, and forms printed black and white text on our newspapers. Pandering to human nature, America's varied media dwell on the macabre, the sordid, the sensational, the lurid, and the evil in mankind. They all emphasize whatever sells, and human beings will watch, listen, and read the bizarre and unusual while ignoring the predominantly good deeds men and women do. That's pretty normal, and like the rest of us, I discount much of the discomforting news.

For example, we've recently been overwhelmed by coverage about a cult that believed it could commit mass suicide and spiritually engage with a flying saucer supposedly trailing the Hale-Bopp comet. Soon, we'll be reintroduced to myriad details about the random and senseless killing of innocent strangers by a person our FBI named the Unabomber. Last week, we heard O J Simpson say he and his lawyers believe the civil trial he lost was unfair, and that it awarded an unjustifiably large sum of money and his Heisman trophy to the families of Nicolle Brown and Ron Goldman.

I can look at all three of these nationally famous events as anomalies, unusual in their occurrence, but explicable as the work of temporarily or permanently deranged people. They were. The cult leader was mad in every sense of the true meaning of the word, though as a compassionate man I hope their spirits now rest happily on that UFO. The Unabomber was a brilliant social misfit, keenly aware of mankind's mistakes, but almost totally ignorant of the love, caring, and kindness with which people really live. The Simpson case seems to me to be nothing other than that of a jealous, possessive man who temporarily went insane and killed his former wife and the man with whom he found her. They are uniquely crazy people who neither threaten me nor our society. I excuse none of them, but understand them and what they did within the context of their crimes.

But a fourth current event is attaining national prominence, and it is to me a totally different matter. The trial of James McVeigh for planting a truck bomb adjacent to the Federal Building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 innocent people, including children in an employee nursery, has just opened. Remember, James McVeigh today is simply a suspect. He has not been found guilty of any crime, but everything I read two years ago strongly leads me to believe he was involved. In contrast to the way our system of justice is supposed to work, his lawyers will have to prove to me he is not guilty.

McVeigh is a rational man who looks normal, a former soldier and a good one, intelligent and willing to learn, a man who applied for the Green Berets. Whatever excuses the others had, if any, do not apply to him. It seems to me this was a man who carefully and logically discussed the wrongs inflicted on him and his peers by the federal government, then decided on a bloody course of action justified in his own mind. In my view, he did not act alone, although the number of confederates involved in carrying out the plot may never be known. Militia groups composed of people like McVeigh, who fundamentally are average citizens, do frighten me, not because of any personal danger, but because their actions and philosophies clearly indicate they intend to destroy our present government and way of life. When I first saw him on television being led in his orange suit and handcuffs, I was reminded of Walt Kelly's words in Pogo, "We have found the enemy, and he is us."

Just what kind of estrangement, what frozen feeling of being beyond the reach of friends and countrymen, could justify to any American the mass bombing of ordinary citizens? How could EVERYMAN resolve to send such a message to a government of the people, by the people, and for the people? What happened at Waco, Texas and Ruby Ridge, Montana reflected an arrogant, unjustified use of federal power, but none of the people in the Federal Building bore any responsibility for it whatever. Have some American militia groups become so embittered they can shred innocent flesh and shed children's blood to illustrate a symbolic point? The answer is yes, but deciding strangers should die randomly for a cause only you understand is fanatical symbolism.

It is hard for me to believe Americans have reached that degree of fanaticism. Jobs are available, so long-term unemployment cannot be the root cause. Anger at government rules and restrictions, desire for a better job and a future, and dissatisfaction with one's position in life can always eat away at a man and cause him to brood and utter dark threats. That's common in life, but most men quickly get over it. Something fundamental is going on out there that I do not understand, something that subverts men who consider themselves patriots into performing unspeakably bloody acts. They are not insane, but justify their actions as though they were.

Sam Orr sorr@metrolink.net
World Traveler
and Philanthrope
(Location Unknown)