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MCVEIGH'S UNFORESEEN POLITICAL LEGACY

The Oklahoma City bomber, who hoped to incite a revolution, instead leaves behind a stronger federal government.

In the end, Timothy J. McVeigh got very little of what he wanted, other than his own death.

In fact, the G-men and the militia men agree: Instead of igniting a fearsome fury against the federal government, McVeigh's bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building made the government bigger and stronger, while doing great damage to the far-right "patriot" movement he hoped to inspire.

"The impact has been just the opposite of what he was trying to achieve," said Clinton Van Zandt, a former FBI agent whose psychological profile of the suspect in the bombing -- that of a lone anti-government extremist -- precisely matched McVeigh.

Norman Olson, onetime head of the Michigan Militia, agreed. Instead of inspiring "militias" nationwide to take the country back from an oppressive federal government, Olson said, McVeigh helped prompt the movement's demise.

"I have never been able to travel down any logical road to explain him and what he did," Olson said.

That is not to say that McVeigh, who on Monday became the first federal prisoner in 38 years to be executed, did not have a great impact on the country. He most certainly did.

Largely because of his 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City and the 168 people he killed, entering any federal building feels like entering a fortress. Because of him, "America's Main Street" is closed to traffic in front of the White House.

But that is by no means the America McVeigh envisioned. Appalled by the 1993 conflagration at the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas -- and federal law enforcement's role in it -- McVeigh thought the federal government was an evil that needed to be replaced, not made bigger.

In the wake of the bombing, though, the government grew. In 1996, Congress passed its most far-reaching bill ever aimed at cracking down on domestic and foreign terrorism.

The bill allocated nearly $1 billion to the federal law enforcement agencies McVeigh hated so they could strengthen their anti-terrorism efforts. It made it easier to deport suspected terrorists from overseas. It made it a federal crime to help build a bomb to be used in a terrorist attack. And it made it more difficult for convicted terrorist murderers such as McVeigh to avoid the death penalty.

"The bombing had the ironic effect of strengthening the federal government in many different ways," said Mark Potok, editor of Intelligence Report, a Southern Poverty Law Center report on far-right extremist activity. "One major result is very tough anti-terrorism legislation that you wouldn't have otherwise had."

Beyond that, the bombing made the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies more vigilant that ever. Potok noted that nearly 30 anti-government conspiracies -- many of them planned bombings -- were hatched shortly after the bombing and that federal law enforcement foiled every one.

At the same time, the feds did do a little something to tone down the "jackbooted thug" image that they developed from Waco and an earlier shootout at Ruby Ridge, Idaho. But the feds actually started doing that long before McVeigh built his homemade bomb in the back of a Ryder rental truck, Van Zandt said.

"McVeigh credits himself with the way law enforcement has changed, which is ridiculous," Van Zandt said. "The FBI had so much egg on its face after Ruby Ridge and Waco that any sane person would do exactly what the FBI did."

Olson, of the Michigan Militia, was just one of the many people who essentially took part in an FBI "meet and greet" in which agents told militiamen that they were not really adversaries. Olson said the meeting did not do much to change his political views or those of his colleagues.

The bombing itself had a far bigger impact on the militia movement, and it was not a positive one, Olson said.

"After the bombing happened, a third of the people involved in militias went underground, and a third just quit," Olson said. "Employers told them they had to quit. Militiamen with children were finding that other parents were saying that their kids couldn't play with militiamen's children."

The result is that the militia movement is a shadow of what it was at the time of the bombing. There were 370 militias nationwide in 1996; the number had fallen to 68 by last year, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Olson shut down his latest effort, an offshoot of the Michigan Militia, earlier this year. He says there just is not much energy left in the far right wing these days.

"For one thing, Bill Clinton and Janet Reno are gone, and a lot of our people put a lot of hopes in George W. Bush," Olson said. "Also, Y2K passed without incident. We haven't had a triggering mechanism, so we've been running out of steam."

What is left as McVeigh's legacy, then?

Many say it's little more than a lot of extra security at federal facilities.

Security cameras now scan everywhere at the new FBI building in Buffalo. And at the federal courthouse, new cameras and screening devices and a 24-hour guard serve as sentries.

"We'd be fools if we didn't respond to what we've seen transpire in this country and others," said Paul Moskal, the FBI's local spokesman.

Government's response is more evident in the nation's capital than it is anywhere else. At federal buildings these days, you will find metal detectors sensitive enough to alert guards to the presence of a roll of foil-wrapped breath mints. And Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, once a rollicking urban street, is now a blockaded wasteland trafficked mostly by skateboarders.

Closing the street essentially cut downtown D.C. in two, with perpetual traffic jams the only thing linking the two halves. For that reason and others, D.C. officials and retired Sen. Robert Dole, a former Republican presidential nominee, have been pushing for a redesign of Pennsylvania Avenue that will bring back the cars.

"Closing the avenue has come to symbolize giving in to our fear of terrorism, thereby creating an impression of apprehension and menace in the very heart of the District of Columbia," Dole said while testifying before Congress in March.

And yet, at best, that is McVeigh's legacy.

John Ross -- a right-wing novelist whom McVeigh greatly admired -- said that admiration is by no means mutual.

Asked how McVeigh will be remembered, Ross -- author of "Unintended Consequences," a fictional account of the assassination of federal officials -- said: "Not well. He'll be remembered as a lone nut who blew up a building full of clerks and secretaries."

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