While still in his teens, McVeigh, who was raised in western New York, acquired a penchant for guns and began honing survivalist skills he believed would be necessary in the event of a Cold War showdown with the Soviet Union. He graduated from high school in 1986 and in 1988 enlisted in the Army, where he proved to be a disciplined and meticulous soldier. While in the military, McVeigh befriended fellow soldier Nichols, who was more than a dozen years his senior and shared his survivalist interests.
In early 1991, McVeigh served in the Persian Gulf War. He was decorated with several medals for his military service; however, after failing to qualify for the Special Forces program, McVeigh accepted the Army’s offer of an early discharge and left in the fall of 1991. At the time, the American military was downsizing after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Another result of the Cold War’s end was that McVeigh shifted his ideology from a hatred of foreign communist governments to a suspicion of the U.S. federal government, especially as its new leader Bill Clinton (1946-), elected in 1992, had successfully campaigned for the presidency on a platform of gun control.
McVeigh, Nichols and their associates were deeply radicalized by such events as the August 1992 shoot-out between federal agents and survivalist Randy Weaver at his Idaho cabin, in which Weaver’s wife and son were killed, and the April 19, 1993, inferno near Waco, Texas, in which 75 members of a Branch Davidian religious sect died. McVeigh planned an attack on the Murrah Building, which housed regional offices of such federal agencies as the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives, the agency that had launched the initial raid on the Branch Davidian compound.
On April 19, 1995, the two-year anniversary of the disastrous end to the Waco standoff, McVeigh parked a Ryder rental truck loaded with a diesel-fuel-fertilizer bomb outside the Murrah Building and fled. Minutes later, the massive bomb exploded.