In Defense of Gore Vidal

Novelist Gore Vidal has been chosen by Tim McVeigh to be one of a very few who will be allowed to witness McVeigh’s upcoming execution – and the legion of the politically correct (neoconservative division) is up in arms. Andrew Sullivan, gay neoconservative poster boy and rising star of the moment – if I see one more fawning “profile” of this overweight, overrated scribe I may turn terroristic myself – sneers that Vidal and McVeigh are “chums” and disdainfully comments on Vidal’s view of the most famous terrorist in American history as someone “with an exaggerated sense of justice.” Andy then displays his own perverse sense of justice by remarking: “I guess you have to remember that, in Vidal’s view, only Harry Truman was a mass-murderer who deserves condemnation.” That Vidal could seek to be friends with such a person as McVeigh, “who also killed scores without remorse speaks volumes about Vidal’s moral compass.” But what about Sullivan’s moral compass? After all, considering that Truman murdered hundreds of thousands at Hiroshima and Nagasaki – between 100,000 and 180,000 for Hiroshima, and between 50,000 and 100,000 for Nagasaki – while McVeigh’s victims numbered 168, this is certainly an odd comparison to make. We are supposed to believe that a portrait of McVeigh painted in any but the darkest colors is, somehow, outrageous: in the eyes of the establishment, and their media sock-puppets, Tim McVeigh is the epitome of all evil, a domestic Saddam Hussein whose existence rationalizes a perpetual mobilization against “terrorism.” But the state terrorism of Truman is, of course, just fine with Sullivan. OUR FRIENDS IN WASHINGTON

A complex view of McVeigh is the height of political incorrectness, for we aren’t supposed to question the legitimacy of our government, as McVeigh did; it is not our enemy but our friend, not to mention the benefactor of all the world’s peoples. If you don’t go along with the program, then you’re an “America-hater,” and you must be ritually denounced and forever shunned. That’s what the neocons – of the left and the right – believe, and we’d all better believe it, too, if we know what’s good for us. And why, pray tell, is that? A look at the evolution of a right-wing terrorist provides a few clues. . . .


McVeigh was a normal, all-American, corn-fed boy, patriotic to a fault: but it was the Gulf War that turned him around. As Vidal points out in the Vanity Fair piece that got him in trouble with the neocons to begin with,

“In Bush’s Gulf War he was much decorated as an infantryman, a born soldier. But the war itself was an eye-opener, as wars tend to be for those who must fight them. Later, he wrote a journalist how “we were falsely hyped up.” The ritual media demonizing of Saddam, Arabs, Iraqis had been so exaggerated that when McVeigh got to Iraq he was startled to ‘find out they are normal like me and you. They hype you to take these people out. They told us we were to defend Kuwait where the people had been raped and slaughtered. War woke me up.'”


It isn’t McVeigh’s actions they abhor so much as his mindset. If only he’d been some other kind of right-wing fanatic: say, an anti-abortion crusader, or an extreme Zionist demanding the freedom of Jonathan Pollard. Then, perhaps, they could understand if not forgive. In McVeigh’s case, however, they do understand – which is precisely why they’ll never forgive. For McVeigh is an ex-soldier who denounces interventionism, a patriot whose very devotion led him to rebellion, one of their centurions who dared to question the legitimacy of the Empire – a deadly weapon that turned against its creators. This, it turns out, is what has got Sullivan all in a tizzy over Vidal: the foreign policy angle. After much mulling over the question of “exactly why Gore Vidal has such a crush on Timothy McVeigh,” the “out” neocon who delightedly gay-baits his elders (and betters) writes, “I had a bit of a eureka moment.” Yes, readers of Sullivan’s endless stream of self-promoting commentary, the “Daily Dish,” are often treated to verbatim accounts of these “eureka moments.” But, then, a genius like Sullivan, who compares himself to George Orwell, has a lot of these. “Vidal has long been motivated,” we are told,

“by a slightly loopy romanticization of America as a republic, of America never really being involved in wars. (Vidal is queasy about the Second World War, let alone Vietnam or Desert Storm), and maintaining her pre-imperial virginity. Along with McVeigh’s paranoid fantasies about American power at home, he is also, it turns out, an anti-interventionist abroad.”


It is not surprising that Sullivan, a foreigner – is he even a citizen? – sneers at the quaintness of the idea that America is a republic, not an empire, looking down his snooty British nose at the sheer silliness of anyone who imagines that a country as powerful as the US could maintain “her pre-imperial virginity.” Such ideas are “loopy” to the power-worshipping sophisticates of Europe, who know better than to imagine that virginity or purity of any kind could long survive in this world. Sullivan, being an adherent of the “lookit this!” school of writing, smugly offers large chunks of quotations with minimal commentary – with the subtext being “can you believe they actually said that?” Sullivan cites the London Observer as his source (sorry, can’t find a link), and the quote is worth reproducing if only because I agree with McVeigh when he says:

“What occurred in Oklahoma City was no different than what Americans rain on the heads of others all the time, and subsequently, my mindset was and is one of clinical detachment. (The bombing of the Murrah building was not personal, no more than when Air Force, Army, Navy or Marine personnel bomb or launch cruise missiles against government installations and their personnel). I hope that this clarification amply addresses all questions.”


Well, uh, it doesn’t amply address all questions, Tim, but who can disagree with that first sentence? Didn’t those who survived the Oklahoma City blast feel very much like those who lived through the bombing of Belgrade? Each will claim their own special agony, but the differences are purely geographical. McVeigh, the soldier, had been trained to distance himself from the suffering of the “enemy,” and once he decided that all federal employees – indeed, all those who set foot in the Alfred P. Murrah federal building that fateful day – were “enemies,” then he went into soldier mode. Just like those soldier-pilots who, following Truman’s orders, dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. No doubt they did it with “clinical detachment.”


Sullivan – a lazy writer, albeit a good one – is content to dismiss McVeigh’s self-evidently correct argument (which, simply stated, is that death is everywhere the same) in a single snippy sentence: “It certainly addresses the question of why Vidal loves McVeigh so much.” Yes, but who can explain why Sullivan hates McVeigh with such an unnatural passion – a hatred that demands all portraits of this devil must be painted in shades of darkness? Yes, his horrible act was ineffably evil, but does this mean that he couldn’t also be highly intelligent? Yet Sullivan is shocked – shocked! – that Vidal could so describe his “chum.” Does his evil act rule out the validity of any and all of his views? To the very prim and proper Sullivan, who prides himself as a seeker after truth but is always careful to go along with the conventional wisdom – especially now that he has moved to Washington – the idea that someone might have been driven mad by the madness of his own government is so subversive that it cannot even be entertained.


To Sullivan and the liberals (and I mean to include in that designation all the “ex”-liberal “neoconservatives” who have infiltrated the Republican party), this is the essential issue. For McVeigh’s great crime, in their eyes – quite aside from the heinous act he committed – was to utter the forbidden words: Waco and Ruby Ridge. While neocons of the right and those of the left allow a certain amount of debate over a limited variety of issues – Should Social Security be partially privatized? How much should the military budget be increased? – whole areas are off-limits. Anyone who mentions Waco or Ruby Ridge is automatically ruled out of order, especially someone with as much of a public platform as Vidal, who is, after all, American’s most celebrated literary expatriate. Yet a few dissidents, not all of them necessarily on right, such as Vidal, have dared to raise these issues in the context of the decline of civil liberties in America, and they see McVeigh differently. As Vidal put it in his Vanity Fair piece:

“The bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was not unlike Pearl Harbor, a great shock to an entire nation and, one hopes, a sort of wake-up call to the American people that all is not well with us. As usual, the media responded in the only way they know how. Overnight, one Timothy McVeigh became the personification of evil. Of motiveless malice. There was the usual speculation about confederates. Grassy knollsters. But only one other maniac was named, Terry Nichols; he was found guilty of “conspiring” with McVeigh, but he was not in on the slaughter itself.”


Previously unknown – or, I should say, little known – facts are coming out about the Oklahoma City bombing that suggest a wider involvement than McVeigh is willing to admit. A fascinating article in the [London] Guardian reveals connections with the shadowy figure of Andy Strassmeier, seen with McVeigh and Nichols. Strassmeir is a purported neo-Nazi who regularly travels between the US and Germany: he also just happens to be the son of Gunther Strassmeir, says the Guardian, “Helmut Kohl’s Secretary of State, a man known as the ‘architect of German reunification.’ Andy Strassmeir received military intelligence training at the Bundeswehr Academy in Hanover.” German officials reportedly refused to allow Strassmeir to be questioned by the Justice Department, and Reno did not seem too interested in pursuing the matter. Strassmeir took refuge in Germany, after the Oklahoma City bombing, at the home of his parents, but moved out when his presence attracted unwelcome publicity: his father is still a leading figure in the Christian Democratic Union. Why did the Justice Department not pursue the matter? As the leader above the Guardian article puts it: “On May 16, Timothy McVeigh is due to be executed for his part in the Oklahoma City bombing. He claims the blast was all his own work. But, Jon Ronson discovers, there were probably others, government agents even, who knew what was afoot.” Check it out.


As you may have noticed, the neocons never take on their enemies mano a mano – like any pack of jackals, they attack in a group. Following swiftly on the heels of Sullivan’s smear-job, Ronald Radosh, writing in Frontpage (David Horowitz’s online magazine), displays the characteristic nastiness of the species. Entitled “Gore Vidal Reaches a New Low,” Radosh’s bitter screed is such a farrago of falsehood mixed with sheer bile that its dishonesty is palpable from the very first paragraph:

“For a long time, the novelist and essayist Gore Vidal has presented himself as an anti-American, anti-Semitic, hard-nosed Leftist, whose sneer and arrogance endear him to few, aside from the New York literati and The Nation magazine crowd. But now, Vidal has hit the bottom.”


Vidal has “presented himself” as an anti-Semite? As “anti-American”? The neocon method is invariably the same, whether we are talking about Sullivan or Radosh or any of their confreres in the “second thoughts” crowd: they attribute the smears originating with them to … their victims! Vidal was attacked for “anti-Semitism” by Norman Podhoretz for daring to say what everyone knows: that if Israel decided to invade, say, Brooklyn’s Crown Heights, Podhoretz and the Commentary crowd would claim it was a act of self-defense. As for “anti-American” – how anyone could so describe a novelist who has made American history his primary subject, and the object of his celebration as well as his trenchant critique, is beyond knowing. As for being a “hard-nosed Leftist,” this, again, is way off base: for, if Radosh is correct, then how do we account for Vidal’s sympathy with several hard-nosed right-wing stances, such as outrage over Waco and Ruby Ridge, the ubiquitous power of the IRS, and, indeed, his whole interest in McVeigh – the symbol of right-wing “extremism” in America – not only as a symbol but as a person?


Radosh admonishes Vidal for his remark about McVeigh’s “exaggerated sense of justice” by declaring that “in other words, Vidal thinks that in bombing the Murrah Federal Building, McVeigh went too far, but that his motivation was good.” Vidal is saying no such thing, of course, but the real question is: what is Radosh saying? Radosh writes regularly for the conservative website Frontpage, and his new book, Commies, is sure to be marketed to conservatives (I, for one, can’t wait to read it: Radosh knows a lot about the Left, having been in it for so long, and his book is going to be a fascinating read). Is he telling conservatives that he thinks Waco and Ruby Ridge were no big deal? Is he telling us that the litany of issues raised by McVeigh – the growth of the federal leviathan at home, and its increasingly troublesome interventions abroad – are really not valid concerns for the Right?


What was McVeigh’s motivation? The word “motivation” can and does have multiple meanings in this context. While there are those who say methamphetamine, rather than ideology, may have been the chief impetus behind McVeigh’s mad act, it is undeniable that his ideological concerns are shared by millions of Americans who were horrified by the bombing and would never even think of trying to justify it. While neocon policy wonks ensconced inside the Beltway are not too concerned about gun control – and, of course, they never question the globalist orthodoxy shared by both “right” and “left” wings of Respectable Opinion – it’s a very different world out there in the conservative heartland.


Does this mean that, in their eyes, McVeigh is a hero? No way: but it does mean that they are more than willing to entertain the thought that McVeigh, far from acting alone, was helped along by at least one agency of the federal government. The story of Herr Strassmeir is very interesting, and this fascinating lead needs to be followed up before the trail grows cold. What was the son of a high-ranking German official doing hanging out with Tim McVeigh? The Guardian article also talks about how a government agent infiltrated a group of Midwest separatists close to McVeigh, which raises the question: how many government agents knew about plans for the Oklahoma bombing in advance? Vidal compares the Oklahoma City blast with Pearl Harbor, and, if you read his recent novel, The Golden Age, you can see just what he really means by this comment. For in that novel Vidal dramatized the revelations in Robert Stinnett’s Day of Deceit, a devastating exposure of FDR’s foreknowledge of the Japanese attack.


What did the feds know and when did they know it? This should become the battle-cry of the revisionist school on the question of who and what was behind the Oklahoma City bombing. Tim McVeigh will die, but questions about who or what was manipulating this soldier-patriot turned speed-crazed pawn will linger as long as the memory of his murderous act endures. Of course, it is naturally impossible that the law-abiding and completely open and above-board Clinton administration could have been involved. Sure, it was an enormous political benefit to them: it stemmed, for a while, the rightist tide that seemed to be rising, and Clinton did demagogically link McVeigh to those nasty old “right-wing extremists” in the GOP – you know, like Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott! Oh, but course, it would never occur to the most corrupt administration in modern times to play such a “dirty trick” – it’s completely implausible. Yes, I do remember the bombing of that “terrorist” factory in the Sudan. Yeah, I know, those “weapons of mass destruction” turned out to be aspirins, and I did hear that a few people were killed, but, gee whiz, we’re talking about Americans here. Surely the Clinton administration, as bad as it was, couldn’t have had a hand in the single most destructive act of terrorism in American history – could they?


But I digress. Radosh latches on to the same sentence from Vidal as Sullivan, about how McVeigh is “a junkie of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights” and avers:

“I guess this means that to Vidal, understanding our Constitution means knowing that our own government is the enemy of the world’s peoples; perhaps before he dies, Vidal will convince McVeigh to announce that he too is now a man of the Left, who, had he another chance, would have shifted his anger to more appropriate targets, such as Israel or perhaps the Pentagon. At any rate, Vidal is certain of one thing: McVeigh ‘is a very superior sort of young man.’ I may not be as intelligent as Gore Vidal, but I propose one immediate action: a boycott of all books written by Gore Vidal. It is about time that he learns what many people actually think of him.”


Surely it is possible for “a very superior sort of person” to commit a horrible crime: a person of superior intelligence, whose intellectual drives are frustrated or somehow limited, is indeed far more likely to commit some spectacular crime than some ordinary dullard bereft of obsessions. Certainly McVeigh is not the first intelligent mass murderer to be executed, nor will he be the last. But it would be wrong to attribute this oddly unconvincing idea – that McVeigh, being the epitome of human evil, cannot be superior in any way – to plain old stupidity. Radosh may be right in saying that he is not as intelligent as Vidal, at least in a certain sense, but it is important to understand that Radosh is a very intelligent man – just not a very honest one. For in smearing Vidal with the brush of “anti-Semitism” and “anti-Americanism,” he does so knowing that it is a lie.


I am absolutely sure of this, because I have read – many times – Radosh’s wonderful and truly knowledgeable book on the Old Right and the noninterventionist movement in America, Prophets on the Right: Conservative Critics of American Globalism. It is so wonderful that we have been offering it here, as a premium to those who contribute to, almost since our inception. In it, Radosh sympathetically recounts the history of the much-maligned opponents of US entry into World War II, men such as John T. Flynn and the “fascist” Lawrence Dennis, both of whom were smeared as pro-Nazi and anti-Semitic during the war years (Dennis was indicted for treason). Radosh knows perfectly well that if his book were to be updated to include contemporary heirs of the Old Right, Vidal would constitute a whole chapter all by himself. Prophets on the Right came out in 1975 – is it so long ago that Radosh has forgotten what he wrote? Back then, he held that the charges against the anti-interventionist America First movement made by the pro-war Left were “a smear.” Vidal’s stance on the proper foreign policy for a republic must seem awfully familiar to Radosh: it is the same republican (small-‘r’) anti-imperialism that animated Flynn and his fellow America Firsters in their crusade against FDR’s war plans. So, why is Flynn – whose views on these matters are quite consistent with Vidal’s – a hero, and Vidal a knave?


This parallel between Vidal and Flynn goes a bit further, however, even beyond their mutual opposition to the corporate state and US military intervention in Vietnam, especially when we really take a good look at Radosh’s excellent book, where, on pages 204 and 205 we read the tale of FDR’s revenge on Flynn, his most biting and persistent liberal critic:

“It is no wonder that after reading an attack by Flynn on the President and his aide Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt protested to the Yale Review’s editor, Wilbur L. Cross, that Flynn had become ‘a destructive rather than a constructive force.’ Flynn, the President urged, ‘should be barred hereafter from the columns of any presentable daily paper, monthly magazine or national quarterly, such as the Yale Review.”


With his proposed “boycott” of Vidal’s writings, Radosh echoes the evil FDR, who smeared his opponents as he sought to get them “barred” from the media – for the most part successfully. He would have Vidal share Flynn’s sad fate, an outcome eloquently described by a younger (and, perhaps, wiser) Radosh in Prophets on the Right. After explaining how William F. Buckley rejected an article submitted to National Review, and wrote Flynn a patronizing note, instructing this grand old man of the Right in the cruel necessities of the cold war, Radosh trenchantly summarizes Flynn’s place in history:

“Flynn ended his public career in 1960, isolated from the radicals of the left and from those who, in the name of conservatism, were propagating globalism and perpetual intervention abroad. The old globalist alliance had captured one more component [the conservative movement] for the consensus. Against all odds, Flynn insisted that the only threat was domestic militarism and fascism.”


Fortunately, Vidal is too famous, and too successful, to be pulled down by any organized boycott: and I somehow have the feeling that this one is unlikely to gather much momentum. Those who are boycotting Vidal are already boycotting him: he has not only survived but prospered. This drives the boycotters crazy, as one can tell from the tone of Radosh’s screed. Sheer malice seems to jump off the page at the reader, and it is shocking to see this in a writer I previously respected. The iconoclastic novelist – who is politically unclassifiable, at least by modern lights – is like a red flag to the neoconservative bulls. Why is that? I wrote at length about that topic in my review of Vidal’s The Golden Age, and so I won’t repeat that material here: I’ll just say that, like the Kosovo war and the confederate flag, the Gore Vidal question is one that separates the wheat from the chaff, the paleos from the neos, the authentic conservatives from the chasers after the main chance – in short, this question separates the real right-wingers from those neocons who have attached themselves to the Right out of pure opportunism.


Radosh’s article was shockingly dishonest – and, unlike his usual stuff, completely unconvincing. While not necessarily agreeing with everything in his previous columns for Frontpage, Radosh’s contributions to that often very uneven online journal were the highlight, well worth a trip to the site. His latest, however, can only be called the lowlight, as in “how low can you go?” The point is that a man like Radosh, the author of Prophets on the Right, knows better. Of course, unlike the neocons – whose characteristic method, as conservative scholar Paul Gottfried reminds us, is suppression of competing ideas – I am not urging you to boycott Radosh, or even the hysteria-prone (and often unintentionally funny) Frontpage. By all means read Radosh: he is entertaining, knowledgeable, and usually reasonable – except when it comes to the subject of Gore Vidal.


I want to draw your attention to the addition of a new feature here at we’ve added “Backtalk,” a letters page. The heroic Sam Koritz, a good friend whom I met during the Kosovo war when we were both involved in a leftist-led antiwar coalition, is conscientious and hardworking: thanks to him, we will now be posting the best of the letters that stream in on a daily basis. We receive a veritable flood of comments, twenty-four hours a day, from all corners of the world, and we can’t post it all: but Sam (whose fairness is legendary: after all, he managed to mediate between me and a bunch of Commies quite successfully) is up to the job of culling the best and the most interesting. In addition, I am planning a future column answering the ones that don’t get posted: so don’t complain that your 5,000-word refutation of one of my columns hasn’t been posted (“because you’re afraid of the truth!”) – because it could, after all, be receiving special attention in the near future.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].