True, McVeigh shocked most observers by receiving last rites from a priest before his execution. What could it hurt, he must have figured. Also true, his final statement was an act of defiance and an anti-confession. He chose the poem “Invictus,” by William Earnest Henley.
The poem includes a nod to “whatever gods may be” for granting the hero “my unconquerable soul.” McVeigh as poetic hero suffers the “bludgeonings of chance” but his head is “bloody, but unbowed” in prayer or supplication. He looks on the “Horror of the shade” and is “unafraid” because however “charged punishments the scroll” may be, there is a higher power: himself. In the end, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”
These are “sentiments that to a Christian are at least vaguely blasphemous,” wrote columnist Maggie Gallagher, in an earlier attempt to kill the Tim-McVeigh-as-Christian Terrorist meme. But it seems that no amount of evidence will finish it off. The Google autofill function suggested “tim mcveigh christian” as the top choice after I had filled just the first two words. Yet the truth is out there, too. Journalists would be wise to seek it out rather than doing something they find so objectionable when the shoe is on President Obama’s foot.