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Terry Nichols Was Radical in Michigan, But Quiet in Kansas

May 12, 1995 GMT

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Terry Lynn Nichols, the second man charged in the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil, has shown two very different faces when addressing authority.

Nichols isn’t a stone-faced ``prisoner of war,″ as his Army buddy and co-defendant Tim McVeigh has proclaimed himself. But neither has he always been the courteous, nondescript figure he appeared to be during his most recent court appearances.

Nichols, 40, has repeatedly written government officials claiming they have no authority over him. He shouted such sentiments from the back of a courtroom during a hearing in a lawsuit in Michigan over credit card-debts he owed. And he renounced his citizenship and forfeited his driver’s license in Michigan.

Investigators describe him as a man with a deep hatred of the federal government.

``There are two sides to that man, maybe many more,″ said Dennis Reid, a Sandusky, Mich., lawyer who has observed Nichols and his brother, James, during court proceedings in Michigan.

His Kansas lawyers, who first met him April 22, said he hasn’t espoused any anti-government views to them.

``We’ve heard those things from other people. We haven’t heard those things from Mr. Nichols. Maybe they’re there. I don’t know,″ said Steve Gradert, a federal public defender.

Gradert said Nichols shows ``an appropriate emotional response″ when talking about the Oklahoma City bombing. ``Heck, I’ve got kids, too,″ Gradert quoted Nichols as saying.

Life for Nichols has been a succession of setbacks and disappointments.

A Michigan native, Nichols grew up on a farm near Lapeer telling friends he would never be a farmer. He dreamed of going to medical school. Just as he was graduating from high school in 1974, his parents divorced, and he found his grades weren’t good enough for pre-med programs at most schools.

Nichols enrolled at Central Michigan University, 100 miles from home, but left after one semester. A series of jobs led nowhere. He sold insurance, worked part time as a licensed financial counselor and did farm chores.

His marriage to a woman six years his senior began to dissolve. In 1988, the day after he and the woman separated, he joined the Army.

``He was just searching for a career, something he enjoyed. He thought he would like it,″ Nichols’ friend Sandy Papovich told the Dallas Morning News.


His Army stint also ended in failure. He lost his post as a platoon leader in a disagreement with a sergeant. He got a hardship discharge after 11 months in the service when a child-care dispute with his ex-wife meant he had to care for their son, Josh.

In 1990, Nichols married his second wife, Marife, whom he moved to Michigan from her home in the Philippines. A 2-year-old son died in 1993 in a household accident. Marife was said to be close to leaving Nichols when he was arrested.

Through everything, Nichols remained close to McVeigh. Terry Nichols, James Nichols and McVeigh began sharing anti-government literature.

Eventually, the Nichols brothers attended Michigan Militia meetings. But leaders of the right-wing extremist group said they asked the Nicholses to leave because they advocated violence.

Now the slightly built quiet man who addresses judges as ``Your honor″ and was described by employers as polite is accused of taking part in the attack in which a 4,800-pound bomb packed into a Ryder rental truck ripped apart the federal building, killing 167 people.

Jack Kay, Wayne State University’s communications department chairman, has studied the rhetoric, symbolism and power in the literature and spoken communications of extremist groups. He said Terry Nichols, who may think he has been denied the American dream, was ripe for recruitment.

``If they did it, as charged, maybe in their own twisted minds it is a way of striking out against the government,″ Kay said.

Investigators have focused on the close association between McVeigh and Nichols and believe they may have traveled together to Oklahoma City more than once. Authorities theorize Nichols went there to leave off a getaway car.

On the ride back, McVeigh told Nichols, ``Something big is going to happen,″ according to Nichols’ statement to the FBI.

On Thursday, law enforcement sources said there is evidence Nichols may have traveled along with the Ryder truck to Oklahoma City the day before the bombing.

Reid, who represented James Nichols in a divorce, saw a big difference in the two brothers.

``Jim to me I really expect is kind of a sissy. He was always shaking when he’d go into the courtroom and spout off,″ Reid said. ``Terry seemed to be more level-headed. He was still saying things that were strange, but he was certainly more cold and more calculating.″