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Watch A Veteran’s Return from the Brink of Terrorism | The New Yorker Documentary


[gentle music]

Most of the time when I tell people this story,

they tell me that they don’t believe me,

and that I’m making it up or that it’s not true.

[gentle pensive music]

When I was younger, he was amazing.

[picture clicks]

He was just always there for me when I needed someone.

You always hear about mass murderers

and how terrifying they are,

but you can never really imagine

that hurtful and harmful person to be

in the same house as you.

[picture clicking] [gentle suspenseful music]

[picture clicking]

[insects chittering]

[birds chirping]

[footsteps thumping]

[Bibi] I like an American country music.

[gentle sultry music] [footsteps thumping]

I mean, just the quietness and the soothing.

I mean, I don’t know how many kind they are,

there is just one that I listens,

this the background, a country music.

I listen to that, it kinda relaxes me.

[gentle sultry music]

The country music.

It seems to me it’s coming from the heart,

how you feel about the society, or the community,

wherever you live,

and to express those feelings

in a very simple and straightforward way.

[Bibi] I felt I became American,

I think after maybe five years.

After I learned that language, I was in school.

I had the second child born.

I became very comfortable with my life.

I felt as an American probably early on,

and the community also embraced me without any hesitation.

[guns popping]

[RPG bangs]

[Bibi] I came to Muncie in 1986 as a refugee.

I was living in the refugee camp in Pakistan

due to the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan.

Lived there for six years,

and I got engaged with my husband there,

and then he brought me, five years later,

to the United States and we got married in ’86.

[Saber] I am a family physician here in Muncie, Indiana.

The pictures of my children are in each room.

I treat my patient as my family.

So I tell my patient that I came by choice,

and I appreciate the refugee status,

that I came as a refugee.

And then I tell them they are my family,

because if something happening to me, my family is far away,

they will be coming to my rescue.

[gentle music]

[Dana] How would people describe me?

I would probably say that they would describe me

as strong and stubborn. [laughs]

They would describe me as a mom

because my main goal is to raise my daughter

to be a strong young woman.

[picture clicks]

When I first met Mac,

there was no doubt that he was a jar head.

One of the things I loved about him was his commitment

to ironically enough, to his country.

Mac and I had a long distance relationship

for just over a year.

[picture clicks]

I decided to introduce him to Emily.

I said, this is gonna be the deciding factor

because if she’s not good, mom’s not good.

She wanted to make sure

that I was gonna have a good father figure

in my life for later on.

And so we moved to Muncie altogether when I was five,

and he just was my dad from there on.

[Dana] Their relationship was very close.

They liked to go a lot

of different places together, go fishing.

He let her drive his car. [chuckles]

We both called each other a Road Dogs

cuz we would just go everywhere together

and just hang out all the time when I was really young.

He was amazing.

[picture clicking]

[Richard] Oh.

[Interviewer] How did killing people change you?

[Richard sniffs]

Never really told that…

[Richard gasps]

Hold on a second, man.

[clears throat]

[gentle ominous music]

[ominous music crescendos]

[bombs banging]

A fairly happy kid.

Had friends, I like to run the streets.

In high school, I’d gotten in a lot of trouble.

My biggest downfall is I was involved in drugs,

both using and selling.

It made life harder on me.

It made school almost, well, it did make school impossible.

I joined the Marines at 18.

I saw it as a respect thing.

My dad came from nothing,

big family, poor.

He had quit school, joined the military,

and he did four years in the Marine Corps.

[helicopters popping]

By me joining the military, not only in the military

but the Marine Corps,

and going through some of the same stuff he went through,

I figured I’d get his respect.

I didn’t have it,

but I knew it would get me away from what I was doing.

[bomb bangs]

[Soldier] Go, go, go, go.

[Richard] I was in the military for a long time,

around 25 years.

Towards the end of my military career,

I was a totally different person.

The fact of being involved

in so many deaths over years, it was a crazy time, man.

I don’t even know…

I probably would’ve been committed

if they woulda actually known the way I was acting.

One time I had a discussion

with a higher ranking person about coping.

Looked at me straight in the eye,

says, Mac, you’re on the range,

you’re shooting at a paper target.

As long as you can look at them as anything but human,

you won’t have any problems.

I said, Oh, okay.

That makes sense, yeah, yeah.

And that’s what I did.

[Imam praying in foreign language]

[water sloshing]

[Jomo] I’m a very family orientated person.

I love family. I’m a Williams.

So the Williams family go way back here in Muncie.

My great, great grandfather was lynched and was castrated.

And so I grew a dislike towards white people,

it was so bad.

I was 21 years young, [laughs] long time ago

when I first came into the religion.

The community was beautiful.

I never experienced anything like that, you know,

the closeness of anything until I came to this community.

[Zaki] The story I was told for starting

the Islamic center was that it was my dad

and two other Muslim brothers

that were kind of the Kickstarters of the mosque.

And so an Afghan, a Syrian, and a Bangladeshi brother.

Like that kind of unity to start a mosque through

from these different walks of life,

different countries, different refugee stories,

and to come together and create a mosque,

so that’s a beautiful thing.

My parents are mountain movers.

I would describe them as both come

from very, very humble beginnings in Afghanistan.

It was really always an open door at our house.

[Bibi] Just anyone who needed a place to stay,

I will welcome them to stay with me from all walks of life.

They will come to our house.

I will wash their clothes, and clean their clothes,

and cook for them.

My dad calls my mom the Mother Teresa

of the Muslim community, and it’s definitely true.

It’s in her DNA to just be that self sacrificer

to really put her like everything on the line

to make even one person’s life better.

[gentle suspenseful music]

[plane bangs]

[Crowd] Oh, my God. Oh, my God.

[Man] Oh, Jesus.

[Saber] I think 9/11 changed me and a lot

of community members in a big way.

[Jomo] It was shocking.

I couldn’t believe it.

We were just as devastated as anybody else,

as any other American.

[Bibi] For me personally, it was very difficult

to see that in the United State.

As I say, you know,

we have come from those country where there

was killing, there were bombing.

And just like you come here as if you live in peace.

Seeing that was very difficult for me, personally.

I had some discrimination.

You can tell when our people looked at us

a little bit differently,

people saw us a little bit differently.

Go back to your country,

that, You have towel on your head.

just making these remarks, it really hurts you.

[gentle music]

[Dana] When I moved to Muncie,

I started to notice some things

with his behavior that I hadn’t earlier.

Usually when he would talk about the things that happened,

it was when he would drink or he would be really sad.

[Richard] Military career ended

with me getting injured, and it started a cycle of events.

Living in Muncie now,

I was being forced to see people

that I considered an enemy every time I went out the door.

[Dana] We would go to Walmart

and you walk down the aisle and start

to go down an aisle one,

I would see a woman in hijab

and would intentionally divert our path.

[Richard] This is my story.

This is my country, my city,

Got to the point to where I just wanted to do harm to them.

[Dana] I guess I just held onto the hope

that being in a loving relationship

would help him move away from the anger

and the hatred that he had.

I never thought in a million years

that he would consider doing anything to anyone.

[gentle morose music]

I started thinking between being drunk and sober,

I was brainstorming, how can I make this right?

My country’s done with me, but I’m not done with it.

I would die for that cause gladly.

So I came up with a plan.

[picture clicks]

I said, okay, not an explosive expert by no means,

but I knew enough to make a bomb.

Let me find a good place where I think I can get

the most bang for my buck.

[picture clicking]

My plan was to detonate an IED

right outside the Muncie Islamic Center

on a Friday afternoon when they were all gathered.

And I was hoping for at least 200

or more dead, injured at least.

That was my goal, 200 or more.

I knew I’d get caught.

My DNA’s on the National Data Bank.

I was good with that.

I wanted to be in court.

I wanted to make my statements.

I wanted to tell people, Yes, I did this.

There was this boy at my school

and his mom came to pick him up,

and she was in this long dress with long sleeves,

and a full head covering that only showed her eyes.

And I was really confused by that,

cuz I had never seen that before,

and I was wondering why I couldn’t see anything of her.

And I went home that day and told my dad about it

and he flipped out.

This little Muslim kid,

future terrorist, sat across from my daughter,

I blew up.

At the end, I actually went into my room

and just broke down and cried.

I let these people get close to my family.

I was just very confused and probably scared

of why he was just freaking out

over what this woman was wearing.

And it just seemed so weird to me and strange.

And I looked at him like, what are you going on about,

you crazy, crazy, man?

When I have a little girl sitting

in front of me, looking at me like I’m crazy,

questioning, Man, do I really love this guy or not?

This little girl’s my world, man.

[picture clicking]

And I can’t have that happen.

I need her love.

[picture clicks]

So I said, Okay, I know I’m right.

These people were killers.

And I knew that in order to be able

to stand and face my daughter about this,

about what I have planned,

I need to be able to show her proof.

I need to be able to show the rest of the world proof.

So I went to the Islamic center to get the proof.

I didn’t wanna,

I didn’t wanna be with these people

cuz if I walk inside this building, I might not come out.

[car revving]

[Jomo] When I first saw him,

I was driving down the street,

and then I was actually coming to the Masjid.

And when I saw him, he was walking kind of fast,

his head was kinda down, kinda lower, you know,

it was kinda red in the face a little bit.

Okay, I knew something was wrong.

[gentle suspenseful music]

Yeah.

[gentle somber music] [birds squawking]

[Richard] So I walked in the building and all of a sudden

it’s like I felt my stomach tighten up,

chest tighten up.

I tried to keep my senses about me.

I got very anxious.

I didn’t trust them.

I considered myself somebody as a future news story

on Al Jazeera.

By the end of the night, I figured they would have me

in the basement with a sword to my throat.

[Jomo] He just, like this guy,

he had a lot on his mind, pacing back and forth.

I remember saying that there’s something

not right with this guy.

He looks at me and I look at him.

He smiles and he said, Can I help you?

[picture clicking]

My first impression of seeing him,

I don’t want to say like, was little scary.

[Richard] I looked around thinking about my plan.

And I actually looked at individuals like,

Yep, he’s gone. he’s gone.

My first impression of McKinney was he seemed

to be like a redneck.

So it was somewhat scary in the beginning,

but he came to the Masjid and he’s like a guest also,

so I couldn’t help it except to hug him

and make him feel, not artificially,

from my heart that he is welcome and he is part of us.

To this day, that still doesn’t make any sense to me.

To this day.

These people kill non-believers for sport.

It’s what they do, it’s in their book.

He sits at my feet.

He hugged my leg.

This guy doesn’t know me, hugged my leg.

That was pretty heavy.

They don’t even know the truth.

That is one of my duty.

When you say Salam to somebody, Salam.

What that means, to tell this other person

that you are safe from me, there will be no danger from me.

I just wanted to die.

It’s all I wanted.

I wanted the peace, man.

I needed to stop the voices.

I needed to stop the noise and I just wanted the peace.

[Saber] Somehow, I believe that he was genuine

and he has issue, all of us have issue.

In the military, post traumatic stress syndrome,

whatever that might be or some other thing.

And maybe he’s looking for a solution,

he’s looking for a solution.

And if you can be a solution for him,

for some of his stresses, why not to be extra kind to him?

[Bibi] I comforted him.

I gave him the attention.

I think that’s the basic memory that I have.

Not only just with Mac, I would do this with any guest.

These people were just plain old pleasant,

happy to be alive, happy to be in America,

just happy and more than happy to talk to me.

I personally believe that we need to be kind

to those people even more.

The people like, you know,

sometime like they might have some difficulty,

some concerns, some stress,

I personally believe that we should be more kind

to those than people who are successful

or who are already know what they’re doing.

[Dana] He can’t completely forgive himself

for the things that he did. [sobs and clears throat]

[Interviewer] What are you thinking about?

Just how he,

you know, he thought he was doing the right thing

and doing it for the right reasons,

and how much he sacrificed,

and how much he suffered for the things

that he was asked to do.

[gentle morose music]

[cars whooshing]

[Jomo] Actually, when he came back,

I was surprised to see him come back. [chuckles]

Yes, he came but not that same day,

but he came back like the next day and so forth.

Started hanging around the Masjid more,

coming to prayer, you know, coming to the dinners.

I think it was probably one of the first times

in a while where he felt like he was just

a part of something that was bigger.

He probably had been missing that part

of his life for a while.

[picture clicks]

[Jomo] He would talk about his wife,

he would talk about his daughter,

he would talk about his tours he had in other countries.

I thought they were very interesting

because he came from an environment,

he came from environment where he was killing Muslims.

He was at war with Muslims

in his mind, right?

So I was able to understand.

He definitely wanted to be a part

of the community and he felt welcome.

And it was really kind of bizarre,

because he was hugging the people that he wanted to choke.

[Richard] The more time I spent around ’em,

the more I started to change.

It’s been so long in the military, man, you know?

I had this band of brothers if you wanna call it.

It was gone.

We’d been disbanded. [chuckles]

There was no more.

[gentle morose music]

It’s funny, I had a dream that I was on the range,

and I had shot a paper target.

[bullet bangs]

And instead of just a hole being put in that target,

the target started bleeding.

And I went down and I wiped off the blood, wouldn’t stop.

That target would not stop bleeding.

Blood was just flowing from the target.

[gentle dramatic music]

That’s when I really felt things were about to change.

[gentle sanguine music]

It took eight weeks to change my mind.

[pictures rustling]

It took eight weeks to remove all of that hatred,

all of that planning, all of everything outta my heart.

[gentle sanguine music]

I said, I need to be a Muslim.

[birds chirping]

[Emily] I got off the bus one day from school,

and I see all these people standing outside my house

in FBI like coats and jackets and stuff like that.

They were looking for something,

and I didn’t know what that something was.

We went to the apartment where Mr. McKinney

was residing at at that point in time,

went up to Mr. McKinney’s door,

knocked on his door and Mr. McKinney answered.

[Richard] They came and they questioned me.

They asked if I mind

if they would bring a bomb dog to the house.

Absolutely, you come right ahead.

It had been disposed of, it doesn’t exist anymore.

We talked to him for a little bit longer.

The FBI agent did felt like Mr. McKinney

wasn’t really a credible threat

at that point in time,

that he wasn’t going to put anything into action

at that point in time.

I never thought in a million years.

I felt kind of foolish because I didn’t recognize

that that was even a potential that he had.

It’s still kind of hard for me to even wrap around my head

that my dad would’ve been known as a mass murderer.

[gentle pensive music]

[Bibi] One of the members came to me and asked me,

Do you know that Richard was planning to do this?

I cannot believe that this is what I heard.

That was the time I invited him over for dinner.

[men chattering]

And I asked him, I say,

What in the world were you thinking, Richard?

Remember like being amazed, like what?

He wanted to do what?

I remember asking him, what was the deal, man?

What was going on through your head,

what was your problem, man?

He didn’t know anything better.

That’s exactly what he said.

Sister Bibi, if I have met you, meaning somebody like you,

if I had that much understanding,

I would have never thought about this.

You showed me the right way.

You showed me what true humanity’s about.

Let’s put Islam aside for a second,

you showed me what true humanity was about.

[community laughs and chatters]

[Jomo] Go get ’em.

[Kid] Gonna!

[Richard] Long time don’t hear from her, huh?

[Women laughs]

[women chattering]

[Dana] When Mac went to the mosque,

and the way he was treated,

the way he was embraced, it did save his life.

It saved the lives of the community.

Had they turned him away,

had they treated him differently,

it would be a whole different story

than what he has to tell now.

[Jomo] Oh, I love the man.

Mac is a great man, Mac is a good person.

Now I have someone here who will definitely protect us

if something happened to us. [laughs]

[Photographer] Here we go.

You all look great.

[Bibi] I do see Richard as my little brother

who came to the center and then he needed that support.

So anyway, I appreciate everyone.

I just want you to know that each and every one of you,

even the ones that are not here

will always be in my heart, thank you.

[community clapping]

[Richard] I could never,

in a million years could never repay this community

what they’ve given me.

I see a lot of my actions now as a making of amends.

[gentle music]

05:32 verse in the Quran:

To kill one human being

is as if you killed all of humanity,

but to save one human being

is as if you saved all of humanity.

[gentle dramatic music]

I hope the day comes when I can forgive myself, maybe.

[fireworks fizzling]

[woman laughs]

[Dana] Islam was definitely a positive,

positive change for Mac,

and I ultimately supported that change,

but it wasn’t, you know, it wasn’t the right choice for me.

Even though we’re not married anymore,

I mean, I still care about him.

I hope that he finds forgiveness for himself,

and that he can be happy.

[gentle sanguine music]

I love my dad.

He’s still an amazing dad.

He always likes to tell me dad jokes

which I absolutely despise

yet I love at the same time, but I won’t tell him that.

[gentle sanguine music]

[chair creaks]

[music drowns out speakers]

[sanguine music decrescendos]



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