Political violence, an American tradition
The 50th anniversary of the New York townhouse explosion, where members of the Weather Underground built an anti-personnel bomb to explode while dancing in Fort Dix, went without much notice. However, as Jay Nordlinger reminds us in his beautiful essay, we ignore previous violent attacks on American democracy at our risk. It’s easy now to forget that violent domestic terrorism has come from both, as the nation is still being attacked on the far right and far left by a ragged group of militiamen, white supremacists, conspiracy brokers, and deluded men and women . Just a day after Joe Biden’s inauguration, anarchists in the Pacific Northwest renewed their attacks on symbols of democratic life, in this case the Democratic Party headquarters, just months after launching an ongoing campaign of incendiary, arson and violence against police stations , Corporate and government buildings in Portland and Seattle.
From the devastation of the Ku Klux Klan after the civil war to its periodic resurgence in the 1920s and 1950s, organizations that spat hatred against blacks, Jews and Catholics killed, terrorized and threatened, often with the support and consent of government officials. From the 1960s to the early 2000s, right-wing anti-government militias, ranging from the Posse Comitatus and the Minutemen to the Order and the Aryan Nations, stored weapons and killed both government officials and individuals in response to what they believed to be a communist and Zionist conspiracy American Destroy freedoms. The most devastating act committed by domestic terrorists was the bombing of a federal court in Oklahoma City by militia sympathizers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, killing 168 people.
Left terrorism was more episodic and less destructive, but no less eventful. Often associated with labor unrest, especially among miners and syndicalists, it also found support in an anarchist movement that had its origins in Europe but took root in America. In the face of bloody threats to destroy capitalism, some of its supporters have joined the tactic of “propaganda for action” or the assassination of political leaders. The 1880s and 1890s saw a spate of murders of heads of state around the world. An anarchist, Leon Czolgosz, assassinated President William McKinley in 1901; He claimed he was inspired by Emma Goldman, the most famous anarchist in America.
The most violent anarchist group, supporters of Luigi Galleani, an Italian immigrant who came to the United States in 1901 after his arrest and expulsion from numerous other countries, carried out a series of bombings from 1914 onwards. They were implicated in a failed attempt to blow up St. Patrick’s Cathedral and in arsenic poisoning from guests at a banquet in honor of a Roman Catholic cardinal in Chicago. Their bombing campaign continued in 1917 when one of their bombs killed nine police officers and one civilian in Milwaukee.
Congress responded by passing the Immigration Act of 1918, which made it easier for anarchists to be deported. The Galleanists responded by warning that “the deportation will not stop the storm from reaching these banks. The storm is in you and very soon it will jump and collapse and destroy you in blood and fire … We will dynamize you! “In 1919 they sent letter bombs to 36 prominent politicians and business people; Most were discovered and disarmed, but some exploded and caused injuries. More bombs were used against critics of anarchism and law enforcement. One at Attorney General Mitchell Palmer’s home exploded prematurely, killing the bomber. In response, the so-called Palmer Raids gathered around 3,000 anarchists and communists and deported more than 500, including Galleani. It didn’t stop the chaos. Two days after Sacco and Vanzetti – members of Galleani’s group – were charged with murder committed during a 1919 robbery in Boston, a bomb exploded on Wall Street, killing 38 people and injuring several hundred others. The Galleanistas’ chief bomb maker, Mario Buda, a close friend of the two, disappeared at the same time and appeared in Italy in 1928.
In a country as big and politically troubled as the United States, it is probably pointless to expect that there are no citizens who believe that the government is irrevocably corrupt and willing to use force to achieve its ends to advance.
Although the weathermen never caused as much destruction or death as the anarchists, they and their imitators and allies were a clear and present threat to American democracy. The only thing between the New York townhouse bombers and the mass murder was their own incompetence; When the dynamite they were using exploded, it killed four of them but spared those Fort Dix soldiers.
The FBI calculated that in the 18 month period between 1971 and 1973 there were more than 2,500 domestic bombings, an average of five a day. A Puerto Rican separatist group blew up a Revolutionary War landmark on Wall Street in 1975, killing four people and wounding dozens. Bombs weren’t the radicals’ only weapons. The Black Liberation Army executed seven police officers between 1971 and 1972. The Symbionese Liberation Army kidnapped Patty Hearst and murdered the black school principal in Oakland. Other Weatherman offshoots and imitators bombed courthouses and corporate offices. And as Nordlinger reports, the May 19 communist group, a coalition of ex-Weatherman and ex-BLA thugs, killed several police officers and security guards in a final spasm of violence during a botched armored car raid in Nyack, New York, in 1981.
Nordlinger notes that many weathermen have managed to avoid arrest. Several people caught in the act received long sentences. While Kathy Boudin and Judith Clark were eventually paroled, David Gilbert remains imprisoned for his role in the Brinks murders. Susan Rosenberg was inexplicably pardoned by President Clinton. Bill Ayers never had any consequences, and in his autobiography, published September 11, 2001, complained that he wished the group had set more bombs. His cynical and outrageous boast, which Nordlinger quoted: “Guilty as hell, free as a bird – America is a great country”, was – and is – unfortunately true. Several weathermen, including Ayers, his wife Bernardine Dohrn, Boudin and Rosenberg, found apprenticeships at colleges and universities. Its chief bomb maker, Ron Fliegelman, was never charged; He returned home when the group imploded and became a special education teacher without apologizing for his actions.
Like the weathermen, very few anarchists have ever been convicted of their bombings. Without catching people in the act and without the willingness of group members to testify against their comrades, terrorism is not easy to prosecute. Frustration at the inability of law enforcement to catch the criminals led the government to use extra-legal tactics in both the 1920s and 1970s. The Wilson administration and the Justice Department approved the arrest of many foreigners for no reason. The FBI used illegal wiretapping and break-ins to break into the closed circle of Weathermen activists. While Ayers got away with it, Mark Felt, a senior FBI bureaucrat (later known as the Deep Throat of Watergate) was convicted and fined (he was later pardoned by President Reagan) for his actions. Some of those who recently attacked the capital have been foolish enough to post selfies and videos on social media to facilitate their prosecutions.
In a country as big and politically troubled as the United States, it is probably pointless to expect that there are no citizens who are convinced that the government is irrevocably corrupt and willing to use force to achieve its ends to reach. Without a full security state, they are also likely to escape surveillance and act on occasion. Constant vigilance is necessary, as Nordlinger reminds us. Also remembers the names and crimes of those who tried to destroy American democracy.