Our shock and anger at recent events is genuine, especially attacks such as 9/11, Oklahoma City or even the recent thwarted attempt to blow up a plane by a Nigerian malcontent. Yet the extremists, misanthropes, wackjobs, loons and gun nuts of history feel slighted.
Why can’t John Brown get much love, his broadsword still soaked in the blood of proslavery Kansans? The anarchists, the Al Qaida of early modern America, feel cheated, especially after numerous successful bombings. The Weathermen could use your support, especially after trying to extend the Peace decade through violence.
The KKK? The FALN? The Jewish Defense League? Black September? Most of these clowns have a body count to put Al Qaida to shame—and they still get second fiddle.
Today at the Neighborhood, we’re committed to correcting this problem. Let’s look at some important terrorist acts and groups of the pre-2001 United States.
No Dorothy, you weren’t in Kansas, because you’d have a sword in your belly if you were. Kansas was in chaos in 1856, as both pro-slavery and abolitionist guerrilla gangs ravaged the countryside in order to convince Kansas to be admitted as a slave or free state. Pro-slavery men ransacked Lawrence in a killing spree. In response, hyper-religious maniac John Brown and his sons corner five pro-slavery settlers at Pottawatomie Creek and hack them to death with broadswords. Brown becomes a secular saint in the Union during the Civil War—and that’s as close to heaven as John got.
It was your run-of-the-mill labor rally in Chicago, and then the anarchists make it interesting. Today, it’s difficult to understand the threat of anarchism, but at the time it was right up there with “Japs” and “Commies”. We’re not sure who did it, but someone threw a bomb into the rally. The police open fire on the crowd, killing twelve people and setting the labor movement back twenty years. Thank God that in the 21st Century anarchy is relegated to a Sex Pistols song.
Anarchists went hog wild in the first two decades of the 20th Century. First they assassinate a sitting President in 1901. Then came a series of mail bombings to prominent business and political leaders in 1919. The final blow came in 1920, when a horse cart, loaded with TNT and metal projectiles, parked itself in front of J.P. Morgan’s bank at the corner of Wall Street and Broad Street in New York City. As the symbol of American capitalism, Morgan was public enemy # 1 for the anarchists. The bomb would kill 38 people and injure 400, even though it exploded in the early morning. Morgan kept the damage on its façade as a battle scar—no terrorist would bring down the “House of Morgan”, only Chase Manhattan Bank.
Besides bankrolling the bedsheet industry, the KKK has the distinction of waging the longest terrorist campaign in US history—longer than the anarchists, the FALN, or Al Qaida. Their first wave followed the Civil War, and produced open conflict with US occupation forces in the South. Since hating blacks wasn’t enough, they threw in Jews, Catholics, immigrants, labor unions, you name it. By the 1920s the Klan was downright respectable. Never fear, they returned to their ugly self in the 1950s, and have stayed that way since. Although, to be honest ,the Ku Kluxes have seen better days: half the Klan are FBI informants, and the other half are applying to be informants.
Everyone who’s had a beef with the electric company can empathize with this maniac. George Metesky was injured on the job working for Consolidated Edison in Waterbury, Connecticut. He lost his job, got no compensation for his injuries, and developed a deep-seeded hatred of Con Ed. Most people would sue, but George fixed up a bomb—dozens of them. Of the 33 bombs he planted, 22 went off, injuring 15 people. No place in the city was safe: Grand Central Terminal, Pennsylvania Station, Radio City Music Hall, the New York Public Library, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, the RCA Building, the New York City Subway, movie theaters, hallways, elevators, even public toilets. Use his case when arguing for a disability claim.
The Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN, were a paramilitary group seeking the independence of Puerto Rico from the United States. A noble cause, except when it came to their methodology, which involved at least 120 bombings between 1974 and 1983. Their greatest hits include Macys Herald Square (1969), Fraunces Tavern (1975), which killed 4 and wounded more than 50, a slew of buildings in April 1975 and again in 1977, the Shubert Theatre on Broadway in 1979, and a notable assault of the campaign headquarters of both Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush in 1980. Bill Clinton decided to pardon 16 FALN members in 1999, which didn’t help their reputation at all. On top of all this, Puerto Ricans still cling to commonwealth status in referendum after referendum. Talk about futility.
The Weathermen, or the Weather Underground, was one of the more notorious of the many zany organizations that sprang from the New Left movement of the 1960s. Their violent uprising against the Vietnam war, American “oppression” and the establishment of a proletarian dictatorship would span the 1970s, culminating with the Brinks robbery fiasco of 1981. In the process, the group claimed bombings on the Pentagon, the US Capitol and the State Department, among others. Starting with the “Days of Rage” protests in Chicago in October 1969, the Weathermen focused most of their attention on Vietnam. Upon our pullout in 1973, they, like so many remnants of the flower power decade, became irrelevant. Today, many people know one of the most important Weathermen: Bill Ayers, professor and buddy to Barack Obama. Hey Mr. President: try not to piss of those old hippies—they apparently bite.
Those who used to watch Jerry Springer at his best may remember the JDL. They were the guys in yarmulkes that would come in fists swinging at the Klansmen on stage. The JDL was founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1968 to combat Anti-Semitism in the United States—with an emphasis on the word “combat.” These guys would take anybody on: the Klan, neo-Nazis, even the Soviet Union (their bombings of Soviet places of interest in the 1970s are what drew them attention). Yet their use of violence has branded them a terrorist group by the FBI, and the killing of Arab-American activist Alex Odeh, the attempted assassination of Arab-American Congressman Darrell Issa and attempted bombing of a mosque in Culver City, California pushed them over the edge. Their website claims that the group renounces terrorism, but the jury’s still out. Still, for a time the JDL pretty much obliterated the Woody Allen-like caricature of a wimpy Jew.
As always, I know the list isn’t exhaustive. The Black Nationalist Party, the various white supremacist groups, the Unabomber, antigovernment militias, pre-2001 Islamic fundamentalism—all worthy of study.
Let us know of other terrorist actions in the United States that I may have forgotten. More importantly, see if your students can weigh the costs and the benefits of terrorist actions–and see if violence can truly be avoided.