Days of Rage.

The Civil Rights movement in the South encountered a lot of violent resistance. (Birmingham, Alabama became known in some quarters as “Bombingham.”) The United States began to escalate its military commitment to South Vietnam. JFK, RFK, and MLK all were assassinated. Nothing in conventional politics seemed able to stop the momentum. In response, in Summer 1969, things began to boil over on the American Left. Outside the South, the Black Panthers were formed. Some people began to contemplate the “propaganda of the deed,” as the pre-revolutionary Russian dissidents had called bombings and assassinations. Perhaps a 100,000 young people had signed-up with the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) by 1968. A radical fringe broke away from the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) over SDS’s rejection of violence. They called themselves The Weathermen. When the Weathermen, called for supporters to stage so-called “Days of Rage” in Chicago in October 1969, only about 200 people showed up. The disappointed Weathermen promptly went underground and launched a terror campaign. Independently of the Weathermen, Sam Melville planted dynamite at a disused United Fruit warehouse in New York. Soon afterward, the Weathermen went underground themselves.

There was a great deal of savagery as well as a great deal of foolishness in the campaign that followed.[1] “Protests and marches don’t do it. Revolutionary violence is the only way,” said Bernardine Dohrn. “We could do [non-fatal fire-bombings] until we were blue in the face, and the government wouldn’t really care,” recalled one Weatherperson years later.[2] So, they opted for something more dramatic. Bombings followed in Berkeley, Detroit, Cleveland, and New York City. In February 1969, a secretary at Pomona College was wounded by bomb. In August 1969, one of Sam Melville’s bombs wounded twenty people in New York. In March 1970 one plan went wrong when a Weather Underground bomb factory in Greenwich Village blew up, killing three dissidents. The Weather Underground announced that it would shift back to non-lethal bombings. Apparently it was safer (for them) that way. In August 1970 a bomb at the University of Wisconsin killed a researcher named Robert Fassnacht. Between May 1971 and January 1972, a “Black Liberation Army” (BLA) killed five policemen around the country and badly wounded two others. In February 1974, the Symbionese Liberation Army kidnapped Patty Hearst. In May 1974, the Los Angeles police caught up with most of the group. The SLA got shot to bits on live television. In January 1975 the FALN, a terrorist group advocating Puerto Rican independence, launched a campaign that would run for eight years and set off 130 bombs. Finally, in October 1981, the BLA tried to rob a Brink’s armored car outside New York City. In the robbery and in a confrontation with the police afterward, three police officers were killed.

Brian Burroughs charitably describes the Weathermen, Symbionese Liberation Army, the Black Liberation Army, and a group of Puerto Rican nationalists as “young people who fatally misjudged America’s political winds and found themselves trapped in an unwinnable struggle they were too proud or too stubborn to give up.” That could be. In “The Searchers” (1956, dir. John Ford), the character played by John Wayne explained why he could not take an oath as a Texas Ranger: “I figure a man’s only good for one oath at a time and I took mine to the Confederate States of America.”

[1] Bryan Burroughs, Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence (Penguin, 2014).

[2] It strikes me as odd to complain that a government one accuses of putting property rights ahead of human rights doesn’t really care about property, but does care about harm to humans. I’m probably missing something.

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