“People have completely forgotten that in 1972 we had over nineteen hundred domestic bombings in the United States.” — Max Noel, FBI (ret.)
Recently, I had my head torn off by a book: Bryan Burrough’s Days of Rage, about the 1970s underground. It’s the most important book I’ve read in a year. So I did a series of running tweetstorms about it, and Clark asked me if he could collect them for posterity. I’ve edited them slightly for editorial coherence.
Days of Rage is important, because this stuff is forgotten and it shouldn’t be. The 1970s underground wasn’t small. It was hundreds of people becoming urban guerrillas. Bombing buildings: the Pentagon, the Capitol, courthouses, restaurants, corporations. Robbing banks. Assassinating police. People really thought that revolution was imminent, and thought violence would bring it about.
One thing that Burrough returns to in Days of Rage, over and over and over, is how forgotten so much of this stuff is. Puerto Rican separatists bombed NYC like 300 times, killed people, shot up Congress, tried to kill POTUS (Truman). Nobody remembers it.
Also, people don’t want to remember how much leftist violence was actively supported by mainstream leftist infrastructure. I’ll say this much for righty terrorist Eric Rudolph: the sonofabitch was caught dumpster-diving in a rare break from hiding in the woods. During his fugitive days, Weatherman’s Bill Ayers was on a nice houseboat paid for by radical lawyers.
Most ’70s of the bombings were done as protest actions. Unlike today’s jihadists, ’70s underground didn’t try to max body count. And ’70s papers didn’t really give a shit. A Puerto Rican group bombed 2 theaters in the Bronx, injuring eleven, in 1970. NYT gave it 6 paragraphs.
Protest bombings started on college campuses. The guy who moved them off-campus was a dude named Sam Melville. Melville was an older radical (mid-30s). He’d thought idly about bombings before, but in February ’69 he hooked up with two Quebecois separatists on the run. Melville was fascinated by their knowledge of revolutionary tactics. He admired them so much, he even drove them to the airport so they could hijack a plane to Cuba.
Logical next step for Melville: emulate them. Specifically, find an explosives warehouse, steal dynamite, start a bombing campaign against United Fruit. Except United Fruit had moved their warehouse, so he bombed a tugboat company instead. Whoops. Next: a bank, injuring 20. A bombing spree ensued, but the FBI had an informer, and Melville was busted red-handed with a sack full of bombs. He became a hero to the movement, and later a martyr: he was one of the inmates shot in the Attica uprising.
After Sam Melville, bombings were A Thing.
One thing Burrough makes clear: the 1970s underground was not primarily focused on Vietnam. It was domestic. Focused on the black cause. Burrough traces black radicalism through guys like Robert Williams, Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, and Huey Newton, but for me this particular thread really takes off when it gets to Eldridge Cleaver, whom I haven’t read and really feel I should.
Cleaver, born in Arkansas, moved to California, attained his fame based on two things: 1) he was a rapist and 2) he could write. Leftists have this weird thing about deifying criminals who can write. Norman Mailer and Jack Henry Abbot being the most famous example. In Cleaver’s case, he viewed the rape of white women by a black dude like himself as a revolutionary act.
Cleaver wrote to a radical attorney, impressed her, and seduced her; she secured his release & promptly set him up with a gig at RAMPARTS. White radicals fell hard for Eldridge Cleaver. This became an trend, part of a couple of uneasy dichotomies that you see a bunch of.
Example #1: Huey Newton, Malcolm X used the idea of violent resistance mainly as a recruiting tool. Eldridge Cleaver believed that shit.
Example #2: Some white leftists (like SLA) worship black revolutionaries, crave their leadership. Others (like the Weathermen) want to lead.
Cleaver hooked up with the Black Panthers, so we’ll see him again when we talk about them. For now, let’s look at Weatherman.
The Weathermen (technically, the name of the group was Weatherman, singular) came out of a group called Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). SDS was a college organization with a bunch of campus chapters. That meant existing machinery that worked, and membership numbers. A fantastic resource, if you want to mine it to build a guerilla movement.
SDS started radicalizing in ’66. By ’67, Burrough notes, an SDS leader is saying in the New York Times, “We are working to build a guerilla force in an urban environment.” He backed down quickly, but the genie was out. And then 1968 happened, and things went completely batshit.
You have to understand: in 1968, many radicals absolutely believed that the United States was getting ready to collapse. One Weatherman puts it: “We actually believed there was going to be a revolution. We believed 3rd World countries would rise up and cause crises that would bring down the industrialized West, and we believed it was going to happen tomorrow, or maybe the day after tomorrow, like 1976.”
They believed the revolution was imminent. BELIEVED IT. Like Alex Jones’s audience believes in chemtrails. That level. Absolute, apocalyptic. The SDS got angrier and angrier, and wound up doing an occupation at Columbia University, which got attention. At the same time, they read up on the foco theory of Che’s buddy Regis Debray: that small guerrilla groups could overthrow the US.
If you think this sounds completely insane and crazy, you’re absolutely right. But think about it this way: who’s in SDS leadership?
SDS leadership is disproportionately well-off Jewish kids at elite universities. The kind of people who create Facebook.
Well, in 1968 you can’t go to the Bay Area & create a killer app, so if you want to disrupt stuff you literally have to start a revolution. And that’s the equation: Paranoid fervor of chemtrail-sniffers + Silicon Valley’s faith in its ability to change the world = the Weather Underground.
When it shakes out, two of the big SDS movers and shakers are John “JJ” Jacobs and Bernadine Dorne. Their goal: to take over SDS entirely. Because, remember, organization is critical. SDS is a nationwide organization. And college campuses are receptive to radical messages.
How receptive? In fall of 1968, there were 41 bombings and arson cases on college campuses. We’re not talking letters under doors or vandalism, here. We’re talking about Molotov cocktails setting shit on fire. Here’s how radical SDS was: Burrough notes that Weatherman’s opponents for leadership in SDS elections were “Progressive Labor,” who were literal Maoists. To distinguish themselves, Weatherman called for white radicals to live like John Brown: ie, to kill the enemies of black liberty.
The election was nuts; Weatherman literally expelled their opponents from the party before the vote, so SDS split. But Weatherman occupied the national office, which meant they could evaluate SDS members as potential recruits.
The FBI was up SDS’s ass, and Weatherman’s. They harassed the core cadre. Beat them. Threatened them. This does not dissuade revolutionaries. Weatherman started doing crazy stuff with SDS: street brawls, public nudity, sexual orgies, ordering established couples to break up. If you think it sounds like a cult, you’re right. This is literally cult indoctrination stuff. They were remaking people, seeking the hardest of hardcore.
The Black Panthers, erstwhile allies, thought Weatherman was nuts. But Weatherman, despite pro-black rhetoric, didn’t care. (Weatherman’s pro-black rhetoric was mainly Phariseeism, done to win acclaim from other whites. Basically, they’re Tim Wise.)
Just to skim through some of the stuff Burroughs addresses: Weatherman’s Bernadine Dohrn goes to Cuba, meets a North Vietnamese delegation, and literally discusses forming an American VC (!!!). Weatherman-controlled SDS chapters around the country are taking over classrooms, running through schools yelling, promoting Days of Rage. As commies, Weatherman is into in fomenting revolt among the working class. Their problem, they keep discovering, is that working class wants to beat the shit out of them.
But Weatherman kept molding their people. They did Maoist “criticism/self-criticism” sessions, lambasting people for weaknesses. If you think the Maoist self-criticism technique sounds like it bears a resemblance to privilege workshops, you’re not wrong. But Weatherman went farther.
They planned to get thousands of people in a massive protest: October 8, 1969, the Days of Rage. But only a couple hundred showed up, so they decided to turn being small into an asset. Weatherman abolished SDS, and went underground.
At about the time they were doing this, the Chicago police stormed Fred Hampton’s apartment and shot him to death in his sleep. Bernardine Dohrn’s reaction to Hampton’s murder included (infamously) praise for the Manson family murder of Sharon Tate.
It’s about this point where you would think even the most dedicated of hard leftists would realize that things are going off the rails.
But Weatherman is locked in, and getting increasingly insular and cultish. Eventually, there are maybe 150 Weathermen left out of all of SDS. And now they turn to a new organization: the underground, which offered (among other things) a market for new identities. If you’re thinking “hey, I bet that market has something to do with Vietnam-era draft dodgers,” spot-on. They established covers.
And then they started bombing.
Bill Ayers claimed that Weatherman never meant to hurt anyone; this is absolutely a lie. Their first bombing (which they never officially claimed, but which members admitted to Burrough) was a police shift change in Berkeley. Weatherman remains the prime suspect in a police station bombing in the Haight that killed a police officer, though they deny this. In 1970, Weatherman planned to kill a bunch of people at a dance at Fort Dix… but instead blew up their own NYC safehouse in a work accident.
This up-close encounter with death made Weatherman realize they had no stomach for it, and they decided to not try to kill people anymore. (Okay, they did try to kidnap a Rockefeller, but they fucked that up and couldn’t find their victim. Because they were shit.)
Weatherman is facing a few problems at this point: 1) they’re on the run 2) flower children are now dominant in the movement, not hard left 3) people are less supportive of bombings after a postdoc was killed by a Wisconsin car bombing of a university math building that did army research 4) as Burrough very amusingly points out, Americans had decided they actually liked the counterculture in parts: they liked the music and the fashion and a lot of them discovered they liked weed; what they didn’t care about were the radical politics — i.e., literally the only thing Weatherman was trying to sell them.
So Weatherman tried to suck up to the flower children by helping Timothy Leary (doing 10 years for 2 joints) escape from prison and to Algiers. They thought about freeing Huey Newton, but Leary was in minimum security and Newton was in max and WELP (Newton was free soon, anyway).
But none of it mattered. Nobody cared.
Weatherman had fucked themselves. They’d abandoned the Black Panthers, who now looked down on them. They were leading nobody. They could have made a difference with the organization of SDS, but they’d set it on fire to build Weatherman. And now they’d decided they weren’t going to kill people any more.
So if you’re a radical who’s willing to kill, but decide you won’t… what does that leave? How long can you keep bombing bathrooms until it gets boring? Well, Weatherman is about to find out. Enter the long suck.
A reminder: during this period Weatherman is being hunted by the FBI. So how are they staying fed, sheltered, alive? Part of it is fake I.D.s. The other part of Weatherman staying alive and free is: they are being funded and supported by the National Lawyers’ Guild.
I just want to emphasize this: radical lawyers are literally giving fugitive domestic terrorists who are still bombing money and support.
And it’s harder for hippies to sneak bombs into places. What’s great cover? Parents with children. Weatherman used radical lawyers’ kids. Dohrn actually convinced a radical lawyer’s wife to leave her husband and take the kids and go under with the Weather Underground.
Weatherman bombed the Pentagon in ’72, but by 1974, they’re fighting among themselves, arguing about feminism (hence their name change to Weather Underground). And this is where Weather Underground becomes incredibly relevant to 2016 again: because they decided to re-enter mainstream politics. To do this, they decided, they would take over the radical left, and use that as wedge/entry point to change society.
This was the plan: 1) Publish a manifesto (Prairie Fire) 2) Make an aboveground group, the Prairie Fire Distribution Committee — not Weather! oh, no! not Weather! — no, just people who admired Weather 3) Turn the PFDC into a permanent group, the PF Organizing Committee 4) Hold a PFOC conference to unite the entire radical left under PFOC 5) Weather’s people deals with their legal issues, then officially take PFOC over, ta-dah!
Weather prints Prairie Fire themselves, distributes thousands of copies to radical organizations and bookstores, does bombings to promote it. This is, Burrough notes, a pretty impressive achievement just in terms of logistics, especially considering they’re on the run from the FBI.
Everything goes smoothly in Weather’s plan until the PFOC conference happens, which looks stunningly like what we’re seeing emerge in today’s Democratic party politics. The white leftist elites (Weather) are stunned to discover that the diverse radicals (black, American Indian, Puerto Rican) they’ve imagined leading actually have opinions of their own, and perfectly rational desires for their own power, and no desire to be ruled by Weather’s upper-crust radicals.
One of Burrough’s Weather interviewees notes that she was very upset and rattled to continually be called racist. This was before white leftists started to unpack their invisible knapsacks and bewail their whiteness as original sin. She couldn’t grasp it.
In the end, Weather was ignominously expelled from their own conference by a Communist who had been one of their former members. (Said Commie later got arrested himself by the Feds when he tried to start a bombing campaign of his own).
Meanwhile, the DOJ, searching FBI files in response to an unrelated civil rights lawsuit, found evidence of black bag jobs and illegal wiretapping against Weather Underground. So at the end of all this, who faces legal trouble? Not Weather. The FBI. Not big trouble, mind. The FBI guys got fined for the black bag jobs against Weatherman. They served no jail time, and President Reagan pardoned them in April 1981.
In the end, the Weather’s fugitives turned themselves in with little trouble. To give you an idea: Bill Ayers was scott-free. Cathy Wilkerson did a year. Bernardine Dohrn got three years probation and a $1500 fine. The radical lawyers, accessories to Weather’s bombings? Nada. Zip. Zero.
They did pretty well afterwards. Bernardine Dohrn was a clinical associate professor of law at Northwestern University for more than twenty years. Another Weatherman, Eleanor Stein, was arrested on the run in 1981; she got a law degree in 1986 and became an administrative law judge. Radical attorney Michael Kennedy, who did more than any to keep Weather alive, has been special advisor to President of the UN General Assembly. And, of course, Barack Obama, twice President of the United States, started his political career in Bill Ayers’s living room.
This is the difference between the hard Left & hard Right: you can be a violent leftist radical and go on to live a pretty kickass life. This is especially true if you’re a leftist of the credentialed class: Ph.D. or J.D.
The big three takeaways for me about Weatherman, when it comes to political violence in America as we might see it in 2016:
- Radicalism can come from anywhere. The Weathermen weren’t oppressed, or poor, or anything like that. They were hard leftists. That’s it.
- Sustained political violence is dependent on the willing cooperation of admirers and accomplices. The Left has these. The Right does not.
- Not a violent issue, but a political one: ethnic issues involving access to power can both empower and derail radical movements.
Moving from the white Leftists to the black revolutionaries, let’s talk for a second about George Jackson. Massive criminal history, seriously violent dude: his own father actually testified against his parole. Jackson was in Soledad prison in 1970 when a fight between white and black inmates broke out in the yard. With no warning, a white guard ended the fight by shooting three black prisoners dead. In retaliation, George Jackson and two other inmates murdered a guard by throwing him off the tier. They became known as the Soledad Three.
Fay Stender, who’d defended Black Panther Party founder Huey Newton, also defended Jackson. She got the radical community backing his freedom and published a book of his letters. So George Jackson got famous.
This is where radical professor Angela Davis comes in. Davis, if you don’t know, is so dedicated to communism that she literally got her Ph.D. behind the Iron Curtain. From a moral perspective, that’s a little like somebody getting a Ph.D. in old South Africa specifically because they dig apartheid.
On August 5, 1970, Davis had a long meeting with George Jackson in prison. After her meeting with George Jackson, Davis bought Jackson’s little brother Jonathan, still in high school, a shotgun. Two days later, Jonathan took hostages in a courtroom and demanded the release of the Soledad Three.
Jonathan killed the judge before being killed himself. Two other hostages were badly wounded. As for George, on August 21, 1971, somebody — prison officials held it was Jackson’s lawyer — gave him a gun. Jackson took seven hostages before he was killed by snipers while trying to escape prison. Five of the hostages were found dead in his cell.
Jackson wasn’t the only black radical of the period to meet a violent end. The contrast in the fates of 70’s black radicals and white radicals is pretty stark. A lot of white radicals came out okay. A lot of black radicals came out dead.
But Angela Davis did great. She’s had a successful career and remains celebrated. Arrested for her part in Jonathan’s plot, Davis was acquitted, and became a radical icon.
I think an underappreciated factor in Angela Davis doing so well afterward is her position as part of the credentialed class. Like the Weathermen — and unlike most black radicals — Angela Davis had access to Institutions.
Institutions are one of two major assets that the Left has and the Right lacks. The other is Shock Troops.
Institutions are organizations the Left controls that operate for the benefit of the Left’s people. The Right doesn’t really have these. As an example, there are occasional hard right lawyers, but so far as I know there is no such thing as the Reactionary Lawyers’ Guild.
The other thing that the Left has that the Right doesn’t are Shock Troops: unshameable actors.
Institutions and Shock Troops are important resources for the Left. They work together. The Left’s Institutions accept, cater to, train, and/or employ its people, including Shock Troops. And, in the cases of several Weathermen (and Davis), give them cushy jobs in their Shock-Troop retirement.
What happens when you have Shock Troops, but no, or few, or short-lived Institutions? That’s the story of black radicalism in the USA.
Burrough’s Days of Rage provides a quite good overview of several parts of black radicalism. We’ll review three groups here: BLA, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and the Family. (There’s also a little mention of the NWLF, who aren’t a black radical movement but fit in timewise with the SLA.)
Odd fact: in 2016 we saw a lot of news stories about police being targeted for murder, including a spectacular attack in Dallas…and I didn’t seen a single news article mentioning the Black Liberation Army. That’s how forgotten this stuff is!
The short answer to “Who were the BLA?” is “they were a splinter group of the Panthers.” The longer answer requires a little bit of backstory.
In January, 1969, 23 Black Panthers attempted a combination of bombing and sniper attacks on police and at a board of education office. As in a lot of these cases involving radical groups plotting violence, two of the Panthers in question turned out to be undercover NYPD. The actual Panthers involved became known as the Panther 21.
The Panther 21 were found not guilty after an 8-month trial — pretty impressive, because while the undercover cops gave them two fake bombs the Panthers also got real dynamite from another source, so their third bomb actually went off! With the informants and acquittal, in some ways it’s similar to the Malheur Occupation thing, only with an actual murder plot attached.
But can you imagine if a famous conservative like, I dunno, Gary Sinise had tried to raise money for the Malheur Occupation dudes? Okay, well, exactly that happened, but it was Leonard Bernstein raising money for the Panther 21, who actually tried to murder people! Tom Wolfe wrote a classic article about Bernstein’s party and the period’s radical chic.
The main reason Burrough discusses the Panther 21 episode: it showcases a growing problem for the Black Panthers. Namely, for a good number of their members, the Black Panthers are not nearly militant enough. And there are a LOT of Panthers at this point. When Huey Newton gets out of prison in 1970, he finds a Black Panther Party that’s grown bigger than his ability to run. Meanwhile, Eldridge Cleaver (remember him?), who’s been running stuff with Huey inside, has set himself up in Algiers with, I shit you not, a nice stipend and an actual embassy paid for by the Algerian government, which I guess really means by the Russians. (The Panthers didn’t have their embassy long. It was gone by the fall of ’72, probably bc some Soviet beancounter said WHAT.)
As you can imagine, at this point Newton and Cleaver absolutely loathed each other, so clearly the smart thing for the party to do was have a phone call between them Live. On. Television. On a local San Francisco talk show.
Sadly, this is not on YouTube.
The TV chat went as well as you’d expect, which means it ended with Cleaver and Newton literally expelling each other from the party. The factionalism was so bad that a Cleaverite Panther was murdered by a Newtonite. The Black Panthers expected a civil war.
If you’re going to have a war, it makes sense to organize for one. So a NY Panther named Dhoruba Moore organizes the Black Liberation Army. One of Moore’s BLA recruits is a young woman named Joanne Chesimard, later known as Assata Shakur. Another is a fellow named Sekou Odinga.
But the Panther civil war never actually happens. And then cops stop three Panthers on the street, it turns into a shootout, and a Panther is killed. The Panthers are understandably enraged, and — wouldn’t you know it? Dhoruba Moore has his new wing of hitters just sitting there.
So the BLA shrugs: eh, forget the civil war; let’s go kill some cops.
In May 1971, BLA started going out shooting cops in NYC. Two cops were killed with a submachine gun fired from a car. Then two more were brutally short down in the street (Burrough gives the details; they are horrifically graphic). Moore’s group claimed both killings. In truth, a copycat Panther group killed the second two.
The challenge for the BLA is that, while Weatherman has radical lawyers willing to fund and abet them, the BLA, like most radical groups, does not. So the BLA takes to robbery to secure funding. Founder Dhoruba Moore is arrested in one of these attempts, but the BLA keeps rolling.
Eldridge Cleaver, BTW, is totally down with this mayhem. But he does not want to coordinate it. Cleaver’s instruction calls for autonomous cells. In theory: autonomous BLA cells cannot be rolled up wholesale by the cops. In practice: none of the cells know what the other is doing. This leads to batshit crazy things like two BLA cells trying to rob the same bank at the same time.
The point of the robbery, though, let’s not forget, was to enable BLA to better kill cops. BLA used robbery money to establish training camps down South. They killed cops there, too. Within nine months of start-up, BLA had attacked ten cops, killing seven, in four different states. Not a furious pace, but steady.
Chesimard’s cell was finally arrested in 1971, after a massive car chase and gunfight in South Carolina. They were caught with a gun that belonged to one of the murdered cops.
So, of course, they were back walking the streets in NYC by fall ’72.
Yeah: in 1971, you could get in a gunfight with cops, shoot a cop, be carrying a gun stolen during a different state’s double cop murder — and get out of prison in less than a year!
Ever wonder why the American public got behind the idea of mandatory minimums and stiff sentences? The Seventies. The Seventies are why!
As BLA attacks continued, a lone wolf perp in New Orleans, a black radical named Mark Essex, shot 19 people, killing 9, 5 of them cops. Then NYC saw two BLA attacks on cops in 53 hours, and people started thinking that there was a nationwide conspiracy. (It wasn’t that huge.)
In 1973, Chesimard was shot and captured following a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike in which a policeman was killed. Not much later, the police finally landed an informant, and after a few stakeouts and gunfights they arrested or killed BLA’s shooters. Sekou Odinga got away. But that’s basically the end of the BLA. Except…
Except this flurry of activity and press has all the radicals who weren’t involved thinking, “Dang, I missed out!” And guess where there’s been a ton of radicalization? In U.S. prisons!
Weatherman had tried to rally the working class. No luck. They weren’t into being radicalized. But black prisoners really, really were.
And white radicals — many the kind who’d be really into privilege confession today — started getting into the idea of black leadership. I mean: really into the idea of black leadership. To the point of fetishizing it. Fetishizing black convicts, especially.
I told you this gets crazy, right? Well, here’s a little taste of the stuff Burrough gets into. Check this out:
In 1972, a group called Venceremos, from the Bay Area, literally broke out a black convict named Ronald Beaty during a prison transport so he could train them in guerrilla tactics and lead a revolution.
That was their actual plan. That was their entire actual plan.
Exactly that one bit from South Park, but a bunch of ’70s white Bay Area radicals going, “Token, you’re black; you know guerrilla tactics.” (Spoiler: when Beaty got arrested again, he promptly rolled over on the white radicals.)
But where there’s a demand, a supply will surface, and in 1973, a black inmate named Donald DeFreeze capitalized on the trend. To better explain Donald DeFreeze: imagine that Eldridge Cleaver & George Jackson are YouTube stars, ok? Well, DeFreeze is the comments.
DeFreeze escaped prison and hooked up with a Berkeley, CA radical named Patricia “Mizmoon” Soltysik. DeFreeze and Mizmoon assembled a small cell of eight men and women. Say hello to the Symbionese Liberation Army. Slogan: “Death to the fascist insect that preys on the blood of the people!”
So their first target, of course, is Oakland’s first black school administrator, superintendent Marcus Foster!
I know. You’re thinking, “Wait, what?”
Foster had dared suggest ID cards for kids and using police to curb in-school violence. For this, the SLA murdered him, on November 6, 1973. In 1974, the SLA kidnapped 19yo heiress Patty Hearst, demanding her family do massive food giveaways (which they did). The food giveaways actually got the SLA some favorable attention in the radical press, for forcing the rich to give to the poor. Meanwhile, the SLA was indoctrinating Hearst and raping her repeatedly. Then the SLA offered her a choice: to join them, or be released.
Let me ask you a question: in the shoes of 19-year-old Patty Hearst, how much would you trust the assurances of Donald DeFreeze and the SLA? That’s exactly how much Hearst trusted them when they said they’d let her go. So she said of course she’d join them. Hearst famously robbed a bank with the SLA and went on the run with them. The account I’ve given of her decision is hers, which I believe.
The press was going nuts. Imagine a Kardashian were kidnapped, then resurfaced having become a terrorist. That’s what this was like.
The SLA’s darkest day came when they were busted for shoplifting in L.A. It turned into a gunfight. They split up: Hearst and a couple in one direction, DeFreeze & the rest in another. Hearst’s party got away. DeFreeze’s took over a random house, and was indiscreet about it. Cops closed in. There was a massive gunfight and a fire. DeFreeze and his party died horrible deaths.
Hearst’s survivors sought the help of a radical named Kathy Soliah, who had championed the SLA at a rally that got newspaper attention. Literally, I think that’s it: they’d read her name in the newspaper, and looked her up. And of course she helped them. Soliah not only arranged shelter for them, she helped them re-recruit. #the70syall
Soliah also started a study group called the Bay Area Research Collective, publishing a radical paper called Dragon. Dragon published bombing news, how-to bomb manuals, communiques from underground groups. You could send them letters to claim your bombings. The Bay Area Research Collective also had its own terrorist group: the New World Liberation Front. More on them in a minute.
The SLA, now restaffed, robbed a bank in Sacramento, murdering a bank patron, Myrna Opsahl. This turned the heat on them again, hard. They returned to San Francisco and started bombing for revolution and fighting among themselves. The cops picked most of the SLA up (Hearst included) not long after, and that chapter was concluded.
But what about that NWLF thing?
NWLF was an oddity: domestic terrorism by creative commons. If you wanted to detonate bombs in their name, you could! That was its thing. And people detonated bombs in the name of the NWLF. Regularly. For three years.
In 1975, NWLF bombs went off in San Francisco once a week for nine months. They targeted local politicians, including Dianne Feinstein’s house. NWLF bombed a trial, country clubs, the opera. The bombings didn’t wholly stop until 1978. The reason NWLF bombings stopped: the guy who did most of them went insane and killed his girlfriend with an axe.
But to return to the black radicals, and Institutions: one of the most insane stories is that of Lincoln Detox and the Family. July and November of 1970, a gang occupies the South Bronx’s Lincoln Hospital and presents demands to administrators. The demand: Lincoln Hospital facilities are shitty. The gang demands a drug treatment center, and they demand to operate it.
They got nearly a million bucks from the government to do it. That’s what the 1970s were like. This was Lincoln Detox. It was run by militant leftists. (They gave the BLA medical supplies, to give you an idea.) Methadone came coupled with Marxist education, paid for by the city. Political education as a cure for heroin addiction.
I’m not kidding! This really happened! New York City was paying for it all!
Lincoln Detox was, in short, an Institution for leftist radicals, paid for by city tax dollars. And it was robbing the city blind. Burrough’s accounting of how blind is stunning: in 1973, Lincoln Detox was treating half the patients its contract called for, at rates *four times* those of other city clinics. In 1976 HHC found nearly $1 million in unsubstantiated payroll, with staff absentee rates up to 71%. The clinic refused to share its personnel records, but during an auditors’ visit only half the 45 listed staff were on duty. Despite this remarkable absenteeism, the staff were still managing to make thousands of dollars in personal phone calls.
NYC’s Addiction Services Agency was supposedly in charge, but when Detox refused to give required information they’d cut all funds in 1973. So Lincoln Detox got money from Health and Hospitals Corporation, another city agency, which gave money with no strings. Any effort to control the clinic caused massive protests — the clinic staff occupied HHC’s offices and smashed stuff at one point.
Clearly, the only logical thing to happen at this point in the story is for Tupac Shakur’s future stepfather to study acupuncture.
Look, I told you today’s installment gets crazy.
It turns out that Marxist education is not actually helpful in curing drug addiction, so clinic staffer Mutulu Shakur learns acupuncture. He learns from a doctor working at Lincoln Detox, but his education is interrupted when the doctor dies of a heroin overdose. IN THE CLINIC.
But he finds a new teacher and he and others eventually get doctor of acupuncture degrees from the Acupuncture Association of Quebec. Naturally, with a cushy city gig and a growing acupuncture practice, Shakur comes to the same decision you would in such a situation: “I should use this place and its connections to start robbing banks so I can raise money to start a revolution.”
“Also,” he doubtless added, “to pay for a cocaine habit that is already considerable *fnorrrrrrrrkkkkkk*”
Reminder: this is all happening at a drug treatment clinic that is fully funded by the tax dollars of the City of New York!
But Shakur has never robbed a bank. He needs an experienced bank robber and oh look here comes Sekou Odinga, formerly of the BLA! Naturally, Shakur and Odinga need some logistical support, and what better place to find this than a bunch of white communist feminists —
Look, I told you this story gets crazy.
The feminists are the May 19 Communist Organization, whom Odinga knows through a white radical named Marilyn Buck, who had bought ammo for BLA. Black leadership fetishization is in full effect, so May 19 looks at Shakur and Odinga and assumes OF COURSE they know WTF they’re doing. This union of Lincoln Detox, the last of the BLA, and a bunch of feminist commies gives birth to the radical group known as the Family.
It came at an opportune time. Ed Koch was elected Mayor of New York in 1978, and he had no patience for the Lincoln Detox radicals. Koch evicted them, closed the clinic, and reopened it in a new location under complete city control.
This left Shakur a bit adrift, but bank-robbing was going well. Shakur and his white feminist allies decided: hey, let’s jailbreak radicals. They broke a FALN bombmaker out first (more on that in a moment). Then they went for Joanne Chesimard.
Chesimard, aka Assata Shakur, was serving life for the murder of the cop killed during her capture. But under little security. How little?
Sekou Odinga — who was a wanted fugitive at the time — went to visit Chesimard, and brought her a gun. That was it. Chesimard sheltered in Pittsburgh for 9 months, then managed to get to the Bahamas, and after that Cuba, where she lives today.
So now the 1980s roll around, Mutulu Shakur has a new acupuncture clinic in Harlem, and the Family’s robbing banks for revolutionary funds. This is a great set-up. Or it would be, if the revolutionary funds weren’t going straight up Shakur’s nose. If you believe the May 19 crowd — and it’s embarrassing enough to be plausible — the feminist commies had no idea about the cocaine; they just naively thought Shakur & his fellow black revolutionaries (cokeheads all) had tons of wonderful revolutionary energy. It goes back to the white ’70s radical black leadership fetishization. “It’s all right, they’re black, they know what they’re doing!”
Turns out massive amounts of cocaine and firearms are never a good mix. The Family killed a Brink’s guard during an NYC armored car robbery, which drew serious NYPD attention. And then October 20, 1981 happened. An armored car robbery. White radicals driving, black radicals shooting.
During the robbery, the perpetrators opened fire, killing one guard, wounding two. They took 1.6 million (leaving 1.3 more). The shooters made rendezvous with the switch vehicle, driven by David Gilbert and Kathy Boudin, formerly of Weatherman. But the switch vehicle parked in the wrong spot. A line of sight was left open. A witness saw everyone, all the cars, the cash, the guns. The witness called the cops, and the police pulled over Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert. In the back of their U-Haul trailer, under a blanket: Mutulu Shakur, and four more Family members, heavily armed and coked to the skies.
Boudin and Gilbert were asked to get out of the vehicle and sit beside the road. The police went around back to search the U-Haul. Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert proceeded to create a distraction, drawing the police’s attention. And the shooters came out of the U-Haul and murdered two police officers.
Two Family members carjacked a doctor’s car and drove off. David Gilbert hopped in another of the getaway cars. Kathy Boudin was nabbed by an off-duty corrections officer as she ran down the highway. The local police chief followed the two escaping cars. One crashed, and he rounded those people up (including David Gilbert).
Marilyn Buck, of May 19, escaped, but the cops found her apartment. She was the logistics officer, so she had the records of the safe houses. And the building superintendant had the license plate numbers of a bunch of their cars. Further round-ups were only a matter of time.
But because I keep coming back to the power of Institutions to shelter leftist radicals, to close our time with the Family: Kathy Boudin, accomplice and facilitator to multiple murders, was paroled in 2003.
She is now an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s school of social work.
So, looking at the BLA, SLA, the Family, wth a detour to NWLF — what do we learn about political violence? Looking, in particular, through the lens of our the concepts of Institutions and Shock Troops, and why these matter:
Institutions are crucial to the longevity of organized campaigns of political violence by Shock Troops.
Shock Troops that don’t have Institutions fare worse and have shorter careers than Shock Troops that do.
Shock Troops without support from Institutions tend to turn to crime, often violent crime, for money.
Doing violent crime to raise money eventually bites Shock Troops in the ass.
The bigger a Shock Troop army, the more financial support it needs, whether from an Institution or from criminal activity.
The Shock Troops that succeed without Institutions have as few members as possible & avoid violent crime (the NWLF guy didn’t do robbery; he grew tons of reportedly amazing weed), and keep a low profile outside of their Shock Troop actions.
Having an Institution is no guarantee of keeping it; Institutions can be attacked by adversaries or other outside forces (see: Lincoln Detox).
All of which is to say: in some respects, a resurgence of political violence in the United States would look similar to previous versions — but in others, it’d look very different.
The last story I’ll share from Days of Rage is, I’m not gonna lie to you, the craziest of the lot. How crazy? Let me ask you this:
What if fanatics made a serious and nearly successful attempt on the life of the President of the United States?
What if those fanatics got into the Capitol building and committed a mass shooting on Congress while it was in session?
What if those fanatics conducted bombing sprees, for years, in multiple American cities?
And what if people really did do every one of those things, and you’d never heard of them? That’s the story of Puerto Rican separatists.
I’m not kidding.
The President they tried to kill was Harry Truman, in 1950, as told in the book American Gunfight. They shot up Congress in 1954, wounding five Congressmen (who recovered). They bombed American cities like mad in the 1970s.
The ’70s bombing campaign was done by a group called FALN. The FBI’s working theory is that the FALN was a creation of Cuban intelligence.
I’m still not kidding.
FALN starts from a couple of different places. One path goes back to a dude named Filiberto Ojeda Rios, a Puerto Rican communist.
Ojeda Rios trained in Cuba, worked for their spy service, and then went back to Puerto Rico to start a revolution. It didn’t work. Plan B: go underground & start bombing. Castro approved. so Ojeda Rios formed a group, MIRA, to attack in Puerto Rico & the US mainland. It didn’t last. MIRA was rolled up when the police caught their NYC bomber. Ojeda Rios was arrested in PR, but he skipped bail and vanished.
The second path to FALN traces back to Chicago, and a young Puerto Rican named Oscar Lopez Rivera. He and his high school buddies were young activists.
The story is Oscar Lopez Rivera & friends were recruited by Filiberto Ojeda Rios. Raising the q: …so, uh, could FALN be considered an act of war?
It’s murky. Per Burrough, there’s no evidence Cuba gave FALN operational orders. More that they wound them up, let them go.
That said, FALN had an amazing set-up in the hard left. Not only were they trained in bomb-making by Weather Underground, they had possibly the best Institution any radical group has ever had: the Episcopal Church.
I’m still not kidding.
FALN started bombing in ’74. Their demands were 1) Puerto Rican independence 2) release of PR separatist prisoners. Their deeds were nasty. FALN targeted cops with a fake call and a boobytrap, disfiguring one. They bombed a restaurant on Wall Street, killing 4, injuring over 40. Outrage at the deaths changed their approach. They started bombing at night, setting off department store fires — nonlethal, but harrowing. More harrowing: FALN opened new fronts in Chicago and in Washington, D.C. Bombing in three cities demonstrates serious logistics.
Eventually cops lucked out: a Chicago guy robbing his new neighbors found shitloads of explosives, and tried to sell them to a police informant. Using building records, the Chicago PD and the FBI got a name: Carlos Torres, a Puerto Rican community organizer whose wife worked for the feds — she was an equal employment specialist at the EPA.
The FALN safehouse also yielded a copy of a business letter to one Maria Cueto, of the National Commission on Hispanic Affairs. The NCHA was a charitable organization affiliated with the Episcopal Church. When the FBI started looking into it, their hair stood on end. Basically, every. single. person of interest in the FBI’s FALN investigation was, or had been, on NCHA’s board of directors.
Maria Cueto was FALN. She had used her position to put a half-dozen FALN members, including chief bombmaker Guillermo Morales, on the NCHA board. Let me emphasize how amazing this was: these were *paid positions.* Puerto Rican terrorists were being paid thousands of dollars by the Episcopal Church. Like cannibalizing and repurposing a nonprofit. It may be the greatest Institution in American radical history. FALN was literally using a charity run by the Episcopal Church as a front.
Yeah. It gets crazier.
You would think the Episcopal Church would be outraged. Horrified to be dragged into the legal proceedings. You’d be wrong. Liberal Episcopal bishops were enraged — with the FBI! Claimed govt was out to stop the church from funding progressive Hispanic groups! The institution the FALN had compromised went full-force to defend them and mobilized mainstream institutions on FALN’s behalf!
Cueto and a colleague were hauled before a grand jury. The National Council of Churches (!!!) rallied behind them even as FALN went on a new bombing campaign specifically demanding the grand juries be halted.
Progressive ministers accused the FBI of illegal harassment. FALN radical actions were being supported by mainstream legal lawfare. And the various cases against FALN wore on through 1977, getting nowhere.
On August 3, 1977, FALN called in bomb threats to seven sites, causing mass evacuations in downtown Manhattan. But they weren’t just threats. Carlos Torres’s wife left a bomb at Mobil Oil HQ’s employment office. The explosion killed one person and injured several more. The Torreses and Oscar Lopez Rivera were indicted based on fingerprint evidence, but they were in the wind.
And now the story gets even crazier. As 1978 rolled around, the FALN cases were falling apart. Several suspects were freed, even as the bombs continued. Then, on 12 July 1978, FALN’s chief bombmaker Guillermo Morales had a work accident. With a bomb. Morales blew off nine fingers, his lips, and his left eye. The explosion broke his jaw to boot. Devastating injuries. Knowing the cops were coming, a crippled, bleeding, disfigured Morales still tried to flush incriminating FALN documents and rig a gas explosion trap for the cops to get the police when they showed up. With. No. Hands. (The trap didn’t work, thank God.)
All of that is not yet the crazy part.
This is the crazy part: Remember Mutulu Shakur and the Family? Who jailbroke radicals?
If you think a bunch of coked-up black radicals and feminist commies can’t come up with a plan to spring a handless Puerto Rican bomber all I can say is, you don’t know the Seventies, brother. Check this shit.
By May 1979, Morales is as healed up as he’s gonna get. He’s down to one eye and one thumb. He’s in custody, under 24-hour guard. He has a window. But there’s a metal grate on it. And it opens onto a sheer forty-foot drop. He’s not going anywhere.
Radical attorney Susan Tipograph, who insisted that attorney-client privilege exempted her from search, visited Morales on 18 May 1979. Mysteriously, after that, Morales had wire cutters. Tipograph was never charged.
Laboriously, with basically no hands, Morales cut through the grate over his window. Punched out the screen. The Family had brought a ladder. But ladders look longer when you’re coked out of your gourd, or they just fucked up, because the ladder was only twenty feet long. The distance to the ground was forty feet.
Morales had no rope. And no fingers. He had a ten-foot length of bandage. And brass balls. Somehow, this dude with no fingers lowers himself from the window on the bandage. It snaps. Morales falls 20 feet onto an air conditioner, then another 20 feet to the ground. Injured, but alive. The Family and FALN whisk him away.
The guard on Morales’s door slept through the whole thing. Morales was not missed until an hour after dawn. Their bombmaker returned to them, FALN embarked on a new campaign of robberies, bombing, and interfering with elections.
Wait, what? Yeah. In 1980, the FALN attacked the NYC campaign HQ of George H.W. Bush in an effort to destroy voter-registration lists. Another team smashed up the Carter-Mondale HQ in Chicago. The FALN even threatened delegates to the party conventions. Nobody remembers!
The FALN round-up, when it came, happened by accident as they were getting ready to rob an armored car near Northwestern University. The FALN stole a panel truck to use as a switch vehicle. A campus cop spotted it, and police put it under surveillance. They nabbed 2 FALN. Another call led police to 2 more vans: the ambush awaiting the armored car. The people in the vans were disguised: wigs, false moustaches. The cops took them in. The arrestees were totally silent. The cops began to wonder if this was above their paygrade, and called the FBI. An FBI agent recognized several of the suspects.
Just like that, most of the FALN had been rolled up. All the suspects refused to mount defenses at trial. They were found guilty, sentenced for eight to thirty years. Another indictment for seditious conspiracy piled decades on top of that. But Oscar Lopez Rivera and Guillermo Morales were still free.
In Christmas 1980, a new group called the Puerto Rican Armed Resistance bombed Penn Station in NYC during rush hour. No one was hurt. In May 1980, the PRAR called in bomb threat to JFK. A Pan Am handyman found their bomb, and alerted people, but the bomb killed him. Two more bombs at the airport were found in the aftermath. It was all getting going again. And then, just like that, it ended two weeks later when Oscar Lopez Rivera and a new recruit got stopped for an illegal U-turn. Lopez Rivera got 55 years.
Guillermo Morales was arrested — in Mexico, which refused to extradite him to the US. He eventually emigrated to Cuba. Got clean away.
Let me ask you a question: how the hell did I not know this story? Forget the presidential assassination attempt. Forget the mass shooting in the Congressional chamber. Just look at the FALN stuff: a years-long bombing campaign in multiple American cities, by perpetrators trained and initiated by a foreign power. A terrorist organization that parasitized a church so effectively, it got the church infrastructure to act on its behalf. A stunning escape from custody almost too astounding to believe.
Why is this not a movie? Why is this not two or three movies? This story is amazing! And it’s just totally memory-holed. Here’s how memory-holed it is: I didn’t even know that, in 1999, seeking Puerto Rican voter support in New York for HRC’s senate run, President Clinton offered clemency to 16 imprisoned FALN. 14 accepted. Congress condemned it at the time. But people remember the Mark Rich pardon. Not FALN.
What does it mean for us? First, let’s be blunt: most political violence is not going to be as well-trained & highly disciplined as FALN. You’re not going to see that level of skill again, unless the Cubans decide they want to come to play. What you might see, on both sides, is what to me is the most amazing part of the FALN story: its parasitization of the Episcopal Church.
Organizations don’t have to fully capture institutions. They can latch onto them, and come to be seen as limbs. One person in a position to hire effectively suborned the Episcopal Church to give violent radicals jobs, stability, and even protection. As with everything, the Left will be much better at this kind of operation than the Right will. But the Right might do it on occasion.
The other takeaway: again, Lefty radicals have more opportunities and more acceptance from their mainstream than Righty ones. I don’t see Eric Rudolph getting clemency, no matter the administration. He shouldn’t. Nor should have FALN.
Of course, that didn’t stop President Obama, in the last days of his administration, from commuting the sentence of Oscar Lopez Rivera. The decision caused ecstasies of delight in Lin-Manuel Miranda, celebrated author (and former star) of HAMILTON, who pledged to reprise in the role in a Chicago performance especially for Lopez Rivera, whom Miranda referred to as “Don Oscar.”
That’s everything I want to cover from Days of Rage. There’s more in it. Buy the book; read it; you won’t regret it. It’s amazing history.
But it’s the implications of Bryan Burrough’s book that scare the willies out of me.
I am afraid that the United States is in for political violence in 2017. It could be as bad as or worse than the 1970s. I have some ideas as to what some of it may look like. It really isn’t pleasant to think about.
Political violence is like war, like violence in general: people have a fantasy about how it works. This is the fantasy of how violence works: you smite your enemies in a grand and glorious cleansing because of course you’re better.
Grand and glorious smiting isn’t actually how violence works. I’ve worked a few places that have had serious political violence. And I’m not sure how to really describe it so people get it.
This is a stupid comparison, but here: imagine that one day Godzilla walks through your town.
The next day, he does it again.
And he keeps doing it. Some days he steps on more people than others. That’s it. That’s all he does: trudging through your town, back and forth. Your town’s not your town now; it’s The Godzilla Trudging Zone.
That’s kind of what it’s like.
I’m going to talk about some nasty things here. I do not want any of it. But some or all of it could happen. Some of it already is. In 2017, I am very pessimistic about America’s future, to the point that I think the country should seriously consider a National Divorce.
Everyone feeling nice and at ease now? Good, let’s get started.
Let’s not mince words: the United States of America is currently engaged in a cold Civil War.
In North Carolina, the Republican governor lost re-election, so the Republican legislature convened a special session to limit powers of the post. Democrats nationwide howled with justified outrage; as we all know, legislators who dislike a governor should flee the state to block quorum, facilitate occupation of government buildings by mobs, and have allies execute secret raids on homes on the governor’s supporters. All of those are things that the Democrats did to oppose a Republican governor in Wisconsin, and the Democrats were pretty cool with it.
This isn’t a cutesy “both sides” argument. Nor am I calling out the press for bias, or politicians for hypocrisy (that’s later).
My point is: did you notice the Left and the Right use fundamentally different tactics?
This is no accident. They’re different cultures. The Left and Right don’t just want different things. They also have different abilities, goals, resources, and senses of propriety. Meaning contemporary political violence from the Left and from the Right will look very different.
Now, 2017 isn’t going to be the 1970s. Goals, situations, and cultures change. The actors want different things. But we can look to the ’70s for hints.
Like: what kind of people will do this stuff?
The mental model we have for domestic terrorism in 2017 is shaped by what scares us: mass shooters and jihad. ’70s radicals were different. ’70s radicals wanted to get away with their crimes. They wanted to avoid detection, they didn’t want to get arrested, and they didn’t want to die. Most ’70s bombers had no moral objection to killing people, but they also didn’t go to any great lengths to maximize body count. That’s pretty different from 21st-century mass shooters (who tend suicidal) & jihadists (for whom a high body count is part of the message).
Some suicidal mass murderers choose political targets, though it’s uncommon. Overseas jihadists draft depressives, but that takes organization (and willingness to use suicide attacks). When we’re talking about domestic political violence, we’re mostly talking about stuff that is coldbloodedly plotted by serious people.
So maybe we can hope that political violence in the US, ’70s-style, won’t go all-out for massive numbers of deaths? Well… maybe. The way I see it, domestic conflict in the United States could operate in basically four stages:
- cold Civil War
- targeted political violence, mostly short of murder
- political violence with murder as the default
- Civil War II
The United States should start seriously talking about National Divorce before we get to stage 3.
We’re in Stage 1 now. Stages 2 and 3 are what we’re concerned with: the public getting mobilized. What would that look like, on Left and Right?
People tend to think that the Right will be an awesome, horrific force in political violence. The SPLC’s donations depend on that idea. Righties tell themselves that *of course* they’d win a war against Lefties. Tactical Deathbeast vs. Pajama Boy? No contest. Why, Righties have thought about what an effective domestic insurrection would look like. Righties have written books and manifestos!
The truth: the Left is a lot more organized & prepared for violence than the Right is, and has the advantage of a mainstream more supportive of it.
You think that’s unfair? Okay, well: imagine an abortion clinic bombing ring getting presidential clemency.
Imagine an abortion clinic bomber getting a comfortable job at an elite university.
Outrageous, right? No way the Right could get away with that. But the Left does! And the press gives them cover.
(This is the “hypocrisy and media bias” section, by the way.)
The press freaked out and called for a National Conversation every time some shithead punched a protestor at a Trump rally. If Trump fans pulled a Portland, running through the streets, intimidating motorists, smashing windows, what would press reaction be? You don’t need me to tell you: pants-shitting hysteria fascism OMG Hitler. When Lefties really did that: “meh, that’s what Lefties do.” No need for a National Conversation. Certainly not a Clinton disavowal.
Organizing protests like Portland and the other cities takes experience, efficiency, and a lot of people you can call out. The Left can do that. The Right can’t. That is a logistical advantage that is enormous, and it matters. Because a Left that can tell that many people to do that stuff in that many places can also tell at least some of them to do something else.
The hard Left selectively uses violence, normalizes it with weasel words: “Direct action.” “Diversity of tactics.” “Nonviolent property damage.” “Antifa.” If you want to know why Righties will get down with streetfighting, if it comes to that: take a look at Antifa. A good long one.
Part of the bargain of civilization is ceding the authority to commit violence to the State. (Has its own problems. Beats the alternative.) Lord knows there are people I’d love to beat the shit out of in the street, but if I don’t get to then neither do you. No, I don’t give a flying fuck who they are; you don’t get to do that.
Lefties say, “Well, that’s Nazis, they only do that to Nazis; Nazis are different, you have to shut that shit down, etc.” Great. Except that Lefties pull the same “shut this shit down!” stuff on mainstream Righties on college campuses, all the while calling them Nazis.
Hell, Lefties said Ted Cruz was a Nazi, Mitt Romney was a Nazi, George W. Bush was a Nazi. I’ve done human rights work that had me working in proximity to the U.S. military, so at a professional meeting a Lefty called me a Nazi.
So if you tell me that I’m a Nazi, and tell me people I respect are Nazis, and tell me you’re in favor of going out and beating up Nazis, guess what? I am suddenly very interested in the physical safety of Nazis.
And I’m Jewish.
Lemme tell you a true story.
In 209 BC, two Qin Dynasty army officers, Chen Sheng and Wu Guang, were ordered to lead their troops on a march to provide reinforcements. Massive flooding delayed them. They couldn’t make their rendezvous time. In the Qin Dynasty, this carried the death penalty. No excuses.
“What’s the penalty for being late?”
“What’s the penalty for rebellion?”
“Well — we’re late.”
And that’s the story of the Dazexiang Uprising.
How does full-on streetfighting start in the United States of America? My guess is: pretty much like that. “What’s the penalty for kicking the living shit out of Leftist protestors?” “Oh, Jesus, we’d be demonized as Nazis.” “…what’ll they do if we don’t kick the living shit out of Leftist protestors?” “They’ll — hmmmmmmm….”
So, what’re the odds of Righties kicking the living shit out of Lefty protestors actually happening? Depends on what happens January 20th, and after. Before the inauguration, the movement DisruptJ20 announced plans to screw up the inauguration.
Here’s a pre-inauguration article on DisruptJ20. Notice the variety of things they had on the agenda at that point.
Now reread that article, and think about how the national press would react if instead of a commie it were Richard Spencer.
The thing about commies is you have to pay attention to what they don’t say: “This is a nonviolent protest and we will not attack anybody.” Instead, it’s: “We are preparing for the possibility of sporadic fights breaking out because people are very emotional about this.” Cute, huh?
Protests like DisruptJ20 operate on a sliding scale from disruption to violence. This is deliberate. They harass their opponents, and try to bait opponents into attacking them. One tactic you often see: if one of their protestors does get violent, other protestors will loudly call, “Peaceful protest! Peaceful protest!” This is not an attempt to dissuade the violent person, but to persuade onlookers that they are not seeing what they are seeing. At the very least, the protestors figure, onlookers will assume “they’re not all like that! They’re trying to stop the bad one!” Of course, that’s a scam.
If at any point in 2017 Trump supporters are harmed or harrassed like the rally in Chicago, expect Righties to get very interested in forming street defense leagues: goons and headhunters to make Black Bloc spit teeth. And they’ll be purely defensive. For a while. But they’re human. So then they’ll think about getting proactive.
Bluntly: this is dangerous. The people who do it for the Left are literal Communists. What kind of Righties will it draw? Oh, I dunno, I’m guessing people who’re comfortable with violence, who don’t mind breaking norms or being arrested…
…if you’re now thinking, “Oh shit,” well, guess what? So am I.
If streetfights start happening on a regular basis on American streets, our democracy will corrode very quickly. We’ll see rapid radicalization at both poles, meaning normalization of political extremists.
The usual story American politics tells of how extremists get politically normalized is, to say the least, inaccurate. “Extremists get normalized bc the mainstream says things so beyond the pale it invites extremes.” ie, “Republicans make Nazis.” Bullshit.
How extremists really get mainstreamed: because the extremists have organization, logistics, and manpower that the mainstream finds useful.
Mainstream Lefties happily go to protests they favor that are organized by the literal Stalinists of ANSWER & the Worker’s World Party. Why? The commies are really good at getting people signs and making sure there are enough port-a-potties. When you’re great at organizing signs & port-a-potties, Lefties overlook that you’re into an ideology that murdered a hundred million people.
So how far would this go? Would mainstream Nazi-hating Righties be ok w/ literal Nazis on the streetfighting squads that keep them safe?
I dunno; how’d you feel about folks who voluntarily get their bodies between your peaceful gathering and a crowd trying to intimidate you?
Lefties could keep that very human thing from happening. But they’d have to de-escalate. And they won’t. Mellow out on college campuses? Quit disrupting righty events? No chance. It’s too much fun. So the hard Left is going to do more to normalize literal Nazis in America than anyone since Charles Lindbergh.
Let me be blunt, though: with or without literal Nazis, if Lefties pull another Chicago, Righty defense groups will happen. I honestly don’t think think the literal Nazis are going to be as involved in streetfighting as you might think. It’d be a distraction. The big thing the hard Right is trying to do right now is create organization and infrastructure. They have, historically, sucked at it. The hard Left has great infrastructure. Look at DisruptJ20: they know enough lawyers to have 2 teams dedicated to getting them out of jail! Think any Righty group has gotten around to organizing lawyers on tap like that? Nope.
Why are the Lefties so good at this? Communism. The American Communist Party got fantastic hand-me-down Russian-facilitated training, and shared. But hard Righties learn from overseas compatriots now, too. And a bunch of overseas hard Right movements are aided by the Russians. It’s not gonna happen overnight. But in ten or twenty or fifty years, you could have a superbly organized hard Right movement in America.
Now, you can do two things with radical infrastructure: use it to nudge the mainstream (SDS) or use it for radical action (Weatherman). I think Righties have to go SDS, while Lefties have room to go Weatherman. This is not from any innate philosophical difference, but purely practical. Effective Righty infrastructure is too rare & valuable to risk. (Also, any Righty organization or conspiracy is going to be stocked to the gills with snitches. Look at Malheur. Literally 25% snitches!) So I cannot stress this enough: any righty organization designed from the ground up to be violent is doomed to fail.
What this means: hard Left violence will be coordinated. Hard Right violence will be distributed.
Terrorists are basically mass murderers, or people who want to be. If you think about it, there are three kinds of mass murderers, and the typology applies to political violence too. The first kind is loners. The second kind is conspiracies (which have to be very tight-knit, or somebody narcs). The third kind is guys from the murder factory. A murder factory is a self-perpetuating machine that brings in recruits and spits out killers. Islamic State: that’s a murder factory.
Murder factories are hard to build. Weatherman tried to build one. They failed. The hard Left is bigger with fifty years more experience now, and I still doubt they could make a murder factory without support from a foreign power. That leaves conspiracies for Lefties, and loners for the Right.
So if Lefty violence will mostly be the result of conspiracies, while Righty violence will mostly be the work of loners, there will be differences in the kinds of things that Lefties and Righties will be able to do. A lone perpetrator can pull off a bombing, for example, but not a riot.
Left and Right also have different vulnerabilities. The Left is far better at allowing its people, esp radicals, to rise and mainstream. As a result, way more new Lefties attain prominence and effective leadership status than Righties. This makes for a deeper activist bench. With a sea of effective, prominent Lefties, Lefties who are lost will be mourned but not irreplaceable. This is emphatically not the case for Righties. To be perfectly blunt: the Right would be extremely easy to disrupt with targeted assassinations. The Left would not.
Once political violence starts, the smart move is to keep your violence low-level and try to provoke the other guys into serious violence. This, as with everything else, favors the Left. The Left can absorb a hell of a lot of serious violence. Martyrs are fuel for Leftism. Look at the history of unions. So these are the tactics I see the Left using for early political violence:
- use as many different nonmurderous but disruptive-to-violent tactics as possible — “shut it down,” occupations, property damage, riots
- weaponize Institutions against Righties, when possible
- drag events out — long, very low-level conflict works in Lefties’ favor
- target individual Righties for intimidation/disemployment, to discourage others
- target the most effective Righties for Unpersoning, lawfare, and (only if absolutely necessary; this would be very rare) assassination
Yes, the Left is doing almost all of this stuff already. But it could be ramped up. Take disemployment: Lefties clamoring to get somebody fired. The way it works now is reactive, news-cycle driven. It doesn’t have to be. Political donations are public record. So are voter registrations. It would be trivial to set up a Disemployment Committee to scrape these. HR departments tend to have a lot of Lefties in them. They could bring back a coordinated blacklist. You’d never know it.
Expect expansion to second-order targets, too. If you can’t target someone (bc they’re self-employed, and unshameable), go for their family — that’s already happening, by the way. Remember: most Americans are a paycheck or two from financial calamity. I’m surprised disemployment hasn’t yet been repaid with murder.
Setting up fake petitions to get your enemies to sign themselves up on your Enemies List is a tactic I expect to be pretty bipartisan. Lefties’ enemies lists will have fewer prominent Righties and Righty infrastructure types on them, just because there are fewer of those.
If you notice who Lefties really tend to go after, it’s two kinds of people:
- Righties who might be growing in popularity and/or influence, to make them radioactive and make others afraid to associate with them
- regular people, who have employment and social fragility, to make them scared to admit WrongThink.
So Lefties will target more people on top and on bottom, status-wise. Righties will target more in the middle, go for the Lefty NCO corps. That’s because the biggest impact the Right can make at this stage of conflict is to destroy, damage, or neutralize Lefty Institutions. But Lefty Institutions are massive cultural power centers. Universities, Media, Bureaucracies, Organizations/Foundations, Cities.
The Right is not big enough or organized enough to really destroy Lefty Institutions. Like the Left, they’ll be looking to intimidate people out of the game and take away enemy tools. Example: Institutional and media bias means radical Leftist tactics are accepted, which means radical Leftist tactics become normalized. Ergo, the only way the Right can delegitimize Lefty tactics is to use them, at which point they’ll become The Worst Things Ever Done By Man. My guess is the Right will start using Leftist tactics against members of Leftist Institutions: “This is what you ordered. Eat it.”
Some of this could actually be constructive for campus civility. For instance, I’ve long argued that if a Righty speaker is disrupted on a college campus, then campus Righties should *disrupt every single Lefty speaker for the remainder of the school year.* Of course, Righties can’t get away with what Lefties get away with, so no swarming, no intimidating people, no pulling fire alarms. What Righties can get away with: standing up and chanting, at the top of their lungs, “THIS IS WHAT YOU DO TO US.” In multiple stages, for maximum distraction. Leaving peacefully, of course. The bad news is that’s about as cheerful as these face-offs are going to get. They can and probably will get much nastier.
Specifically, I think the hard Right is going to discover the joys of “nonviolent property damage,” which the Left has foolishly normalized. I’m always puzzled when Lefty journalists praise “nonviolent property damage” as if they don’t have offices, homes, and personal property. University administrators who let Lefties disrupt Righty speakers with impunity also have offices, homes, and personal property. Heck, when Lefty rioters get arrested, papers print their names and mugshots. And they have homes, and cars, and … you know the drill.
The advantage of “nonviolent property damage” for Righties: one person can do it without trying to put together a conspiracy. Nor does it injure people. But let’s be blunt: though no people are hurt it is, despite what Lefties say, violence and it would get very ugly, very fast. And it wouldn’t be entirely effective. The Institutions wouldn’t be destroyed. They’d still be there.
But what happens if the Trump administration is a player? No, I don’t think the Trump administration is going to be putting people in camps, or offering free helicopter rides. What the Trump admin might do is use the full force of the federal government to take a chainsaw to Leftist Institutions’ funding and power. Which threat, of course, could spur radical Lefties to violence. (Remember: provoking your enemy to violence is a goal.)
It gets really nasty if government and non-government factions combine, whether by design or merely taking advantage of each other. What could that look like? Imagine this sequence of events:
President Trump goes to hold a provocative rally in a Leftist area of a Leftist city, inviting a “shut this shit down” Lefty riot. The riot happens. Righties show up… and join the rioting Lefties, ensuring that as much damage is done to local property as is possible. Trump’s DOJ blames the Lefty rioters for the damage, prosecutes for conspiracy to riot, and tears apart their funding structure under RICO. The federal government delays for ages, and finally (on the start of a holiday weekend) denies the city recovery assistance for damages, motivating other cities to avoid that fate by proactively shutting down any Lefty radicals who show signs of organizing.
I dunno if that’d work, or what hell it’d unleash. But I can see something like that happening.
Ultimately, what nongovernmental actors can do depends on their capabilities, organization… and money. Money was the big thing that hampered radical groups in the ’70s. People died or killed people or were arrested trying to get it.
In the 70s, radicals were basically limited to 3 options:
- parasitizing existing institutions (like FALN and the Episcopal Church),
- leeching off organizations of well-off radicals (Weatherman and the National Lawyers’ Guild), or
- robbing banks (everyone else).
Robbing banks isn’t a great strategy long-term. That’s how people got police attention, and occasionally gunfights and murder charges. In 2016, I’d expect radicals to use electronic crime options: ransomware, identity theft, that sort of thing. Less risk of detection. On the Left, though, most violent plots would be funded in the same manner as the FALN: parasitization.
Given the sea of Lefty foundations, nonprofits, and professions, parasitizing a few organizations to fund terrorism would be very doable. Nor would it be hard for YouTube stars or Leftists with Patreons — or, hell, the National Lawyers’ Guild — to turn money toward radicals.
On the Right, funding would be more of a challenge. It always is. Bitcoin would make funding anonymously easier. Also, many righties would be acting alone, so they wouldn’t have huge budgets. Still, the Left, again, has an absolutely massive structural advantage.
There will also be efforts to target each others’ funding. Note that Lefties already do this to Righties, and Righties to Lefties. Righties want to not give their own money to their enemies. Lefties want no one to give any money to their enemies. You can see some of this going on now re: defunding Planned Parenthood. For the pro-life groups, it’s about abortion, full stop, but for Steve Bannon, I’m guessing it’s about a powerful institution that uses money & political organization to support enemy politicians. Of course he’d look to stop taxpayer dollars from going to Planned Parenthood. If you think of politics as a war, that’s a no-brainer.
This is a rare area where Lefties are more vulnerable than Righties, because Lefty organizations get more taxpayer support than Righties do. Lefties are great at mobilizing boycotts and targeting advertisers, though, as we’re seeing them currently do with Breitbart. Could issues over some of this turn violent? Yeah. People could be threatened for advertising, showing support, etc. Any violence would be attention-getting threats/demonstrations, rather than murders. Breaking windows, bombs in offices at night, and the like.
Mostly, though, Americans who turn to political violence will target gatherings of their enemies, and people on their enemies’ lists. Because people are angry at their enemies. They want to punish them. All this godawfulness gets even wackier if the factions of the government get involved. Which, uh. They sort of already are.
The Left has the Bureaucracy and the Deep State. To judge from the press, the CIA is already at war with the Trump administration. So if there are any Righties still dreaming of smiting, lemme point out again: the Left is better placed to go at it than the Right is.
Righties might go, “Yeah, but the military!” Yes, the military runs very heavily Righty. As do the cops. To which my answer is: if we get Civil War II, how many Americans do you think the U.S. military is willing to run over with tanks?
At some point, there’s going to have to be a negotiated settlement for either strong federalism or national divorce. But we’re not gonna do either, because Americans want to rule each other, so.
If you’re asking, no, I don’t know how we’re going to stop this. I don’t even know why you’d ask me. Maybe CalExit could take some pressure off, but I dunno. I feel that bad times are coming.
All right, I’ve yammered more than that game theory guy. Let’s recap and wind up:
The Left wants to disrupt the Right’s power, organizations, celebrations.
The Right is sick of Leftist disruption and wants to punish it with force.
The hard Left has an effective infrastructure. The hard Right is looking to build one.
The hard Left will use the tactics it’s already using.
The hard Right will use Leftist tactics, at which point the Press will become very interested in denormalizing those tactics.
I’m guessing the Trump administration will try to eviscerate Lefty Institutions with budget cuts and the hard Left infrastructure with RICO.
Look for lots of property destruction, by everyone. I would not be surprised to see innovative tactics used to destroy property.
The press is a Lefty weapon and a Righty target.
Everyone will have enemies’ lists. All of us are already on somebody’s.
Effective Righty violence will be, by necessity, by loners or by really close conspiracies (think family members).
Effective Lefty violence will be by capable, fully operating cells.
If we get political violence between civilians, it’s mostly going to be low-level until it abruptly isn’t.
Some suicidal mass murder types may copycat political violence and choose political targets.
You do not want white people to riot. You Do Not. Want. White People. To Riot.
Nobody wants Civil War II. That doesn’t mean we won’t get it anyway.
I feel a little sick writing about this stuff. And a little stupid for talking about it. It sounds crazy in daylight. But every place I’ve been that had this happen thought it sounded crazy, too. And I have a bad feeling that right now what Americans want is to chop each other down like trees.
You want to know what I’m really terrified of? Imagine a few dozen iterations of this story:
There’s a famous case where a shadowy group was after a high-value, high-status target who used his considerable resources to retreat. The group couldn’t get to him. So they targeted everybody associated with him: Friends. Family. Staff. Lawyers. Sympathetic journalists. Eventually, that utter devastation of infrastructure led to the death of the high-value, high-status target, whose name was Pablo Escobar.
That’s what I’m really scared of. Killing like that, on repeat. It’s my nightmare scenario. I know it’s unlikely. But — and this is the stupidest part of this whole thing — after 2016, I’m a little superstitious, and I’m wary of omens.
The shadowy group that unleashed carnage on Pablo Escobar’s Institutions had a name.
They were known as Los Pepes.
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