Saturday Snippet: Urban terrorism in the USA

While writing several blog articles over the past week or two about the current riots in many US cities, I was led to a book by Bryan Burrough titled “Days of Rage“.

It describes the urban terrorism that flourished in this country during the 1970’s.  I wasn’t aware that things had been that bad, as I wasn’t in this country at the time (I came to America in the late 1990’s).

Reading Mr. Burrough’s book has been eye-opening.  In a sense, the urban unrest we’re seeing today is merely the 1960’s and 1970’s redux, although on a larger scale with more people – not surprising, as the US population is considerably larger today.  The left-wing activists and extremists of that earlier period went on to become university lecturers and professors.  They took advantage of their positions to drip their ideological poison into the minds of our young people.  Inevitably, it’s now manifest on our streets once again.

Here’s a passage from the introduction to “Days of Rage”.

Imagine if this happened today: Hundreds of young Americans—white, black, and Hispanic—disappear from their everyday lives and secretly form urban guerrilla groups. Dedicated to confronting the government and righting society’s wrongs, they smuggle bombs into skyscrapers and federal buildings and detonate them from coast to coast. They strike inside the Pentagon, inside the U.S. Capitol, at a courthouse in Boston, at dozens of multinational corporations, at a Wall Street restaurant packed with lunchtime diners. People die. They rob banks, dozens of them, launch raids on National Guard arsenals, and assassinate policemen, in New York, in San Francisco, in Atlanta. There are deadly shoot-outs and daring jailbreaks, illegal government break-ins and a scandal in Washington.

This was a slice of America during the tumultuous 1970s, a decade when self-styled radical “revolutionaries” formed something unique in postcolonial U.S. history: an underground resistance movement. Given little credibility by the press, all but ignored by historians, their bombings and robberies and shoot-outs stretched from Seattle to Miami, from Los Angeles to Maine. And even if the movement’s goals were patently unachievable and its members little more than onetime student leftists who clung to utopian dreams of the 1960s, this in no way diminished the intensity of the shadowy conflict that few in America understood at the time and even fewer remember clearly today.

In fact, the most startling thing about the 1970s-era underground is how thoroughly it has been forgotten. “People always ask why I did what I did, and I tell them I was a soldier in a war,” recalls a heralded black militant named Sekou Odinga, who remained underground from 1969 until his capture in 1981. “And they always say, ‘What war?’ ”

Call it war or something else, but it was real, and it was deadly. Arrayed against the government were a half-dozen significant underground groups—and many more that yearned to be—which, while notionally independent of one another, often shared members, tactics, and attorneys. Of these, only the Weather Underground, the first and by far the largest, has earned any real analysis. The Symbionese Liberation Army, a ragtag collection of California ex-cons and radicals who pulled off the underground’s most infamous action, the kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst in 1974, was widely dismissed as a pack of loonies. Many doubted that the Black Liberation Army, a murderous offspring of the Black Panthers, even existed. A Puerto Rican independence group known as the FALN, the most determined bombers in U.S. history, remains cloaked in secrecy to this day; not one of its members has ever spoken a meaningful word about its operations. The United Freedom Front, a revolutionary cell consisting of three blue-collar couples and their nine children, robbed banks and bombed buildings well into the 1980s. An interracial group of radicals called the Family did much the same, yet remained so obscure that no one even knew it existed until a fateful afternoon in 1981 when an armored-car robbery went badly awry, three people died, and America was reintroduced to a movement it had assumed dead years before.

This was strange, even at the time. Because radical violence was so deeply woven into the fabric of 1970s America that many citizens, especially in New York and other hard-hit cities, accepted it as part of daily life. As one New Yorker sniffed to the New York Post after an FALN attack in 1977, “Oh, another bombing? Who is it this time?” It’s a difficult attitude to comprehend in a post-9/11 world, when even the smallest pipe bomb draws the attention of hundreds of federal agents and journalists.

“People have completely forgotten that in 1972 we had over nineteen hundred domestic bombings in the United States,” notes a retired FBI agent, Max Noel. “People don’t want to listen to that. They can’t believe it. One bombing now and everyone gets excited. In 1972? It was every day. Buildings getting bombed, policemen getting killed. It was commonplace.”

There are crucial distinctions, however, between public attitudes toward bombings during the 1970s and those today. In the past twenty-five years terrorist bombs have claimed thousands of American lives, over three thousand on 9/11 alone. Bombings today often mean someone dies. The underground bombings of the 1970s were far more widespread and far less lethal. During an eighteen-month period in 1971 and 1972, the FBI reported more than 2,500 bombings on U.S. soil, nearly 5 a day. Yet less than 1 percent of the 1970s-era bombings led to a fatality; the single deadliest radical-underground attack of the decade killed four people. Most bombings were followed by communiqués denouncing some aspect of the American condition; bombs basically functioned as exploding press releases. The sheer number of attacks led to a grudging public resignation. Unless someone was killed, press accounts rarely carried any expression of outrage. In fact, as hard as it may be to comprehend today, there was a moment during the early 1970s when bombings were viewed by many Americans as a semilegitimate means of protest. In the minds of others, they amounted to little more than a public nuisance.

Consider what happened when an obscure Puerto Rican group, MIRA, detonated bombs in two Bronx theaters in New York on May 1, 1970. Eleven people suffered minor injuries when one device went off at the Dale Theater during a showing of Cactus Flower. The second exploded beneath a seat at the cavernous Loew’s Paradise while a rapt audience watched The Liberation of L.B. Jones; when police ordered everyone to leave, the audience angrily refused, demanding to see the rest of the movie. When the theater was forcibly cleared, an NYPD official said later, the audience “about tore the place apart.”1 Neither the bombings nor the Paradise audience’s reaction was deemed especially newsworthy; the incident drew barely six paragraphs in the New York Times.

The public, by and large, dismissed the radical underground as a lunatic fringe, and in time that’s what it became. But before that day, before so many fell victim to despair or drugs or the FBI, there was a moment when the radical underground seemed to pose a legitimate threat to national security, when its political “actions” merited the front page of the New York Times and the cover of Time magazine and drew constant attention from the White House, the FBI, and the CIA. To the extreme reaches of the radical left, to those who dared to believe that some sort of second American Revolution was actually imminent, these years constituted a brief shining moment, perhaps its last. To others, the bombings were nothing more than homegrown terrorism; the excesses of the radical left during the 1970s helped nudge America toward the right end of the political spectrum and into the arms of Ronald Reagan and the conservatives. But in the eyes of much of mainstream America, to ordinary working people in Iowa and Nevada and Arkansas who hadn’t the time or the inclination to study the communiqués of bomb-throwing Marxists, who wanted only to return to normalcy after long years of disorienting change, it was insanity.

In the end, the untold story of the underground era, stretching from 1970 until the last diehards were captured in 1985, is one of misplaced idealism, naïveté, and stunning arrogance. Depending on one’s point of view, its protagonists can be seen as either deluded dreamers or heartless terrorists, though a third possibility might be closer to the truth: young people who fatally misjudged America’s political winds and found themselves trapped in an unwinnable struggle they were too proud or stubborn to give up. This book is intended to be a straightforward narrative history of the period and its people. Any writer makes judgments, but I have tried to keep mine to a minimum, especially where politics is concerned.

It is ultimately a tragic tale, defined by one unavoidable irony: that so many idealistic young Americans, passionately committed to creating a better world for themselves and those less fortunate, believed they had to kill people to do it. The story is long and labyrinthine, alternately exciting and sad, and it all begins, in a way, with a tortured couple living in New York’s East Village in the summer of 1969. They were like so many in the faltering protest movement at that restive decade’s end: long-haired, free-spirited, and mired in gloom. The one thing that set them apart from friends who raised their fists and chanted antiwar slogans in demonstrations of the day was that late one night, after removing a carton of cottage cheese, a quart of yogurt, and some leftover salad from their refrigerator, they replaced it all with a hundred bright red sticks of dynamite.

The nation got over its earlier “Days of Rage” in due course, and went on to chart a more peaceful course into the future.  One hopes we can do the same again.



  1. I was a kid then, but I remember. The big difference is that the media is constantly whipping things up, and also very few people have traditional Judeo-Christian values now.

  2. America will get over it – when all of us or all of them are dead or banished.

    This is war. The Left has been attacking America since before any of us were born. We of the Right have finally noticed. It's time to do something about it, before it's too late.

  3. @Dov Sar – The phrase is "Christian values". There is no such thing as "Judeo-Christian" values. They are separate religions, with different morals.
    Israel is Jewish. America was a Christian nation.

    1. The Jews rejected Christ's message and teachings and had him executed. Modern Jews place equal or greater significance on their Talmud than the Old Testament, which has no bearing on Christians. Despite their shared Abrahamic roots, Christianity and Judaism have very separate values and morals. Ask the Jews themselves, they will be happy to distance themselves from Christianity and label the term "Judeo-Christian" as anti-semetic.

  4. The latest Martyr Made Podcast series about Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple borrows heavily from this book. Really enlightening how radical leftists hijacked the Civil Rights Movement. Highly recommended !

  5. Status 451 reviewed this book, which led me to it.

    What really fries your brains is that nobody seems to remember this stuff. Max Noel, a retired FBI agent interviewed by Burrough, remarks on how 'in 1972 we had over nineteen hundred domestic bombings in the United States'.

    1900?! That means, on average, you're seeing over five bombings A DAY.

    I need to see if the Troubles can match that. Jesus Christ. Even if some of those bombings were piddly-ass little poppers that did little more than set trashcans on fire, still..

  6. @Tom – The Jews pay little to no attention to what we call the Old Testament. And the New Testament overrides in any case. ("I told you that story so you could understand this one.")

  7. There was a pandemic in 1968 that no one knew about because it didn't have the publicity & backing from the MSM this one is getting. It's the same with violence then, it was not supported by the MSM.

    That has all changed. Since 1963 the military industrial complex has called the shots from behind the curtain, they screwed up in 2016 and someone who was not part of the club snuck in.

    What's happening today isn't new it is being pushed to make Trump's watch look bad.

  8. I read the first two thirds of the book before life got busy and I had to shelve it. It is very enlightening and very well written. It reads very well as a black comedy, and I wish it were, but it is just very well researched history.

  9. Trust me, 'some' of us remember those days. Which was why I had either a rifle or shotty in the truck, along with a pistol under the seat or in the glove box, legal or not…

  10. I certainly remember those days. My formative years were 66 through 72 and I spent the rest of the seventies in the Navy.

    It's true that the press leaned left even back then, but they were nowhere near as universally leftist as they are today.

    However, what I believe is the main difference between then and now is that the Democratic party, though leaning left back in those days, was still more or less pro-American. Today? Not so much. They condemned the violence back then. Today, they condone it – support it even.

  11. I entered law enforcement in December of 1971. The decade was full of anti LEO sentiment. We are now in the same situation. God protect America

  12. I was a child, but I remember it. The peaceful hippie movement gradually got violent as radical lefties took the opportunity to use the counter culture against "the system". Sad days. The good news is, we won that war. We will win this one.

  13. Considering that observant Jews publicly (Pre-Covid, anyway) read through the Five Books of Moses every year with relevant sections from the Prophets, it's a bit odd to say "Jews pay no attention to the Old Testament." In addition, the Talmud contains many discussions of "Old Testament" texts, often in the context of how to apply them.

    The traditional Rabbinic Bible contains the full text of the "Old Testament" plus three Aramaic translations and over a dozen commentaries, some of which cover the entire text and some partial. It was first published in the 16th century and has been in print since. A modern edition that corrected typos, (some of which have persisted for centures) and based on better manuscripts runs to 21 volumes.

    The tradition is also to privately read the text of the week's section twice in the original and once in translation (Aramaic and/or vernacular) in preparation for the public reading. Ruth, Esther, Lamentations, and Ecclesiaiates are read annually, and Psalms are a big chunk of the daily liturgy. Many have the practice of reading the entire book of Psalms on a monthly or even weekly cycle.

    It's sadly true than many Orthodox Jews don't read much of the "Old Testament" other than that, though this is less true in the National Religious (in Israel) and "Right Wing" Modern Orthodox communities.

    @les1, not only were they Obama's mentors, Ayers is responsible directly or indirectly for much of the K-12 curricula in history and social studies, so most academically cooperative kids are well indoctrinated.

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