Tuesday, October 8, 2019
October 8, 2019: Domestic Terrorism: The Weathermen
[October 8th marks the 50th anniversary of the Weather Underground’s Days of Rage protests in Chicago. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy the Weathermen and other domestic terrorists—a fraught but important term, I know—leading up to a weekend post on 21st century events.]
On the difficulty, and the importance, of writing about domestic terrorists with whom we agree.
I apologize for getting into serious inside baseball territory with the opening of this post, but I think it helps me introduce the central point I want to consider here. I’ve been writing this daily blog for nearly nine years now, and for much of that time I’ve been scheduling posts (and then weekly series when I shifted to that format) quite a while in advance. But I’m drafting this post only one week out, on Tuesday October 1st, which I believe is the closest I’ve gotten to running out of scheduled posts in at least the last six years. And the reason isn’t just that I’ve been enjoying a sabbatical full of lots of time with my sons and the first book talks of a schedule full of them, although both those things are true and very nice indeed (I’ll have more to say about those ongoing talks in next week’s series). Nor is it that the absolutely insane news of the last couple weeks has distracted me and made it difficult to write, although that is unquestionably true and not nearly so nice (if long overdue and entirely warranted, as my recent blog post on threats to the Constitution made clear).
No, my delay in working on this post (it was at least three weeks between scheduling yesterday’s and finally starting to write today’s, to add one additional, telling inside blogging detail into the mix) has a lot to do with a fraught pair of interconnected facts: my perspective closely aligns with many of the positions held and advocated by the leftists who formed the Weather Underground; and yet it’s impossible to describe many of that group’s activities as anything other than domestic terrorism. That’s true of a good deal of what transpired in the course of the four days of 1969 protests, although those acts of vandalism and destruction could possibly be seen as aftereffects (or at least side effects) of the 1969 activities, rather than central elements of them. But as the Weathermen continued to develop as an organization over the subsequent eight years, they turned their attention more and more fully to overt acts of domestic terrorism, such as the May 1970 bombing of the National Guard Association building in Washington, DC, the June 1970 bombing of the New York City police headquarters, and the March 1971 bombing of the US Capitol building, among many other attacks. One can argue that many of their bombings were designed to avoid injuring people, but they often did so nonetheless, and in any case bombings of domestic targets are acts of domestic terrorism, full stop.
I don’t have any difficulty naming them as such, but in writing about the Weather Underground I do find myself in a somewhat similar predicament to the one I addressed in this post on Nat Turner’s slave revolt: the need to critique an act of domestic terrorism while recognizing that it served a cause with which I agree. I don’t mean in any way to critique histories like those of the Vietnam War and the military industrial complex and the Nixon Administration (all targets of the Weather Underground’s political protests and violence) with those of slavery; even the horrific Kent State shootings, which prompted the May 1970 National Guard building bombing, shouldn’t be equated to the horrors of slavery. But nevertheless, just as Turner and his fellow rebels committed their acts of violent terrorism in opposition to systemic wrongs and abuses, so too did the Weathermen oppose many systems and histories that I likewise would critique and hope to dismantle. Which means I have to condemn their acts of domestic terrorism (which I do) while at the same time recognizing the legitimacy of their perspective, a difficult balance which, among other things, can lead to some serious writer’s block.
Next domestic terrorists tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other histories of domestic terrorism you’d highlight?