“During an 18-month period in 1971 and 1972, the FBI reported more than 2,500 bombings on American soil—nearly five 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.”
—from “Days of Rage.”
Terrorism and terrorist threats have become a staple of our national and global psyche since 9/11 and Islam-o-phobia, an offshoot of America’s practice of fearing the different or unfamiliar.
Never mind that one of the most prominent Jihadist spokespersons, “Azzam the American,” who issued proclamations and threats, was one Adam Gadahn, a White-as-the-driven-snow product of Orange County, Calif., with Jewish ancestry no less (his father changed the family name from Pearlman).
In fact, American history has always been riddled with the exploits of folks dissatisfied with the administration of a government mandated to provide a “level playing field” for all its citizenry, a daunting undertaking simply because it invokes the fool’s errand of trying to please everyone.
Curiously enough, one by-product of the economic windfall nurtured by World War II and the arms race induced by the Cold War, was a generation of disaffected youth turned against the very society that spawned them. Their disaffection was apparently motivated by the hypocrisy their government displayed towards outside countries, and its own, marginalized people of color, when it suited America’s foreign policy. Bryan Burrough chronicles the U.S.’ activities circa 1960 through 1975 in his meticulously researched “Days of Rage; America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence,” (Penguin Press, April 7, 2015. Hardcover. $29.95.)
Foremost among these radical upstarts were the Weathermen, an offshoot of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a group of college activists formed to criticize the United States’ political policies domestically (especially racial prejudice and general inequality), and globally (the Vietnam War and for meddling in the affairs of other countries). The Weathermen took an extreme departure from the doctrine of their SDS compatriots by calling for the revolutionary (read violent) overthrow of the U.S. government.
A sizable part of the country’s youth population became fascinated with the Weathermen, especially its charismatic spokeswoman, Bernardine Dohrn. Photogenic, provocative, and more than intellectually capable, Dohrn was a mesmerizing figure to both men and women within the radical underground, and a compelling personage to those outside the movement, regardless of political leaning.
Their bark proved to be louder than the potency of their bite however, in spite of their expressed commitment to distance themselves from the trappings of “White privilege.” Perhaps the emotional pull of their affluent backgrounds and high-brow education was too much for these would-be-radicals to resist in the long run. Many of them have transitioned into comparatively respectable positions in society.
Dohrn and her counterculture paramour, Bill Ayers, settled into academic professorships at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois, respectively, and may become more historically noteworthy for their momentary embarrassment to then-Sen. Barack Obama because of their ties to him as he mounted his eventually successful bid for the presidency of the nation they so ardently sought to topple.
For all the economic and educational advantages these White rebels had at their disposal, their efforts were largely symbolic, because Burrough points out that only one percent of their violent activities resulted in fatalities.
Another radical faction spawned from the rift between the two separate camps following Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton, the Black Liberation Army (BLA), remains shrouded in mystery four decades after its heyday.
Although small in numbers, the BLA delivered the mayhem that their contemporaries only sprouted rhetoric about. Their most infamous cadre, Joanne Chesimard, better known as Assata Shakur the aunt/god mother of hip hop-icon Tupac Shakur, remains a high profile political exile in Cuba (and on the FBI’s 10 most wanted terrorist list with a $1 million reward on her head), on charges stemming from the 1973 murder of a New Jersey State Trooper.
“Days of Rage” is not without its flaws. It boasts few revelations, because much of the information documented within its covers comes from other, previously chronicled sources. More over, many of the key participants refused to talk with Burrough, at least partially due to potential pending legal consequences.
With the passage of time, the folly of youth transitions into maturity and rigidity. And consequently, some of yesterday’s firebrands have settled into contemporary domestic living having escaped the fickle finger of justice. Meanwhile, their former comrades-in-arms languish in prisons far from the spotlight of a tragedy-hungry media.
America remains a country with a history malcontents. These include Oklahoma mega-bomber Timothy McVeigh and various other ultra-right-wing citizen militias, and posse comitatus members who think the government does not work for them; or wayward youth from otherwise wholesome bastions of privilege, who find the allure of waging Jihad against the Western infidel a welcome alternative to the comforts of suburbia.
American democracy might well be described as the best of the numerous flawed forms of government humanity has forged since the dawn of civilization. In spite of the opportunities in the nation that seem to beckon immigrants by the boat load, there remains no shortage of critics who squabble about the manner in which the country is run. And this very well may confirm the old adage that you can’t please all the people all the time.