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Fri Jul 3, 2015, 12:52 PM

Days of Rage vs 4th of July [View all]

“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.”
-- Bryan Burrough; Days of Rage; Penguin Press; 2015; page 5.


One of my birthday gifts this year was the new book by Bryan Burrough about “America’s Radical Underground, The FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence” (subtitle from front cover). The 550-page book is well-researched, including the author’s extensive interviews with people from the “underground” and retired federal investigators. It actually offers far more information about many of the violent incidents and participants than any previous book on the general topic. Indeed, it may contain more “new” information than the sum-total of the previous books.

Burrough seems an unlikely an author on this subject. As a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal, his focus tended to be finance. However, one of his five previous books -- “Public Enemies” -- was about organized crime and the formation of the FBI. Although I have found one factual error so far (not a huge one), the author definitely takes an objective approach to recording the events of the late 1960s-’70s.

Still, I find myself questioning the timing of this book: was the author perhaps influenced by the right-wing attacks upon Senator Obama in 2008, regarding his association with Bill Ayers? Though it was well-documented that Barack Obama knew Ayers casually, at best, the right-wing -- and the corporate media -- attempted to smear the Democratic presidential candidate with ugly “guilt by association” tactics.

Perhaps that is merely something that political activists of a certain age are sensitive about: I have met, and had casual friendships with, a few of those mentioned in the book. Even when I first ran for something as low-key as the local school board, one principal assisted in my tea party opponent’s campaign, telling people that I am a “wild-eyed radical” and “nothing but trouble.” Maybe he believed that, but I’m also the parent of two of the best behaved, highest achieving students in the district’s history.

It may be that the author recognized that he had an opportunity to interview people who: [a] felt comfortable, with the passage of time, to address issues that quite frankly have never been fully documented; and are reaching the age where they won’t likely live that much longer. Strike while the iron is hot, but has also cooled off, so to speak.

I suspect that many rational individuals, on all sides of the social-political spectrum, believed at the end of 1968 that this country was experiencing revolutionary dynamics. More, the majority of individuals identified with, and acted as part of a group ….and group dynamics tend to be less stable, in important ways, than individual behaviors. The tensions between groups -- be it Democrats vs. republicans, male vs. female, young vs. old, white vs. non-white -- were tearing American society apart at the seams.

Rubin Carter used to tell me that a wise man learns from others’ mistakes; most of us have to learn from our own errors; and that fools -- well, they just never learn. So, looking back now, it is easy for me to say that attempting to create a more just society by using violence was a foolish tactic. However, based upon my own value system, it was wrong, even if it had achieved some temporary gain (which it really didn’t). The violence committed by the left was not somehow more moral or pure than the violence committed by the right-wing thugs. Yet, I can understand how some people, caught up in the madness of that era, believed they could actually use violent tactics for good purposes.

The group from the left that has become most closely identified with “violence” in that era was the Weatherman/ Weather Underground. However, they were hardly the only “leftist” group that would use violent tactics. It is interesting to note -- though I’m unsure if the author speaks to this, as I haven’t finished the book -- that the use of violence frequently made groups easier targets for infiltration and disruption, than those committed to non-violence. The exception would be the Weather Underground; They were a very small, tightly-knit group. Only one police informant was able to penetrate their group, and it was more of the Weatherman, than the later Weather Underground.

There has been a tendency to romanticize some of these groups. Frequently, the attribute that they sought to damage “the machine,” but not human beings, is incorrectly applied to them. When a group is small and closely-knit, such as the Weather Underground, relatively little information has been made public over the years. As a result, people often made things up -- for example, Richard Nixon had paranoid ideas about the Weather Underground, which in and of itself could create support among young folks.

Having President Nixon and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover obsessed with catching them; releasing revolutionary manifestos; and even robbing banks (one has to put this in the context of coming after the powerful 1967 “Bonnie and Clyde” movie): all of this began to build appeal, at various levels, among those who were growing frustrated by the seeming inability of the anti-war protest marches, etc, to not only end the war in Vietnam, but to bring about much-needed changes in the social fabric.

However, even if one accepts the right of a population to use violence to expel a foreign colonizer -- for example, the fight in Vietnam -- those same potential dynamics simply did not exist inside the United States. It is also important to understand that ending the war in Vietnam was not the primary focus of the various violent groups of that era -- although it certainly was a related factor -- but, rather, the central issue was racism in the United States. (The numerous arsons aimed at ROTC buildings on campuses across the country were perhaps inspired by the Weather Underground, but were not organized, group efforts.) In fact, the Weather Underground tended to look down upon the “hippies” and the peace movement at first, and would only later attempt to gain from their resources.

From a sociological viewpoint -- including from the book’s documentation, as well as life experience and related education -- journeying down the paths of violence in the US included several common features. First, as noted, it made various groups easier to infiltrate and disrupt. Second, and extremely important, it created circumstances where potentially great leadership was killed (the police murder of Fred Hampton being an example); next, it allows for the most violent to rise to positions of authority (including the sincere and insincere); and, of course, it justified the most harsh retaliation against not only those groups, but anyone that the public associates with them (Kent State).

[Note: Over decades of activism, like many D.U.ers, I’ve been in groups that the “dark side” has attempted to infiltrate and disrupt. As a rule, it is easy to recognize the highly energetic new guy, who volunteers for everything, and advocates some type of stupid, violent tactic. I can’t begin to count the times I’ve pulled such fellows aside, and let them know that I am aware of who they are, and what they are attempting.]

It may all seem like ancient history now, especially to young folks. But there are some definite connections. An great example, and one that I’ve documented on DU:GD numerous times over the years, is that the domestic intelligence program that the Nixon administration created, known as the Huston Plan, was the exact model used by the Cheney administration for its Patriot Act. The only difference is today’s greater computer technology.

On the eve of the national holiday celebrating the Declaration of Independence, its troubling to note the many, many similarities between that era, and today. From the foreign wars, to the anti-social diseases of racism and sexism, we really have not made nearly enough progress in the last 40 years. The social Novocain that saturates our national consciousness tends to be prescribed by doctors, rather than distributed by local dealers; it numbs, rather than expands, our thoughts and feelings. And the enormity of the “machine” discourages far too many good people from actually attempting to create and institute change.

Yet our culture is speeding headlong to a Townhouse ending -- environmentally and more -- and so it is vital that individuals dedicate (and re-dedicate) themselves to becoming agents of peaceful change. It must include everything from the most obvious -- voting -- to becoming organized in non-violent confrontations with social injustice.

Happy 4th of July!
H2O Man

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Reply Days of Rage vs 4th of July [View all]
H2O Man Jul 2015 OP
marym625 Jul 2015 #1
H2O Man Jul 2015 #2
marym625 Jul 2015 #6
H2O Man Jul 2015 #11
marym625 Jul 2015 #15
spanone Jul 2015 #3
H2O Man Jul 2015 #12
GeorgeGist Jul 2015 #4
H2O Man Jul 2015 #9
LongTomH Jul 2015 #5
H2O Man Jul 2015 #13
lovemydog Jul 2015 #7
2banon Jul 2015 #8
Blue_Tires Jul 2015 #10
Uncle Joe Jul 2015 #14