Bomb Threats are an American Tradition
Formerly the province of the left, they are now almost exclusively an anti-government, white supremacist weapon intended to destroy the nation's peace of mind
This is a slightly grim post and insufficient to a topic that deserves at least a book. Still, here at Political Junkies, we stand in solidarity with our colleagues at the HBCU’s targeted by these terrorists. And as usual, please:
Anonymous white supremacists kicked off Black HistoryMonth on February 1, 2022, by celebrating their long history of lethal violence against Black Americans.
In Mississippi, bomb threats shut down five Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). These schools include Jackson State University, Alcorn State University, Mississippi Valley State University, Tougaloo College, and Rust College. Hinds Community College, which enrolls around 12,000 students on campuses in three counties, was also targeted. Coahoma Community College seems to be the only institution spared.
But that’s not all. According to NBC News, Howard University, in Washington D.C., issued shelter in place orders, as did the University of the District of Columbia; Morgan State University and Coppin State University in Baltimore; Fort Valley State University in Fort Valley, and Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia; Kentucky State University in Frankfort, Kentucky; and Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans.
Home-made bombs are part of American history, of course, and until the 1950s, they were most often associated with the political left. On May 4, 1886, a peaceful rally for the eight-hour day held in Haymarket Square, Chicago, turned deadly when someone—a person who was never identified— threw a bundle of dynamite at the police, killing seven of them and four civilians outright, and injuring dozens of bystanders. On October 1, 1910, a suitcase bomb built by a union member went off in an alley behind the Los Angeles Times. It ignited a gas line, and as the building collapsed, 21 newspaper employees here were killed by the fire.
But possibly the most famous American bombing (said to have been committed by Italian anarchist Mario Buda) was on September 1, 1920, on Wall Street in New York City, which killed forty people and injured hundreds. Carried in a horse-drawn wagon parked in front of the J.P.Morgan Bank, police later estimated that the bomb was made up of 100 pounds of dynamite and 500 pounds of window sash weights, which became lethal projectiles. If the bombers were targeting capitalists, they got few of them: most of those killed and injured were stenographers, messengers, and clerks.
The Wall Street Bombing was one of 30 incidents between May and June 1920, many of which arrived by mail in letters or packages: at least one blew off the hands of a Senator’s secretary. June 2 saw a reach of eight bombs, one of which exploded the front of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer’s house in Washington, an event which contributed to a massive anti-Red campaign led by the young J. Edgar Hoover.
The left did not stop using bombs: readers may recall the Weather Underground. This group broke away from Students for a Democratic Society to wage war on the American government and its corporate allies in 1969. In a nice twist, on October 6, 1969, they detonated a statue in Haymarket Square commemorating the police who died in the 1886 bombing. The city of Chicago rebuilt the memorial—and Weatherman blew it up again a year later to the day. But Weatherman’s taste for bombing—although they executed two more—dimmed on March 6, 1970. Building two weapons, one to be planted at Fort Dix in New Jersey and the other at an administration building at Columbia University, went off prematurely at a Greenwich Village townhouse, killing three group members and sending two others underground.
One feature of these modern left-wing bombings, most done by Weatherman and by a group surrounding Sam Melville in New York’s East Village, is that because these groups were theoretically working for peace, they issued warnings to prevent bloodshed. As Jane Alpert, a member of the Melville Collective (which kept their dynamite in the refrigerator), later wrote in her memoir, Growing Up Underground (1981), the group imagined themselves as “a ragged band of guerrillas hiding out in the Sierra Maestra, ready to die if necessary to save their country from imperialism….the vanguard of a movement that would topple the government, even if we ourselves did not live to see it happen.”
But these modern groups are also an anomaly in the second half of the twentieth century: After World War II, bombing, and bomb threats, were used most consistently by white supremacist groups in the South as a form of massive resistance to the Black civil rights movement. Then, bomb threats were a common way to disrupt and disperse political meetings, while actual explosions were a way to exact a cost in pain, death, and fear for activists determined to secure their rights. The most famous bombing, of course, was at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, on Sunday, September 16, 1953. Four little girls—Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair—were killed, and 22 others injured by a timed device placed under the church’s steps. But Birmingham’s Klan chapter used this terrorist technique with such frequency that the neighborhood where numerous Black activists lived (including Angela Davis’s parents was commonly known as “Dynamite Hill.”
You can say what you like about the American left, but the anti-government, white supremacist right now owns the American bombing tradition. On April 19, 1995, white supremacist military veterans Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols killed 168 people (including numerous children in daycare) and injured 680 others with a truck bomb detonated at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It was the most devastating attack on American soil until September 11, 2001. A year later, Congress made terrorist attacks a federal death penalty offense.
I’m glad that no device went off at any of these wonderful institutions of higher education yesterday. I’m angry, both as a citizen and as a teacher, that these terrorists targeted schools attended by Black youth. But here’s a curious fact: when I tried to find government statistics about similar incidents in the recent past, I learned that they did not exist. This is because the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms stopped collecting data on bomb threats during the Trump administration.
That’s right: the last year for which we have figures is 2016 when there were a total of 1,536 bomb threats across the United States, an average of five per day. But I could find no data for the last five years, when we know, for example, that threats against synagogues, Jewish community centers, and schools have escalated in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 election. In a statement that CNN politely called “confusing” at the time, Trump told a group of state attorneys general assembled to discuss the problem in March 2017 that the threats might be a ruse “to make others look bad.”
Joe Biden has had to give up the social legislation that he promised Americans, and voting rights seem to be dead in the water too. But a conspiracy to terrorize Americans with bombs and bomb threats is an issue that requires immediate and effective action, and action Biden can take without any Republican cooperation at all. And he could start by ordering the ATF and the Justice Department to start tracking the problem again.
It’s time to put an end to this sordid American tradition. And Joe Biden should travel to the steps of 16th Street Baptist Church and tell the nation that this is what he plans to do.
I am still scratching my head over this one. CNN president Jeff Zucker has resigned over a relationship with another high-level executive that “evolved” from friendship to love (or at least sex) during the pandemic. Why? Because he did not disclose it when their 20-year relationship went to the next level. I mean, isn’t that what you would do in the throes of a new romance—make the long walk to Human Resources and have them write a memo? As Kate Feldman of the New York Daily News reports, “Zucker, 56, did not name the co-worker, but she was identified as Allison Gollust, CNN’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, who will remain at the network.” (February 2, 2022)
Meanwhile, Whoopi Goldberg is spending two weeks in the penalty box over at ABC for having made inappropriate—or shall we say, radically underinformed and dismissive—remarks about the Holocaust. You can read them here, in a good piece written by Jenny Gross and Neil Vigdor at the New York Times. Why is it a good piece? Because it reports the problem in the right register of seriousness and centers Goldberg’s model apology. (February 1, 2022)
Academic Twitter is in partial mourning over the New York Times’ purchase of Wordle, the online word puzzle that captured the imagination of nerds already besotted by Spelling Bee. I mean, who cares, right? It will still be the same puzzle. But as historian Annette Gordon Reed tweeted, “Happy for the Wordle guy, but a little sad personally.” Yes. I think it made us all (as it turns out, about a million people were playing) feel like we were going rogue just a little bit—it felt like the old internet! Now, like everything else nice, it has been snapped up by a corporation. (January 31, 2022)
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