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How Presidents and the Public Have Ignored Right Wing Terrorism
What Cliven Bundy and the Oath Keeper militia terrorists were doing has a long history. Americans have been victimized by terrorism long before September 11. What often makes the difference between the reaction to 9-11 and these other terrorists is that, just as in Bundy's case, powerful elites and large segments of American people wanted right wing terrorists to succeed.
Two recent terrorists in the past weeks point out the long persistence of right wing terrorism in America. The shooting of three people at a Jewish center by Frazier Glenn Miller, a longtime KKK leader, is rightly called a terrorist act by the media. Conspicuously, few are calling him a white terrorist or a Christian terrorist, though that is how he describes himself and the motives for his terrorism.
The second terrorist, Cliven Bundy, is a millionaire corporate welfare mooch, and a thief taking money from taxpayers for decades. He summoned hundreds of heavily armed vigilantes, the Oath Keepers, who are willing to commit mass murder of federal officers, its leader even vowing to use women as human shields. By any honest definition, Bundy and the Oath Keepers are terrorists. But many are reluctant to follow House Speaker Harry Reid's correct labeling of Bundy's armed mob as what they are.
Some media call him a protester. But hundreds of armed militia threatening to murder police certainly is not protest. He achieved his goals not by petition or civil disobedience, but by terror. His terrorists were not marching, not chaining themselves to a fence, not submitting to arrest as millions of protesters have done for centuries.
What Bundy and the Oath Keeper militia terrorists were doing has a long history. Americans have been victimized by terrorism long before September 11. What often makes the difference between the reaction to 9-11 and these other terrorists is that, just as in Bundy's case, powerful elites and large segments of American people wanted right wing terrorists to succeed.
The First Right Wing Terrorist Movement in US History: The Know Nothings
They were anti immigrant and (take note, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity) anti Catholic and anti Irish. Over fifty deaths came directly from attacks by vigilantes armed with guns and even artillery in Baltimore, Louisville, Maine, Philadelphia, and Washington DC.
The Know Nothings' first violence was in Philadelphia in 1844. Know Nothing terrorists burned down a convent, three churches, a fire station in an Irish neighborhood, several dozen homes, and a market. The violence did not end until the militia halted it. Amazingly, a grand jury blamed the Irish, claiming they planned to force the removal of the Bible from schools. (Yes, they really were that ignorant of Catholic belief.) A second wave of violence included Know Nothings firing on a Catholic church using cannons. Even a state militia using its own cannon could not disperse the terrorists, who attacked the soldiers. There were at least fifteen deaths, and again a grand jury blamed the victims, Irish Catholics.
Louisville saw an even more notorious attack, killing 22. Know Nothings violently prevented immigrants from voting. In Baltimore, in three separate elections they used violence, intimidation, and vote rigging. In Bath, Bangor, and Portland, Maine, Know Nothings attacked priests, parishioners, and even an archbishop, smashing several churches.
Former President Fillmore, far from opposing the Know Nothings, did the most appalling thing possible. He ran as the Know Nothing candidate for president. He had been president during a relative lull in the violence, from 1850 to 1853. Fillmore ran as their candidate right in the middle of the worst wave of Know Nothing anti-Catholic terrorism. Fillmore was anti-Semitic as well, pushing a treaty with Switzerland with anti-Jewish provisions. After his defeat, he blamed his loss on "foreign Catholics," agreeing with the central premise of Know-Nothing belief, that the Catholic Church conspired to take over America.
The Second Right Wing Terrorist Group in US history: The Confederate Secret Service
The CSS killed perhaps 2,000 Americans with its state sponsored terrorism, bombing over 200 ships. The worst act of terrorism prior to September 11 was carried out by the Confederacy, the bombing of the USS Sultana.
The CSS's most famous victim was Abraham Lincoln. John Wilkes Booth was a CSS agent who temporarily escaped thanks to a network of fellow CSS agents. CSS plots included plans to spread smallpox and yellow fever in New Orleans, Norfolk, and Washington DC and burn down New York City, Chicago, Boston, and Cincinnati. The biological warfare and arson plots only failed due to CSS incompetence.
The Third Right Wing Terrorist Movement in US History: White Supremacist ex-Confederates
The Ku Klux Klan, White League, Red Shirts and other racist terrorists have the dubious distinction of being the most dangerous and most disturbingly successful of all terrorists the US has ever faced. This is because they either were supported by or worked with government authorities.
Andrew Johnson was the worst possible choice to be president after the Civil War. The most deeply racist president in US history, embittered, an outright drunk, an insecure, mean, petty little man, Johnson managed to make a recovery from a destructive civil war into an extended period of the worst terrorism America ever faced. One of Johnson's first acts was to pardon almost all Confederate traitors.
Al Qaeda in their darkest fantasies could not have done as much damage to America as the KKK did, aided by Johnson's utter incompetence and sympathy for their racist ideology. Racially and politically motivated violence, lynchings, assassinations, bombings, beatings, rapes, mob violence, and organized attacks by private vigilante armies maintained white supremacy and kept Blacks, Mexicans, and anti racist whites too terrorized to practice their civil rights. The body count grew to at least 50,000 deaths in the five years following the Civil War, a death toll over a dozen times higher than Al Qaeda.
The next President, US Grant, gets some of the blame for Reconstruction violence. Grant did succeed in limiting violence, especially in George and South Carolina. But in the end his desire for reconciliation among whites led him to pardon many Confederate traitors.
The KKK technically disbanded after Reconstruction. They correctly perceived they had won. The US government and American society had been intimidated into maintaining white supremacy. Without needing the KKK, racist vigilantes kept minorities from exercising civil rights by lynchings, and racist officials collaborated with poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and the white primary. Lynchings would not decline until an anti lynching campaign from Ida Wells and then the civil rights movement succeeding in passing Civil Rights Acts.
The Fourth Right Wing Terrorist Movement in US History: Cuban-American Terrorists
Bombings in Miami in the late 1960s and 1970s were at a higher rate than in Lebanon. Cuban-American exiles even plotted to kill Reagan.
Kennedy shares much of the blame for creating a Frankenstein monster in these armed exiles. Humiliated by the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, Kennedy immediately plotted to overthrow or undermine Castro. The CIA repeatedly tried and failed to kill Castro. Kennedy ordered Operation Mongoose, designed to sabotage the Cuban economy with guerilla activities, burning sugarcane fields and blowing up industry.
There also was Operation Northwood, never carried out, plans to stage a "false flag" attack on South Florida. US agents would pose as Cuban troops and launch an attack designed to provoke the US public into supporting a second invasion. There were also proposals to stage the shooting down of a US civilian jet or blow up a US Navy ship in Guantanamo and blame either incident on Cuba. Northwood planned the invasion for October 1962. The Cuban Missile Crisis prevented any of these staged attacks, or the second invasion. After the crisis, Kennedy backed off.
Angry over the lack of a second invasion, Cuban-American terrorists bombed both Cuban and other government targets. They also turned to terrorism against other Cuban-Americans or anyone who criticized their violent approach. In 1967 and 1968, over two dozen bombings rocked Miami each year, of cars, homes, businesses, a peace center, and a Cuban government office. The Miami Herald actually kept running tallies of bombings entitled "Bombing Box Score."
The bombing campaign expanded to include any government or business which traded with Cuba. Diplomatic missions to Latin American, Asian, and European countries were bombed. Airlines were bombed. In the 1970s and early 80s, the campaign include media outlets, reporters, or commentators that were critical of anti-Castro terrorism. From 1975 to 1983, there were 119 bombings. The Miami Police stated at least half were Cuban-American terrorists.
The worst act of terrorism by Cuban-American fanatics was in 1976. Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles, a former CIA agent, bombed a Cuban airliner, killing 73 people, many of them members of the Cuban national fencing team. Posada also bombed Cuban hotels, killing and wounding tourists. When questioned about the charges against him, Posada replied, "I sleep like a baby."
Cuban-American terrorist targets became increasingly ambitious. US intelligence discovered a plot to assassinate Secretary of State Kissinger in 1976 in Costa Rica, and the Foreign Minister of Costa Rica as well. Orlando Bosch, the head of Alpha 66, was stopped in connection with the plot. Cuban intelligence later informed the Reagan administration of an exile plot to kill no less than Reagan himself.
The bombings in Miami started to taper off starting in the mid 1980s. In the late 1980s, there were "only" 25 bombings in four years in the city. In all of the 1990s, there were three Miami bombings. Increasingly, Cuban-American terrorists focused on bombings overseas. Alpha 66 sank Cuban fishing boats, killing and kidnapping the crews. Accion Cubana attacked Cuban property in five countries. FLNC claimed credit for blowing up the Cuban embassy and a Cuban airlines office in Mexico City.
Cuban-American terrorists declined, their influence in the Cuban community fading. The next tactic was to try to keep the failing embargo going against Cuba.
Brothers to the Rescue invaded Cuban airspace repeatedly and planned to attack Cuban military targets, according to one member. The Cuban government informed the US government of the intrusions, and federal agents started legal action against BR. BR sent three planes into Cuban airspace again. Two were shot down, the third escaping because Cuban pilots broke off pursuit. BR's tactic of deliberate provocation, while miscalculating it would lead to deaths of their own men, had the desired effect. The embargo was tightened.
Again, right wing terrorism succeeded. Three US presidents colluded with Cuban-American terrorists. Luis Posada Carriles took part in the Iran-Contra scandal. Posada worked with Oliver North to carry out air drops of supplies to Contra terrorists. The FBI believed Posada carried out as many as 41 bombings in Honduras. Whether Reagan was responsible for Posada's actions there depends on if you believe Reagan knew what was going on during the Iran-Contra scandal.
Two later US presidents and a possible candidate for president went to great lengths to protect Posada and Bosch. In 2000, Posada and three other Cuban-Americans tried to kill Castro when he visited Panama. Tried and found guilty, he was pardoned by Panama's President Moscoso.
The Bush administration publicly refused to condemn the murder plot. Most observers believe President Moscoso pardoned Posada at GW Bush's insistence. Posada remains in the US today after failed efforts by Venezuela to extradite him to face charges there.
Posada's partner in the Cuban airline bombing, Orlando Bosch, was pardoned earlier by President Bush Sr. at the request of his son, Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Try to imagine the outcry were any president to pardon an Al Qaeda terrorist. Recall the huge outcry against Clinton for clemency for Puerto Rican terrorists, though none of them killed anyone.
Keep in mind Bosch not only murdered 73 civilians in the airline bombing. He also fired on a Polish ship in Florida with anti-tank artillery, bombed two buildings in Venezuela, was involved in bombing four Cuban embassies, and tried to kill the Cuban ambassador to Argentina.
Yet Bush Sr. suffered no political damage from pardoning perhaps the worst US serial terrorist in recent history. Moreover, Jeb Bush as Governor of Florida lobbied for this terrorist.
We shall see if Jeb Bush's role in pardoning a horrific fanatic mass murderer becomes an issue should Jeb run for president. It definitely should. Bosch died in 2011, having never faced justice thanks to the Bushes.
The Fifth Wave of Right Wing Terrorism in US History: Militias, Including White Racists and Christian Extremists
This is the one that Bundy and the Oath Keepers are part of. This terrorist wave has carried out at least 288 murders and wounded 588 from 60 plots from 1995 to 2012. 33 of these 60 terrorist plots were successful. Additional terrorism by Christian extremists against abortion clinics and their workers includes 8 murders, 41 bombings, 173 arsons, 91 attempted bombings or arsons, 619 bomb threats, and 1264 vandalisms of clinics.
These right wing plots included the attempted assassinations of Presidents Clinton, GW Bush (while still governor of Texas), Obama, and other federal officials. Right wing terrorism has more often been foiled by right wing, militia, and white supremacist incompetence rather than successfully prevented by US government or public vigilance.
Fox News, talk radio, and various conservative commentators like Bill O'Reilly and Michelle Malkin worked consistently to deny there is any right wing terrorism. Only a few years ago, they successfully pressured the government to end monitoring and investigating these terrorists.
Some commentators also created an atmosphere of intimidation promoting violence. Talk show host Gordon Liddy urged the murder of federal agents. O'Reilly himself publicly threatened violence against abortion doctor George Tiller on two occasions. Sarah Palin often encouraged or explicitly refused to discourage violent threats by her followers against opponents.
Some members of the Tea Party Movement promoted violence. At its rallies, some members flaunted loaded guns or threatened violence, calling for the murder of Obama, federal judges, or congressmen, or the government's overthrow. A few spit on Black congressmen or vandalized Democratic offices.
Four presidents, from Reagan to GW Bush, could have cracked down on this wave of right wing terrorism, but did not. One of Reagan's earliest acts was allowing the CIA to spy inside the US again and giving the FBI a large anti-terrorism unit and resources.
But Reagan prominently supported right wing terrorism overseas, the Contras in Nicaragua and dictatorships throughout Latin America, and he blocked boycotts of the apartheid regime in South Africa. In fact, Reagan had Nelson Mandela and the ANC labeled "terrorists." They were not taken off the terrorist watch list until 2008.
Clinton worsened right wing terrorism by his incompetence. His failure to stop his Attorney General's disastrous raid on the Branch Davidians led to a wave of paranoia and recruitment by right extremists. His administration bungled several other standoffs, first with survivalist Randy Weaver and then the Republic of Texas militia. Weaver was turned into a martyr for conspiracy theorists.
The Republic of Texas militia committed terrorist acts long before and after their standoff, with government action usually only after the fact. This militia tried to kill policemen, US soldiers, and acquire an anti aircraft missile to shoot down GW Bush's plane and biological weapons to kill Bill Clinton. One likely candidate for president in 2016, Governor Rick Perry of Texas, sought the support of Republic of Texas militia allies the Texas Nationalist Movement, sending his chief of staff to meet with them. Perry publicly spoke in favor of Texas secession twice.
GW Bush pulled many FBI agents off investigating anything not related to Al Qaeda. But the most notorious failure of the GW Bush administration on right wing terrorism was the anthrax threats. Congressmen and major media figures received letters with anthrax, or powder mimicking it.
Bush falsely claimed Al Qaeda carried out the anthrax attacks and used the incidents to argue for war with Iraq. Yet there was never any evidence tying either Al Qaeda or Iraq to any of these attacks. (There also was never any evidence to tie Al Qaeda to Iraq in the first place.) The two main suspects, Stephen Hatfill and Bruce Ivins, were both white American scientists. Hatfill was completely cleared. Ivins committed suicide, and the FBI declared him the one guilty of all actual anthrax attacks.
There were thousands of cases of anthrax hoaxes, powder sent as threats, many sent by right wing terrorists. The Army of God, anti-abortion fanatics, claimed credit for mailing hundreds of anthrax letters to abortion clinics. There had even been similar threats, anthrax hoaxes, in 1998 and 2000. The intended victims of anthrax hoaxes were all hated by the right wing, liberal congressmen, major media, and abortion clinics.
To date there has not been one single death in the US by Al Qaeda terrorists since 9-11, not even one single successful terrorist plot by them in the US. By contrast, there have been over three dozen successful attacks by right wing terrorists in the US, from assassinations at a Jewish Center and outside the Holocaust Museum to train derailings to a shooting spree in Pittsburgh.
The lessons of history are also clear. Giving into terrorists, as the federal government has done with Bundy and Oath Keepers, only emboldens them. The federal government failed to stand against the Know Nothings, and the movement only fell apart because the nation turned to conflict over slavery.
The federal government certainly failed to stand firm against the KKK, Redshirts, and White League, mostly because President Andrew Johnson kept undercutting law enforcement. The Klan, its lynchings, and other racist violence did not sharply decline until the Civil Rights Act of 1965.
The federal government never truly cracked down on Cuban-American terrorism, largely because politicians such as George Bush Sr. And Jeb Bush wanted to curry favor with Cuban-Americans. Those Cuban-Americans who did not favor terrorism were kept intimidated, and only as the older generations died off have pro-terrorists in their community weakened.
The current wave of militia terrorists are animated by paranoia about government, believing in ludicrous conspiracy theories. No amount of persuasion or actual facts can reach them, anymore than anyone else conspiracy minded. So to their delusions, a corporate welfare cheat like Bundy having to follow the law like everyone else is "tyranny."
Compare the soft treatment of the Oath Keeper and Cliven Bundy to that of the Dann sisters, Shoshone Indian women who, unlike Bundy, actually owned their land for many generations. (Contrary to Bundy's lies about owning the land for 140 years, his parents did not move onto it until the 1950s, and Bundy only continued grazing in the 1970s.) Compare the treatment of Oath Keepers's threats to murder federal agents to that of peaceful Occupy protesters, guilty of nothing more than refusal to disperse.
This is not even the first terrorist incident of the Oath Keepers. In 2010, they plotted to take over the city of Madisonville, Tennessee. The crimes the Oath Keepers commit in "defense" of millionaire welfare cheat Cliven Bundy are clear. Threatening police with weapons is a felony. So are the assaults Oath Keepers carried out on police.
One cannot and should not pander to militia delusions. One can only apply the law to them the same as anyone else.
Al Carroll is Assistant Professor of History at Northern Virginia Community College. He also was a Fulbright Scholar in Indonesia. His books are Presidents' Body Counts; and Medicine Bags and Dog Tags. He is an activist for http://www.NewAgeFraud.org.
More information is at http://alcarroll.com