Even more than two decades after the World Trade Center was destroyed, it remains the defining event of the 21st Century. For years it made terrorism the fear in the forefront of the cultural consciousness. It also completely overshadowed centuries of terrorist activity, and in the process contributed to a highly skewed vision of the past and how relatively peaceful supposedly was. Yet issues that have long slid into obscurity have cost dozens if not hundreds of people their lives at a stroke.
10. The Haymarket Affair
Today working class people are so venerated by the American mainstream that it can be jarring to look back at how brutal law enforcement was willing to be with them. On May 3, 1886, workers at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company in Chicago, Illinois were protesting for eight hour shifts, a movement which had been underway since at least the 1860s. To protect scabs, the police fired on the workers, resulting in one death and several injuries. That rapidly escalated the conflict so that the next day there were well over 1,000 protesters, and during a clash with the police, a bomb was thrown by an unknown individual into the ranks of the police. Accounts vary on how many deaths were caused by the explosion and how many were from resulting friendly fire, the end result was eleven people were killed, seven of them police officers. A further 100 people were wounded.
In further reprisal, the state of Illinois accused and convicted eight anarchist leaders of being responsible for the bombing despite a lack of evidence. Of those one committed suicide in prison, four were executed on November 11, 1887. In 1893, Governor John Altgeld pardoned the surviving three accused for being the victims of an unjust trial. Given that there was evidence that jury members had expressed that they believed the defendants were guilty before the proceedings even began and that all of the accused had alibis that they weren’t present at the protest and witnesses testifying they hadn’t thrown the bomb, it’s an understandable judgement.
9. Los Angeles Times Bombing
By 1910, labor conflicts had, if anything, become even more dangerous, even in heavily unionized communities such as Los Angeles. One of the more flamboyant enemies of unions was Los Angeles Times owner Harrison Otis, who paid strikebreakers to attack workers and thus was so hated that he rode in a limousine armed with a cannon. He’s credited with coining the phrase “you’re either with me or you’re against me.” Two ironworking brothers named James and John McNamara conspired to scare him by setting off sixteen sticks of dynamite in the publication’s basement on September 30, 1910. They did not realize that there were gas lines under the building or how flammable the ink was, and thus they set a horrific fire that killed 21 people and left dozens more injured. One who was not killed was Otis, who hired William Burns, one of the most celebrated private detectives in the nation at the time.
The brothers evaded arrest until April 1911, when their explosives supplier Ortie McManigal named them in his confession. Famed lawyer Clarence Darrow took their defense case, and supposedly his own investigation found even more evidence that the McNamaras were guilty. The brothers confessed their crimes, and they were extremely fortunate that the senior John McNamara got a life sentence and James received a fifteen-year sentence. That was fewer years than they set back the cause of labor rights in America.
8. Wall Street Bombing
September seems to be a particularly fateful month for New York City in terms of terrorist attacks. Almost exactly ten years after the Los Angeles Times Bombing, on September 16, 1920 at approximately 12:00 p.m., a recently abandoned cart parked at 23 Wall Street across the street from the J. P. Morgan Building exploded. The explosion sent iron sash weights placed around dynamite flying, overturned nearby vehicles, and left 38 people dead and 300 injured. Among the wounded victims was J. P. Morgan’s grandson Junius.
Unlike the LA Times bombing, there was no closure from a trial because no group took credit for the bombing and no leads surfaced. Italian anarchist radical Pierto Angelo was suspected, and though he had an alibi which prevented him from being charged, he was deported anyway. There were thousands of arrests and interrogations, including hundreds of stable and window sash weight factory employees, but the case was declared closed in 1940 no closer to being solved than it was on the day of the attack.
7. Bath School Disaster
The seeds of this attack seemed to have been sewn in 1922, when the community of Bath, Michigan built the Consolidated School. Local property taxes had been raised to pay for the purchase, which got to local farmer Andrew Kehoe sufficiently that he got elected school board treasurer and heatedly kept the school’s budget down. In May 1927, the repossession of his farm looming, he smuggled World War I surplus dynamite into the school’s basement, and set off a time-activated bomb on the 18th at 8:45. Discontent with the damage he had done, he drove to the site with a trunk full of even more explosives, and killed himself and five other people. Total deaths from the school attack included 38 students and six adults. It was set to be much worse, as there were hundreds of additional pounds of explosives in the basement that failed to go off. Kehoe had also killed his wife and several farm animals and set his farmhouse on fire. When police arrived at the scene, they found posted on his fence a brief but chilling manifesto “Criminals are made, not born.”
While this act sounds like it should have become one of the most famous atrocities in American history and the perpetrator as infamous as Ed Gein or Charles Whitman, there was a very simple explanation for why it dropped out of the broader culture memory very quickly. Three days later, Charles Lindbergh’s famous iconic solo transatlantic flight concluded successfully, and for most of the summer dominated headlines nationwide. Some historical publications, such as a 2018 article by Time, have asserted that if Kehoe had destroyed some institution such as a bank, as some people were doing in that era (especially during the upcoming Great Depression) then he might have garnered some public sympathy.
6. An Assassination in Marseille
As far as 20th Century reigns go, that of Alexander I in Serbia was one of the more mixed. He was a hero of the Balkan Wars that prefigured World War I, and then he spent that momentous conflict as commander in chief of the Serbian military, and was declared Prince Regent on October 31, 1918. Yet within three years there was a major assassination attempt, which echoed how the previous Alexander of Serbia had been assassinated in 1903. In 1922 he formally took the throne, and soon had to deal with Croat separatists that went so far as to assassinate his Croat deputies. In 1929 he stepped up his unification policies by declaring himself dictator and passing standardization reforms, just in time for the Great Depression. To ease tensions he formed alliances and went on diplomatic missions. Despite his successes, the people still wanted a parliamentary government. Alexander I was in the planning stages of creating one when he went on a trip to France and met his fate on October 9, 1934 in the city of Marseille. His assassin was Vlado Chernozemski, one of the Croatian separatists that had been causing Alexander so much trouble for years.
Alexander I’s assassination had the distinction of being the first filmed act of terrorism, nearly thirty years before the iconic Zapruder Film. According to a Columbia University paper on the subject, Adolf Hitler supposedly watched and rewatched the footage to study the reaction of the French police, convincing himself their inability to protect the King showed a lack of national character. Whatever the truth of that, there’s little doubt that the terrorist act set in motion many military efforts such as Mussolini and Hitler’s incursions towards the Balkans through the 1930s that would plunge Europe into another war by the end of the decade. That means that by a little noted coincidence, a Serbian assassin started World War I by killing Archduke Ferdinand and 20 years later another helped start World War II.
5. Ford Motor Protests
Despite decades of setbacks, the Great Depression led to a surge in expanded labor rights, and with this growing worker power many larger companies became only more ruthless than ever. One Harry Bennett, often described as Henry Ford’s “right hand man” had always been aggressive in stomping out union activity in Ford factories, and on March 7, 1932 he reached an entirely new level. That day 3,000 unemployed Ford employees were marching to Dearborn, Michigan in what was called the Ford Hunger March. It quickly became the Ford Massacre when Bennett’s men opened fire, including with a machine gun. Bennett in particular was so enraged that some protesters threw rocks at him that he emptied his own gun, took a gun from a police officer, and emptied that. In total four marchers were killed, two of them teenagers, and dozens were wounded, some of the wounded being arrested in the following days while still on hospital beds.
Yet the workers continued the fight. On May 26, 1937, United Auto Workers members, including members of the 174 chapter of the Women’s Auxiliary, were handing out leaflets at the Miller Road overpass, again in Dearborn, Michigan. Bennett, ever hands on in his anti-union attacks, descended. In the subsequent beatings, one man’s back was broken, one man was kicked down flights of stairs, and newspaper men that happened to be present were also attacked. One particularly clever photographer named James Kilpatrick surrendered some blank film he hadn’t yet shot while hiding his photo negatives. This was a boon for the union because the photos made it clear that the anti-union people were the aggressors, and public support swung to the employees. Within four years, the Ford employees were a recognized union.
4. The Lustgarten Attack
Most portrayals of Jews living the Third Reich depict them entirely as victims, but history shows incidents of pushback. On May 18, 1942, the almost exclusively Jewish Baum Gruppe, led by Herbert Baum, attacked a Reich art exhibit in Lustgarten, Berlin. Surprisingly the exhibit that drew their ire wasn’t anti-semitic, but anti-Soviet, as it was derisively called “the Soviet Paradise.” The attack mostly consisted of such ineffective arson that the exhibit reopened the next day. In their defense, the Baum Gruppe was mostly youths and nothing like seasoned partisans.
Unsurprisingly, the response was swift and merciless. Nearly 500 Jews were arrested, and of them many were summarily shot. The New York Times reported at the time that 258 prisoners were executed. Despite their draconian response, the Gestapo made a point of claiming that Herbert Baum committed suicide in his cell instead of being executed. Why they bothered with such a public relations gesture was unclear. Rarely has one person’s terrorist ever so clearly been another person’s freedom fighter.
3. The Machertos
Whatever a person’s position regarding relations between the United States and its territory Puerto Rico, it is clearly a sight better than it was in the 20th Century. For example, on March 1, 1954 members of a Puerto Rican independence group entered the House of Representatives chambers and wounded five representatives. Between 1974 and 1981, there were reported to have committed 100 bombings in the US, many committed by the Armed Forces of National Liberation. The most harmful of these was in January 1975 at the Fraunces Tavern in Lower Manhattan which killed four people and wounded 53.
By the late ’70s, the US military was firmly in the sights of such groups as the Machertos. On July 14, 1980 four navigation installations run by the Federal Aviation Administration and Coast Guard were destroyed, disrupting Latin American air traffic. But the most elaborate single attack was surely when the Machertos entered the Muniz Air National Guard Base. As reported by the Washington Post on January 16, 1981, they destroyed eight fighter jets and disabled two others. Fortunately no one was injured, but the damage was estimated to have cost $45 million. While this was a long time ago, it’s still a living memory for many, and should be something for people that want statehood for Puerto Rico.
2. FLQ Attacks
Speaking of seperatist movements, In the early 1960s the Canadian province of Quebec witnessed the emergence of the Front de Libération du Québec. Their stated aim was to remove all British influence from Canada. Ironically, one of the founding figures of the movement wasn’t a Canadian, but a Belgian named Georges Schoeters. Nevertheless they quickly showed they were willing to use violence to achieve their aims. They sent bombs to Royal government buildings and mail boxes for years, and then expanded to sending bombs to businesses where employees were on strike. They were so numerous that one Pierre Paul Geoffroy would plead guilty to taking part in 31 bombings. The Globe and Mail reported that the human toll for the first six years of the campaign was five killed and one grievously injured.
Yet at the time the most significant action related to the FLQ wasn’t one of their attacks but the Canadian government’s reaction to it. In 1970 the separatists switched to kidnappings, most notably of UK diplomat James Cross and Quebec Deputy Premier Pierre Laporte. In response the government used the War Measures Act to suspend civil liberties, which was felt to be considered so draconian that the period was known as the October Crisis. While James Cross was recovered alive, Laporte’s body was recovered from a trunk. From there the FLQ became so unpopular and so heavily infiltrated by government agents that it was reportedly stamped out by 1976.
1. Inn Din
Southeastern Asia has often been a bit of a blind spot to Western nations. So in 2017 when more than 690,000 Rohingya Muslims fled from Bangladesh sought refuge in Myanmar, much of the rest of the World took little notice. In Bangladesh there was so much hostility towards them which was so officially sanctioned that the 2014 Bangladesh census did not include Rohingyas at all. It wasn’t until word of what paramilitary forces were inflicting on Rohingya that attention was paid.
On September 1, 2018, ten men in a Rohingya community around Inn Din (a community on the northwestern coast of Myanmar) were imprisoned. They were forced to watch as their neighbors dug a mass grave, and then ten of them were executed and buried the next morning. The same paramilitary force that performed the mass murder then raided other Rohingya homes, stealing cattle and vehicles and burning down houses. The official story was that the people put to death were part of a 200-person terrorist group attacking the town of Inn Din, but local civilians denied that there was any such terrorist attack. In fact civilian witnesses reported that the ten people put to death had just been part of a group seeking shelter on a beach. Reports for Reuters looking into the attack was arrested for their efforts. Such is the horrifying danger facing refugees in places all around the world today, and what many of us who may be joining them in the future may look forward to.
Dustin Koski highly recommends Jonathan “Bogleech” Wojcik’s novel Return of the Living, a story of Earth centuries after it’s been ghosted.