The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 19, 2013

America’s violent past

By David Christy, News Editor
Enid News and Eagle

— April 19 marked yet another anniversary of the worst tragedy to ever befall Oklahomans, when the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City was destroyed by anti-government bomber Timothy McVeigh, with help from accomplices Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier

The toll of 169 dead and 675 injured — at the time — was the worst act of terrorism on American soil. And, as an act of domestic terrorism, it still has no peer.

Only the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by al-Qaida terrorists was deadlier.

As thousands of investigators pore through the remnants and clues of Monday’s Boston Marathon bombing, trying to determine who and what and why in the deaths of 3 people and the maiming of 180-plus others, it still comes as a shock to the system of the vast majority of Americans.

Yet, while we are rightly outraged at such cowardly and wanton acts, they hardly are uncommon on American soil. In fact, our history is replete with acts of violence which can only be classified as terrorist actions.

A list of terrorist attacks and related incidents on these shores is compiled on a website by William R. Johnston, and that list is quite long and somewhat staggering.

He begins with the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and the attempted deaths of the vice president and secretary of state by a band conspirators, led by John Wilkes Booth, to destabilize the federal government — all but one a home-grown terrorist.

Yet, there are scores of incidents most of us only have vague ideas or recollections of from American history.

On May 4, 1886, the so-called Haymarket Riot occurred in Chicago. A violent confrontation between police and labor protesters became a symbol for workers’ rights, killing 12 and injuring 60, when police attempted to intimidate strikers during a union action at McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. and anarchists tossed a bomb— part of a national campaign to secure the eight-hour workday.

Oct. 1, 1910, 21 died and 20 were injured in a bombing of The Los Angeles Times building by labor activists, who saw the newspaper as anti-union.

Ten died and 44 were injured July 22, 1916, in San Francisco. During a massive parade held to celebrate Preparedness Day in anticipation of the United States entering World War I, a deadly suitcase bomb went off.

While two men were convicted of the act, because of false testimony and outright perjury by witnesses, both eventually were pardoned and the true identity of the bomber remains a mystery to this day.

On Sept. 20, 1920, a bomb in a horse-drawn wagon exploded near Morgan Bank in New York City, killing 38 and injuring 300. The bombing was never solved, but believed to have been carried out by Italian anarchists, related to social unrest after World War I.

On May 18, 1927, a school in Bath, Mich., was bombed, killing 46 and injuring 58 — many children. Farmer Andrew Kehoe, whose farm had been foreclosed upon for failure to pay school taxes, placed dynamite in the school. He died in a second explosion, along with the school superintendent, when he fired into more dynamite in the back of his car.

On Sept. 15, 1963, the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., was bombed on a Sunday, an act of racially motivated terrorism.

The blast at the African-American church killed four young girls, injured 23 others, and was perpetrated by four members of a Ku Klux Klan affiliate, but who were not brought to justice until 14 years later. The terrorist act is considered a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement, contributing to support for passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The sniper shooting by Charles Whitman, from a University of Texas tower, killed 19 and injured 31 in August 1966.

May 16, 1986, two members of Aryan Nation took 150 students and teachers hostage at a Cokeville, Wyo., elementary school, demanding $2 million ransom per child. The bomb they had with them exploded, killing the female terrorist and injuring 79 — many children. The male terrorist eventually killed himself.

Mass shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, Aurora, Colo., Littleton, Colo., Virginia Tech and Newtown, Conn., all are in our most-recent violence-clouded past.

So, terrorists and terrorism have been with us throughout American history. Johnston listed literally hundreds and hundreds of events, from individual gunmen or bombers, to mass-casualty events like the OKC bombing and Sept. 11 attacks.

People tend to have short memories, and unless it affects us, we also tend to not look back on history past for answers. And, as it always does, history has a way of biting back when we fail to do so.

Conveniently ignoring violence from our past tragically invites peril in our future — and many more funerals.

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Go to his column blog at http://enid