Twenty-nine years ago Thursday, an explosion rocked the headquarters of the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C. No one was hurt, but the damage was extensive, impacting twenty offices on three separate floors. Hours later, another bomb was found at a military induction center in Oakland, California, and safely detonated. A domestic terrorist group called the Weather Underground claimed responsibility. Remember them?
Who were these extremists? The Weather Underground -- originally called the Weathermen, taken from a line in a Bob Dylan song -- was a small, violent offshoot of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), created in the turbulent ‘60s to promote social change.
When the SDS collapsed in 1969, the Weather Underground stepped forward, inspired by communist ideologies and embracing violence and crime as a way to protest the Vietnam War, racism, and other left-wing aims. “Our intention is to disrupt the empire ... to incapacitate it, to put pressure on the cracks,” claimed the group’s 1974 manifesto, Prairie Fire. By the next year, the group had claimed credit for 25 bombings and would be involved in many more over the next several years.
The Chase. The FBI doggedly pursued these terrorists as their attacks mounted. Many members were soon identified, but their small numbers and guerilla tactics helped them hide under assumed identities. In 1978, however, the Bureau arrested five members who were plotting to bomb a politician’s office. More were arrested when an accident destroyed the group’s bomb factory in Hoboken, New Jersey. Others were identified after two policemen and a Brinks’ driver were murdered in a botched armored car robbery in Nanuet, New York.
Success for the FBI/NYPD Task Force. Key to disrupting the group for good was the newly created FBI-New York City Police Anti Terrorist Task Force. It brought together the strengths of both organizations and focused them on these domestic terrorists. The task force and others like it paved the way for today’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces -- created by the Bureau in each of its field offices to fuse federal, state, and local law enforcement and intelligence resources to combat today's terrorist threats.
By the mid-'80s, the Weather Underground was essentially history. Still, several of these fugitives were able to successfully hide themselves for decades, emerging only in recent years to answer for their crimes. Once again, it shows that grit and partnerships can and will defeat shadowy, resilient terrorist groups.
Related links: The Weather Underground Organization | FBI History
Building photograph courtesy of the U.S. State Department. Also pictured are Weather Underground members Bernardine Rae Dohrn and Katherine Ann Power.