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Left-Wing Militancy

The United States faced a threat from some leftist extremists, including Puerto Rican terrorist groups. Although Puerto Rico voted in 1993 to remain within the U.S. Commonwealth, some extremists were still willing to plan and conduct terrorist acts in order to draw attention to their desire for independence.

The early to mid 1970's were marked by the bombing attacks by such leftist groups as the Weathermen or Weather Underground Organization and the New World Liberation Front. Michael Rossman later recounted " In 1971, Scanlan's (I:8) published an issue devoted mainly to itemizing domestic bombings. I forget whether it was from there only or other sources also that I derived a cumulative estimate of 5,000 - 8,000 for the period 1965-72; whether the peak average was 6 or 8 bombings per day; and whether this total referred only to bombings or included also "fire-bombings" and other arson at military and commercial targets. Whichever, the total was staggering... this massive wave of bombings was carried out with remarkable caution and regard for human life. So far as I know, the fatalities were limited to one late researcher in the U. Wisconsin math building bombing, an unwished accident; and several Weatherman in the Manhattan townhouse explosion."

By the end of the 1970s, however, these activities had become sporadic at best (six terrorist incidents in 1978, one in 1979, and none in 1980). Most of those responsible for the terrorism from these elements were either in custody or they had disappeared and their locations and activities were unknown. Once regarded as a most serious domestic security threat, the "white left," because of a lack of identifiable terrorist activity, was considered to have all but ceased to exist as a problem by 1980. Left-wing groups generally profess a revolutionary socialist doctrine and view themselves as protectors of the American people against capitalism and imperialism. They aim to bring about a change in the United States and believe that this can only be accomplished through revolution, such as wellorchestrated criminal actions rather than participation in the established political process.

In the past, left-wing terrorist groups have claimed credit for numerous bombing attacks in the United States and Puerto Rico. These attacks have targeted military facilities, corporate offices, and federal buildings. Such groups believe that bombings alone will not result in change, but they are tools to gain publicity for their cause and thereby earn the support of the masses.

By the 1980s a nationwide terrorist underground network was still operating in the United States. The remnants of the Weather Underground, the Black Liberation Army, the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN) and other terrorist groups of the 1960s and 1970s had linked up in a movement of independent but cooperating groups that believes in and practices the use of violence for political purposes. This movement was involved in the 1981 Brinks robbery, in which three murders were committed, and was responsible for a series of bombings since 1982, including the bombing of the U.S. Capitol in November 1983.

This terrorist underground may also have been connected to foreign terrorist organizations. There was an increasing body of facts to Suggest at least a continuing liaison between the underground terrorist movement and various foreign based movements. Although the United States had experienced the violence of terrorist groups in the past, most Americans until recently had perceived terrorism to be a problem for foreign countries and their citizens rather than as a threat to themselves.

In late 1983, however, a series of events combined to stimulate public interest in the possibility and likelihood of major terrorism in the United States or directed at American targets abroad. These events included the mass murder of 241 American military personnel of the U.S. contingent of the Multinational Force in Beirut on October 23, 1983 by local terrorists; the bombing of the U.S. Capitol Building on November 7, 1983 by domestic terrorists; the deployment of special security measures at the White House and other federal buildings in December 1983 following a report of a possible terrorist attack; and increased security measures for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, the World's Fair in New Orleans, and the National Conventions of the Democratic and Republican Parties against terrorist attacks.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the principal agency for the investigation of terrorism in the United States, reported a decline of domestic terrorist incidents in 1983. According to the FBI count, there were 31 terrorist in- cidents in the United States in 1983, compared to 51 in 1982. In previous years, the FBI counted 52 incidents in 1979, 29 in 1980, and 42 in 1981.

On December 18, 1983 Judge William H. Webster, Director of the FBI, stated publicly that two- thirds of the terrorist incidents in the United States were related to Latin American or Caribbean political issues, and in testimony before the Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on March 14, 1984, Judge Webster stated that "it is important that the public not come to the conclusion that we are being overrun with people who support the overthrow of the United States. This country is very infertile ground for terrorism to thrive and succeed in its purpose." Judge Webster's remarks and the recent FBI statistics may be taken as a commendable effort to avoid alarmist exaggeration of the terrorist threat in America.

Nevertheless, some law enforcement authorities questioned either the accuracy or the significance of the FBI's statistics on terrorism. Under the FBI definition of terrorism -- "the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives' -- some criminal acts that are terrorist in nature may not be counted as such.

In order to show "political or social objectives' as motivations, it is ordinarily necessary to have a communique or statement from the terrorist group acknowledging its responsibility and motivations for a violent act. Although such statements are common, they are not obligatory, and some terrorists do not acknowledge respon- siblity for all of the violent acts for which they are responsible. In many cases, moreover, terrorists will rely on comparatively minor crimes, such as assaults or threats, to intimidate or corece a group, and in some cases even to specify a particular act as terrorist is difficult or impossible.

Nor does the apparent decline in terrorist incidents in the early 1980s necessarily mean that terrorism is declining in importance in the United States. This decline may be due to recent disrup- tions of terrorist groups by law enforcement or it may be due to conscious decisions on the part of the terrorists to restrict their violence or to use violence more selectively. In general, terrorism becomes "important' in a society when the population or government feels that terrorism is a threat -- when they experience intimidation or terror. The subjective nature of this feeling makes it very difficult to measure, and the number of terrorist incidents by itself does not necessarily reflect this subjective state.

In the United States of the early 1980s, there was increased concern about terrorism due to the Beirut and US Capitol bombings and similar incidents and perhaps a growing sense that the United States is vulnerable to terrorist attacks. This increased concern is due to the significance of the targets and the results of the attacks on them and not to the number of incidents or the size and skills of the terrorist groups involved. These events and concerns therefore raised the problem of the extent and nature of terrorism in the United States -- the degree to which there were terrorist groups extant in the United States; their goals, methods, and interconnections; and the likely targets and future prospects of such groups or of new groups or coalitions of terrorists.

While there was no large terrorist movement in the United States today such as existed in Italy, Turkey or Uruguay in the recent past or such as existed in El Salvador or Lebanon, there was a movement of independent but cooperating groups that believed in and practiced the use of violence for political ends. This movement or its component groups had been responsible for a series of violent incidents over several years -- incidents that have cost several lives and resulted in considerable property damage.

The terrorist movement in the United States expresses support for a number of foreign terrorist groups and may have received support from them. The American terrorist movement appeared to have undergone extensive reorganization and, although disrupted by the arrest of some of its key members and the disruption of some of its "safehouses' and organizations, may be escalating its level of violence (both interms of the frequency of its attacks and of the nature of its targets), and aome said it may become a much more serious threat to the internal security of the United States in the near future, but it did not.

Over the three decades from the 1960 to the 1990s, leftist-oriented extremist groups posed the predominant domestic terrorist threat in the United States. In the 1980s, the FBI dismantled many of these groups by arresting key members who were conducting criminal activity. The dissolution of the Soviet Union also deprived many leftist groups of a coherent ideology or spiritual patron. As a result, membership and support for these groups has waned, and the threat has diminished.

The government of Cuba provided support and sanctuary to Marxist revolutionary groups and leftist terrorists since Fidel Castro came into power. This support included systematic training and materials. Support declined dramatically since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but Cuba still maintained close ties to Latin American revolutionaries, including both of the major groups in Columbia.

Extremism runs in cycles. Leftist extremists are very active for a decade or more, and as they fade, right-wing extremists become active. During the late 1960s to the middle 1980s, leftist extremism was the greatest threat in the United States. The fevered pitch of 1960s radicalism ended during the 1970s. The combination of repression, burnout and political disorientation led to a collapse of movements. The 1980s represented an ebb in the overall revolutionary movement. As conservatives continued their assault on the poor, many on the left were bewildered by the new circumstances. From the mid-1980s to the present, the major threat of domestic terrorism has been primarily from right-wing extremists. If the cycle theory is correct, then left-wing terrorism may increase in coming years.

Because leftist extremists are better educated than members of right-wing groups, they had the ability to organize more effectively, and once committed to a militant revolution, they are more of a threat. The threat from the left diminished as a result of the arrest of many of its leaders and the loss of support from nations formerly affiliated with, or part of, the Soviet Union.

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Page last modified: 30-10-2017 10:46:01 ZULU