The Weekly History Thread Blows Up!

Welcome to this week’s History Thread!

This week’s topic: Terrorism. Everyone during this generation has lived under the shadow of terrorism, but it’s not a new phenomenon and goes back, in one form or another, all the way to distant time. Discuss terrorism, historical and (if you must) present in its different forms. What is terrorism, and what differentiates it from other forms of violence? Does it work? Is it ever justified by circumstances?

Today’s picture: On May 8, 1970 the United States still reeled from the Kent State shootings the previous week. While many Americans were shocked and outraged, 58 percent blamed the Kent students for their own deaths. In New York City, a large antiwar rally occurred in Wall Street, which Mayor John Lindsay acknowledged by ordering the city’s flags lowered to half-mast. This didn’t sit well with a mob of conservative construction workers, who descended on Wall Street and started clobbering hippies with fists, hardhats and lead pipes wrapped in American flags. When they ran out of hippies, they started attacking stockbrokers, reporters and anyone else who didn’t seem entirely on board with this outburst of patriotic exuberance. Then they went to City Hall, forced their way inside and forcibly raised the American flag, singing patriotic ballads until they grew tired, punched some more hippies and went home, honor satisfied.

The incident itself offers a shocking example of right wing mob violence, a topic which Americans prefer to forget while recounting and frequently exaggerating leftist attacks of violence during the ’60s and ’70s. There are still controversies surrounding the incident, including reports that some of the rioters’ employers offered them bonuses if they’d go out and beat some liberals, and even more conspiratorial accounts of “men in suits” directing the hardhats from one location to the next. We do know that Richard Nixon, bewildered by the shootings and the outburst of feelings against him, embraced the hardhats and invited their leaders to the White House. He also made one of them, Peter Brennan, his Secretary of Labor during his second term.

Message: punching liberals pays. Don’t think certain reactionaries weren’t paying attention.