The world has been captivated this week by the scenes of an insurrectionary mob overrunning the United States Capitol at the behest of President Donald Trump. It is unlikely that many people remember or even know that nearly forty years ago, this building—the meeting place of the U.S. Congress, the place where laws are made—was bombed by a Communist terrorist group, a group remarkable for its all-female membership. A new book, Tonight We Bombed the Capitol: The Explosive Story of M19, America’s First Female Terrorist Group, by William Rosenau, a senior policy historian at CNA and a fellow in the International Security program at New America, examines this forgotten episode.
The May 19th Communist Organization (or M19) emerged in America out of the counter-cultural radicalism of the 1960s, particularly latching on to the civil rights movement and supporting the gruesome Soviet-directed Communist insurgency in Vietnam. It is not an accident that the name is derived from the shared birthday of Malcolm “X” Little (1925) and Ho Chi Minh (1890), the Vietnamese Communist leader.
The members of M19 who are still alive would not speak to Rosenau, but freedom of information (FOI) requests to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) meant he was able to gather thousands of documents, the FBI’s own and those captured from M19. Court records, affidavits, declassified wiretap transcripts, and contemporaneous press reports helped fill in the gaps, allowing Rosenau to put together an absorbing, in-depth narrative.
M19 emerged out of the Weather Underground Organization, whose most infamous member is Bill Ayers, and the Weathermen were themselves an offshoot of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), probably the largest Left-wing student organization in American history. As the Weather Underground faded away in the late 1970s, M19 was left as a kind of residue that then linked up for training and experience with “black power” racist groups, before emerging in the early 1980s as a capable, coherent organization of its own.
Rosenau sketches out the profiles of M19’s core members, and it is a very effective method of showing the profile of people drawn to the group, and how the radicalization process proceeded step-by-step. One possible criticism of the book is that it is quite difficult to keep track of the cast of characters and organizations; this is not really a criticism of Rosenau, however. As the below overview will show, the path to M19 was messy; to represent it otherwise would be to falsify the record.
Read the rest at European Eye on Radicalization