History of Domestic Terrorism: The Harvey Casino Bombing of 1980

One of the most intricate and complex IED’s ever built was not created in Iraq or Uzbekistan, but right here in the U.S. 36 Years ago. -SF

 

Watch this video of an FBI special agent discussing the most complex IED ever encountered on U.S. soil.

On the morning of Aug. 26, 1980, an employee of Harvey’s Wagon Wheel Casino in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, discovered two stacked metallic grey boxes on the casino’s second floor. Unbeknownst to the employee, the boxes had just been delivered to the building by two men posing as delivery guys for IBM. One of them was John Birges, a Hungarian immigrant with a colorful past that included a stint as a Luftwaffe fighter pilot during World War II and eight years in a Siberian gulag.

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In 1980, Birges was living in Fresno, California. He had made millions of dollars in America, but by that point he had lost nearly all of it to gambling — at Harvey’s. The boxes he left in the casino were accompanied by athree-page letter that began: “Do not move or tilt this bomb, because the mechanism controlling the detonators in it will set it off at a movement of less than .01 of the open end Ricter scale.” It was a ransom note.

The demand: $3 million or the bomb explodes. The FBI decided to go with a third option: Try to disarm the bomb. Later, agents would claim the bomb was “undefeatable.” To this day, it’s regarded as the most complex improvised explosive device the FBI has ever encountered on U.S. soil. The boxes were packed with nearly 1,000 pounds of dynamite, every ounce of which ripped through the hotel when agents tried to disarm it with C4. Fortunately, because the casino had been emptied, not a single person was harmed.

Birges was eventually arrested and died in prison in 1996.

Read the Original Article at Task and Purpose

The History of Terrorism: a Film Anthology

In creating a Memorial Day Movie list it got me to thinking about other movie list, so I thought I would start with a favorite subject of mine: The Study Of Terrorism and Guerilla Warfare.

Here are some films worth watching if you are interested in learning more about this subject. Most of these films can be found on Netflix or Amazon.

Keep an eye out for more “Film Anthologies” like this in the future.

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Carlos

This is by far one of the best movies ever made in recent times about Political Terrorism in the 70’s and 80’s. Carlos the Jackal was one of the most infamous terrorist and criminals and this movie is extremely accurate in the historical details and action scenes, in particular the Murder of an unarmed Police Officer in Paris in 1975, one of the many crimes which made Carlos a Wanted Man for decades. This movie is quite violent and gritty, but no overly so.

The Baader-Meinhof Complex

With two members of this group recently Back in the News, it would not hurt to watch a movie to refresh your memory on European Political Terrorism in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. The RAF or Red Army Faction, (also called the Baader-Meinhof Gang) was one of the key Terrorist groups during this time. The only thing I disliked about this movie is it had quite a bit of flagrant nudity and un-needed sexual situations which had nothing really to do with the plot.

Michael Collins

A Wonderful Biopic of one of the Founding members of The Irish Republican Army. This movie begins where the rebellion of Ireland against Great Britain began, The Easter Uprising of 1914. Collins was responsible for virtually writing the book on Guerilla Warfare and Counter-Intelligence Operations used by the IRA for decades to come. You should watch this and The Wind that Shakes the Barley together, as the two mesh on the historical timeline of the IRA, as the assassination of Collins was due to the Peace Agreement he made with Great Britain. This is one of Liam Neesons finest performances.

Munich

More a film about Counter-Terrorism than Terrorism, Steven Spielberg directed this epic film about the 1972 Munich Olympics Terrorist Attack and the proceeding Israeli Mossad Operation (Called Wrath of God) to Assassinate all the Palestinian terrorist involved. This movie is a great historical biopic of not just the Mossad Operation, but European Political Terrorism in the 70’s as a whole. In true Spielberg style this movie is gritty and violent, taking you right into the center of the action. Next to Carlos, this is one of my favorite Films about Terrorism (and Counter-Terrorism).

The Kingdom

This is more of an action film than a terrorist biopic, but none the less I included it because of the Counter-Terrorist aspects. The last 45 minutes of this film is one of the best gunfight scenes in film history. The only gunfight scene that tops it IMO is the one in Heat with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.

Fifty Dead Men Walking

The semi- True story of a British Police informant who infiltrated the IRA during the period known in Ireland and England as “The Troubles”. Not the best film about the IRA, but no the worst either.

The Wind That Shakes The Barley

A Really Great Historical Film about the early struggles of the IRA, it tell the story of the early Irish Republican Army and the bloody civil war that ensued due to the very unpopular Peace Agreement with Great Britain. A Phenomenal movie about the reality of civil uprisings and the practical applications of Guerilla Warfare. Some have commented this film is too “one-sided” and that it shows the British as the “bad guys”, but I would counter that the early behavior by the “Black and Tans” (British Army) against Irish civilians was brutal and un-called for and was a major factor in why the Irish rose up like they did and fought back.

Flame and Citron

More a film about Urban Guerilla Warfare, this is the True Story of two members of the Danish Resistance in World War II who assassinated high ranking members of the Gestapo and SS. Being a WW2 Historian, I really liked this film and wished more like it would be made. So many Resistance fighters have not been memorialized properly for their fight against tyranny and it is high time books and films were written and made about them.

Stay Alert, Stay Armed and Stay Dangerous!

History of Domestic Terrorism: America’s Original ‘Lone-Wolf’ Terrorist

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No one noticed as the tall, thin man carried a package into the Capitol and left it in the Senate reception room. It was nearly July 4, 1915, and Congress hadn’t been in session since March, but many of the legislative buildings were open and thinly guarded. Frank Holt, 44, sneaked back out and made his way to Union Station. At 11.40 p.m., the package exploded, wrecking the ornately decorated room but hurting no one.

Around that time, a Washington newspaper received a note signed by “R. Pearce” that claimed responsibility, noting that the blast aimed “to make enough noise to be heard above the voices that clamor for war” and serve as an “exclamation point” for an appeal for peace. But that appeal was far from over: Upon hearing the explosion, Holt boarded a northbound train and headed to his next target.

In the space of a few days, he passed from deranged nut to lone-wolf terrorist and possible conspirator in the public’s mind.

The next morning, Holt reached the Long Island estate of J.P. Morgan Jr. The son of the iconic J.P. Morgan was following in his father’s footsteps and proving a strong supporter of the British, serving openly as Britain’s purchasing agent for munitions. Holt stormed into the house, and the two men fought until a butler knocked Holt out with a lump of coal to the head. Only after Holt was restrained did Morgan realize he’d been shot in the groin, albeit not seriously. At the police station, Holt calmly confessed to the D.C. bombing but said he’d only wanted to talk to Morgan and persuade him to stop financing and shipping munitions. He even claimed the shooting was accidental.

Holt was peddling a combination of lies and half-truths. He said he was a native-born American and pacifist who worked as a German professor at Cornell and had taught at other universities. But with his picture fronting newspapers nationwide, the lies soon caught up with him. He was really German-born Erich Muenter, wanted in Massachusetts for the murder of his wife 10 years earlier. His talent for languages had indeed landed him a job teaching German at Harvard. But 10 days after the birth of his second daughter, Muenter’s wife, Leona, died suspiciously; it was later determined that she had succumbed to arsenic poisoning. By the time Cambridge police issued an arrest warrant, Muenter had disappeared; a nationwide search and $1,000 reward failed to find any trace of him.

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It turned out that Muenter had been hiding in plain sight. Under his new name he continued teaching German at colleges around the country and remarried. At the time of the attacks, his second wife was waiting for him in Dallas, where he had been hired to teach at Southern Methodist University. But after leaving Cornell, Muenter rented a house in New Jersey and began stockpiling dynamite. His former Cornell colleagues said Muenter had made strongly inflammatory pro-German comments. He’d also written to Kaiser Wilhelm, supposedly as part of his one-man campaign to keep America out of the war.

Police in New Jersey compared the purchase records of the dynamite with the small amount used in Washington and the sticks found in Muenter’s car and coat. Worryingly, some of the stockpile was missing. While Muenter sat in his cell, the headquarters of the New York City police were bombed on July 4, 1915. Three days later, a bomb exploded on the ship Minnehaha on the same day Muenter had written in a note that there would be attacks on two other ships carrying arms to England.

 Other than that coincidence, there was no evidence that Muenter was part of a pro-German plot to bomb American targets. In the space of a few days, he passed from deranged nut to lone-wolf terrorist and possible conspirator in the public’s mind. Muenter reflected “many of the traits of the lone-wolf terrorists we are seeing today,” says Jeffrey D. Simon, visiting lecturer at UCLA and author of Lone Wolf Terrorism: Understanding the Growing Threat. “He was smart, dangerous, had access to explosives … and combined personal and emotional problems with the desire to commit violence in the name of some cause.”

The British and French governments leaped on the story as further evidence of German hostility, an accusation made easy to swallow by the recent sinking of the Lusitania by a German U-boat that May. “Muenter’s bombing undoubtedly lent credence to fears about German traitors and spies on American soil during World War I,” says University of Kansas professor Lorie Vanchena.

But Muenter never answered the conspiracy accusations. On July 6, the day before the ship bombing, Muenter climbed to the top of his cell block and threw himself down head first, breaking open his skull. A prominent New York psychiatrist asked for Muenter’s brain in order to examine it for criminal abnormalities. A jailer obligingly shoveled it into a bucket and sent it to the doctor.

Read the Original Article at OZY

History of Domestic Terrorism: Buda’s Wagon & The Birth of the Car Bomb

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He was walking near the corner of Wall and William streets — the hub of New York’s financial district — when a violent roar made him turn around. Two walls of flames “seemed to envelop the whole width of Wall Street,” exporter Elwood M. Louer said, recalling how fire shot as high as the 10th story of nearby buildings. But Louer wasn’t there on September 11 or even this century. His close shave came almost a 100 years ago in one of America’s earliest terrorist attacks.

On September 16, 1920, a bomb planted on a red horse-drawn wagon exploded into the lunchtime crowd at Wall and Broad streets. This was just outside the House of Morgan (now known as J.P. Morgan), then the world’s most powerful financial institution. The force of the explosion, which killed 38 and wounded hundreds, was strong enough to lift people off the ground and fling the mangled horse halfway down the road.

He escaped, white-faced and dazed, along with hundreds of others, as the dead lay flattened “like tenpins.”

The wagon carried 100 pounds of TNT, with 500 pounds of cast-iron bolts packed around the explosives that detonated at 12:01 p.m., when the streets were teeming with lunch-hour traffic, according to the anthology Tools of Violence: Guns, Tanks and Dirty Bombs, by Chris McNab and Hunter Keeter. To this day, nobody knows who did it or why. And the mystery has been all but forgotten, apart from the deep gouges left in buildings by the blast.

Louer was lucky. He escaped, white-faced and dazed, as the dead lay flattened “like tenpins,” writes Beverly Gage, quoting articles from 1920 for her book, The Day Wall Street Exploded. Gage, a Yale professor, tells OZY that she’s amazed such an event has garnered so little attention in the annals of U.S. history. It was the first and deadliest of a spate of mail and suitcase bombs at the time that struck fear among thousands across America. So why was it so underplayed?

Had police taken anyone to court, the scene would’ve been one of the “great show trials” of its day, says Gage. But authorities were embarrassed because they couldn’t find their villain. Rumors of who planted the bomb swirled, with fingers pointing at anarchists, communists, socialists and Bolsheviks, who, many claimed, didn’t want to see America’s financial empire succeed. The Bureau of Investigation — precursor to the FBI — and the attorney general were quick to find a scapegoat in these “radicals,” often stereotyped as bomb-wielding bearded foreigners. At least 25 suspects were arrested, but none were charged. There was very little proof, aside from five copies of a flyer, printed by hand with rubber stamps and riddled with spelling mistakes, found in a mailbox near the explosion site. The note read, “Rimember, We will not tolerate any longer. Free the political prisoner or it will be sure death is all of you,” and was signed by “American Anarchist fighters.”

One lead came from an unlikely informant, a Pole named Wolf Lindenfeld (alias: William Linde). He had approached authorities months before the attack, predicting that Wall Street would be bombed, but nobody believed him. It wasn’t until after the bombing that he was hired as an informant, given $3,000 and sent to Europe to catch the culprits. But he vanished, along with the cash. His granddaughter, Livia Linden, who lives in California, tells OZY he was always known as a “bad apple” in the family. Newspaper headlines referred to how Linde had double-crossed the government and what a slippery character he was, but that was most obvious with his family: “He abandoned his young wife and children,” Linden explains.

Another theory came from historian Paul Avrich, who thought Mario Buda, a Croatian national and a Galleanist (a follower of Italian anarchist Luigi Galleani), was responsible. Avrich believed Buda was avenging the imprisonment of his fellow Galleanists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. But police never got a chance to question Buda, who left for Italy, never to return.

No memorials commemorate that fateful day, but walk to the corner of Wall Street, and you can run your hands over the deep pockmarks left by the bombing. While the incident seems dated, it hits closer to home than we care to think, serving as a reminder of an early American brush with terror and of the near-daily vehicle bombs spreading mayhem to this day.

Read the Original Article at OZY

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