Weather Underground bomb plot (June 17, 1974)

Some terrorist groups really do go away permanently.

In an era of jihadi-this and jihadi-that it is important to remind ourselves that not every terrorist and every terrorist group is either Islamist extremist in nature or even religiously-inspired. It is easy to forget this when the news is so dominated by attacks carried out by organisations such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State, or their affiliates and branches.

In truth, terrorist groups come in all colours and shapes. Their motivations vary, as do their strengths, their capabilities and their track records. Some groups are very successful and others are not. Some enjoy long lifespans, others less so.

The face of a terrorist?

One of the latter was the Weather Underground. This leftist group was actually based on a lyric from a Bob Dylan song: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” It aligned itself with the Black Power Movement and sought to undo US imperialism. In addition, it was very much against the war in Vietnam (who wasn’t?).

The WU carried out a campaign of bombings against banks and other commercial buildings. This should come as no surprise since capitalism was one of its bugbears. None of its actions killed anyone, despite some rather high profile attacks such as the bombing of the Capitol in March 1971, the bombing of the Pentagon in May 1972, and the bombing of the State Department in January 1975. Shortly after this last one the WU disbanded, coinciding with the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam.

Despite its low activity level the FBI treated the group as a major threat. And while some believe this to have been an overreaction the WU could have been more lethal. On this day in 1974 the group bombed the Gulf Oil HQ in Pittsburgh. They accused the company of committing “enormous crimes” by drilling oil in Angola and paying royalties to the Portuguese government.

The blast caused an estimated $1 million in damage to the building’s 29th floor. Although seven men, including a Pittsburgh fire captain investigating the bomb threat, were trapped in an elevator for about 40 minutes after the explosion, no one was injured. No arrests were made.

Nowadays we have more ways to tell what the weather is like. We don’t need terrorists to tell us.

Phil Gurski

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