Date of Degree

6-2-2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

History

Advisor(s)

Joshua B. Freeman

Committee Members

David Nasaw

Thomas Kessner

Beverly Gage

Subject Categories

United States History

Keywords

U.S. history, New York City history, terrorism, counterterrorism, Sam Melville, Cuban Power

Abstract

During a period stretching from the mid 1960s until the mid 1970s, the United States and especially New York City experienced a wave of terrorism unprecedented in many ways. Never before, and never since, have such a variety of actors from all across the political spectrum engaged in this particular form of political violence during the same period of time and especially in the same small geographic area. New York City endured a stretch of attacks that can be labeled as terrorism from 1969 to mid-1970 that the Commissioner Howard R. Learly of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) characterized it as the year of bombings in “gigantic proportions” when testifying before Congress.

Scholarship on political radicalism and especially terrorism during what many scholars have termed “the Long Sixties” has largely focused on radical elements of the New Left such as the Weather Underground. This dissertation argues that, instead of how scholarship has traditionally treated it, terrorism during the time and in New York city was just as likely to emanate from the political right, and may have in fact manifested there first.

This dissertation also makes the argument that terrorism and the response to terrorism – most notably by the NYPD and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) – coevolved during the period. The actions of terror actors prompted more aggressive investigations by authorities, and the actions of authorities drove terror actors further underground. Building on “intelligence” operations including undercover operatives and secret informants, authorities brought to bear many of the practices that would soon land them in legal trouble such as occurred during the U.S. Senate Church Committee investigation and the “Handschu” civil liberties case brought against the NYPD. And in response to these aggressive and often effective actions by authorities, groups like the Weather Underground in fact went underground.

Ultimately, what this dissertation argues is that the history of terrorism in the United States is longer and more diverse than is commonly understood, and even more so than argued in scholarly history, and that the time and place of New York City during this period is uniquely important because of the diversity of the actors and the sheer volume of attacks illustrates how much more broadly accepted this form of political violence was than ever was before, or ever since.

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