1983 United States Senate bombing
|1983 United States Senate bombing|
|Part of the New Communist movement|
|Date||November 7, 1983 |
10:58 pm (UTC-5)
|Target||United States Senate|
|Perpetrators||Resistance Conspiracy of the May 19th Communist Organization|
|Motive||United States military involvement in Grenada and Lebanon|
The 1983 U.S. Senate bombing was a bomb explosion at the United States Senate on November 7, 1983, motivated by United States military involvement in Lebanon and Grenada. The effect of the attack led to heightened security in the DC metroplex, and the inaccessibility of certain parts of the Senate Building. Six members of the radical left-wing "Resistance Conspiracy" were arrested in May 1988 and charged with the bombing, as well as related bombings of Fort McNair and the Washington Navy Yard which occurred April 25, 1983, and April 20, 1984 respectively.
In October 1983, the United States military invaded the socialist island nation of Grenada, and replaced the socialist government with the previous government under Governor-General Paul Scoon and Chairman of the Interim Advisory Council Nicholas Brathwaite, the country having been a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. At the time, the invasion was supported by 64% of the US population. However, members of the left wing militant group, the Resistance Conspiracy, were perturbed. The invasion of Grenada, coupled with the October 1983 bombing of a United States Marines barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, prompted the beginnings of a plan for the left-wing militants to take action. Members of the group felt the United States, led by President Ronald Reagan, had no business meddling in the affairs of Middle Eastern nations or small socialist island states. Thus it was decided to bring awareness to their ideals by bombing the US Senate on November 7, 1983.
On that day, the Senate adjourned at 7:02 p.m. A crowded reception, held near the Senate Chamber, broke up two hours later. At 10:58 p.m., an explosion tore through the second floor of the Capitol's north wing; the adjacent halls were virtually deserted.
Minutes before the blast, a caller claiming to represent the "Armed Resistance Unit" had warned the Capitol switchboard that a bomb had been placed near the Chamber in retaliation for recent U.S. military involvement in Grenada and Lebanon, in which the U.S. had placed Marines.
The force of the device, hidden under a bench at the eastern end of the corridor outside the Chamber, blew off the door to the office of Democratic Leader Robert C. Byrd. Senator Byrd was an active supporter of involvement in Grenada, and had recently made attempts to garner support for retaliating against recent attacks against US marines stationed in Lebanon. His recent actions may have drawn attention from the terrorist group, and led to his targeting. Furthermore, the blast also punched a hole in a wall partition, sending a shower of pulverized brick, plaster, and glass into the Republican cloakroom. The explosion caused no structural damage to the Capitol. The force shattered mirrors, chandeliers, and furniture. Officials calculated damages of $250,000 (equivalent to $620,000 in 2017).
A portrait of Daniel Webster, across from the concealed bomb, received the explosion's full force. The blast tore away Webster's face and left it scattered across the Minton tiles in one-inch canvas shards. The Senate recovered the fragments from debris-filled trash bins. Over the coming months, a conservator painstakingly restored the painting to a credible, if somewhat diminished, version of the original.
This bombing seemed to replicate an earlier attack on the capitol which occurred in 1971. Committed by the Weather Underground, a left wing terror group related to the Resistance Conspiracy, this attack caused damages in excess of $300,000. The reason for this attack, as provided by the group, was for American aggression and "Nixon involvement in Laos." In this earlier attack, the superseding terror group placed a dynamite explosive in a south wing ballroom. The explosion caused windows to shatter and interior walls to crumble and be destroyed. This attack was universally condemned by both sides of the political spectrum, as well as the general public. Not since the war of 1812, when the British burned out entire interior of the capitol, had the building suffered so much damage.
The November 1983 bombing also occurred just three weeks after an earlier bombing attempt on the House Gallery. A young Israeli man by the name Israel Robinovitch, threatened to detonate a bomb on his person upon entering the building. He was quickly apprehended, however, police stated that the bomb carried by the man would have detonated, had it not been improperly wired. The reason for Robinovitch's bombing attack was to bring awareness to world hunger.
Earlier in that year on April 25, 1983 the group, Resistance Conspiracy detonated a small bomb at the National War College at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C. The reason behind the terrorist act was to end "US imperialism". The War College, where American military officials get high-level training, was immediately sealed off. Col. Jamie Walton of the Army said the explosion was caused by a device that ''appeared to be 5 to 10 pounds of unknown explosives detonated by some sort of timing device.'' Colonel Walton said there were no injuries. He cited superficial damage to the outside of the building, ''windows blown out, things of that nature.''
A year later, on April 24, 1984, the same group bombed the Officer's Club at the Washington Navy Yard. Their reasons for the bombing were opposition to US policy in Central America and independence for Puerto Rico. The explosion at the officers club occurred at 1:50 A.M. An F.B.I. spokesman said it appeared to have been caused by a powerful bomb that was placed under a couch in an entryway to the club. The explosion blew out windows, knocked down part of a false ceiling and damaged the interior of the three-story, red-brick club building. There was nobody in the building at the time of the bombing and no one was injured. The effect of this bombing led to heightened focus on anti terrorism operations in the United States, and eventually led to the group's takedown four years later in 1988.
The group Resistance Conspiracy was a United States-based branch of the wider Communist organization known as, the May 19th Communist Order. This group existed from its first attack in 1976 until later attacks in 1985. Throughout the lifespan of the organization, twenty incidents of terror were committed including one fatality inflicted. Most of the incidents involved bombings and sabotage, however several also included scare tactics such as threats and the utilization of fake weapons.
Their belief in "armed propaganda" motivated their attacks on numerous federal buildings. The thinking was that the only way to influence an "aggressive" nation was to use aggressive tactics.
The organization is also known as the Armed Resistance Unit, the Red Guerilla Coalition, and the Revolutionary Fighting Group.
Immediately after the bombing, emergency responders were alerted by the guards present in the capitol during the attack. "Within minutes of the explosion, more than a dozen fire trucks and four ambulances raced up to the west front of the Capitol while officers with police dogs began combing the area for clues," according to the New York Times. Although no damage was inflicted outside of a seventy five yard blast radius, many passersby outside the capitol witnessed a loud blast which they could hear. The presence of a repugnant odor also filled the halls of the capitol building for weeks to come, as a residue of the explosive device remained.
Upon detonation of the explosive device, unidentified callers contacted various news outlets playing what seemed to be a recording. This recording claimed responsibility for the attack for the Resistance Conspiracy, and listed grievances with "American aggression." Members of the group were recorded as stating, "We purposely aimed our attack at the institutions of imperialist rule rather than at individual members of the ruling class and government. We did not choose to kill any of them this time. But their lives are not sacred."
After a five-year investigation, federal agents arrested six members of the Resistance Conspiracy, on May 12, 1988, and charged them with bombings of the Capitol, Fort McNair, and the Washington Navy Yard. On December 7, 1990, federal judge Harold H. Greene sentenced Laura Whitehorn and Linda Evans to lengthy prison terms for conspiracy and malicious destruction of government property. The court dropped charges against three co-defendants, already serving extended prison sentences for related crimes. Whitehorn was sentenced to 20 years; Evans, to 5 years, concurrent with 35 years for illegally buying guns. On January 20, 2001, the day he left office, President Bill Clinton commuted Evans's sentence.
The 1983 bombing marked the beginning of tightened security measures throughout the Capitol. The area outside the Senate Chamber, previously open to the public, was permanently closed. Congressional officials instituted a system of staff identification cards and added metal detectors to building entrances to supplement those placed at Chamber gallery.
After their indictment, the courts issued a statement meant to thwart future attempts on federal buildings. "Let this be a warning to those who seek to influence the policies of the United States government through violence and terrorism that we will seek unrelentingly to bring them to justice. Those who attack our sacred institutions of government and seek to destroy the symbols of our democratic system ultimately will have to pay the price."
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