Honoring Terrorism in New York City

As the financial and media capital of the free world, the New York metropolitan area has long attracted terrorists, from the anarchists who struck Wall Street with a horse-drawn cart bomb in 1920 to the jihadists responsible for 9/11. But increasingly it appears that terrorists are attracting New York, or at least its elected officials.

Starting at the top, Governor Andrew Cuomo last December commuted the sentence of Judith Clark, a member of the terrorist Weather Underground Organization (WUO) serving a 75-year sentence for her role in the murder of a Brinks armored car guard and two police officers. At her trial, Clark described herself as a “freedom fighter” and claimed that the Weather Underground was a “liberating force.” Cuomo seems to have fallen for her claim. After meeting with Clark last year, the governor expressed admiration for her “exceptional strides in self-development” and gushed like a fanboy about getting “a sense of her soul.”

Clark’s parole board unanimously disagreed and ruled that freeing her would be “incompatible with the welfare of society.” But the commutation means that she will continue to come up for parole and will likely be freed before her term expires.

Further down the hierarchy are New York City mayor Bill de Blasio and Melissa Mark-Viverito, speaker of the City Council. These two have been trying to outflank each other from the left for years. De Blasio worked for the Sandinistas in the 1980s and honeymooned (illegally) in Cuba in 1994. Mark-Viverito once posted an image of herself photoshopped to look like Che Guevara when running for office.

All New York politicians were presented with an opportunity to differentiate themselves when Barack Obama commuted the sentence of another terrorist who targeted New York: Oscar Lopez Rivera, cofounder and leader of the Puerto Rican separatist Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN). In the 1970s and 1980s, Rivera’s FALN conducted over 100 bombings in the U.S. (many in New York City). In 1981 he was captured, tried, and sentenced to 70 years in prison for seditious conspiracy and other terrorism charges.

Rivera is an unrepentant killer. In 1999 Bill Clinton commuted the sentences of 14 FALN terrorists, offering them release on the condition that they renounce violence. Rivera refused and stayed in jail.

After Obama freed Rivera, it was entirely predictable and natural for politicians like Raul Castro and Nicholas Maduro to congratulate him and sing his praises, but not for New York politicians.

Cuomo stayed quiet at first, perhaps stung by unexpected opposition to his Judith Clark commutation. But not de Blasio and Mark-Viverito. Mark-Viverito flew to Puerto Rico to be present when her idol was released from house arrest. She and de Blasio then arranged for Rivera to march in the city’s Puerto Rican Day parade on June 11. Adding salt to the wounds, they arranged for Rivera to be honored as a “National Freedom Hero” by the city he once terrorized.

Cuomo was on board at first, indicating that “my inclination would be to march,” but early opposition to the very bad idea spooked him, so he balked, absurdly claiming on May 18 that he that had “just heard about it,” didn’t “know the facts of the situation” and was “going to look at the situation.”

Opposition grew quickly, with NYC Police Commissioner James O’Neill and every police union imaginable refusing to march. When the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosello, called for “all of the sponsors and anyone to avoid supporting this endeavor,” many listened: AT&T, Coca-Cola, Corona, JetBlue, WNBC, Telemundo, Unavision. Even the New York Yankees want nothing to do with this mess.

On June 1, a defiant Rivera wrote an op-ed complaining of “misinformation about who I am and what I stand for.” Rivera wrote that he will march in the parade “not as your honoree, but as a “humble Puerto Rican and grandfather.”

By June 2, Cuomo had seen enough to make his decision, announcing “I’m not going to march in any parade that honors a terrorist – I’m not going to do it.” Had he said so at first, it might have been believable. Timing is everything.

So the parade will go on, as Mark-Viverito put it, “to recognize and uplift the legacy of Oscar Lopez Rivera.” But the fact that politicians entrusted to protect us from today’s terrorists are so prone to romanticize yesterday’s terrorists should be deeply concerning to all New Yorkers.

A.J. Caschetta is a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum and a senior lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology.