Parcel Bombs Revisited

Fortunately, the Yemeni parcel bombs intended for American Jews failed to reach their targets.  And I wonder again, as I wondered before, if everything is rosy between Al Qaeda headquarters and the Yemeni franchise.  Headquarters can't be pleased about the botched execution of this latest effort -- and what about the timing? Is Al Qaeda following the revolutionary maxim of, "the worse, the better,"  hoping that hawkish Republicans will be elected in the mid-terms?  I'm not sure.  Another maxim to remember is "never ascribe to malice what can be explained by incompetence."

At any rate, this incident reminded me of another mass parcel bomb incident that fortunately failed due to the incompetence of the perpetrators.

Ninety years ago, the sworn enemy of America were not radical Jihadists but Italian Anarchists. Their rhetoric was similar -- "we will annihilate you in blood and fire!" -- they sometimes used women comrades as couriers to avoid suspicion, and two of their number -Sacco and Vanzetti -- became a cause célèbre of the progressive left.

Below is an excerpt from my article at, "Terrorists Bomb Wall Street" which discusses the parcel bomb scare of May 1919:

"The foremost Italian anarchist in America at that time was Luigi Galleani, a charismatic orator who believed that violence was necessary to overthrow the capitalists who oppressed the workingman. Galleani emigrated from Italy in 1901 and lived in New Jersey, Canada and Vermont, occasionally running into trouble with the authorities but always defiant and uncompromising in his beliefs....

"The work of Galleani and his disciples had a public side and a hidden side. They spread the gospel of anarchy through newsletters, speeches, social events and plays. But an inner cadre occasionally used bombs to get the message across. Four Galleanists died while planting a bomb in a Massachusetts textile mill. A female member of the group was arrested on a Chicago-bound train with a satchel full of dynamite.... Over the years, there were scattered incidents of bombing in New York City, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Boston, and Milwaukee.

"Criminal investigations and trials were hampered by the need to collect sufficient evidence. Conspiracies are by their nature difficult to prosecute - it is difficult to establish who did what. Justice officials were certain that Galleani was behind many bombing incidents. Lacking direct evidence, they could not prosecute him, but they could deport him because he was a resident alien who preached criminal anarchy....

"In October 1918, Congress passed a new law aimed at resident aliens, the Anarchist Act. Historian and anarchist expert Paul Avrich notes the new law meant ''for the first time mere membership in an anarchist organization or possession of anarchist literature for the purpose of propaganda became grounds for eviction from the country,'' no matter how long an immigrant had lived in America. If he was not a citizen, he could be deported.

"In response, Galleani and his followers declared war on the U.S. government and announced their intentions through a published flyer: ''Deportation will not stop the storm from reaching these shores. The storm is within and very soon will leap and crash and annihilate you in blood and fire...We will dynamite you!''

"In late April [1919], three dozen small bombs destined for a cross-section of prominent politicians, justice officials, and financiers such as John D. Rockefeller were sent through the mail. Only a few of the packages were delivered. Although the design of the bombs was ingenious and the ''infernal machines,'' (as the newspapers called them) were carefully packaged to look like store samples, the plotters had neglected to add sufficient postage. Once the authorities realized that the packages marked ''Gimbel Brother's - Novelty Samples'' contained bombs, postal officials managed to intercept them. No one was killed by the few that were delivered, but when Sen. Hardwick's maid opened the package sent to his home in Georgia, her hands were blown off. Hardwick was on the anarchist's hit list because he co-sponsored the deportation bill. Like virtually all prominent men, Hardwick did not open his own mail and the punishment fell on a black servant.

"The anarchists intended their bombs to be delivered on May Day, the international day of revolutionary solidarity.

"A month later, the anarchists managed to blow up eight large bombs, nearly simultaneously, outside the homes of judges, politicians and a factory owner who had drawn their ire. Judge Albert F. Hayden of Boston, Judge W.H.S. Thompson and Judge Charles Nott of New York sent anarchists to jail for protest and conspiracy. W.W. Sibray of the Bureau of Immigration presided over deportation hearings. In Paterson, N.J., a bomb exploded at the home of Harry Klotz, a powerful mill owner. The politicians on their hit list had endorsed anti-sedition laws and deportation - Mayor Harry L. Davis of Cleveland, Massachusetts State Reps. Leland Powers and A. Mitchell Palmer. This was their second attempt on Attorney General Palmer's life. But once again, none of the anarchists' intended targets, or their wives and children, perished in the attacks and the only fatalities were a night watchman, a female passer-by, and one of the anarchists.

"That anarchist was Carlo Valdinoci, Galleani's dashing young lieutenant. He was blown to bits in front of Palmer's house. He either tripped over his bomb as he was about to place it on Palmer's porch or the bomb went off prematurely. The police collected Valdinoci's remains over a two block area. His luxuriant dark curly hair, which the anarchist women used to sigh over, landed with his scalp on the roof across the street. But to the great frustration of the police, the only pieces of Valdinoci that they really needed, his finger-tips, were atomized in the blast. For some time they did not know the identity of the dead bomber, but strongly suspected he was an anarchist. All of the bombs were delivered with a flyer that promised, "war, class war, and you were the first to wage it under the cover of the powerful institutions you call order, in the darkness of your laws...There will have to be bloodshed; we will not dodge; there will have to be murder: we will kill, because it is necessary; there will have to be destruction; we will destroy to rid the world of your tyrannical institutions.''

"The Washington Post averred, "the series of bomb outrages occurring simultaneously in eight American cities may now serve as a warning as to what wavering, indecision and weakness inevitably lead to in dealing with the new brand of Bolshevik-anarchy which is fastening itself like a foul growth on the life of the country." Prominent labor leaders countered that while they did not condone the violence, it showed that people were being driven to desperate measures by unjust working conditions and heartless capitalists."

[In short order, and after mass deportations, public anxiety subsided:]

"A. Mitchell Palmer... may have won the war against radicals but [he] lost the verdict of history. The "infamous" Palmer Raids are generally condemned as an "hysterical" overreaction that trampled on basic legal freedoms "illegally, brutally and viciously." Palmer is dismissed as a political opportunist who used the ''Red Scare'' to advance his bid for the presidency."

The anarchists who battled both capitalists and the courts, are now almost forgotten. America's new enemy is more numerous and if anything more determined - yet as long as we are unafraid to name them and fight them, they will destroy themselves before they destroy us. If the worst outcome of our long war with jihad is that years from now, university professors excoriate the politicians and soldiers who fought the terrorists, while dismissing the jihadist threat as a trumped-up political scare -- oh, wait a minute, they are doing that now.