This Week in History: April 18-24


25 years ago: Oklahoma City bombing trial begins

The Oklahoma City Federal Building after the explosion. (FEMA)

On April 24, 1997, opening statements were delivered at the trial of Timothy McVeigh for the 1995 Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing that killed 168 people, including 30 children. McVeigh faced the death penalty, charged with 160 state and 11 federal offenses. The identities of the jurors were kept secret by court order, and the panel sat behind a wall that prevented onlookers at the trial from seeing them.

Until the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, the Oklahoma City bombing was the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil. Another 680 people were injured and the attack destroyed more than a third of the building, destroyed hundreds of buildings on the surrounding blocks and caused $652 million in damage.

Lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler cited several expressions of McVeigh’s far-right views in order to demonstrate the political motivation for the bombing. At the time of his arrest, McVeigh was wearing a shirt celebrating the assassination of US President Abraham Lincoln. It also carried extracts of Turner’s Diaries, a fascist and anti-Semitic novel in which the hero blows up a federal building with a truck bomb similar to the one he used in the Oklahoma City bombing. McVeigh’s stated motivation was revenge against the federal government for the headquarters of the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas two years prior.

Defense attorney Steven Jones claimed in his opening statement that the identification of McVeigh as the suicide bomber was the product of false testimony by witnesses coerced by the government or influenced by pre-trial publicity. He also cited reports of systematic mishandling of physical evidence by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) lab.

The first major piece of evidence, the axle of the Ryder truck that carried the bomb, was to be presented after the first witnesses testified to the impact of the bomb explosion. McVeigh had been identified by an employee as the man who had rented the truck.

He was eventually convicted on all counts and sentenced to death. He was executed by lethal injection at the Federal Correctional Complex in Terre Haute, Indiana on June 11, 2001, six years after the Oklahoma City bombing.

50 years ago: Anti-war protests break out at US universities

Socialist Youth March to Protest US Bombing of Vietnam

During the week of April 18, 1972, a new wave of anti-war protests swept through colleges and universities across the United States.

The protests were sparked by news that the United States had launched a massive bombing campaign against North Vietnam in retaliation for the Easter Offensive which was steadily advancing in retaking territory in the south and encroaching on capital Saigon itself. of the US-backed puppet regime. of South Vietnam. American bombardments were largely aimed at civilian areas, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of Vietnamese non-combatants.

On several campuses, protests turned violent after police and National Guard forces were deployed to suppress students. Particularly intense clashes were reported at Columbia, Harvard, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Maryland.

Harvard students broke into the Center for International Affairs before police evicted them and imposed a curfew. In Columba, 2,000 students left classes and called for a strike until the end of the war. More than 4,000 people joined the protest at the University of Wisconsin protest, with some students throwing red paint at the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) building.

The protests were particularly intense at the University of Maryland. There, the students also targeted the ROTC building, with some attempting to burn it down. Several thousand people marched out to call for an end to the war and occupied a campus building. In scenes reminiscent of attacks on civil rights protesters, Maryland State Police were called in and used batons, gasoline and even dogs against the student anti-war protesters. In the aftermath, hundreds of National Guard soldiers were deployed to occupy the campus and arrested more than 150 students.

Most of the protests were led by middle-class protest organizations like the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Maoist-oriented Progressive Labor Party (PLP). While claiming to support the revolutionary struggle of Vietnamese workers and peasants against imperialism, these groups offered no political avenue for students beyond a call for the Nixon administration or the Democratic Party to end the war. .

The exception was a demonstration on April 22 organized by the Young Socialists (YS), the Labor League youth movement, the predecessors of the Youth and Student International for Social Equality and the Socialist Party. socialist equality.

More than 400 workers and young people came to join the demonstration of young socialists in New York. The YS called for the victory of the NLF against imperialism and for American anti-war protesters to turn to the working class and fight to build revolutionary leadership as a method to end the war. A speaker from the Workers’ League told the crowd: “The NLF’s spectacular victories in South Vietnam are the clearest expression of the international working class’ offensive against capitalism. This powerful working class movement can be seen in this country as millions of workers fight Nixon’s Pay Board.

75 years ago: start of the trial of Nazi industrialists in Nuremberg

Flick judged in Nuremberg

On April 19, 1947, six major German industrialists were brought to the dock at Nuremberg, accused of having participated in Nazi war crimes. The trial was one of several involving charges against the leading personnel of large German companies who had collaborated with Hitler’s Third Reich. It was an American military tribunal presided over by American judges, which followed the main tribunal at Nuremberg involving the four Allied powers, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union, as well as the United States. The trial also took place in Nuremberg because that city was part of the American-occupied zone in Germany.

Defendants in the April trial included Friedrich Flick and five high-ranking directors of his group of companies that operated as Flick Kommanditgesellschaft, or Flick KG. Flick had been a financial backer of the Nazi Party shortly after it seized power in 1933. He and his associates also reportedly benefited from the Nazi regime’s racist expropriations of Jewish-owned businesses. Flick’s network of mines and industrial enterprises had played a crucial role in Nazi weaponry.

The charges against Flick were limited to the World War II years. He and his co-accused were charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, participating in the enslavement of occupied peoples and their abuse as slave laborers; the plunder and despoliation of occupied territories, including the acquisition of factories and installations in countries seized by the Nazis; the persecution of the Jews and the “Aryanization” of property; membership in the Nazi Party and the high-ranking group Circle of Friends of Himmler, and participation in a criminal organization, the Nazi SS.

The court dismissed the charge of profiting from the persecution of Jewish businesses, as Nazi expropriations had taken place before the war. Three of the defendants were acquitted of all charges, two others were found guilty of only a minority of the listed offenses and received lenient sentences.

Flick was found guilty on three of the counts, including war crimes. He was sentenced to only seven years, with consideration for the time served. Flick didn’t even make it this time, being released in 1950 on the basis of an amnesty. By the end of the decade and less than 15 years after the end of the war, he had rebuilt his fortunes and was among the wealthiest people in West Germany.

100 years ago: American communist leader released from prison


On April 24, 1922, CE Ruthenberg, executive secretary of the Communist Party of America, was released on $5,000 bail from New York State Penitentiary at Dannemora, a maximum-security prison, after serving nearly two years a five-year sentence. phrasing.

Ruthenberg had been arrested in Chicago in 1919 at the request of New York authorities for violating the state’s Criminal Lawlessness Act of 1902. There had been no arrests under that law for 17 years when it was resurrected as part of a sweeping leftist and immigrant witch hunt, best known for the mass arrests as part of the notorious Palmer raids, instigated by US Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer and led by future FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover.

Ruthenberg had been part of the left-wing faction of the Socialist Party and had worked with leaders such as Louis Fraina to publish the revolutionary age, the first newspaper in the United States to support the aims of Bolshevism. The left wing, especially its stance against imperialist war, had been influenced by Leon Trotsky during his exile in New York in 1917, before returning to Russia to lead the October Revolution with Lenin.

Tried in October 1920 along with fellow communist IE Ferguson, Ruthenberg was subjected to an examination on the principles of socialism and the reasons for their affiliation with the socialist movement. In his statement to the court, Ruthenberg said: “I am going to prison because of the support of a great principle which will triumph despite all the courts, despite all the organizations of the capitalist class.”

A May 13 rally in New York of more than 3,000 people celebrated his release from prison.


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