Rose By Any Other Name

The first ominous thing I noticed was that the elevator had no buttons so it could not be operated by its occupant, which was me, but rather it was being stopped and started remotely by someone I couldn’t see.

The elevator came to a stop, the door opened and a guard at the Metropolitan Corrections Center escorted me to a room where a tall, good looking, bearded man with red hair in an orange jumpsuit sat at the table awaiting me. I had no idea of what was ahead but what transpired haunts me to this day.

When I left the interview with Thomas Manning, I was stunned with his easy smile, his calm voice, his show of apparent honesty, warmth, humility and intelligence. He oozed charisma but this man was no saint. Manning, a Vietnam veteran, was in the federal detention center in New York City with three other members of a violent radical group who were awaiting trial for a series of bank robberies and bombings that they said were politically motivated. Manning and another man also were awaiting trial in New Jersey for the 1981 murder of N.J. State Trooper Philip Lamonaco.

I don’t know what I expected but I remember leaving jaw dropped after the interview with someone who had been accused of such heinous crimes but seemed like such a nice guy. I left wanting to know more about Manning and his cause.

Manning was convicted of all charges and died last year in a maximum security prison in the midwest.

Manning and his colleagues were part of a group that had widespread support from like-minded radicals. They called themselves revolutionaries but law enforcement called them terrorists. They didn’t rob banks, but rather “expropriated” funds for the revolution, which they expected would topple the government in due course.

I was 35 years old at the time and I shared much of Manning’s anger with the government. Years later and no longer naive, I can see Manning for what he was, a skilled manipulator who was at the same time a killer.

At the time, I was like prey for the spider as I fell for the romance of Manning’s rhetoric about tearing down the imperialist, racist, capitalist form of government. I met many of his followers and found them often idealistic and welcoming to new believers. Manning and the others were on the run, living underground lives for two years before they were caught and it was like the soundtrack for the adventures of American counterculture heroes like Pretty Boy Floyd or Bonnie and Clyde.

They were putting their lives on the line for their values; how much more life-affirming and American can you get.

During the two years that Manning awaited trials, I became friendly with many of his followers, including his lawyer, the late, flamboyant William F. Kunstler, who once kissed me on the cheek when we met. There were a number of bright, pretty, young women along with other deadly serious and totally committed, young men who looked like college students and talked about the evils of capitalism and the need for armed resistance.

I felt I was accepted into a group of intelligent people who followed their principles, something that was extremely attractive to outcasts, like me, who had always sought like-minded people with a cause. I went to support rallies where I joined with an upraised fist with calls of “amandala,” the Nguni word for “power” which was a popular rallying cry in the days of resistance against apartheid, used by the African National Congress in South Africa. I even bought a T-shirt with a picture of an upraised AK47 rifle.

I learned the rhetoric, the heroes and martyrs and the folklore, people like the Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara and Assata Shakur, known by her English name as Joanne Chesimard and wanted as a fugitive for killing a N.J. State Police Trooper.

There was talk for supporting other revolutionary efforts, like the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional, known as the FALN, which was a Puerto Rican clandestine paramilitary organization that, through violent action, advocated complete independence for Puerto Rico.

There were many underground radical groups during those years. Manning’s was known first as the Sam Melville/Jonathan Jackson Unit and later as the United Freedom Front.

I felt that I had been taken into the confidence of the radicals and it was an invigorating, empowering, sexual and romantic feeling. Away from the scene, I felt I had a secret life that I kept from friends and colleagues who I thought would never stand up for their beliefs.

Fortunately, I grew up a bit and drifted away from the Manning clique before I was recruited and brainwashed and had gotten so deep into the politics that I would one day either had been arrested or killed.

Today, with growing polarity and anger among Americans, the names and faces and the causes are different, but the formula for attracting disaffected young people by charismatic leaders for violent causes and the willingness of many to join in those causes continues. The groups are very active on the Internet where they try to appeal to disenfranchised, angry Americans to pick up a gun and begin the revolution.

Groups show their anger and willingness to use violence to attack the government and are identified by various symbols. They might carry the Gadsden flags, emblazoned with a rattlesnake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me.”

It might be a T-shirt with the a hashtag: #WWG1WGA, “Where we go one, we go all,” the rallying cry for Qanon, a group that believes in various conspiracy theories, including a Democrat-run child-sex-trafficking ring and a belief that figures like the pope and Joe Biden have been secretly executed and replaced with holograms.

Another group is known as the Three Percenters, a far right militia movement and paramilitary group that is identified by a flag with the Roman numeral III in the center of a ring of stars

One of the newer anti-government, anti-authority and potentially violent groups is known as “Bugaloo” and followers, who often include many veterans, wear Hawaiian shirts and tactical gear and carry guns and advocate the collapse of American society.

And like the terrorist groups of the 1980s, the new iterations also have their heroes and martyrs, people like Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted in the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 168. McVeigh bombed the building to show his opposition to what he believed were the U.S. government efforts to restrict rights of private citizens, in particular those under the Second Amendment.

A cause celeb of many of the far right groups is David Koresh, who was the leader of the Branch Davidian sect and was among 80 people who were killed in the 1993 assault by federal troops on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.

Another oft-cited martyr is Gordon Kahl, a decorated World War II veteran and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist who was killed in a shootout with federal marshals in 1983 after he and his son had killed two U.S. Marshals.

The faces change but domestic terrorism remains a major threat to United States. And the modus operandi has changed very little since the 1980s.




Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer

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Phil Garber

Phil Garber

Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer

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