Twenty-three years ago, a violent anti-technology, anti-materialism, anti-government group that called itself MOVE embarked upon a campaign of terror that brought the city of Philadelphia to its knees. It was the second time that MOVE had done so. The first, in August 1978, ended in a shoot-out at the end of which four policemen and four firefighters were wounded and one police officer was dead.
Nine MOVE members were arrested, tried, convicted, and sent to prison for terms of 30 to 100 years each. After their convictions, MOVE relocated to Osage Avenue. Then it embarked upon a systematic program of harassing, intimidating, and terrorizing its neighbors in an effort to force the City of Philadelphia to release the killers. In effect, MOVE held the people who lived in the attached houses on that pleasant, tree-lined street as hostages.
Members of this radical, back-to-nature cult were armed and dangerous. They constructed a large military-style bunker on their rooftop and amassed caches of bombs, guns, and ammunition. They barricaded their windows and doors, sealed off the alleyway behind their house, hung raw meat to rot in their backyards, and screamed threats and obscenities though loudspeakers to obliterate the silence of the night.
All day. All night. MOVE shouted tirades through bullhorns at their long-suffering neighbors (in the excerpt that follows, *^%&$#! is a substitute for variations on a theme of the “F” word):
If MOVE go down…the knee joints of America will break and the body of America will soon fall…one of these days you…gonna be looking down at the *^%&$#! barrel of a gun…we willin to go down six feet under for y’all *^%&$#!. We willing to take six *^%&$#! bullets to get one of y’all *^%&$#! … this *^%&$#! city gonnna be a goddamn ghost town.
For seven years, the people on Osage Avenue pleaded with the city for relief. Government officials, gun-shy after their first encounter with MOVE, dawdled. They delayed. They dillydallied. Finally, however, they came up with a plan. They would serve warrants on four members of MOVE in their house and then make the arrests.
The confrontation began at dawn.
The disastrous events that followed included a police helicopter dropping a bomb made of C-4 and Tovex on MOVE’s roof to demolish the bunker. The roof went on fire. This fire and a subsequent gun battle between MOVE and the police resulted in 61 houses burning down, the deaths of eleven people, and 250 residents of Osage Avenue being left homeless.
My involvement with MOVE started when my late great husband, Charlie King, was asked by the Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission to determine the origin and cause of that fire. During the course of Charlie’s investigation, I became fascinated by MOVE’s terror tactics, and equally fascinated by the nature of terrorism and how violent fanatics interact with governments, the media, and regular old you and me.
The years went by. Five years. Ten. Fifteen. Sixteen. My interest in terrorists waned.
Then came the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001.
My eyes popped open.
My brain began to churn.
I remembered what I had once learned, and I started to see Islamic militants implementing the same tactics as earlier had been utilized by MOVE. I also began to see an obliging media accommodating these enemies of the free world with either an obliviously inaccurate or willfully suspect use of language. One word, in particular, began to etch deep furrows into my brow.
As usual, I consulted Webster’s Third New International Dictionary.
INSURGENT: 1. a person who rises in revolt against civil authority or an established government. 2. one that acts contrary to the policies and decisions of his political party.
Are insurgents and terrorists one and the same? I wondered.
I returned to my research.
In his book, Terror-Violence, Robert A. Friedlander defines terrorism as, “the use of force or the threat of force directed against third parties for primarily ideological, financial, or psychological purposes.”
Clearly, the residents of Osage Avenue were the third parties against whom the threat of force was directed by MOVE in their confrontation with the city of Philadelphia.
Friedlander continues, “When political terrorists strike out at innocent third parties, their real intent is the destabilization of governments and demoralization, or even panic, among the public-at large
Bear with me. I have three more quotations to run by you. Then I’ll leave you alone.
In “Minority Report,” an article for The Nation magazine, Christopher Higgins wrote that one hallmark of a terrorist is his affinity for hopeless causes. The terrorist must be “without a realizable manifesto, program or objective…violence must be his end as well as his means.”
Commonweal magazine, in “Terrorism Pure and Complex,” tells us that, “Again and again, terrorists strike in situations where the political realm, however recalcitrant, does offer possibilities – which the terrorists, damning such political efforts as illusion and betrayal, want to foreclose.”
Lastly, Douglas S. Derrer writes in “Countering Terrorism” for Proceedings magazine, that “Terrorism is dependent upon the news media to amplify its political and psychological ‘fire power,’ to provide publicity, carry its message, garner support, and influence public opinion.”
Which brings us back to the concept of “insurgents” and the war in Iraq.
Article continued in next week’s column.
Shelly Reuben is an Edgar-nominated author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit: shellyreuben.com.
Copyright © 2008, Shelly Reuben