29/04/2013 13:37 BST | Updated 29/06/2013 06:12 BST

The Boston Bombing Was Terrorism: A Response to Steven Kurlander


On Saturday, the Huffington Post posted an article by Steven Kurlander titled 'A Lesson of the Boston Bombings: Stop Classifying Criminal Anarchist Violence as Acts of War.' It's a ridiculous title, but one that sums up the article's argument perfectly. The article, unfortunately, is the sloppiest piece of opinion journalism I have read on the Boston bombings outside of the New York Post.

In it, Kurlander makes the argument that the bombing was not an act of terrorism, but a criminal bombing carried out by anarchists, stating "the Tsarnaev brothers were nothing more than immigrant anarchists carrying on a tradition of political violence."

The first claim, that the Boston bombing was not an act of terrorism seems silly to have to argue. A bomb was set off at a crowded civilian event by individuals believing it furthered their political and religious cause. According to the Washington Post, the surviving suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev claimed him and his brother were motivated by America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is literally textbook terrorism.

Kurlander attempts to back up his claim that this was "criminal anarchist violence" by selectively citing historical examples. He cites Leon Czolgosz, the assassin of president McKinley, and self-proclaimed anarchist, and the followers of Luigi Galleani, who famously advocated for "propaganda of the deed." It can be debated whether assassination is technically terrorism, but regardless, both these men engaged in violence for political means and Galleani advocated and encouraged the use of terrorism. It's worth noting the majority of anarchists at the time repudiated Czolgosz's actions. While the philosophical ethics of using violence against an oppressive state is debated today, violence against people is not. It is completely rejected by anarchists. It is seen as an immoral, authoritarian action.

It is a re-writing of history to claim anarchists have historically held a monopoly on violence. Kurlander argues that labelling the Boston bombing as terrorism, and not "criminal anarchist violence" is due to a "lack of reference to American historical precedent over the last two centuries." Kurlander's article lacks reference to nearly all of American history for the last two centuries.

We can start with assignations, as Kurlander has pointed that out an an anarchist practice. Other than McKinley, three American Presidents have been assassinated - Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer and supporter of slavery; Garfield by Charles J. Guiteau, a preacher angered at not receiving an Ambassadorship; and Kennedy, by Lee Harvey Oswald, a communist. Of those who unsuccessfully attempted assassination, the majority were mentally ill with no ideology, one was a Zionist, and an attempt on Bush Senior was carried out by the Iraqi Intelligence Service.

Further, Martin Luther King was assassinated by a white nationalist, Fred Hampton was assassinated by the Chicago Police Department, and Harvey Milk by a San Francisco Supervisor.

The problem with claiming acts of terrorism are confined to any ideology, religion, or philosophy is that the author can pick any one of them and find an example of violence. Terrorism has been carried out by people of every religion and ideology. Buddhists are currently killing and assaulting Muslims in Burma. Christians have bombed abortion clinics, the Philadelphia Police dropped a bomb on the MOVE house in 1985, destroying 65 homes and killing five children and six adults. In US history, by far the ideology with the most followers to engage in terrorism, is white nationalism. The KKK alone has terrorized the nation for a century and a half, killing, at minimum, over 3,000 people. Though by far, the largest purveyor of terrorism, either directly, or through institutions like the School of the Americas, has been the State.

Anarchists oppose oppression of any kind, including racism, sexism, homophobia, and hierarchy. They embrace community and personal freedom. They reject organized religion and the state, who they see as violent by nature (and have about 3,000 years of history to back up the claim.) In the United States, anarchists have been at the heart of nearly every progressive movement of the last couple centuries.

The Industrial Workers of the World, the union most responsible for the eight hour day, child protection laws, and the unionization of the workforce, were anarcho-syndicalists. The Yippies were anarchists, and Occupy Wall Street (OWS) was initiated and organized primarily by anarchists. David Graeber, the noted anthropologist and anarchist, coined the phrase "We Are the 99 per cent." More recently, An outgrowth of OWS, Occupy Sandy, received praise as an effective hurricane relief organization from the NYC Mayors Office, the New York Times, and the National Guard, among others. Occupy Sandy operates on the anarchist philosophy of mutual aid.

What is dangerous about Kurlander's article, is the unfounded ammunition it provides for the state to continue vilification and harassment of anarchists. Kurlander argues that by calling the Boston bombing "terrorism" it frames it "as an act of war," allowing "the federal government to violate and decrease our constitutional rights and individual liberties in the name of fighting terrorism." The sad irony is that his article contributes to the State's efforts to do exactly that based on a political belief.

In 1927 Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were executed for murder. Their conviction was based almost exclusively on their anarchist beliefs and the yellow journalism of the time that blared accusations largely similar to Kurlander's. It wasn't until fifty years later that Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis stated they had received an unfair trial and conviction and issued a proclamation that ""any disgrace should be forever removed from their names."

In September of last year, a grand jury in Portland, Oregon began subpoenaing anarchists for no other reason than to discuss their political activities and those of their friends. They refused to cooperate with what was essentially a witch hunt and were taken into custody. Three anarchists spent over five months in prison, two of those months in solitary confinement, with the final prisoner only being released, after a judge's order, on April 12th.

Accusations like those made by Kurlander and attempts to associate anarchism with terrorism only serve to help the state violate the rights of its most radical citizens. Radical citizens sharing the philosophy of Henry David Thoreau (anarchist,) Charlie Chaplin (anarchist,) Noam Chomsky (anarchist,) and others. And it's just sloppy.

An "act of anarchy," as Kurlander has called it, isn't a bomb going off. That's terrorism. An act of anarchy is the residents of Staten Island calling a community meeting when the city and state are not providing relief.