Close your eyes and imagine the following scene. It’s 2057. Boston’s mayor steps before a crowd of reporters and says how excited she is about the Patriots’ playoff run. She’s asked her opinions on national political developments. She makes a statement about a nor’easter bearing down on New England. Then, the big one: “Anything to say about the president’s decision to commute the sentence of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?”
The mayor rises to her full height and leans into the microphone. The fire of righteous political indignation burns in her eyes. “He, first of all, was not personally involved in violence. He renounced terrorism as part of the agreement to be released,” she declares. “This is a guy in his 70s. He’s served his time. I think it’s time to turn a page.” The mayor pulls back from the mic with a look of smug satisfaction. She has just cosigned her name—and, she hopes, her political future—to the reversal of a great historical injustice.
Can you imagine it? Of course you can’t. It would not only be an outrage but also an obvious lie. Bostonians would storm City Hall and dump this fictional future mayor into the Charles River. And she would deserve it.
While no Boston politico today would dream of making such an outrageous claim about a man who terrorized that city, the current mayor of New York used just those words Monday about Oscar Lopéz Rivera, the convicted terrorist mastermind of the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN). A clandestine Marxist-Leninist organization seeking the “liberation” of Puerto Rico from “Yanqui capitalist” rule, the FALN took responsibility for planting dozens of bombs in New York City during the mid-seventies and early eighties.
FALN bombs are known to have killed at least five people, wounded scores more, and caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage. Oscar López Rivera—whose sentence was commuted by former president Barack Obama last week—was indisputably one of the FALN’s leaders. He has never denied it.
In the pre-digital and pre-DNA era, the FBI was unable to make a definitive physical case against Lopéz Rivera. But investigators presented a strong circumstantial case at his trial. Lopéz Rivera flew to New York from Chicago shortly before the first FALN bombs went off in the Big Apple in 1974. He flew back days later. After the deadly Fraunces Tavern bombing in 1976, the FBI moved against the FALN. Lopéz Rivera and several colleagues went on the lam. He was arrested during a traffic stop in a Chicago suburb in 1981 after giving cops a false name. His car was full of burglary tools, as well as a pistol with the serial number scrubbed off. When police raided his apartment, they found more guns, six pounds of dynamite, four blasting caps, FALN propoganda, and numerous forms of false identification.
Confronted with the FBI’s case against him, López Rivera refused to argue his innocence. “I am an enemy of the United State government,” he told federal judge Thomas McMillen at his sentencing in 1983. After López Rivera was arrested and jailed, FALN bombs continued to explode in New York City; the organization’s communiqués specifically protested his treatment behind bars. In the late 1980s, the FBI intercepted López Rivera’s communications with associates planning to break him out of the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth. The plot they cooked up involved the use of grenades and a helicopter and the murder of prison guards. Nice guys.
In 1999, when offered conditional clemency by President Clinton, López Rivera again declined to argue—as de Blasio and City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito do now—that he was wrongfully accused, wrongfully convicted, and wrongfully imprisoned. Instead, he opted to remain behind bars until every last one of his FALN comrades was released. These are hardly the actions of an innocent man. They are the actions of the leader of an armed conspiracy to kill and maim civilians, to disrupt the peace of cities like New York, and to achieve through violence what couldn’t be gained through politics. No more than 6 percent of Puerto Ricans support the FALN’s goal of independence. The vast majority of Puerto Ricans voted in a 2012 referendum for closer ties with the United States.
The FALN’s bloody history in New York City apparently means little to de Blasio or Mark-Viverito. As has been heavily reported, de Blasio flirted with radical Latin American causes during his younger years, cavorting with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. He and his wife honeymooned in Communist Cuba. The FALN are evidently his kind of people. Mark-Viverito has long claimed that López Rivera was in jail for his beliefs rather than his actions. Now that he’s getting out, she, too, is making an argument on Lopéz Rivera’s behalf that he himself has never made. “He’s not accused of having inflicted any harm, and he’s not directly linked to any act of violence,” she said. “He has clearly expressed that he does not support violence, and he embraces peace.”
Mark-Viverito should be ashamed of herself for defending a leader of an organization that planted bombs in New York—and in her own district, no less. On December 11, 1974, rookie cop Angel Poggi responded to a telephone report of a dead body at 336 East 110th Street. There was no body, but there was a booby-trap bomb planted by the FALN. When Poggi tried the abandoned building’s door, the bomb went off. Officer Poggi lost his right eye in the explosion. It was his first day on the job.
De Blasio and Mark-Viverito have a history of making outrageous statements, but calling López Rivera an innocent man raises the bar significantly. Their statements are a slap in the face to the FALN’s victims and their families and a gut punch to all New Yorkers. Believe it or not, some New Yorkers’ memories reach back to the 1970s. They have neither forgotten nor forgiven the revolutionary excesses of that chaotic decade. Then, as now, many people had strong opinions about politics. Only a very few resorted to violence.
Is there a Bostonian today who can forget the anguish of the 2013 marathon bombing? Or an Oklahoma City resident who would argue that Timothy McVeigh was wrongfully convicted? Yet in New York, we have people making equivalent arguments about atrocities committed here. And they’re not your eccentric neighbor—they’re the leaders of city government.
Photo by nycmayorsoffice/Flickr