Avoid temptation to seek partisan advantage from pipe bomb arrest

The arrest of Cesar Sayoc Jr. for the flurry of pipe bombs directed against liberal and left wing icons leaves many questions unanswered. It does seem to put to rest the conspiracy theory of a “false flag” operation organized by the hard left to demonize the hard right or the Trump administration. But we still do not know whether the pipe bombs were intended to kill or merely to frighten. The FBI has determined that these bombs were not hoax devices, but they have not disclosed whether they were capable of lethally exploding. Either way the perpetrator must be condemned in the strongest of terms and tried for serious crimes.

The entire episode brings back painful memories of the Weathermen and other radical left wing organizations that planted bombs in the 1970s. The Weathermen and other radical leftist groups targeted universities, army bases, police officers, banks, and other establishment places and people. The death toll was considerable, and the fear was palpable. At about the same time, the Black Panthers, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and other radical leftist groups terrorized the United States.


So far no one has tried to glorify the arrested person responsible for the recent pipe bombs. Although President TrumpDonald TrumpEx-Trump lawyer Cohen to pen forward for impeachment book Murkowski says it would be 'appropriate' to bar Trump from holding office again Man known as 'QAnon Shaman' asks Trump for pardon after storming Capitol MORE has condemned the alleged perpetrator, it would not be surprising if some right wing extremists took perverse pleasure and pride in the attacks on the left wing icons. This is different from how some liberals glorified the Weathermen, Black Panthers, and other hard left terrorists. Left wing lawyers, who would never defend an accused right wing terrorist, rushed to represent these radical groups, while prominent liberals contributed to defense funds and attended fundraising parties. Films, books, plays, and articles sought to understand the motives of these young murderers.

Years later, Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden's chief aide says president wants teams, no rivals Where is the campus debate on immigration? Gerald Ford Foundation urges 'dignified' presidential transition MORE befriended Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, who had been active members of the Weathermen and supporters of violent terrorism. Both Ayers and Dohrn were invited to teach at well known American universities, as was Kathy Boudin, who had served a long prison term for participating in a terrorist inspired robbery that resulted in the deaths of two police officers and one armored guard and seriously injured another guard. It is difficult to imagine any American universities appointing a right wing terrorist, even one who had served time and claimed to be rehabilitated. It is fair to say that public attitudes held by some liberals were somewhat sympathetic to left wing terrorists.

Tragically, we have seen terrorism in the United States on both sides of the political spectrum. The Ku Klux Klan was a violent radical group with significant support from political figures and ordinary citizens. During the first decades of the 20th century, left wing anarchists planted bombs and engaged in other forms of violence that killed many innocent people. More recently, hard left violence was targeted at Republican lawmakers as they practiced for a charity baseball game, wounding several people, including Congressman Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseScalise labels Capitol rioting 'domestic terrorism' Tensions flare between House Republicans, Capitol Police over metal detectors Trump, House GOP relationship suddenly deteriorates MORE. A threatening letter claiming it contained ricin was sent to Senator Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time McConnell says he's undecided on whether to vote to convict Trump 'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack MORE because she voted to confirm Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughMurkowski says she is not considering joining Democratic caucus Murkowski becomes first GOP senator to call on Trump to resign 50-50 Senate opens the door to solutions outlasting Trump's moment of violence MORE to the Supreme Court. These and other hard left threats have been directed against prominent Republican leaders.

The extreme right and the extreme left both have a penchant for lawlessness that fuels violence and terrorism. It is ahistorical to identify such terrorism only with either the hard right or the hard left, though partisans always seem to do that when it serves their own ideological interests. The hard right and the hard left share a distrust of dialogue, an intolerance toward those with whom they disagree, and a willingness to use despicable means to achieve what they believe are desirable ends.

All Americans should condemn terrorism, regardless of its source, but conservatives have a special obligation to condemn right wing terrorism, just as liberals have a special obligation to condemn left wing terrorism. No one should be given a pass. It is not that conservatives are responsible for right wing terrorism or that liberals are responsible for left wing terrorism. The point is that right wing terrorists often falsely claim to be acting on behalf of the conservative agenda. Similarly, left wing terrorists sometimes falsely claim to be acting on behalf of the liberal agenda. It is too easy for conservatives and liberals to condemn the other side.

Both sides have to disassociate themselves from violence on their side of the political spectrum. In the days to come, we will learn more about the alleged perpetrator and his motives. For now, it is enough to applaud law enforcement for the arrest, and for all decent Americans to avoid the temptation to seek partisan advantage from this frightening episode.

Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus, at Harvard Law School. He is the author of “Trumped Up: How Criminalizing Politics is Dangerous to Democracy” and “The Case Against Impeaching Trump.” He is on Twitter @AlanDersh and Facebook @AlanMDershowitz.