How Politics Turns Violent

How Politics Turns Violent

By WNYC Studios

Notes from America

Tuesday, 30 May

The culture wars of the Boomer generation still shape our politics today. In this episode we look at those culture wars from another vantage point. Instead of focusing on the debates themselves, we ask the question: How do people move from radical politics to political violence?

On June 7, 1970 the group of young radical leftists known as the Weathermen, accidentally detonated bombs in a Greenwich Village townhouse. Their goal was to bomb an officers' event at the Army Base Fort Dix in New Jersey to protest the Vietnam war, but instead the bombs exploded in the basement and killed three of the five activists. Two fled. One was Cathy Wilkerson.  

WNYC producer Paige Cowett talks to Wilkerson 47 years later about what caused her to believe that bombing soldiers was justified. “The sad thing is I don't think we did think about it very much," said Wilkerson. “You think about the political impact. I think that's the way it is with warfare. You don't think about the life of the people that you're hurting or killing.”

Cowett also speaks with historian Michael Kazin, a radical leftist who did not resort to violent tactics, as well as Marc Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist and terrorism expert, who discusses the psychology of political radicalization. 

The shell of a Greenwich Village townhouse stands in the glare of emergency lights shortly after an explosion caused by persons making bombs in the basement, March 6, 1970, in New York. (Jerry Mosey/Associated Press)

Episode Contributors:

Kai Wright

Paige Cowett

Karen Frillmann

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