Last year was…a memorable one. When the world rang in the New Year, social media was bursting with memes declaring 2016 to be the worst year ever, with many fearing this year would be even worse.
Before you click the back button, know that this article is not about politics in that I am not saying one political party is better than another, nor am I saying that 2017 heralds the end of the world.
No. I am here to tell you that it’s all right, that this is not the end of the world. I say this because the seventies were way worse.
Ah, the seventies, a time when music was great, movies were daring, and…America didn’t quite know with to do with itself. The nation was divided: parents and children argued, the old were pitted against the young, liberals waged political war against conservatives, and the Beatles were coming to an end. While the seeds of this conflict were planted in the sixties, they came into full bloom in the seventies.
Still, this picture of the seventies that we remember today came into fruition in the previous year of 1969. If the sixties were a time of marching and protesting, from ’69 onward marching and peaceful protesting turned to rioting and violence.
A Decade of Rage
There were over six separate major incidences of terrorism that year alone: from the bombing and attempted bombing of two different California colleges in February to Sam Melville’s bombing of the Marine Midland Building in New York City that August.
The fall of 69 saw a sharp rise in terrorist activity. Jane Alpert, Sam Melville’s lover, bombed the Federal Building in New York City a month after Melville. Alpert was also responsible for bombing the Armed Forces Induction Center, also in New York. With October came the “Days of Rage,” where 800 protestors hoped to “bring the [Vietnam] war home,” hoping to start a new war from the Chicago streets. While these three days of rioting did contain much of the advertised rage, it did not start a war, but instead resulted in mass arrests, many injuries, businesses looted, car windows smashed, and started a new wave of violent protests.
In November, Alpert and Melville finished off their busy year detonating a bomb in the Manhattan Criminal Court, leading to their arrest.
While Melville was placed in prison, the Weathermen Underground was born.
The Weathermen and other domestic terrorist organizations burst on to the scene, quite literally, when Weathermen member Cathy Wilkerson’s’ townhouse in Greenwich Village prematurely detonated, setting the townhouse aflame and killing three people. The Weathermen soon declared war in retaliation for the death of Black Panther Fred Hampton, who was killed during an FBI raid in December of 1969.
In June of 1970, the Weathermen, now known as the Weathermen Underground Organization (WUO), took responsibility for the bombing of the New York City Police Department headquarters. The group would go on to attack the United States Capital, the Gulf Tower in Pittsburgh, and on May 19, 1972 the WUO even bombed the Pentagon.
The WUO might be the most well-known terror group of the time, but they were not the only ones involved in terrorist attacks. The Jewish Defense League were involved in bombings in New York and D.C. The Symbionese Liberation Army kidnapped Patricia Hearst, robbed many banks, was responsible for several deaths, and was behind many more crimes. Puerto Rican terrorist organization, the FALN, were behind the deadly bombing of the Fraunces Tavern in New York City, killing over fifty people. LaGuardia Airport in New York was bombed, killing eleven people and injuring nearly seven times as many, with the perpetrator unknown to this day. This was just the tip of the ice burg.
There were so many domestic terrorist attacks that they became common place, something, which seems unthinkable today.
These attacks only added to the political instability that shook the early seventies, which climaxed with the Watergate Scandal.
From the late 60’s up until the 80’s, America also experienced a crime wave with an emphasis placed on dangerous cults and that new breed of predators: the serial killer.
The summer of ’69 marked a string of murders by the Manson Family. While much has been made of the murder of actress Sharon Tate and several others at her house in Cielo Drive, the Manson Family also killed Leno and Rosemary La Bianca, violin teacher Gary Hinman, and even stuntman-turned-ranch hand, Donald Shea, when he grew suspicious of the group. The Manson Family was behind several more attempted murders, including the attempted murder of several of their own members who started to doubt Manson and his followers. This was not the end of the Manson family’s crime spree, devoted member Lynette Fromme, known by the moniker of “Squeaky,” attempted to assassinate President Gerald Ford in September of 1975. Interestingly enough, later that same month Sara Jane Moore would attempt to kill the president before being stopped by the secret service. As for the Manson Family, the group slowly disbanded, but everyone involved never forgot the murders of 1969.
The seventies ended with another killer cult on the news, this time it was the mass suicide of members of the Peoples Temple at Jonestown and the murder of five people, including a congressman, at the Port Kaituma airstrip, which preceded the mass suicides.
As shocking as these events were, one was still more likely to meet their end at the hands of the many killers that now roamed the streets.
California’s Zodiac Killer is believed to have claimed the lives of over twenty people, perhaps as high as thirty-seven, the Zodiac killer murdered several young couples, is alleged to have abducted a woman and her infant before the mother and child escaped, and all the while taunted law enforcement with letters and codes, before slipping away into the night, never definitively identified.
Notorious serial killer Ted Bundy left a trail of bodies behind him from 1974 to 1978, murdering over thirty women. John Wayne Gacy killed his first victim in 1972, killing and assaulting well over thirty people for six years, many of his victims were young boys. Dennis Rader, also known as the BTK killer due to binding, torturing, and killing his victims, murdered the Otero family in 1974.
There are many theories for what could have caused this sudden spike in crime with many attributing it to broken homes and single mothers to lead poisoning, but whatever the cause was did little to comfort the many victims’ families and friends who were left behind.
When you consider the alarming wave of left-wing domestic terrorism and brutal murders in the seventies, it is hardly surprising that the following decade would be a return to conservative values under the Regan administration.
While the seventies produced a lot of great music and ground-breaking movies, its political instability, the prevalence of domestic terrorism, and the troubling rise in crime all together make the seventies perhaps America’s most dangerous decade.
Recommended viewing and reading:
For more on the Weather Underground and 1969’s Days of Rage:
You can view Vanity Fair Confidential’s episode on these events here at Investigation Discovery. You can also read the original Vanity Fair articles by Bryan Burrough and the subsequent book he wrote on the events.
Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence. By: Bryan Burrough.
For more on the Manson Family Murders:
Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Family Murders. By: Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry.
There are also plenty of documentaries and television mini-series you can watch on the topic, plus countless of biographies and memoirs of those involved. Bugliosi’s book is the best place to start and is the definitive account of these events, perhaps even more reliable than the accounts given by the killers themselves.
For more on the Zodiac Murders:
Zodiac: The Full Story of the Infamous Unsolved Zodiac Murders in California. By: Robert Graysmith.
I also highly recommend watching David Fincher’s brilliant dramatization simply titled Zodiac.
For more on Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army:
I highly recommend you read Jeffrey Tobin’s recent book, American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes, and Trial of Patty Hearst.