This week in terrorism history: Nov. 28-Dec. 4

Burned school buses in Pontiac, MI. The aftermath of a 1971 Ku Klux Klan firebombing.

This week’s look back at the recent history of terrorism in the United States hits pretty close to home for me. And I mean that literally. The two attacks that will be described below both took place in Michigan, the state where I hang my hat.

It got me thinking about the extent to which Michigan has been the site of terrorist incidents over the last few decades, and so I dove into the Global Terrorism Database for some answers. Here’s what I found.

From 1970 through 2018, the time period the GTD covers, 47 separate terrorist attacks were recorded in the state of Michigan. Geographically, there are few areas of the state which aren’t represented in the data, from Escanaba and Houghton up in the Upper Peninsula, Grand Rapids on the westside, Mesick in mid-Michigan, and Detroit in the southeast.

Detroit, in fact, was the location of the most recorded attacks, 14 in all with the most recent in 2009. Coming in second was Ann Arbor, the scene of six attacks, followed by East Lansing with five. In the cases of both Ann Arbor and East Lansing, incidents there are most likely a function of their status as home to the state’s two largest universities, the University of Michigan and Michigan State University respectively. The connection to the universities emerges when we look at the perpetrators of Michigan attacks.

Of the 47 incidents captured in the GTD, 27 percent, the largest fraction, are attributed to leftist militants, including so-called “student radicals,” and occurred during 1970 and 1971. The second largest fraction of attacks is attributed to the Earth Liberation Front, at 23 percent. That percentage rises to 27 percent if we combine ELF attacks with those attributed to the Animal Liberation Front and other radical animal-rights groups. Most of those incidents occurred between 1999 and 2003.

Rounding out the rest of the perpetrators, anti-abortion militants accounted for 12 percent of attacks, white supremacists 10 percent, jihadists 2 percent, others (such as the Jewish Defense League, the Black Liberation Army, and anti-technology militants) account for 8 percent, and in the final 12 percent of cases attribution could not be determined.

To summarize, Michigan is no stranger to the phenomenon of domestic terrorism. We’ve experienced it since 1970, long before the self-proclaimed Wolverine Watchmen plotted to kidnap and murder Gov. Gretchen Whitmer just year ago. Now on to this week’s examples:

  • Dec. 1, 1986 — Kalamazoo, MI: Militant anti-abortion activists carry out an arson attack against the Reproductive Health Care Center of Planned Parenthood in Kalamazoo. There were no casualties, but the building was destroyed in the fire.
  • Dec. 4, 1986 — Lathrup Village, MI: A bomb is planted in front of the Woman’s Care Clinic of Southfield in Lathrup Village, a Detroit suburb. The bomb was discovered by a clinic employee and defused by state police. Anti-abortion radicals were blamed in the attack.

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