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New Nonfiction: Days of Rage

In June 1970 Roth, Stein, and Fliegelman were living with several others in an apartment they rented on Amity Street in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn. Fliegelman had purchased dynamite in Vermont under an assumed name; he kept it in a garage they rented nearby. Forty years later, he shudders at the memory of that first bombing, at NYPD headquarters. “That first one was the scariest,” he recalls. “We knew if we did this, they would come after us.”

The “casers” identified a second-floor men’s room as an ideal spot to hide a bomb; it was just 125 feet from the police commissioner’s office. In the years to come, public bathrooms would become Weatherman’s favorite target. Stall doors allowed a measure of privacy, and many bathrooms could be locked from within. At the Amity Street apartment, Fliegelman built the bomb using his new design, about fifteen sticks of dynamite and a Westclox alarm clock purchased at a Radio Shack. The challenge was smuggling it into the building; they couldn’t risk having a backpack or briefcase searched. In the end, Fliegelman says, they hollowed out a thick law book and placed the bomb inside. Exactly who walked it through security and placed it above a ceiling tile in the bathroom has never been disclosed, but by Tuesday afternoon, June 10, the bomb was in place. “It wasn’t like they had metal detectors back then,” Fliegelman says. “There was just a guy at a desk, and we walked right past him.”

That night at 6:30 they telephoned in the warning. At that moment about 150 people were inside the building. Police operators got this kind of call routinely in 1970; it was ignored. Seventeen minutes later, at 6:47, the bomb exploded, its deep boom ringing through the narrow streets and alleys of Little Italy. The blast demolished two walls of the bathroom, blowing a hole in the floor twenty feet wide and forty feet long, destroying an office on one side, shattering dozens of windows and catapulting a cloud of soot and smoke into Centre Street; chunks of granite the size of cinder blocks crushed two cars below. Eight people were treated for injuries, none of them serious.

Forty years later Weatherman bombings can blur together, a string of dates and buildings. The attack on NYPD headquarters, however, was unprecedented; it left the department and the entire city government deeply shaken. “Our problem,” as one police commander put it, “is not the damage to the building or to our own morale. Our problem is the feeling that if the police cannot protect themselves, how can they protect anyone else?”

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  • Contrarian

    Without question one of the best books I have ever read. As one who lived through the era of the Weathermen, etc. it is remarkable how little I understood about the main actors of the “Movement”. Bryan Burrough breaks down all the radical groups of that time, in clear and readable prose. The idea of assembling and making sense of the documents and characters involved and turning this information into a compelling volume seems impossibly challenging, but he has done it. It has taken very impressive research. “Days of Rage” is a page-turner…a book that brings back those “days of rage” and also explains the motivations and mindsets as well as actions of the radicals.

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