Fox & Friends invited me on air today to discuss how The Washington Post could run a small obituary on left-wing domestic terrorist Dwight Armstrong and describe in the headline only as a "Vietnam War protester." In 1970, Armstrong and three others bombed Sterling Hall at the University of Wisconsin, killing researcher Robert Fassnacht and injuring three others. [Audio available here]
Growing up in Wisconsin, this bombing was revisited in the newspapers every five years or so, and someone always tried to revise history to explain why blowing up an innocent man was defensible. After Armstrong died, Madison’s local alternative newspaper Isthmus defended the bombing “in perspective” again. Their feelings of being government targets were not a “paranoid fantasy,” the writer, Dave Wagner, insisted, after police shot students at Kent State and Black Panther radicals like Fred Hampton.
But even if you felt you were at war with the government, why would you blow up an innocent man? That’s simply terrorism. I imagine when Bill Ayers dies, the Washington Post will described him as an “author and educator,” not as a “bomber.”
Every other newspaper obit I found had the B-word (“bombing” or “bomber”) in the headline. In the New York Times, Margalit Fox had a strong opening:
Dwight Armstrong, one of four young men who in 1970 bombed a building on the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison, killing one person and injuring several others — a political protest that, gone violently wrong, endures in the national memory as an act of domestic terrorism — died on June 20 in Madison.
The only problem with that is that Armstrong and his cohorts didn't see their action as "going wrong." They did set off the bomb at 3:42 am, checking the windows to see anyone in the building. But the Times wrote they bombed it, and went for Cokes:
The four men drove to a truck stop north of town, where they celebrated with a round of Cokes, Karl Armstrong said. Soon after, they heard on the car radio that a man had died in the blast.
Dwight Armstrong maintained the bombing was a political necessity. "Something had to be done, something dramatic, something that showed people were willing to escalate this at home as far as they were willing to escalate it in Vietnam," he told the left-wing Madison newspaper The Capital Times in 1992.
In 1991, PBS aired a documentary called "Making Sense of the Sixties," that was about 94 percent leftists on camera justifying their protests. But conservative David Keene came on briefly to recall that when he went to the University of Wisconsin at that time, he bet a friend he could find someone in the student union within a half hour to defend the bombing (and murder), and it took him about two minutes.