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Terrorism nothing new to America

Exhibit shows diverse, disquieting history

By Henry Schuster

Editor's Note: Henry Schuster, a senior producer in CNN's Investigative Unit and author of "Hunting Eric Rudolph," has been covering terrorism for more than a decade. Each week in "Tracking Terror," he reports on people and organizations driving international and domestic terrorism and efforts to combat those.

Red KKK hood
This red hood, worn by Ku Klux Klan officers, is one of many reminders of terrorism's history in America.




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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- John Brown. Leon Czolgosz. Bernardine Dohrn. These are the faces of American terrorism -- as much as Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph or Osama bin Laden.

All of them are reminders that terrorism is as old as America itself, having manifested itself in many different ways and for many different causes.

These individuals share space with Ku Klux Klan robes, anarchist bombs and grizzly reminders of the September 11, 2001, attacks at "The Enemy Within: Terror in America," an exhibit at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

"We want people to come away with an understanding that this is not the first time that Americans have felt terror; that there were other periods in American history when groups either from within or outside the country used terrorism against us," says Peter Earnest, the museum's executive director.

The exhibit brings these characters to life: Brown led the militant abolitionist raid on the Harpers Ferry Arsenal in October 1859. Czolgosz, an anarchist, assassinated President William McKinley in 1901. And Dohrn belonged to the Weather Underground, which carried out a bombing campaign in the 1970s in pursuit of an anti-capitalist and anti-war agenda.

Their rationalizations are as interesting as the characterizations. In an exclusive taped interview with the museum, Dohrn (who surrendered after years in hiding) talks about bomb-making; life on the run; and why she and her comrades shouldn't be called terrorists -- because they targeted buildings, rather than people.

As for Brown, convicted of treason and executed two months after the Harpers Ferry raid, Earnest says he is "a classic case" of the debate about defining terrorism: "One man's patriot is another man's terrorist."

Earnest says the museum, which is independent and privately run, has no political agenda.

The exhibit's introduction cites the government's definition of terrorism -- "the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives" -- and says its aim is to address how and when Americans felt under threat, and from whom.

Some displays we might easily recognize as terrorism-related, including a look inside a militia member's closet and photos of a bomb set off inside the U.S. Capitol by members of the Weather Underground. But there are also harder to categorize scenes, such as the British sacking of Washington in 1814 and wartime sabotage by German agents in 1916.

While many visit the museum to spy high-tech gadgets and gather insights on the CIA, KGB, Interpol and other such organizations, Earnest and the museum founder, Milton Maltz, think terrorism is a natural fit with the museum's main theme -- spying.

After all, Earnest says, both those who perpetrate terrorist attacks and those who work to prevent them work behind the scenes, sometimes with minimal support and resources, to gather intelligence and act -- sometimes violently, but most always covertly.

Homegrown terror

Perhaps the timeliest reminder of U.S. terror, on the heels of Edgar Ray Killen's recent conviction for his role in the 1964 killing of three civil rights workers, deals with the Ku Klux Klan.

The display recounts how former Confederate soldiers founded the Klan after the Civil War, ostensibly to help war widows and their children. But soon after, the KKK began a violent campaign against former slaves and whites sympathetic to them.

Photos and films detail some of the odious acts carried out by the Klan, including a century's worth of murders and bombings spread across the South. While much of that violence was concentrated in three concerted waves and has been largely stamped out, the KKK still sputters on in places.

"Would blacks have considered the Klan a form of state terrorism in places where the local sheriff and others were involved? Absolutely," says Earnest, explaining why it forms a large part of the exhibit.

A poster from June 1964 catches the eye and reminds you anew that this brand of American terrorism is not a distant memory. It shows three missing civil rights worker -- Andrew Schwerner, James Earl Cheney and Michael Goodman - who disappeared near Philadelphia, Mississippi.

start quoteWould blacks have considered the Klan a form of state terrorism in places where the local sheriff and others were involved? Absolutely.end quote
-- Spy museum director Peter Earnest

Just last month, after 41 years, Killen -- a part-time preacher and purported Klan member -- was convicted of manslaughter in their deaths.

Reaction or overreaction?

"The Enemy Within" does not spare U.S. authorities -- federal, state, local or otherwise. The companion guide to the exhibit suggests that slavery and some tactics used in the frontier wars against American Indians could also constitute terrorism.

Whatever one's political take, Earnest says the exhibit not only deals with how Americans have reacted to terrorism, but also "in some cases, [how they have] overreacted to the threat of terrorism."

A display about the detention of Japanese-Americans, which took place after the Japanese empire's attack on Pearl Harbor, fits this bill.

Another example relates to the first so-called Red Scare, in which the U.S. government and public linked fears about domestic disorder and revolution to the Russian Revolution, which recently had thrust communists to power.

Rare footage shows a bombing AT the home of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer in 1919. This attack was part of a nationwide bombing campaign in which anarchists, many of them foreign-born, targeted industrialists and politicians.

Such violence prompted a nationwide government crackdown, known as the Palmer Raids, which included thousands of arrests and deportations. The campaign also gave a career boost to J. Edgar Hoover -- then Palmer's deputy and later head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Eventually, there was a public outcry about tactics used in the Palmer Raids, as well as a scandal about innocent people being deported. This ruckus led not only to the end of the raids and deportations, but the founding of the FBI and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Historical events speak to a debate currently resonating in American society: How do you balance civil liberties and national security? Visitors can offer their take via computer polls placed all around the exhibit.

If these questions aren't relevant enough, consider the last image as you leave: a fragment of one of the commercial airplanes that crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11.

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