Terrorism, which became a major international issue in the 1970s, refers to acts or threats of violence intended to intimidate political opponents or to publicize grievances. Modern terrorists use murder, bombing, airplane hijacking, kidnapping of hostages, and assassination to force the media, public opinion, and governments to address their demands. Groups most often accused of clandestine warfare or terrorism in the 1970s included the Irish Republican Army's Provisional Wing (IRA Provos), the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the Red Brigades in Italy, and the Baader-Meinhof gang in Germany.
The most notorious terrorist action of the decade was when Black September, a PLO terrorist group, killed Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich in September 1972. Despite this widely condemned act, by 1974 the United Nations and several Arab states recognized the PLO as the government of the Palestinian people.
In 1977 Ugandan dictator Idi Amin held hostage two hundred Americans living in his country, leading President Carter to plan a military invasion. Amin was persuaded to release the hostages. Terrorism came to the United States two weeks later. A small group of Hanafi Muslims held 130 people at gunpoint in three Washington, D.C., buildings. Federal officials ended the siege peacefully in three days.
Commercial flights were often subject to skyjackings by terrorists, and metal detectors and other security measures became common in American airports after a group of Black Panthers seized a plane in Florida in July 1972 and took it to Algeria with $1 million in ransom. The kidnapping of Patty Hearst in California in 1974 by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), an American terrorist gang, proved that this revolutionary and/or criminal tactic was not only a problem abroad.
As early as 1969 President Nixon had focused attention on domestic disorder, urban riots and campus unrest, directing Attorney General John Mitchell and Federal Bureau of Investigation Director J. Edgar Hoover to wage counterintelligence campaigns against radicals and domestic terrorists such as the Weathermen and the Black Panther Party. Although student radicalism was overestimated as a public-safety threat, the expanding war in Vietnam; the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy; and the televised violence between Chicago police and three thousand demonstrators at the 1968 Chicago Democratic National Convention created public fear. Conservative Americans and the emerging neoconservative lobby demanded law-and-order measures to curb the militant student protesters who could infect young Americans with terrorism like that seen in Japan, Italy, France, Germany, Mexico, and South Korea.
The Chicago Seven
The 1969 federal trial of the Chicago Seven for conspiracy to incite a riot proved Nixon's determination to suppress the radical leaders of the antiwar movement. President Nixon said, "It is not too strong a statement to declare that this is the way civilizations begin to die." The absurd nature of the trial aroused much sympathy for the defendants, especially when two Black Panther leaders, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, were killed by the Chicago police while sleeping. On 20 February 1970 Tom Hayden, one of the defendants in the Chicago trial, was sentenced to five years in prison for his role in the demonstrations, precipitating campus marches and riots across the country, but ultimately the Chicago Seven were effectively acquitted of all charges.
Nixon's invasion of Cambodia in May 1970 led to more demonstrations at one-third of the nation's colleges, from Yale to Stanford. The overreaction of state and federal government to college students' protests became clear on 4 May 1970, when the Ohio National Guard killed four peaceful Kent State University students at a campus protest rally, and a similar incident occurred eleven days later in Mississippi at Jackson State University. These tragedies coincided with the collapse of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the formation of a splinter group of terrorist guerrillas, the Weathermen. Taking their name from a line in a Bob Dylan song, the Weathermen used the paramilitary tactics of Che Guevara to effect more than 250 bombings and to resist what they saw as government oppression.
By 1970 many New Left groups were infiltrated by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies, who collected information, planted rumors, stole mail, and even incited illegal actions for which the militants could be arrested. When The New York Times reported the Cambodian bombing, Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, ordered the FBI to wiretap the telephones of White House staff members and journalists suspected of leaking information to aid the militant protesters.
More-serious terrorist activities faced the United States in 1979 when the shah of Iran's government was overthrown by Iranian revolutionaries led by the Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini. President Carter was faced with the kidnapping and torture of fifty-two American citizens in Tehran for more than a year. Carter refused Khomeini's demands that the United States return the shah for trial and that the United States apologize for aiding the shah's regime. This terrorist crisis contributed to Carter's defeat in the 1980 election by Ronald Reagan and was only resolved when Carter left office.