Chicago aldermen honored FALN (Armed Forces of National Liberation) terrorist Oscar Lopez-Rivera by naming a section of roadway after him. If only Leopold and Loeb, Al Capone, and John Wayne Gacy cloaked their crimes in a cause, then they, too, might now enjoy Second City street-sign salutes.
“He was a suspect of FALN bombings starting in July of 1976, when he and his friend Carlos Torres rented a room in an abandoned building,” retired FBI agent Donald Wofford tells The American Spectator. “When a source of the Chicago PD burglarized it, he found dynamite.”
Aside from turning his rental into a bomb factory, Lopez-Rivera tried to stick up an armored car, attempted to escape from prison, and, curiously, robbed a Carter-Mondale political office. Showing that no bad deed goes unrewarded, President Jimmy Carter’s Democratic successors both attempted to free the Puerto Rican terrorist before his 55-year sentence expired. Bill Clinton’s attempt in the ’90s, like Lopez’s in the ’80s, failed. The convict refused to agree to conditions, including renouncing past terrorism, that his comrades readily embraced. Seventeen years later, Barack Obama, attaching no such hassling stipulations, commuted Lopez-Rivera’s sentence before leaving office.
The FALN, which Lopez-Rivera helped found, set off more than 100 bombs in the ’70s and ’80s and killed a half dozen people. “They put down a whole series of bombs,” Wofford notes of the Chicago branch that Lopez-Rivera helped oversee. “By the grace of God, no one was killed.”
While Wofford concedes he can’t prove direct involvement of Lopez-Rivera in the deadly Manhattan blasts, he says the feds do not need to.
“I personally sat across the table from Oscar Lopez at a parole board meeting in 2011,” Wofford alleges. “Oscar looked at me and said yes, I was an FALN member, but I never laid down any bombs — a ludicrous statement. His attorney was there. I thought she would have a heart attack.”
Wofford explains that Lopez-Rivera separating himself from the acts but not the actors does not clear him legally, a fact surely not lost on his attorney. “The law doesn’t make any distinction,” he told The American Spectator. “You join the criminal enterprise, you’re responsible for their acts.”
And the act that defined the criminal enterprise came on January 24, 1975, when the FALN left a lunchtime bomb in historic Fraunces Tavern near Wall Street. The blast killed four and injured 59.
“I saw a totally destroyed restaurant similar to buildings in Vietnam that I had seen blown up,” recalls Wofford, the FBI’s case agent for the Fraunces Tavern bombing. “There was a hole in the floor of the restaurant. Windows were knocked out, part of the wall was knocked out — injured people laying all over the place being treated by first responders.”
Emigrating to Chicago from Puerto Rico as a child, Lopez-Rivera experienced an impoverished upbringing due in part to a workplace injury that forced his father from employment. Inhaling the political zeitgeist of the 1960s and harboring resentment over racism and a stint in Vietnam, Lopez-Rivera turned to community organizing before turning to terrorism. Author Bryan Burrough documents Weathermen providing explosives training to the FALN in his book Days of Rage. Charities associated with the Episcopal Church and even a Chicago school helped bankroll the group. The Marxist-Leninist outfit sought a Puerto Rico independent of the United States and organized along the lines of Communist Cuba.
Chicago’s decision to honor a dishonorable man comes at the expense of an honorable one. Lopez-Rivera’s name soon graces signs on a three-block stretch of North Luis Munoz Marin Drive, named for the “Father of Modern Puerto Rico” who rejected the path of violent revolutionaries in favor of the island’s autonomous association with the United States. The move comes months after the city removed street signs honoring the then-president-elect near the Windy City’s Trump Tower.
Alderman Brendan Reilly advocated melting down the Donald Trump street markers to create new signs “for somebody who deserves an honor.” In Chicago, where 762 people lost their lives to violence last year, the pols deemed a leader of a terrorist outfit responsible for maiming and death deserving of the distinction.
Some laurels tell us more about the praising than the praised.