How the All-Female Terror Group M19 Formed and Operated in the US in the ‘70s and ‘80s

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From the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, a group comprised mostly of women carried out a series of bombings and other crimes throughout the U.S.

Known as M19, “This tiny band of life-long militants decided to wage a war against their own country,” historian William Rosenau said.

“I think they are unique in American history,” he told Inside Edition Digital.

Rosenau is the author of “Tonight We Bombed the U.S. Capitol: The Explosive True Story of May 19th, America's First Female Terrorist Group.”

“May 19th was a women-led violent extremist that sought to overthrow colonialism and imperialism both at home and abroad, formed by a group of well-educated middle-class women in the late 1970s,” he said. 

Many members had been involved in extremist politics before, in groups including the Weather Underground and the Symbionese Liberation Army, Rosenau said. 

“They decided even though it looked like the revolution wasn't around the corner, which some believed at one point, that it was still possible, and that they needed to devote their lives, really, risk their lives to further their political aims which, were, like a lot of revolutionaries, sometimes a bit vague,” he said. 

Those involved believed they needed to fight U.S. imperialism from the inside in order to support liberation movements in places like Central America, the Middle East and West Africa. 

“The members of May 19th were all white ... A few men, but mostly women. They teamed up with a bunch of Black militants. They were involved in a whole series of bank robberies to raise money for Black liberation inside the United States,” Rosenau said. “They robbed a total in today's dollars, over a two-year period, about $3 million.” 

Their bank robbery run came to an end Oct. 20, 1981, when members of the group were involved in a heist in upstate New York that turned deadly. Two police officers and a security guard were killed in the botched Brinks robbery, for which the women of May 19th had served as getaway drivers. 

“One of them was caught on the spot, Judy Clark,” Rosenau said. “She spent 37 years in prison for that crime, and was only released last year.” 

Clark spent more than half of her life in prison and was 69 when she was released on parole. 

The group then turned to bombings. 

“They decided to target what they considered to be imperialism directly,” Rosenau said. “So they bombed an FBI field office in New York. They bombed Fort McNair in Washington, specifically the National War College. They bombed the Washington Navy Yard twice. They bombed the police union headquarters in New York. And as, and their probably most infamous bombing act, on November 7th, 1983, they bombed the U.S. Capital, causing roughly a million dollars' worth of damage.”

The group published a communique after they bombed the capital. In it, they wrote: “tonight we bomb the capital. We chose not to kill any senators, this time." 

Members of the group were apprehended over time. 

“In November 1984, one of the women, Susan Rosenberg, and one of the men, Timothy Blunk, were arrested outside a storage locker in Cherry Hill, New Jersey,” Rosenau said. “And the night manager who called the police thought something suspicious was going on. Well, what did the police find inside this storage locker? They found hundreds of pounds of TNT, high explosives. Detonation cord, blasting caps, thousands of rounds of ammunition, automatic weapons. Fully automatic UZI rifles. Shotguns and pistols with the serial numbers filed off. All kinds of manuals on how to build bombs and infantry tactics and stuff like that.”

Many of the explosives were in poor condition, having not been rotated as is necessary to keep it from leaking.

“So when the bomb squad from Philadelphia came out and the cops started loading the explosives onto a truck, the bomb squad said, ‘No, no, no. We got to take this in separate vehicles, because a vibration could set this stuff off, and if this single load went off, it could possibly take down an entire building or the Ben Franklin bridge,’ which is the way into Philadelphia from Cherry Hill,” Rosenau said. 

Rosenberg and Blunk were arrested. In 1985, a federal jury found the pair guilty of eight counts each of possessing explosives, weapons and fake identification cards. They were sentenced to 58 years in prison.

The rest of the group scattered, taking care to obscure their features in the event someone spotted them.  “They were very, very good at hiding in plain sight. They moved a lot. They were pretty skilled in that respect,” Rosenau said. “But eventually, the FBI, through a variety of investigative means, figured out who these people really were. Most of them, by the end, were holed up in Baltimore where some of them were arrested.”

All were carrying firearms when they were arrested. 

“So they didn't kill anyone during their bombings, but they could have. And they certainly considered it,” Rosenau said. “They talked about assassinating Henry Kissinger who had been secretary of state under Gerald Ford, and Richard Nixon. They talked about assassinating policemen, judges, prosecutors, [anyone who they considered] enemies of the people. 

“These individuals weren't peaceful protestors,” he continued. “In some of the interviews I've done, people have tried to compare them today's Antifa, to them. I was like, ‘No, no, no, no. Antifa's punching people and hitting people with sticks, and arguably doing so in self-defense.’ These people were serious, professional, revolutionaries.”

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