On the evening of August 14, 1980, hopes were high for partisans of mainstream politics. The Democratic nominee, President James Earl Carter of Georgia, was making his acceptance speech at their national convention. It is unlikely that any of the Democrats present in Madison Square Garden that night imagined that an extremist attack was in the offing. Nor was this attack from the racist right, from people angry at Carter for being "soft on Communism" or a "niggerlover." Instead, it was perpetrated by people who thought him a racist and a fascist—the Maoist militants of the Communist Workers party (CWP). Wearing riot gear and armed with mace and clubs, the CWPers tried to storm the hall, but they were parried by police and fifteen were taken into custody. Inside, one of their number ignited firecrackers while another yelled Communist slogans. 1
Here was a group that had hailed the deeds of Stalin, Mao, even Pol Pot, and applauded the Iranian regime of the Ayatollah Khomeini for giving the death penalty to fourteen Trotskyists (whom they termed "counter-revolutionary dogs"). 2 The Communist Workers party had first come to national attention on November 3, 1979, when five of their number were killed and nine others wounded in a shoot-out with Klansmen and Nazis in Greensboro, North Carolina.The CWP was staging a "Death to the Klan" rally when the violence occurred. (Previously, they had sought confrontations with the Klan and even stopped a screening of D. W. Griffith's classic film Birth of a Nation in China Grove, North Carolina, burning the Klan's confederate flag in the process.)
Two of the Communists killed were physicians, one of whom was educated at the University of Chicago, the other at Duke University.Another was a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and the fourth was a magna cum laude graduate in political science at Duke.The fifth was a former student body president at Bennett College in Greensboro.One of the two doctors had quit his practice in order to organize in the textile mills around Greensboro; he had become president of the local textile workers union. All of the victims had been devoted to a fanaticism so powerful and compelling that they sacrificed careers that most people idealize. Their choices were not dictated by any rational considerations, but rather by a cult-like subservience to Marxist-Leninist doctrine on the order of religious fanaticism.
Among the various causes that the organization, under its present or past names, had championed were elimination of student competency testing and opposition to forced busing in Boston.
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