From January 6 to March 1

Joe Biden says the events of January 6, 2021 were the greatest threat to American democracy since the Civil War. That invites a look at what happened at the Capitol on March 1, 1954, when Joe Biden was 11 years old.

Lolita Lebron, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Andres Figueroa Cordero, and Irvin Flores Rodrigues, were members of the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico (PNPR), which had attempted to assassinate President Harry Truman in 1950. On March 1, 1954, the four took a train from New York City to Washington, D.C., arriving at Union Station shortly after noon.

At the Capitol they entered the gallery alongside a group of sixth graders from Maryland and watched the representatives debate an immigration bill. At approximately 2:32 p.m., the PNPR four yelled “Viva Puerto Rico libre!” as they pulled out .38 caliber pistols, and began firing.

U.S. Representative Alvin M. Bentley (R-Mich.) took a bullet to the chest. A bullet struck Iowa Republican Ben F. Jensen in the back and Clifford Davis (D-Tenn.) suffered a wound in the leg. The gunfire also wounded Democrats George Hyde Fallon of Maryland and Kenneth A. Roberts of Alabama. Amid the chaos, members took quick action.

Congressmen and pages carried the wounded Bentley and others to safety, and one representative used his tie as a tourniquet. Rep. James Van Zandt (R-Penn.) rushed to the balcony and tackled Rafael Miranda, who had fired most of the shots. Capitol visitors overpowered three of the shooters, and a search of the city turned up Irvin Rodriguez.

The shooters were tried and found guilty. On October 26, 1954, Judge Lawrence E. Walsh sentenced them to more than 70 years, but none of the shooters would serve the full stretch.

Andres Cordero died in 1979. That same year, President Jimmy Carter commuted the sentences of Lebron, Miranda and Rodrigues. Carter’s decision sparked an objection from Puerto Rico Gov. Carlos Romero Barcelo who argued that the prisoners’ unconditional release would encourage terrorism and “constitute a menace to public safety.”

Carter also commuted the sentence of Oscar Collazo, who had taken part in the assassination attempt on President Harry Truman, during which one of the president’s bodyguards was killed. Collazo had been sentenced to death but in 1952 Truman commuted the sentence to life in prison

The Puerto Ricans had not applied for clemency, claiming they were political prisoners. Baltasar Corrada, Puerto Rico’s nonvoting representative in Congress, countered that these individuals were “jailed for their criminal conduct, not their political beliefs.”

President Carter and his secretary of state described the commutations as “a significant humanitarian gesture.” Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti saw “little substantial risk of the defendants’ engaging in further criminal activity or becoming the rallying point for terrorist groups.” The Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional of Puerto Rico (FALN) wasn’t listening.

Over the next decade, the FALN perpetrated 72 actual bombings, 40 incendiary attacks, eight attempted bombings and 10 bomb threats, resulting in five deaths, 83 injuries, and more than $3 million in property damage. Also active was the Ejercito Popular Boricua, known as the Macheteros. In January 1981, the Macheteros infiltrated a Puerto Rican Air National Guard base and blew up 11 planes, causing approximately $45 million in damages. The capture and conviction of FALN and Machetero terrorists brought the bombings to a halt.

On August 11, 1999, President Bill Clinton extended offers of clemency to 16 of the terrorists in federal prison. That prompted a report from the House Committee on Government Reform titledThe FALN and Macheteros Clemency: Misleading Explanations, a Reckless Decision, A Dangerous Message.” For the committee, the 16 terrorists, “appear to be most unlikely candidates” for presidential largesse.

“They did not personally request clemency,” the report noted. “They did not admit to wrongdoing and they had not renounced violence before such a renunciation had been made a quid pro quo for their release. They expressed no contrition for their crimes, and were at times openly belligerent about their actions. Some had been involved in escape attempts from federal prison.”

Clinton went ahead with the commutations despite testimony from victims of FALN violence and opposition from the FBI. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member on the Government Reform Committee, also disagreed with the president’s decision.

“While convicted of serious crimes,” Clinton said in a letter, the 16 “were not convicted of crimes involving the killing or maiming of any individuals. For me, the question, therefore, was whether the prisoners’ sentences were unduly severe and whether their continuing incarceration served any meaningful purpose.”

One meaningful purpose would be the prevention of repeat offenses, and the refusal to provide a rallying point for the criminals’ comrades. Clinton ignored those realities, and the Arkansas Democrat wasn’t done.

On January 20, 2001, his last day in office, Clinton commuted the sentence of Susan Rosenberg, who made the FBI’s most wanted list at age 29. This domestic terrorist was wanted for a 1981 Brinks robbery that claimed the lives of  two police officers and a guard. Two years later, on November 7, 1983, Rosenberg was involved in a bombing of the U.S. Capitol.

That was long after the Civil War but somehow escaped the notice of Joe Biden, who was 40 at the time. The Delaware Democrat also overlooked what could have been the worst attack of all.

After Bill Clinton’s 1999 commutations, government reform committee chairman Dan Burton said, “I pray to God this will not start a new reign of terror.” 

There’s hard evidence that it did. 

On September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four airliners, including United Airlines Flight 93. According toThe 9/11 Commission Report,” the objective was to crash the airliner into the Capitol or the White House. The flight was 20 minutes from Washington when the terrorists were “defeated by the alerted, unarmed passengers of United 93.” 

Had passengers not taken down the flight in rural Pennsylvania, many members of Congress surely would have been killed on September 11, 2001. Then-Senator Joe Biden, reportedly on a train that day, probably would not have changed his belief that January 6 was the worst attack on the Capitol since the Civil War.

For Biden, the greatest threat to the nation does not proceed from Islamic jihadists, violent criminal cartels or genocidal Stalinist dictatorships like China. Remember, for the Delaware Democrat, the bosses in Beijing are “not bad folks,” and Communist China is not even competition for the United States. 

On September 1, 2022, Joe Biden made clear his belief that the greatest threat comes from those who want to make America great. Jihadists, criminals and genocidal regimes were doubtless taking notice.

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About Lloyd Billingsley

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of Hollywood Party and other books including Bill of Writes and Barack ‘em Up: A Literary Investigation. His journalism has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Spectator (London) and many other publications. Billingsley serves as a policy fellow with the Independent Institute.

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images