Bronco Layne just died. Well, really Ty Hardin died. He was the star of the TV show “Bronco,” which was aired at the time JFK was President. Well, really Orison Whipple Hungerford died. That was Hardin’s name until a studio changed it. His obituary contained some other interesting information. He played football under Bear Bryant at Texas A&M. He worked as an acoustical research engineer for Douglas Aircraft until a talent scout discovered him, and a screen test led to a contract.
Hardin did not have many big or successful acting jobs after “Bronco,” a not uncommon situation for many who star on TV, but there were other noteworthy things in his life. For example, his first seven marriages ended in divorce. Perhaps this had some connection to his conflict with the I.R.S. for nonpayment of taxes. What really struck me, however, is that, according to the obit in the New York Times, “while living in Prescott, Ariz., he formed an anti-tax, anti-government protest group that evolved into the Arizona Patriots militia movement, which was accused in 1986 of planning to blow-up an I.R.S. complex in Utah.”
This reference to the bombing plans by the Arizona Patriots, who were linked to white supremacists, came a few days after a different bombing story. An explosive device was recently tossed into a mosque near Minneapolis. The two stories again reminded me that Americans bombing Americans in America is as American as shrimp and grits.
A few bombings have been memorable enough to make it into history books: the Haymarket affair of 1886 in Chicago; the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building in 1910; the Preparedness Day Bombing in 1916 in San Francisco; the thirty-six bombs mailed in 1919 to prominent people with another eight bombs detonated nearly simultaneously around the country; or the explosion killing 30 people outside the J.P. Morgan building on Wall Street in 1920.
Bombings continued on beyond those time. Many were triggered by labor disputes, most of which are now forgotten. For example, in 1933 there were more than thirty dynamite bombings in the coal area of Pennsylvania with homes of both mining and union officials destroyed.
Political disputes have led to explosions. For example, protesters of the Vietnam War bombed a University of Wisconsin research facility and the United States Capitol. And, of course, there was Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols’ Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
But perhaps the greatest number of bombings in America were acts of racial intimidation. The most memorable was the 1963 Birmingham church bombing which killed four little girls, but many other similar bombings no longer stick in our memories. For example, in 1962 and 1963 there were over a dozen racially-motivated bombings in Birmingham alone, with many more throughout the south. But many, many similar bombings preceded the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and continued on afterwards, and they were not confined to the South.
I know of no comprehensive listing of all the bombings in this country, but in the twentieth century the number had to be well into the thousands. A few bombings have been done by crazy people for idiosyncratic reasons (George Metesky, for example) or perhaps because of personal or domestic disputes, but the vast majority have been acts of terrorism.
Of course, in addition to the bombings we have also had racially-motivated lynchings, arsons, murders, shootings, and beatings. Other terrorism has come with the imprimatur of law, for there have been many statutes, convictions, sentences, and police actions that have had the same racially-motivated messages as the bombings and lynchings, that is, to terrorize those with different skin colors.
We have had many acts of terrorism in this country. Their frequency suggests that they are as American as pork barbecue on white bread with sides of cole slaw and baked beans. And most often they have not been done by aliens or foreigners. They have been done by the native born. They have been done by whites.
A major fact of American history has been white terrorism, and perhaps we should study that more than we do. Ty Hardin perhaps was a white supremacist. He may have conspired to plant bombs. If so, he was an all-American boy.