On September 16, 1920, a bomb exploded on Wall Street as workers took their lunch break. The explosion killed 38 people and injured hundreds. The targets? What we’d call today “the one percent” – the powerful financiers who ran J.P. Morgan & Co. The Wall Street attack remained the deadliest terrorist bombing in the U.S. until Oklahoma City in 1995. But at the time, people saw it as just one more bombing in a long string of anarchist attacks that historian Beverly Gage calls America’s “First Age of Terror.”
In this hour of BackStory, the History Guys talk with Gage about the origins of domestic terrorism in the United States, and explore the question of what kinds of people and movements have been identified as “terrorists.” Along the way, they trace the relationship between terror and the state, consider lynching as a tactic of terrorism, and take a look at a little-known and unfinished Jack London novel, in which the author grapples with that ultimate question: is terrorism ever justified?