Whitey Bulger Was More Of an Existential Threat Than Most Terrorists Are

Seriously. That’s not to say terrorists aren’t murdering bastards. But Judge Bruce Selya, Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeal for the First Circuit–which includes the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (God save it!)–began a recent opinion with the following sentence:

Terrorism is the modern-day equivalent of the bubonic plague: it is an existential threat.

Let’s leave aside the historical fact that bubonic plague killed somewhere in the neighborhood of a third of all Europeans (Got Hyperbole?). But a little perspective drawing on Massachusetts’ own history can help here (and we like helping!; boldface mine):

Even in 1975, Whitey Bulger had enough of a reputation to put the fear into Boston’s leading political figure — Mayor Kevin White. So much so, that the mayor was frightened out of his wits one night when leaving his gym in South Boston. Afraid that Whitey or one of his thugs would be waiting to kill him in the dark parking lot.

Mayor White admitted as much in a 1978 interview with WGBH TV’s Christopher Lydon. “I was never more scared in my life,” White said, ”…Whitey would be crazy enough to do it. And if they shoot me, they win all the marbles.”

…This was during school desegregation. Also known as forced busing, it had turned the whole city of Boston upside down. During desegregation, tempers were especially high. There were lots of protest marches, lots of violence and plenty of resentment.

South Boston was at the center of the storm. As the buses rolled into town, so did lots of cops. As a South Boston resident, Whitey Bulger was just as resentful as everyone else in his community. He also resented the police presence because it made it more difficult to conduct his business on the streets…

J. Anthony Lukas writes about the mayor’s concern that the gangs would infiltrate an anti-busing march in September, 1974. In his Pulitzer-Prize winning book Common Ground, Lukas says White feared the gangs would draw weapons and shoot at the police if the march was stopped. There were also reports that the gangs were passing out weapons to kids in South Boston so they could join the battle as well. One rumor had Whitey Bulger preparing to blow up all the bridges into South Boston to keep the buses out

In a 1992 Boston Magazine article, [Mayor White] talks about a night he was called to meet at senator [Billy] Bulger’s [Whitey’s brother] house in South Boston. The meeting was to take care of political business. But all the way there, the mayor feared that Billy had called him to South Boston where Whitey Bulger could kill him more easily.

This is terrorism too. The political system felt that it was under siege. And Whitey Bulger walked openly and freely in Boston at the time (possibly with the feds’ help, but that’s another story). The point is not to compare body counts, though Whitey was no slouch in that department. But we didn’t need to shred the Constitution to stop him. Something the First Circuit might want to consider

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