The commutation of Chelsea Manning’s sentence is getting all the attention today but President Obama also commuted the sentence of Oscar López Rivera, a former Chicago community organizer turned FALN terrorist who was convicted of “seditious conspiracy” in 1981. López Rivera is considered a political prisoner by many on the left but a domestic terrorist by many on the right. Mother Jones described his background in a 2014 plea for his release:
In 1981, López was charged with armed robbery, possession of an unregistered firearm, and interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle, allegedly as part of a larger plot to challenge the United States’ role in Puerto Rico by force. The court determined that he was connected to the FALN. At his trial, one man testified that López taught him bomb-making skills.
In all, the FALN claimed responsibility for more than 120 bombings across the US between 1974 and 1983, leading to the death of six and the injury of dozens. But the basis for López’s conviction was specifically the more than two-dozen bombings claimed by the organization in the Chicago area, none of which resulted in injuries. A 1980 Chicago Tribune editorial observed that the bombs were “placed and timed as to damage property rather than persons” and that the FALN was “out to call attention to their cause rather than to shed blood.”
That is the best light one can throw on López Rivera’s activities, i.e. he was involved in domestic terrorism but maybe not the specific plots which killed people. Today, Matthew Hennessy has a piece at the New York Daily News (published before the announcement) which argues Rivera does not deserve clemency:
When López Rivera was arrested in 1981, the FBI found six pounds of dynamite and four blasting caps in his Chicago apartment along with numerous fake IDs. He was convicted in federal court of seditious conspiracy, violation of the Hobbs Act, illegal weapons possession, and interstate transportation of stolen motor vehicles.
In 1988, his original sentence was extended 15 years after authorities disrupted an escape plot that included a plan to murder prison guards…
López Rivera’s supporters claim he is a political prisoner, in jail for his beliefs rather than his actions. They say there is no evidence that he personally killed anyone — which could also be plausibly said of Osama bin Laden and Al Capone.
In 1998, López Rivera told the LA Times he had no regrets:
“I cannot undo what’s done,” says Oscar Lopez Rivera. “The whole thing of contrition, atonement, I have problems with that.”…
“I have no regrets for what I’ve done in the Puerto Rico independence movement,” the ex-FALN leader said. “The onus is not on us. The crime is colonialism.
“If Puerto Rico was not a colony of the United States, I would have had a totally different life.”
Just like fellow domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, Lopez Rivera has no remorse at all. He will be free in May.