In less than the blink of an eye, the blast of eight tightly-bound sticks of dynamite shattered the brittle wooden shell of the building hastily constructed during the Second World War, adding jagged splinters and rusting nails to the shrapnel that ripped through cheap tables and chairs, taffeta and chiffon, uniforms, and flesh.
Before the concussive shock waves reverberated off nearby buildings, half a dozen human beings closest to the outside wall of the NCO Club became mist.
The roof, lifted skyward by the explosion and suddenly absent a supporting wall as it returned to earth, crashed down on the dead and dying. Leaking bottles from the shattered bar fed the rapidly spreading flames, and deafened, dazed and bleeding survivors crawled or stumbled towards escape in ones and twos.
As soldiers from nearby buildings ran to help the bleeding and burned, a carefully-crafted 12″ pipe-bomb studded with roofing nails hidden in a nearby trash can went off, turning rescuers into additional victims.
Just outside Fort Dix confused onlookers sat in stunned amazement, as a pair of nondescript young women nervously laughed and counted ambulances for a half hour before losing count and heading back to the townhouse in Greenwich Village. The message had been sent.
Though he would have no way of knowing it at the time, the Weatherman’s attack on the non-commissioned officer’s dance would stand as the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil for 25 years, 1 month, and 13 days, until Timothy McVeigh drove into Oklahoma City and infamy.
Of course, that isn’t how history unfolded.
Instead of counting ambulances as a measure of their handiwork on the night of March 6, 1970, a dazed and panicking Kathy Boudin was running from police, and the remains of Diana Oughton were scattered in the rubble of the townhouse basement, as the bomb she was helping build went off, killing her, Terry Robbins, and Theodore Gold.
A careless movement, inadvertent twitch, poor design, or perhaps an act of God stopped the Weathermen from carrying out their attempt to dramatically and lethally escalate their war against the United States. Until that point the group led by radical activists Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dorhn had carried out mostly symbolic terrorism, with attacks against buildings that symbolized the power of the war-mongering American government they so despised.
The attack planned on Fort Dix was an entirely different animal, as authorities carefully sifting through the rubble would eventually discover.
Four 12″ pipe-bombs stuffed with dynamite, using roof nails as shrapnel designed to add lethality to the blast, were recovered in the remains of the basement bomb factory. So were more than 50 sticks of dynamite, some of it fused in eight-stick bundles that could level entire buildings. Had these bombs not detonated hours before in a Greenwich Village basement, the attack imagined above could have easily come to pass. In fact, the terror attack described above would have used less than half of the bombs built by Bill Ayer’s Weathermen.
Most Americans alive today are unfamiliar with what the Weathermen attempted in 1970, and that is not by accident.