As President Trump considers or moves forward with pardons for Dinesh D’Souza, Martha Stewart, and former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, it’s worth taking a step back to review one of the most controversial presidential pardons in recent history -- Barack Obama’s January 2017 commutation of the 55-year sentence of Puerto Rican terrorist Oscar Lopez Rivera, one of the principal leaders of the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN).
During the group’s heyday from 1974 to 1983, the FALN was responsible for more than 130 bombings across the United States, the deadliest of which was the 1975 Fraunces Tavern bombing in Manhattan that killed four people and wounded 63 more. In the following years, FALN members threatened to blow up U.S. nuclear facilities, kidnapped Democratic and Republican presidential campaign workers at gunpoint during the 1980 race, and even planned to kidnap President Reagan’s son Ron in 1981. The FALN’s stated purpose for all this mayhem and terror was to create a Marxist and independent government in Puerto Rico similar to that of the communist Castro regime in Cuba.
While the above activities were taking place, Lopez was at the top of the FALN’s chain of command and played a primary role in training new terrorist members to construct homemade explosive devices and conduct bombing attacks. Lopez was also involved in planning armed robberies to help fill the financial coffers of the group, thereby enabling it to actively and continuously carry out terrorist attacks over the years of its existence.
In May 1981, Lopez’s infamous career was brought to an end when police arrested him at a traffic stop after catching him with a fake ID and a pistol with a filed-down serial number. Using the address provided by Lopez’s fake ID, Chicago police searched the apartment there and found a cache of explosives, blasting caps, timers, and an instructional manual for bomb-making. Five years earlier, Lopez had first gone into hiding from authorities after a similar “bomb factory” was discovered in his apartment (also in Chicago) by federal investigators.
Despite the strong circumstantial evidence against him, Lopez was never conclusively connected to any specific bombing, but was still convicted of “seditious conspiracy,” attempted robbery, grand theft auto, and the illegal possession of weapons and explosives. Lopez’s initial 55-year prison sentence was extended another 15 years in 1987 after Lopez and two Weather Underground terrorists were caught plotting to fly a helicopter loaded with machine guns and hand grenades into Lopez’s prison yard at Leavenworth. Lopez intended to use the weapons cache to murder the prison’s guards, make his escape, and then go back into hiding to carry on his communist struggle against the United States.
Even with his astonishing record of murder and treason, Lopez attracted a great deal of support from the mainstream American Left and the Democratic Party when Obama commuted the FALN leader’s sentence. According to Politico [emphasis mine]:
Obama’s decision was greeted with elation. Spontaneous celebrations broke out in San Juan. Luis Gutiérrez, a Democratic congressman from Illinois who represents the West Side Chicago neighborhood in which Lopez grew up, said in a statement that he was “overjoyed and overwhelmed” by Lopez’s release. “Oscar is a friend, a mentor, and family to me,” wrote Gutierrez.According to the New York Daily News, Melissa Mark-Viverito, the speaker of the New York City Council and a rising Democratic Party star, cried when she heard the news, calling Lopez’s release “incredible” and a “morale boost” for Puerto Rico. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who lobbied hard for Lopez’s commutation, and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio both offered Obama their thanks.And Lin Manuel Miranda, who has been a vocal proponent for Lopez, tweeted that he was “sobbing with gratitude.” (He furthermore added that he would reprise his role in “Hamilton” for one night in Chicago in Lopez’s honor.)
Lopez’s supporters refer to him as a “political prisoner” or “independence activist,” and characterize him as a man unfairly and harshly targeted by the U.S. government for his beliefs. He has even been called “Puerto Rico’s Nelson Mandela.”
Lopez’s supporters’ reference to Nelson Mandela was, incidentally, quite apt given Mandela’s 1964 conviction for planning bombing attacks in South Africa as the leader of the communist paramilitary group Umkhonto we Sizwe (the armed wing of the ANC, which eventually took power in the 1990s). Regardless, disingenuously whitewashing Lopez’s crimes can do nothing to erase either the seriousness or the severity of his and the FALN’s heinous actions, but it does starkly reveal the nature of the far left in this country and the tilt of its moral compass.