Speaker for Terror

FrankConnorFrancesTavernAs published on January 13, 2014 in The New York Post.

It’s hard to describe how it feels to have the City Council elect as its next speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito — a woman who advocated for the release of a leader of the terrorist group that killed my father. That it did so just before the anniversary of his death only makes it worse.

In 2010, Mark-Viverito asked her fellow councilmembers to sign a petition demanding parole for convicted terrorist Oscar Lopez Rivera, a leader of The Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN, a Puerto Rican terrorist group.

Mind you, Lopez had rejected clemency when it was offered by President Bill Clinton in 1999. Unlike 15 other FALN members, who took the deal, Lopez chose to remain in prison — in part because he refused to renounce violence.

From 1974 to 1983, the FALN waged a merciless, bloody war against the United States, attacking civilians mainly in Chicago and New York. On Jan. 24, 1975, the FALN’s most deadly attack, the infamous lunchtime bombing of Fraunces Tavern, a New York City landmark, killed my father, Frank Connor, 33, and three other innocent men. It was supposed to be the day we would celebrate my brother’s 11th birthday, and my 9th.

An FALN communique that day took credit for the attack, which it called a blow against “reactionary corporate executives.” In fact, my dad was born to immigrants and raised in working-class Washington Heights, not far from Mark-Viverito’s district. But she apparently doesn’t care about these victims from the city she’ll now help lead.

The FALN continued its reign of terror until the early 1980s, when 11 of its members were arrested, tried and convicted of (among other serious felonies) weapons possession and seditious conspiracy. The entirely appropriate prison terms were to run from 55 to 70 years.

During their trials, these defendants rejected US jurisdiction, claiming to be prisoners of war. Several FALN members threatened to kill or maim the judge, Thomas McMillan.

The group twice conspired to break Lopez out of prison. Plans involved a direct attack on Leavenworth federal prison, the killing of prison guards and the use of plastic explosives, automatic weapons and a helicopter. The FBI foiled the plot — and Lopez was tried and convicted for his involvement, with 15 years added to his original 55-year sentence.

This is the felon whose release the new City Council speaker championed.

Again, Lopez rejected the Clinton-era clemency offer (which was almost certainly made in order to boost Hillary Clinton’s chances in her 2000 run for a New York seat in the US Senate).

That offer was conditional on renouncing violence and never again associating with other felons, including his terrorist comrades. The other 15 terrorists took the deal and left prison on Sept. 10, 1999, almost two years to the day before our cousin Steve Schlag, my father’s godson, would be murdered in the World Trade Center.

In her recent push to spring Lopez, Mark-Viverito claimed he wasn’t accused of killing or harming anyone. In fact, he and his fellow FALN members were convicted of willfully and knowingly joining a conspiracy to commit various acts of violence, including 28 Chicago-area bombings that maimed several people.

Further, all evidence indicates that those convicted in Chicago were part of the same national conspiracy that killed five people in New York, including the Fraunces murders and the New Year’s Eve 1982 attacks on Police Headquarters that left three NYPD detectives permanently injured.

In any case, Mark-Viverito’s petition was part of a campaign to sway the January 2011 parole hearing for Lopez. I led a small group of FALN victims and family members to the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., and faced Lopez at that very hearing. Justice was served, when, due in part to our efforts, Lopez was denied parole.

But he remains a cause for certain politically powerful activists. It’s clear to me that, like Hillary Clinton before her, Mark-Viverito had her eyes on her political advantage when she pushed for the terrorist’s release, disgracefully betraying and exploiting the lives of those murdered.

Like Lopez himself, Mark-Viverito chose to ignore the terror victims and families; chose to distort history. The difference is that Lopez remains in prison, a convicted terrorist, while Mark-Viverito is the second-most powerful person in our nation’s largest city.

My father wouldn’t even recognize what his beloved city has become.

Joe Connor works in the financial services industry. He is co author of “The New Founders,” a novel bringing the American founders alive in the 21st century.

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