This is part five of rabble’s six-part series based on the book Direct Action: Memoirs of an Urban Guerrilla, published by Between the Lines. The Litton plant was bombed October 14, 1982. Workers were injured. The saboteurs issued a statement about the action. Here is what followed:


After the Action

“It’s really a drag that all these activists are drawing a line between us and them. I thought we might get some support, but I guess the injuries guaranteed that wouldn’t happen,” Brent said. “Hey, here’s a cool comment.” He held up an alternative newspaper.

He began to read a statement by Philip Berrigan, a well known U.S. Catholic priest and peace activist. Berrigan argued that the real terrorists were Litton and other corporations and governments threatening the lives of every person on the planet. Still, Berrigan said, “All things being equal, bombs should not be a strategy of non-violence because there is not only the threat of injury and the threat to life that is implicit in using explosives but there is the reaction of people who are in a state of emergence consciousness.”

“At least he pointed out that we are not the real terrorists,” I said.

The same article also quoted Jim Douglass, who had helped found the Ground Zero Centre for Non-Violent Action. Referring to underground guerrilla groups, Douglass said, “I think the process is also contrary to non-violence. It involves extreme secrecy and not taking responsibility for the action. It is only through a growth and acceptance of responsibility that we’re going to stop the war making.” Douglass pointed to the danger of becoming what it is you were trying to stop.

I took the paper from Brent and found another Berrigan quote: “However benighted such an attempt might be, it is better than doing nothing against war preparations, especially the nuclear kind.”

The Litton bombing had certainly not been well received by the disarmament groups. They not only denounced the bombing, but even speculated that it may have been an attempt to discredit the movement. Peace activists were particularly angry, because they claimed the communiqué presumed that the bombing would have a positive effect on their efforts.

The only impact that the bombing had on the peace movement, according to Juliet Huntley of the Christian Movement for Peace, would be to intimidate people from getting involved. As for any publicity value the bombing may have had, the general consensus of the peace movement seemed to be that the negative impact on the public’s perception of the movement far outweighed the value of a few more people knowing about Litton’s contribution to the arms race.

If anything, peace activists believed that the bombing garnered more public sympathy for Litton and the police, giving them a green light to use whatever force they deemed necessary at future demonstrations.

The communiqué had also criticized non-violent strategies and called for more militant actions, inspiring Murray MacAdam of the Cruise Missile Conversion Project to write, “Society is violent enough and the cruise missile is just a horrible example of that violence. The Direct Action bombing is perpetuating this violence.”

Huntley wrote that the obvious rebuttal to Direct Action’s strategy was the result of their own bombing: it was ineffective in stopping Litton and didn’t inspire peace groups. In fact it scared the Litton workers and public, making it even more difficult to gain their support in stopping the arms race. Both Huntley and MacAdam wrote that it was important for peace groups to work together in solidarity with other movements for social change — a process that was clearly impossible for a group like Direct Action.

As always in the case of any militant political campaign, a corresponding campaign of police repression followed the bombings. This response served a number of purposes. The police were able to use the frenzy of fear that the mass media had whipped up over the so-called terrorist threat to justify the raids and arrests of political activists. The campaign was also used to gather intelligence on the radical community. Finally, it was part of a well-planned counter-insurgency program created with the express purpose of criminalizing and repressing that segment of the left involved in any kind of direct action.

In today’s global economy, this strategy is no different from campaigns in other parts of the world.

Police in an unmarked car picked up Brian Birch — a member of the Cruise Missile Conversion Project (CMCP) — off the street on January 11, 1983. The police drove him around downtown Toronto, telling him they were looking for someone with his name who was wanted for traffic violations in British Columbia. He was falsely accused of a driving charge and then questioned for half an hour about the Litton bombing, the peace movement, and the Toronto Clarion. He said, “They asked me if I supported the bombing and I gave qualifications.”

After our arrests in Vancouver, a support group, Free the Five, formed to help us with our legal defence. The police singled out people from this group — people who, they suspected, were more vulnerable and perhaps less informed of their rights — and tried to force statements from them. The attempt to find informants failed, but the police continued to follow and photograph our supporters.

Surveillance was so intensive that it involved watching our close friends in their homes, workplaces and meeting places, following their vehicles and tapping their phones. Two Mounties visited an activist’s boss and told her that her female employee was suspected of “terrorist” activity. Another woman was picked up off the street and blackmailed with the threat of criminal charges if she didn’t inform on a friend they suspected was a member of Direct Action.

In Toronto, the campaign of repression was not much different.

On June 13, 1983, the police raided a house on Cambridge Avenue, where most of the support work in Toronto was centred. The political offences listed on the search warrant were:

  • seditious libel,
  • sabotage to undermine national security,
  • procuring an abortion,
  • the firebombing of armouries in Montreal.

Police over-zealousness was apparent in the charge of seditious libel, which was so outdated it had not been used in fifty years. Seditious libel means it is a crime to advocate the use of force to overthrow the government without proper authority. Perhaps to provide evidence for this obscure charge, the search warrant specified a number of items, including the anarchist paper Bulldozer, the Trial by Media videotape and any correspondence with the accused.

At the time of the search, an issue of Bulldozer was in production, and the search warrant specified seizure of this copy. The police carried off the typeset galleys, along with the original articles and the mailing list.

The police used the raid on the Cambridge Avenue house to lay an exaggerated number of charges in a vain attempt to gain information on the political activities of others. Following a consistent pattern, the people living in the house did not inform on other political activists, despite being threatened with a total of eighteen charges.


The harassment, raids and charges in Vancouver and Toronto were part of a continuing campaign of repression that began in 1982 with the raids at the offices of the CMCP, Alliance for Non-Violent Action (ANVA) and the homes of the anti-cruise activists in these groups.

Many of these raids took place after our arrests, during a time when the police knew they had ample evidence against us, which again suggests that the point of the raids was to intimidate and criminalize people supporting our cause. The police repression undoubtedly instilled fear in the radical community — psychologically deterring some people from doing support work and especially setting back work such as publication of the Bulldozer and pro-choice organizing. The repression also created division amongst the left, as people began to focus energies on defending their support of the militant activists or criticizing those who did.

We pleaded guilty to the charges that we had no hope of beating, while some charges were either dropped or stayed.

  • Doug Stewart was sentenced to ten years after pleading guilty to the B.C. Hydro bombing and a weapons charge.
  • Brent Taylor was sentenced to twenty-two years for unlawful possession of explosives and weapons, robbery conspiracy, break and enter and theft of guns, possession of stolen property, theft of three autos and the Litton bombing.
  • I was sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiracy to rob an armoured-car guard, the B.C. Hydro and Litton bombings, arson at Red Hot Video, unlawful possession of explosives and weapons, auto theft and possession of stolen property.

In Ontario, the Litton plant resumed production only two days after the bombing, due to a show of support for their employer by many of the Litton workers, who used their weekend to help clean up. However, Litton Systems of Canada was not invited by its parent company in California to bid on the guidance system for an advanced version of the cruise missile.

On April 17, 1984, Litton President Ronald Keating lamented in a Globe and Mail article,

They (the protesters) are an irritant. They get a lot of publicity and the Americans read every damn bit of it. The Americans assure us they understand but nobody else has been bombed … Pressure from these people is making the Americans look twice at secondary-sourcing (military investment) in Canada.

After the bombing and the demonstrations of 1982, Litton also spent $2-million on additional security for the Toronto factory, which Keating said “was money which could be put into our business to help make us more competitive and further insure the future for all of us.” The combined effects of the civil disobedience protests and the bombing appear to have influenced the Americans to award their contract elsewhere.

When Direct Action began its militant campaign, we had no illusions about being able to change society on our own. We knew that no single demonstration or bombing would bring any substantial change. But we did hope to inject a more militant political philosophy and action into the movement for social change. We hoped to show people that we should not allow the legal boundaries defined by those in power determine how and when we would protest.

There are many different forms of direct action, some more effective than others at different points in history but, in conjunction with other forms of protest, direct action can make the movement for change more effective by opening avenues of resistance that are not easily co-opted or controlled by the state.

Unfortunately, people within the movement weaken their own actions by failing to understand and support the diverse tactics available. Instead of forming a unified front, some activists see the sabotage of destructive property by those resisting as being on the same level as the violence of the state and corporations. This equation is no less accurate than saying that the peace of a concentration camp is the same kind of peace that one finds in a healthy society.

If we accept that all violence is the same, then we have agreed to limit our resistance to whatever the state and corporations find acceptable. We have become pacified. Remaining passive in the face of today’s global human and environmental destruction will create deeper scars than those resulting from the mistakes we will inevitably make by taking action.