Today is the Anniversary of the One Terrorist Attack in America that You are Supposed to Forget

Philadelphia, PA — Thirty-one years ago today, one of the most blatant acts of terrorism was carried out on American soil against American citizens by an American police department. Obviously, this is the one terror attack the government won’t remind you about — and, in fact, would prefer you forget completely.

On May 13, 1985, a massive operation by the Philadelphia Police culminated in an all-out attack and bombing on the peaceful, radical movement dedicated to black liberation, MOVE. At the end of the day, 11 people — including five children — had been killed, 65 homes destroyed, and the relationship between law enforcement and civilians arguably changed forever.

Lest we forget.

MOVE advocated, according to Robin Wagner-Pacifici who has written books on the group, a “quasi-Rastafarian, anti-technology, and pro-animal-rights” lifestyle which Philadelphia police and some of the group’s neighbors found antithetical to the typical American way of life. In 1985, the group resided at 6221 Osage Avenue, in what was considered a nice, family-oriented part of the city.

But city officials and police viewed MOVE’s radical inclinations as a threat — and in the months preceding the attack, tensions had heightened considerably. To area residents, the standoff on May 13 didn’t come as a surprise. But what happened next shocked the entire country.


As the standoff reached critical mass, law enforcement evacuated the block surrounding what had become MOVE’s fortified compound at 6221 Osage — police told residents to pack overnight essentials and they would be permitted to return the next day.

“There were nearly 500 police officers gathered at the scene, ludicrously, ferociously well-armed — flak jackets, tear gas, SWAT gear, .50- and .60-caliber machine guns, and an anti-tank machine gun for good measure,” one witness to the events described to NPR. “Deluge guns were pointed from firetrucks. The state police had sent a helicopter. The city had shut off the water and electricity for the entire block. And, we’d come to learn, there were explosives on hand.”

Around 5:30 in the morning, police commissioner Gregore Sambor shouted a bone-chillingly authoritarian warning through a megaphone to the so-called dissidents inside the Osage compound:

“Attention MOVE … This is America. You have to abide by the laws of the United States.”

At 6 am, police gave MOVE a 15-minute warning to surrender, but someone from 6221 fired shots at police, instead — sparking one of the most heinous acts of terrorism carried out by a government agency against civilians on U.S. soil.

Police returned fire. In fact, post-incident investigations estimated over 10,000 rounds were fired by police over a 90-minute period.