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Fear and the origins of modern terrorism
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In the dying light of the nineteenth century, the world came to know and fear terrorism. This was a time of progress and dread, in which breakthroughs in communications and weapons were made, political reforms were implemented and waves of immigration bolstered the populations of ever-expanding cities. This era also simmered with political rage and social inequalities, which drove nationalists, nihilists, anarchists and republicans to dynamite cities and discharge pistols into the bodies of presidents, police chiefs and emperors. This wave of terrorism was seized upon by an outrage-hungry press that peddled hysteria, conspiracy theories and fake news in response, convincing many readers that they were living through the end of days. Against the backdrop of this world of fear and disorder, The Rise of Devils chronicles the journeys of the people who evoked this panic and created modern terrorism – revolutionary philosophers, cult leaders, criminals and charlatans, as well as the paranoid police chiefs and unscrupulous spies who tried to thwart them. In doing so, this book explains how radicals once thought just in their causes became, as Pope Pius IX denounced them, little more than ‘devils risen up from hell’.

The United States Sanitary Commission and the development of the Red Cross Movement, 1861–1871
James Crossland

In 1861, President Lincoln authorised the creation of the United States Sanitary Commission (USSC) – a body comprising humanitarian volunteers whose purpose was to complement the work of the Union’s Medical Bureau by sourcing supplies, inspecting hospitals and providing general succour to wounded soldiers. Two years later, when news of the first Geneva Conference reached the ears of the USSC’s leaders, they naturally assumed that the Committee of Five had been inspired by the American example to pursue its aims. Historians of the USSC have repeated these claims, despite the comprehensive rejection of the idea of an American origin for the Red Cross Movement by several leading Red Cross scholars. This paper will re-examine the issue of American influence on the Red Cross Movement by turning away from the idea that the USSC inspired the Geneva Convention. Instead, the focus here will be on how the performance of the USSC captured the imaginations of the first Red Cross volunteers, and contributed to the fundamental reshaping of the Committee of Five’s conception of the Red Cross by the dawn of the twentieth century.

in The Red Cross Movement
James Crossland

The Prussian spymaster Wilhelm Stieber spent the 1850s warning anyone who would listen that a wave of revolutionary violence was about to flood over Europe. Obsessed with the idea that the failed revolutions of 1848 would be reprised, Stieber waged a one-man war on radicalism, which included the use of fake news, agents provocateurs and his accusation that Karl Marx was organising a violent, continent-wide uprising. He was eventually discredited for corruption and spreading falsehoods, and was put on trial in 1860. However, Stieber’s paranoid belief that a revolutionary conspiracy was active in Europe and that it would use terrorist tactics to challenge the authority of emperors and kings remained, influencing police perceptions of radical threats for decades to come.

in The rise of devils
James Crossland

Opening with the act that started the age of modern terrorism – the bombing of Emperor Napoleon III’s carriage in 1858 by the Italian nationalist Felice Orsini – this chapter explores how Stieber’s theories informed repressive police responses across France to the threat of terrorism. Orsini did not succeed in killing Napoleon, but having deployed a new form of shrapnel bomb that killed eight people and wounded 156 others , he and his accomplices did grip Paris with fear. This influenced Napoleon’s decision to go to war in Italy in 1859, with the aim of ensuring that Italian terrorists would no longer threaten him or his realm. Martyred via guillotine before the guns started firing, Orsini was lauded by radicals the world over, who noted how his single act of targeted violence had brought an emperor to heel and marched thousands of men to war.

in The rise of devils
James Crossland

This chapter tracks Orsini’s influence in the United States in the years prior to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. The radical émigré and promoter of terrorism Karl Heinzen applauded the spread of the ‘Orsini disease’ into America, seeing terrorist violence as an element of the bitter national debate over slavery. He was not alone. In the late 1850s, agitators on both sides of the debate drew inspiration from Orsini. Some, like the abolitionists John Brown and George Lawrence Jnr, saw connections between Orsini’s efforts to free Italians and the struggle to break the chains of America’s slaves. Pro-slavers like John Wilkes Booth and Cipriani Ferrandini also admired Orsini, seeing his struggle for Italian independence as synonymous with the South’s opposition to Abraham Lincoln’s emancipatory policies. In 1859, Brown led an armed assault on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, prompting press coverage that linked the raid to the ‘instructions of radicals from abroad’. Ferrandini supposedly hatched a plot to kill Lincoln in 1861, citing Orsini as his inspiration. This plan was thwarted by the private detective Allan Pinkerton, but still the tension in America remained, and with it clear evidence that the ‘Orsini disease’ had spread terrorism to the United States.

in The rise of devils
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James Crossland

As the American Civil War drew to a close, in distant Russia a group of nihilists – ascetic extremists – sent one of their number to Geneva to acquire allies and plans for the Orsini bomb. Operating under the menacing name Hell, this terrorist group’s purpose was to unleash what some journalists were now calling ‘Orsini warfare’ on Russia, with the aim to murder the tsar and topple his regime. Grand as this goal was, Hell’s leader, Nikolai Ishutin, was a fantasist who filled the heads of his young followers with dreams of murdering tsarist officials and blowing up palaces. None of this was attempted, as Ishutin spent more time urging Hell’s members to deprive themselves of food and commit to self-mutilation . From the depths of this bleak cult arose Dmitry Karakozov, a disillusioned university student who tried to shoot Tsar Alexander in 1866. Karakozov’s attempt failed and the other members of Hell were swept up in a brutal police dragnet, the approach to which was informed by the tsar’s secret police – the Third Section – believing Ishutin’s lie that Hell was ‘an international gang of usurpers and criminals ’ with ties to radicals in Europe. Absurd as this claim was, it inspired another nihilist to rise up in St Petersburg and finish what Ishutin started.

in The rise of devils
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James Crossland

This chapter explores the short history of Hell’s successor organisation, Narodnaya Rasprava (People’s Revenge), and the partnership formed between its leader, Sergei Nechaev, and the foremost anarchist of the 1860s, Mikhail Bakunin. A psychopathic narcissist who inveigled university students into his schemes, Nechaev was doted on by Bakunin, who saw the younger man as key to the success of his ‘International Brotherhood’ – a semi-mythical alliance of radicals from across Europe. Together, the two unleashed a propaganda campaign in Russia designed to bring recruits into People’s Revenge. This was complemented by Nechaev publishing the Catechism of a Revolutionary, a terrorist manual that went on to influence violent radicals from Russia’s Socialist Revolutionaries to Al Qaeda. Central to the Catechism was the idea that revolutionaries should be unfeeling, merciless and ‘doomed’ to death in the name of their cause. This idea disturbed one of Nechaev’s followers, whom the People’s Revenge leader murdered, souring his relations with Bakunin and undoing their plot to assault tsardom. Still, the fear of the Bakunin–Nechaev alliance and the so-called International Brotherhood continued to plague police thoughts across Europe.

in The rise of devils
James Crossland

As this chapter explains, the real ‘international brotherhood’ of the 1860s was not spearheaded by nihilists but by Fenians – Irish-American radicals who sought Ireland’s emancipation from the British Empire. The New York-based chief of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), James Stephens, forged relationships with Marx’s International Workingmen’s Association in London, the Franco-American mercenary Gustave Cluseret and the Swiss republican Octave Fariola. With the help of these collaborators, the IRB launched a series of ambitious attacks in 1866 and 1867 in Canada, Ireland and England. The attacks failed but in the process a policeman was shot and a prison in London was bombed by Fenians, prompting public outrage and accusations in the press that the IRB had turned to terrorism, with one newspaper claiming that the Irish republican movement now ‘reeks of the dreaded violence and depravity of the Russian nihilists’. The lesson that targeted violence could alert the British public to Ireland’s plight was learned, prompting a new generation of Fenians to consider terrorism as the way forward in their struggle.

in The rise of devils
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James Crossland

By the end of the 1860s, the fear of a revolutionary terrorist conspiracy – driven by Orsini’s bombs, the Bakunin–Nechaev alliance, the recent efforts of the IRB and suspicions of Marx’s First International  – reached a crescendo in Europe. In the midst of this fear Stieber was returned to power in Prussia, off the back of foiling an assassination attempt on the Chancellor Otto von Bismarck. This was one of a slew of assassination attempts on political figures during the 1860s, which were taken as evidence by Stieber of the existence of a wider conspiracy. He was not the only police chief to think this. In France, the head of the Paris police prefecture, Joseph-Marie Pietri, also came to believe in a revolutionary underground, the more so when rumours emerged in 1870 that the notorious radical Louis  Auguste Blanqui was plotting with other subversives in Paris to kill Napoleon and incite an uprising. Though no evidence of this ambitious plot was uncovered, anxiety still hung over France, even as it entered into a catastrophic war with Bismarck’s Prussia.

in The rise of devils
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James Crossland

This chapter charts the sudden rise and brutal fall of the Paris Commune, a revolutionary movement that seized control of the City of Light in the aftermath of France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871. Comprising Jacobins, socialists, anarchists, republicans and even the wandering soldier-of-fortune Cluseret, the Commune represented the ideological diversity of the world’s radical movements or, as one newspaper had it – ‘the most fiendish representation of internationalist terrorism that has ever been seen ’. The lack of ideological cohesion in the Commune led to outside observers judging it by whatever prejudices they held. Some believed the Commune was a return to the sanguinary practices of the original French Revolution, whilst others feared it marked the arrival of communism in Europe. For police chiefs inured of terrorist conspiracy theories, the Commune provided evidence for their beliefs, necessitating a brutal suppression of the Communards in May 1871. Undeterred, certain Communards – Louise Michel and Élisée Reclus in particular – continued to dream of their revolutionary struggle.

in The rise of devils