Behind Susan Rosenberg and the roots of left-wing domestic extremism

As unrest morphed into riots in 2020, her past 'terrorism' crimes came back to light

Susan Rosenberg, who made the FBI’s Most Wanted list by the time she was 29, is among the most prominent far-left revolutionary activists in the U.S.

Earlier this summer, she sparked controversy after it was discovered that she purportedly sat on the board as vice-chair of Thousand Currents, which has poured more than $10 million into grassroots social change initiatives, including Black Lives Matter as of late.

The nonprofit, formerly known as IDEX, quickly removed the director’s page featuring Rosenberg from its website in June. It remained unclear if and to what capacity she still serves the organization. Thousand Currents did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.

Susan Rosenberg, (Krista Kennell/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images, File)

Susan Rosenberg, (Krista Kennell/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images, File)

The police officer who personally escorted Rosenberg out of the Newark courthouse in 1985 after she was sentenced to 58 years for explosives possession said her affiliation with the group showed that the same domestic terrorism ideologies from 35 years ago still are percolating now.

"I was at first shocked to learn of (Rosenberg's new role), but on the other hand, I wasn't so shocked given that members of these same groups get into academia and still follow the same teachings and inspiration," retired NYPD Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik told Fox News. 


Born in 1955 and raised on New York City's Upper West Side, Rosenberg fervently joined activist causes during high school, including the Black liberation movement and others rejecting "repressive" U.S. policies globally and domestically. 

Starting in the late 1970s, Rosenberg became involved in the far-left revolutionary terrorist outfit, May 19 Communist Organization ("M19CO"), which the FBI described as "openly advocating for the overthrow of the U.S. government through armed struggle and the use of violence."

According to officials at the time, the M19C0 gave support and resources to an adjunct of the Black Liberation Army (BLA), which the Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC) characterized as an "underground Black nationalist militant organization that operated from 1970 to 1981." As a splinter group of the Black Panther Party, it was known to have "carried out a series of bombings, murders, robberies and prison breaks."

She also was linked to the controversial Weather Underground Organization (WUO), founded in 1969 on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan, with a 1974 stated goal "to create a revolutionary party to overthrow American imperialism," according to the FBI, which labeled it a "domestic terrorist organization" when bombings began the following year.

"The left-wing extremist groups were predominantly Marxist in political thought," noted Kenneth Gray, a senior lecturer on criminal justice and forensic sciences at the University of New Haven. "They conducted robberies and hundreds of bombings throughout the U.S."

By the time she was 29, Rosenberg was on the FBI's Most Wanted List, suspected of being an accomplice in the 1979 prison escape of the still FBI-wanted Joanne Chesimard, aka "Assata Shakur," a BLA member who was serving a life sentence for the murder of police troopers in New Jersey. Rosenberg was also wanted in connection to a 1981 Brink's robbery that claimed the lives of two police officers and one guard.

Rosenberg, after several years as a fugitive in disguise, finally resurfaced in the late fall of 1984. She was caught after renting out a storage unit in New Jersey under a stolen identity – that of Barbara Grodin. She was found storing 12 assorted guns, nearly 200 sticks of dynamite, more than 100 sticks of the highly explosive DuPont Trovex, and hundreds of false identification documents.

On Dec. 6, 1984, a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Rosenberg and her associate, Timothy Blunk, with conspiracy, firearms offenses and possession of false identification documents.

Prosecutors dropped the conspiracy and racketeering charges against Rosenberg, and she was never tried in connection to the Shakur escape nor the Brink's robbery. According to an archived New York Times report, it was Rudolph Giuliani, then U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who chose not to prosecute the Brink's charges on the premise that the other charges sufficed.


As the court filings from the March 1985 hearing highlighted, from the beginning of the proceedings, "it was evident that Blunk and Rosenberg styled themselves as 'political prisoners' rather than criminal defendants."

"The defendants insisted on being absent from most of the trial proceedings and directed their retained counsel to remain inactive during the trial," filings stated. "To accommodate them, the trial judge provided Blunk and Rosenberg with closed-circuit television through which they could monitor the proceedings, and appointed a public defender to remain in the courtroom for the trial to protect the defendants' interests."

On March 17, 1985, the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all submitted counts for both Rosenberg and Blunk. New Jersey U.S. District Court Judge Frederick Bernard Lacey slapped them with the maximum sentence of 58 years each behind bars at New York's maximum-security Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC).

Sympathizers lamented that the sentence was 16 times the national average for similar offenses.

Antifa protesters at a rally. (Mark Graves/The Oregonian via AP, File)

Antifa protesters at a rally. (Mark Graves/The Oregonian via AP, File)

Craig Caine, a former law enforcement officer who later went on to become a U.S. federal marshal, said he remembered the day scores of special officers, a bomb squad, and a legion of high-ranking officers arrived at the MCC, coupled with closed off roads, ceaseless sirens and cleared areas in preparation for a "high profile prisoner."

"They brought in the skinny little woman, who seemed scared and I wondered who the heck this was," Caine recalled. "Then, I found out it was someone who basically had enough dynamite to blow up half of Manhattan."

Caine said Rosenberg immediately became something of "a celebrity" inside the MCC, with a following of female fans and entrenched in her own clique of inmates, but stressed that she always was "respectful" and stayed out of the way of authorities.

Kerik had a different take. 

"She despised us all; I am sure she would have killed every single one of us if she could have," he conjectured. "In court, she and Blunk would go on rampages about the government and all this death to America."

Moving Rosenberg to court or anywhere outside the MCC was no easy feat – requiring roads to be shuttered, backup cars, and trained snipers in the vicinity.

In 1988, Rosenberg additionally faced accusations of "aiding and abetting" a string of bombings targeting the U.S. Capitol, the National War College and the New York Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

Additional charges included a role in a series of New York attacks, of which bombs were planted but did not detonate, on sites such as the FBI's office in Staten Island. These charges were discarded as part of a plea deal by other revolutionary members and Rosenberg was neither tried nor convicted in connection to the 1983-1985 terrorism surge.

Rosenberg and Blunk went on to appeal their convictions and sentences unsuccessfully. 

Throughout what would be just 16 years in federal lockup, Rosenberg became a noted author, poet and activist – even earning a master's degree from Antioch University and voraciously writing. In the morning of Jan. 20, 2001, then-President Bill Clinton commuted Rosenberg's sentence.

She swiftly moved from prison to her mother's Manhattan apartment.

"I have seen speculation that Rosenberg's sentence was commuted based upon the connection between her former attorney Howard Gutman and President Clinton," Gray said. "Gutman was a big donor to the Democratic Party."


The commutation ignited outrage among law enforcement and elected officials in the New York area from both parties, who viewed the move as an act of betrayal, given that their own brethren had lost their lives during crimes tied to Rosenberg.

"I wrote (Clinton) a scathing letter," Kerik said. "Rosenberg's group was responsible for a number of murders of cops."

Over the ensuing years, now a free woman and anti-prison advocate, Rosenberg entered academia, teaching at Manhattan's Jay College of Criminal Justice. After four semesters, the CUNY administration was forced to let her contract quietly expire amid the political pressure surrounding her hiring.

Rosenberg also penned a memoir in 2011 entitled "An American Radical: A Political Prisoner in My Own Country," in which she defended her 1984 actions, proclaiming that "there was no immediate, specific plan to use the explosives" with which she and Blunk were apprehended. 

"We were stockpiling arms for the distant revolution that we all had convinced ourselves would come soon," Rosenberg wrote. "I also believed that our government ruled the world by force and that it was necessary to oppose it with force."

Soon after Rosenberg's name resurfaced publicly again over the summer, President Trump threatened to designate Antifa – an extreme left-wing, leaderless conglomerate – a "terrorist" organization. Critics have pushed back with the counterargument that Antifa was merely an ideology and that right-wing extremists were to blame for much of the protracted violence.


Nonetheless, it points to the notion that even with the passage of time, "domestic terrorism" may have changed little in its actions and may still be comprised of the same advisers and activities that birthed the movement decades ago.

"Many of the inspirations (and ideologies) are still the same," Kerik added. "Many like Rosenberg are still alive, have gone into academia, and are still doing the same thing years on."