November 7, 1983
The Senate had planned to work late into the evening of Monday, November 7, 1983. Deliberations proceeded more smoothly than expected, however, so the body adjourned at 7:02 p.m. A crowded reception, held near the Senate Chamber, broke up two hours later. Consequently, at 10:58 p.m., when a thunderous explosion tore through the second floor of the Capitol’s north wing, the adjacent halls were virtually deserted. Many lives had been spared.
Minutes before the blast, a caller claiming to represent the “Armed Resistance Unit” had warned the Capitol switchboard that a bomb had been placed near the chamber in retaliation for recent U.S. military involvement in Grenada and Lebanon.
The force of the device, hidden under a bench at the eastern end of the corridor outside the chamber, blew off the door to the office of Democratic Leader Robert C. Byrd. The blast also punched a potentially lethal hole in a wall partition sending a shower of pulverized brick, plaster, and glass into the Republican cloakroom. Although the explosion caused no structural damage to the Capitol, it shattered mirrors, chandeliers, and furniture. Officials calculated damages of $250,000.
A stately portrait of Daniel Webster, located across from the concealed bomb, received the explosion’s full force. The blast tore away Webster’s face and left it scattered across the Minton tiles in one-inch canvas shards. Quick thinking Senate curators rescued the fragments from debris-filled trash bins. Over the coming months, a capable conservator painstakingly restored the painting to a credible, if somewhat diminished, version of the original.
Following a five-year investigation, federal agents arrested six members of the so-called Resistance Conspiracy in May 1988 and charged them with bombings of the Capitol, Ft. McNair, and the Washington Navy Yard. In 1990, a federal judge sentenced Marilyn Buck, Laura Whitehorn, and Linda Evans to lengthy prison terms for conspiracy and malicious destruction of government property. The court dropped charges against three co-defendants, already serving extended prison sentences for related crimes.
The 1983 bombing marked the beginning of tightened security measures throughout the Capitol. The area outside the Senate Chamber, previously open to the public, was permanently closed. Congressional officials instituted a system of staff identification cards and added metal detectors to building entrances to supplement those placed at chamber gallery doors following a 1971 Capitol bombing.