“Today is a holiday in Massachusetts: Patriots’ Day,” President Obama said, addressing the nation Monday evening after explosions in Boston killed two and injured 86. “It’s a day that celebrates the free and fiercely independent spirit that this great American city of Boston has reflected from the earliest days of our nation.”
The president was careful not to call Monday’s explosions “terrorist attacks.” But a White House official who spoke with NBC News said “any event with multiple explosive devices—as this appears to be—is clearly an act of terror.”
“A thorough investigation will have to determine whether it was planned and carried out by a terrorist group, foreign or domestic,” the official said.
To Bostonians, Patriots’ Day is synonymous with Marathon Monday.
But to anti-governments extremists, Patriots’ Day means something entirely different.
Patriots’ Day—a public holiday in Massachusetts and Maine held on the third Monday of April—marks the first shots fired in the Revolutionary War.
It was Patriots’ Day on April 19, 1993, when the Mount Carmel Center in Waco, Texas, went up in flames, allegedly on the orders of Branch Davidian leader David Koresh. At least 72 people died. At the time of the fire, the group was locked in a stand-off with federal agents.
It was two days after Patriots’ Day–April 19, 1995–when Timothy McVeigh detonated a bomb made of fertilizer, diesel fuel, and other chemicals outside a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.
It was the day after Patriots’ Day–April 20, 1999–when teenagers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School before committing suicide.
And it was on Patriot’s Day today, April 15, 2013, when two explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon left two dead and 86 injured.
Officials have told NBC News that the devices detonated were homemade, crudely assembled, and possibly had shrapnel added to them for added harm after the blasts.
Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King of the Senate Intelligence Committee said the reports of improvised explosive devices at such a high-profile national event “bear the hallmarks of a terrorist attack.”
Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center tells NBC News that his organization has no evidence that any of the militia groups that SPLC monitors were involved with Boston, though he acknowledges that Patriots’ Day is an important day to militia groups.