Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez publicly defended convicted bomber Oscar Lopez Rivera on Sunday and compared him to first president George Washington.
Rivera, a Puerto Rican nationalist, served 35 years of a 55-year federal prison sentence for his role in more than 70 bombings in U.S. cities, including Chicago, Washington, and New York, from 1974-1983, according to Fox News. Former President Barack Obama commuted the remaining 20 years of Rivera's prison sentence during his last several months in office, WLS-TV reported.
Rivera led the Puerto Rican terrorist group, Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional, or "Armed Forces of National Liberation," which advocated for Puerto Rico's independence from the United States. FALN, which is viewed by many Americans as a terrorist organization, claimed responsibility for the bombings, which killed five people and injured dozens more, according to Fox News.
Rivera returned to Chicago on Thursday for the first time in decades, where crowds greeted him at the city's Humboldt Park with a celebratory parade.
Chicago resident Joe Connor, whose father died in a bombing perpetrated by FALN when Connor was only 9 years old, criticized his fellow Chicagoans for "celebrating a terrorist."
"I mean, that's what they're doing, they're celebrating a terrorist, a sworn enemy of this country," Connor said.
"It takes a little bit of your soul away. Every time I have to defend my father's life I feel like I lose part of my own," Connor said.
Rivera addressed the crowd that came out to celebrate his release.
"I love this community because I was part of this community. I worked in this community," Rivera said of the city he once viciously attacked, WLS reported.
And according to Gutierrez, history won't remember Rivera as a terrorist or murderer — but as a patriot.
Gutierrez said during a joint interview with Rivera on the Spanish television network Univision that Rivera will be among "all of the great leaders and heroes of the struggle for the fatherland," according to NewsBusters' translation.
Gutierrez went on to liken Rivera to America's most familiar Founding Father and first president, George Washington.
"Look, if this were the war for the independence of the United States of the 13 colonies, Oscar Lopez-Rivera, in the London newspapers, they would have said the same of him that they said of George Washington," Gutierrez told Univision host Jorge Ramos.
The Democratic congressman said: "Look, the struggle for independence is a struggle that every people has the right to and a responsibility, as Oscar has said, to do."
Gutierrez said he would even be willing to go to help Rivera achieve independence for Puerto Rico, which is currently a U.S. territory.
"One day, soon, I hope to be here, in my homeland, fighting alongside my brother and leader Oscar Lopez Rivera," Gutierrez said.
Former President Bill Clinton offered clemency to Rivera and 12 other FALN members in 1999. The other 12 members accepted the deal, but Rivera declined it because the offer did not extend to all imprisoned FALN members, the New York Times reported.
Had Rivera accepted the 1999 clemency deal, he would have been eligible for release from prison in 2009.