Independent Lens: Let the Fire Burn

About This Episode

On May 13, 1985, a longtime feud between the city of Philadelphia and the radical urban group MOVE came to a deadly climax. Formed as a “back to nature” commune by John Africa, MOVE members took the same surname in honor of their ancestral homeland, wore their hair in dreadlocks, shunned technology, and promoted a diet of raw food. Grappling for a way to describe the group, reporters sometimes referred to MOVE as a “cult” and later as “terrorists.”

By order of local authorities, police dropped military-grade explosives on the house occupied by MOVE members. News cameras captured the conflagration that quickly escalated — and resulted in the tragic deaths of eleven people (including five children) and the destruction of 61 homes. It was only later discovered that authorities decided to “let the fire burn.” Using archival news coverage and interviews for a past in present tense approach, Let the Fire Burn brings to life one of the most tumultuous and largely forgotten clashes between government and citizens in modern American history.