Mind of a New Left Terrorist
| November 27, 2001
POOR BILL AYERS.
His timing could not have been worse. Just when his over-hyped
memoir of his years as a leader of the Weather Underground was
about to come out, our nation suffered the worst terrorist assault
in its history. Indeed, the very day of the attack, we opened
our New York Times daily Arts section, only to be confronted
with a fawning profile of Ayers and his comrade in terror, Bernardine
Dohrn. Under the headline "No Regrets for a Love of Explosives,"
accompanied by a large color photo of the glamorous couple, writer
Dinitia Smith tells us straight off that Ayers proudly says: "I
don’t regret setting bombs. I feel we didn’t do enough."
Ayers takes responsibility himself for a bombing of the New York
City police headquarters in 1970, the Capitol building in 1971,
and the Pentagon in 1972. When asked whether he would do it again,
Ayers responded: "I don’t want to discount the possibility."
Or as he writes in the memoir, "I can’t imagine entirely
dismissing the possibility, either."
the paper of record prints its Sunday Magazine section in advance,
they were not able to pull from circulation the next weekend’s
edition, which featured yet again another fawning interview with
Ayers. Conducted by a young writer whose own parents were comrades
of Ayers in the terrorist left-wing group, Ayers lets us know
immediately that he still knows that America "is not a just
and fair and decent place." These words of wisdom come from
a man who is now a Distinguished Professor of Education at the
University of Illinois, Chicago, and who brags at the end of his
memoir, that he is "Guilty as hell, free as a bird – it’s
a great country." As for those who believe that America is
indeed a great country, Ayers has one reaction: "It makes
me want to puke."
is similar to the reaction I had when reading his dishonest, disturbed
and self-serving "memoir," which, according to his own
description, is "not exactly the truth," although Ayers
claims it "feels entirely honest" to him. In the magazine
interview, he contradicts what he writes in the book, acknowledging
that although he did not purposely leave things out, he was writing
about "how it felt to me." This means, evidently, that
not everything he describes is actually what happened. As we shall
see, Ayers actually distorts and leaves out incidents that had
he talked honestly about them, would appear quite damning.
– later the Weather Underground – were the last stage offshoot
of what began as a mass student protest group, the Students for
a Democratic Society (SDS). The group held the first student antiwar
rallies in the nation’s capitol and organized large chapters in
virtually all of the major American universities. Eventually,
SDS floundered apart as it split into two distinct bodies – those
gravitating towards a traditional Marxist approach that emphasized
organizing the working class, and those spurred on by visions
of revolution in the Third World who were inspired by Ho Chi Minh
and Mao Tse-Tung. This latter group opted for trying to forge
a homespun guerrilla army of covert terrorists. They sought to
be warriors who would attempt, as they used to say, to "bring
the monster down" by using violence against those living
in "the belly of the beast." The latter group named
themselves the Weathermen. They took over one of the last SDS
formal conventions, and with the different factions raising Mao’s
"Little Red Book" and screaming at each other, the Weathermen
– who took their name from a line in a Bob Dylan song: "you
don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows"
– became in effect the only remaining remnant of the once vibrant
SDS. (Opponents of the Weatherman faction retorted "You don’t
need a thermometer to know who the assholes are," a retort
not presented in Ayers’ book.)
condemn the violence and nihilism of the New Left, Ayers seeks
to bring his readers along so that they come to understand the
thought process that led him and his comrades to move towards
terrorism. He would have us believe that they moved out of decent
motives to cross the line from dissent to a restrained and purposeful
form of what others call terrorism, but which he sees only as
"resistance." They were not terrorists, he protests.
Terrorists seek to harm average people – men, women and children
– without regard to the target. He and his comrades, he asserts
in contrast, claimed "half a dozen bombings," magnified
"because of the symbolic nature of the target, the deliberate
and judicious nature of the blow." They were only trying
to prove "that a homegrown guerrilla movement was afoot in
America." Thus they bombed police stations, statues memorializing
those they considered oppressors, ROTC buildings, armed forces
draft offices, and corporate headquarters.
their decision to move to bombing came at a great cost – the March
6, 1970 Greenwich Village townhouse explosion, in which Ayers’
first Movement girlfriend, Diana Oughton, and his Weatherman comrades
Ted Gold and Terry Robbins, were killed as the bomb they were
constructing accidentally went off, demolishing the town house
as well as ending their own lives. Ayers actually begins the book
with a portrait of how he heard the news. Already underground,
Ayers waited by an isolated phone booth for his weekly report
to be phoned in. Shattered, Ayers takes us through the life in
which his comrades move to that terrible moment. It was "playing
at a deadly politics," he admits. But what disturbs him is
that others, following their leadership, were preparing similar
bombs. Now, after the realization that they were destroying themselves,
Ayers writes, mimicking Che Guevara, "we dreaded the possibility
of two, three, many Townhouses." If they could be assured
bombs would hit only their chosen targets, they might have advised
continuing. Instead, he writes, they "hoped to use our celebrity
in the lunatic left… to persuade others to pull back."
does not tell us, and other histories of the Weather Underground
make quite clear, is that the bomb that went off in the Village
townhouse was an antipersonnel bomb, meant to be placed at a forthcoming
dance at the army base in Fort Dix, New Jersey. Had it exploded
at its chosen target, thousands of GI’s and their dates would
have been killed, and large buildings at the base would have been
destroyed. Somehow, Ayers forgets this well-known fact. Instead,
when others refer to his movement as terrorist, he writes "we’re
not terrorists," but only political activists who "came
close" to terrorism. The distinction that he claims is that
terrorists "terrorize, they kill innocent civilians, while
we organized and agitated. Terrorists destroy randomly, while
our actions bore…the precise stamp of a cut diamond. Terrorists
intimidate, while we aimed only to educate." Somehow, those
GI’s he might have killed, or the police he might have murdered
had a bomb he planted in a Chicago station gone off, obviously
do not count as illegitimate targets, because they are not "civilians."
And the dates of the GI’s, or the civilians working at the police
station, must be in his mind guilty by association. And in his
mind, today, he still thinks that his actions would have been
understood by the mass antiwar movement as a new means of "educating"
people about the horrors of Vietnam. And this man, now a prominent
university educator, wants us to think that he never was a terrorist.
of course, Ayers resorts to standard left-wing clichés
that explain his actions. The US was a racist country; Klan members
lynched black people; the US waged terror regularly against the
peoples of the Third World. They were only bringing the nation’s
own medicine home to its practitioners. Indeed, despite his numerous
disclaimers that he was never a terrorist, Ayers cannot help but
emote about the power and virtues of bomb and dynamite. He reprints
a verse his comrade Terry Robbins came across in Alarm!,
an anarchist paper published by Albert Parsons, one of the fabled
Haymarket anarchists who at the end of a labor rally in Chicago,
set off a bomb that killed seven police officers in 1886. The
"poem"—written by the German anarchist émigré
Johann Most, is an ode to the powers and beauty of dynamite. "Of
all the good stuff," Most wrote, "that is the stuff!
Stuff several pounds of this sublime stuff into an inch of pipe…
plug up both ends, insert a cap with a fuse attached… and light
the fuse. A most cheerful and gratifying result will follow. In
giving dynamite to the downtrodden millions of the globe, science
has done its best work." Indeed, Ayers acted upon his advice
and stuffed such a fuse into Chicago police headquarters, only
to find that his dynamite bomb failed to go off. He says nothing
to indicate that had the blast taken effect, he would not have
considered it "cheerful and gratifying."
the book, he often ends with words such as "bombs away."
The murderous Islamic fascists who destroyed the World Trade Center
and a section of the Pentagon, and destroyed almost 7000 lives,
would be happy to have had Ayers’ book as a guide, despite his
protestations. On one page, after witnessing riots and the aftermath
of a shoot out between police and black radicals in Cleveland
– a murderous assault he calls a "loving attempt… to change
so much of what was glaringly, screamingly wrong," Ayers
after night, day after day, each majestic scene I witnessed
was so terrible and so unexpected that no city would ever
again stand innocently fixed in my mind. Big buildings and
wide streets, cement and steel were no longer permanent. They,
too, were fragile and destructible. A torch, a bomb, a strong
enough wind, and they, too, would come undone or get knocked
It is passages
like the above, being read in the context of America’s new war,
that have obviously disturbed both the publisher of Ayers’ book
as well as its author, who suddenly do not want their book to
be seen as any kind of endorsement of what our country has just
suffered. Indeed, had the major terrorist assaults not taken place,
the publisher was set to send Ayers off on a twenty-city tour,
and the usual suspects among our naïve and trendy intellectuals
were fighting each other to sing Ayers’ praises. Edward Said,
Columbia University’s own most prominent radical intellectual
blurbs the book for "its marvelous human coherence and integrity,"
and he is pleased that it shows "no trace of nostalgia or
‘second thinking.’" Studs Terkel calls the memoir a "deeply
moving elegy to all those young dreamers who tried to live decently
in an indecent world." Thomas Frank sees Ayers as a man who
took a "quintessentially American trip." Quintessentially
American; living decently; what, one wonders, do these esteemed
authors think indecent behavior is, and what and how most Americans
live? Then Scott Turow in his blurb regrets that Ayers’ "critical
point of view" is one we are "barely able to recall."
attacks, in fact, show how we are unfortunately able to recall
it all too well. They have provided evidence that throughout the
world, there are many who still hold to their demented terrorist
dreams, people who are in effect blood brothers and comrades of
Bill Ayers. In its press release after the World Trade Center
and Pentagon attacks, Beacon Press released a statement from Ayers
himself, one that was also printed as a shorter letter in The
New York Times, a paper which has not to date seen fit to
run any of the scores of letters it received opposed to Ayers.
Ayers refers to "the barbarism unleashed against innocent
human beings" as a "nightmare," and claims he too
is "filled with horror and grief." He claims in his
self-serving last ditch attempt to keep people reading his memoir
that the book is "now receiving attention in a radically
changed context;" he asks that we not "collapse time"
and act as if his own words somehow apply to the United States
today. His book, he says, is simply an effort to explore his own
struggle with "the intricate relationships between social
justice, commitment and resistance."
– this crude rationale – can of course be stated by any Islamic
fascist, by any Palestinian extremist, all of whom, along with
Ayers, claim they are not glorifying violence, but only "resisting"
the American oppressors. Now Ayers sheds his crocodile tears and
says that the intent of his book is simply "to understand,
to tell the truth, and to heal." The truth. Does Ayers have
an ounce of indication of what "the truth" even means?
suggests the opposite. I searched in vain for his account of the
momentous so-called "Flint War Council" held by the
Weatherman in Flint, Michigan in December 1969. Had he dealt with
this event, of which he and his comrade and now wife, Bernardine
Dohrn, were key players, it would belie the claim he made to a
Chicago Tribune writer that "we were ordinary people
trying to do our best in extraordinarily extreme and violent times."
The best? At the Flint meeting, which they called a "War
Council," delegates were greeted by a large cardboard cutout
of a machine gun. It was here, as Peter Collier and David Horowitz
reported years ago, Dohrn admonished the four hundred Weather
terrorists to stop being "wimpy" and "scared of
fighting;" and to pick up the gun and "get into armed
struggle." It was during this speech that Dohrn invoked the
example of Charles Manson, who had killed Sharon Tate and all
her houseguests in the Los Angeles hills, and stated: "Dig
it. First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the
same room with them, they even shoved a fork into a victim’s stomach!
Wild!" She closed her speech by holding up three fingers
in what she called the Manson "fork salute;" a new replacement
for the old Communist clenched fist.
followed by one of their dear friends, John Jacobs, whom everyone
called J.J. He told the crowd "we’re against everything that’s
‘good and decent’ in honky America. We will loot and burn and
destroy." After the speeches, the delegates tended to more
important matters: how to get weapons, make bombs and rent "safe
houses." Then they all retreated to a Catholic Church, where
they engaged in compulsory group sex – holding true to their commitment
to smash monogamy. And this behavior and event is obviously intentionally
missing from Ayers’ book, because it would cast an image different
from that which Ayers seeks to create – that of a well-intentioned
opponent of the Vietnam War who was forced by official US "terror"
to take extreme but understandable actions.
Ayers’ rationale seems to be accepted and repeated by many who
should know better. Writing in The New York Observer, (before
the Sept.11 attack on the USA but in an issue dated Sept.23),
Ron Rosenbaum, usually a careful and thoughtful writer, waxes
ecstatic about Ayers. Indeed, Rosenbaum admits that at Yale, where
he was an antiwar activist on the Left, Rosenbaum had a "predisposition"
toward the Weather Underground when the traditional Marxist-Leninists
attacked them as "adventurist." But buying Ayers’ arguments,
Rosenbaum agrees that since the US was killing innocent civilians
with its bombs, then there was some merit to the "terrible
logic of their convictions;" that one simply had to take
excessive action to stop the war machine. Rosenbaum reads the
same memoir I have just read and somehow thinks it is absent of
"self-righteousness and self-justification;" precisely
the factors Ayers’ book reeks of. He sees Ayers conceding errors
and expressing remorse. It makes one wonder what ‘60s drug Rosenbaum
was taking when he wrote his article.
quotes a much-noted passage from the Ayers book, chilling after
the events of Sept. 11. "Everything was absolutely ideal
on the day I bombed the Pentagon. The sky was blue. The birds
were singing. And the bastards were finally going to get what
was coming to them." Perhaps Osama bin Laden had given this
passage out to his crew before they hijacked the plane that killed
so many. Perhaps Bill Ayers, sitting in his UIC office, shared
the same response bin Laden had when he got the news that dreadful
morning, before Ayers’ press agent suggested he better come out
with a statement suggesting otherwise. Yet Rosenbaum, admitting
that the group’s "strategies and tactics look self-destructive
in hindsight," praises them for "the courage of their
convictions, the Narodnik soul of their collective saga."
And he praises them for having "emerged from the underground
without betraying their principles – or each other."
Why should they, when their lies and prattle are praised by the
mainstream press, which seemed intent – before September 11 –
on making them into new culture heroes. Ayers, born to great privilege,
was the son of Tom Ayers, the CEO of Commonwealth Edison, Chicago’s
electric company. He seeks to keep this too from his readers,
preferring to simply say that his father "worked" for
Edison. Aside from arguing with his son and always admonishing
that he should get a haircut, the father seems to engage in filial
pride for his wayward son – proud of his actions even though had
he been successful, he probably would have blown up Edison’s own
corporate headquarters. (Of course, he would have warned Dad first
to vacate the premises.) He is a man in love with his years of
violence. Read his account of the Days of Rage, a riot the Weatherman
organized in Chicago, and his description of his lover Bernardine
Dohrn – admonishing her troops to violence wearing a "short
skirt and high stylist black boots…Her blazing eyes …allied with
her elegance….a stunning and seductive symbol of the Revolutionary
Woman." Ayers tells us that J. Edgar Hoover called Dohrn
"La Pasionaria of the Lunatic Left," a comment that
has more wisdom and truth to it than virtually anything in Ayers’
like to separate the rest of the so-called moderate New Left from
the Weatherman. Todd Gitlin, one of SDS’s first leaders, has condemned
Ayers as a "failed terrorist," and accuses him of responsibility
for destroying what he saw as becoming a mass democratic Left.
We are so often told by Gitlin and others that Tom Hayden, who
wrote the famed SDS Port Huron statement in the movement’s early
days, showed the possibility of a true democratic radicalism.
Hayden gave the New Left the alternative of entering into the
nation’s democratic political structure and waging a serious political
fight for left-wing social policies within the two-party system.
It is therefore good that Ayers reminds us of Hayden’s speech
to the Weatherman at their Days of Rage, when Hayden told the
rioters "Anything that intensifies our resistance…is in the
service of humanity. The Weathermen are setting the terms for
all of us now." You won’t find this in Hayden’s own memoir,
but it gives the lie to those who argue that there is simply no
connection between the early humanist New Left and the later Weathermen.
ends his book without even acknowledging that after the group
broke up, several of its most important cadre – including the
former lower level leader Kathy Boudin – ended up joining in terrorist
actions in support of the ultra violent so-called Black Liberation
Army. Boudin ended up in prison for life for her role in the 1981
Brinks robbery and murder, in which her comrades killed a black
cop. The Weather Underground broke apart in a 1930s-style Communist
purge, as old hard-line Stalinists Ayers and Dohrn had recruited
took the group over, purging many for various deviations. Indeed,
Dohrn and Ayers themselves were put on trial for promoting "crimes
against national liberation struggles, women and the anti-imperialist
left." Like the old Stalinists, they readily confessed to
their crimes before the new Central Committee, of which Dohrn
had taken Stalin’s title as General Secretary.
Many of them
then joined the new May 19th Communist organization,
which became a support group for the terrorist Black Liberation
Army, the group which pulled off the Brinks robbery and murder
with Boudin and Gilbert’s participation. With these two in prison
for life, Ayers and Dohrn agreed to raise Boudin and Gilbert’s
child as their own. Yet the actions of Boudin and Gilbert, who
followed through on the logic and policy of Ayers’ beloved Weathermen,
are somehow not discussed. After all, Ayers admits that he sent
support messages to the BLA, and let them know they "agreed"
with them. Does not this make himself and Dohrn also responsible
for their acts of murder?
with the scene of rejoicing as he and Dohrn watched the television
images of America’s defeat in Vietnam. "We were overjoyed,"
he writes, and they "spent several days celebrating, laughing
and crying." Today, they still go every March 6 to put flowers
on the site of the Village townhouse where their own bombs destroyed
their comrade’s young lives, and in June, the two travel each
year to the site of John Brown’s home, to pay homage to a previous
century’s demented lunatic who killed in the name of a good cause.
Of course, they also traveled to Vietnam, to pay homage to Ho
Chi Minh at his grave.
the most disgusting pages of the book, Ayers brings up the brave
GIs who, coming upon the My Lai massacre in 1968, landed their
helicopter and tried to save Vietnamese civilians from other American
troops gone mad. This action was finally acknowledged by an official
government ceremony in Washington, DC near the Vietnam Memorial,
a fact that shows that our military leaders understand that war
crimes are not to be passed over, and that those who sought to
prevent them taking place are to be honored. Ayers dares to compare
these GIs’ heroic and selfless action to that of Diana Oughton,
Ted Gold and Terry Robbins, who died making a bomb meant to blow
up other GIs at their base in New Jersey. "How much longer,"
he writes, will it take to honor "the three who died on Eleventh
Street? How much longer for Diana? When will she be remembered?"
shows, for those who have doubts, how little Bill Ayers has learned.
He still thinks he and his comrades should be forgiven, because
their terrorism was but "propaganda of the deed" meant
to "blaze away the masters of war," a cause for which
he used "explosive words at first, slowly replaced by actual
bombs." Sorry, Bill. America will not ever honor your dead
comrades; nor will it honor or hold the likes of you in any kind
of esteem. Ayers still thinks, he writes, that today America "shatters
community everywhere," which if true, would mean that this
realization will bring forth a new generation of terrorists, ready
to carry on the fight. Preparing for his now cancelled tour, Ayers
posed for a photo with the American flag crumbled in weeds underneath
his feet. This man still hates America, and seeks its destruction.
No press release will work to undermine this truth.
Radosh is author of Commies: A
Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left,
(Encounter Books,2001,) and is a columnist for FrontPageMagazine.com.