Politics & Policy

Unearthing the Weather Underground

Bill Ayers, Barack Obama, and the truth

The resolute reporting of National Review Online’s Stanley Kurtz and his colleagues has cast light on the concealed web of connections linking Barack Obama and Bill Ayers. A recent visit by this writer to a local Borders Bookstore has opened a window onto the Weather Underground itself via the pages of a volume found unexpectedly in the store’s political science section. Dan Berger, the author of Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity, published in 2005, intends his book to be a chronicle of subtle praise for the terrorist organization, another nostalgic trip through the psychedelic 60s. In the hands of a reader with a sound moral compass, however, it becomes a searing indictment of the group. Read factually, it pierces the purple haze spewed by the radical chic narrative of the anti-war movement. On page after page it paints a picture of the sordid moral wasteland inhabited by the members of the Weather Underground and their terrorist co-conspirators. The unvarnished truth demonstrates that the rationalizations Barack Obama has employed to explain away his links to Bill Ayers are untenable. It also casts doubt on Obama’s suitability to serve as president of the United States.


Dan Berger is described on the book’s back cover as a writer, activist and doctoral student. He claims, with the cool detachment of a scholar, that his study is “an attempt to explain what drove the Weather Underground and why … to create space for a dialogue of what the Weather Underground means for today.” He describes the group as “a dynamic and vibrant revolutionary movement dedicated to fundamental and progressive social change.” (Change we can believe in, perhaps?) But only a sycophant like Berger could proceed to compile copious evidence of illegal acts without labeling the perpetrators criminals of the highest order.

There are many unsavory figures in the book. Bill Ayers, for example, was a founding member of the Weather Underground, which split off from the radical Students for a Democratic Society in June, 1969. He was one of the signatories of the organization’s first manifesto, which asserted that “the main struggle going on in the world today is between U.S. imperialism and the national liberation struggles against it.” Taking its call for “a white fighting force” quite literally, the group’s leaders launched a spasm of violence, including street fighting, riots, beatings, pipe bombs, and attacks on the police, all culminating in the infamous Days of Rage in Chicago in October. They tried to organize a new version of the Brown Shirts, in other words.

In December, 1969 Ayers and his zealous co-revolutionaries resorted to an outright terrorist campaign, a step taken at what they dubbed a “National War Council” in Flint, Michigan. It was an ugly scene, where various spokesmen, Berger writes, “proudly proclaimed themselves the ‘New Barbarians’ and pondered aloud whether it would be acceptable to kill white children to prevent the further spread of white supremacy. They worked themselves up to a laughing frenzy, chanting ‘Explode!’” At the end of this sickening spectacle they made the decision to go underground, and within months the bombings started in earnest.

Many of these atrocities are recounted in an excellent article by Deroy Murdock recently posted on NRO. Several merit mention here for their all-out assault on the American legal system, our Armed Forces, and the democratic political process. In February 1970 the Weather Underground firebombed the home of John Murtagh, a New York City judge, with his entire family barely escaping the conflagration. On March 6 a massive nail bomb intended to kill and maim soldiers at Fort Dix, NJ prematurely detonated in a townhouse in Greenwich Village, killing three members, Ted Gold, Diana Oughton, and Terry Robbins, while two others, Katy Boudin and Cathy Wilkerson, managed to elude capture. “Operating under the logic that ‘the bigger the bang the better,’” Dan Berger notes, “the action was to be a pre-emptive strike against those who would soon drop bombs over Vietnam, thus ‘bringing the war home’ with all the intensity the slogan implied.”

On May 10 the National Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C. became a target, and in October a “Fall Offensive” commenced with attacks against the Long Island City Courthouse in Queens, NY and the Marin County Hall of Justice in California. There was no let up in the following years. On February 28, 1971 the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, DC was hit; in May, 1972 the Pentagon was bombed, causing tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage; and in May 1973 the 103RD Precinct of New York’s Finest was targeted. There were dozens of other attacks against federal offices, state corrections facilities, and corporate headquarters.


Bernardine Dohrn, as many readers know, is not only Bill Ayers wife but was a prominent leader of the Weather Underground. She has flown below the radar screen in much of the recent discussion about Ayers and Obama, yet she emerges as a bloodthirsty Valkyrie in Berger’s book, which plumbs the depths of her depravity. At the 1969 “War Council” in Flint she expressed solidarity with, of all people, Charles Manson. As Berger retells it, “raising three fingers to signify the fork used as a murder weapon by the Manson ‘family,’ speaker Dohrn praised the recent murders in Los Angeles.” In May 1970 she was the sole signatory of “A Declaration of a State of War” aimed at the United States, which asserted that “[w]ithin the next fourteen days we will attack a symbol or institution of Amerikan injustice.” True to her word, the Weather Underground bombed the New York City Police Headquarters. She signed the communiqué that followed, which boasted, “[e]very time the pigs think they’ve stopped us, we come back a little stronger and a lot smarter. They guard their buildings and we walk right past their guards. They look for us – we get to them first.” A few years earlier, after being elected one of the national leaders of the Students for a Democratic Society, she proudly described herself as a “revolutionary communist.” During the Days of Rage she was apprehended and “charged with battery, mob action and resisting arrest.” She was a fugitive on the FBI’s Most Wanted List for more than a decade.

Tired of living on the lam, Dohrn and Ayers turned themselves into police in Chicago on December 3, 1980. Charges against Ayers were dropped due to the FBI’s mishandling of evidence. Dohrn was placed on probation, but then served seven months in jail in 1982 for refusing to testify to a grand jury about events surrounding the October, 1981 robbery of a Brinks Armored Car outside of New York City, during which several members of the Weather Underground and the Black Liberation Army murdered a security guard and two Nyack, NY police officers. Kathy Boudin, who had escaped from the Greenwich Village townhouse, pled guilty to one count of murder, served twenty years, and was released in 2003. Susan Rosenberg was pardoned by Bill Clinton. Still serving seventy-five-year sentences are Judy Clark and David Gilbert. In a macabre expression of radical solidarity, Dan Berger actually dedicates his book to Gilbert.

But why did Dohrn refuse to testify before the grand jury? “I feel like one of the great things we did in our time underground,” she bragged, “was build a real campaign, a widespread popular campaign, against cooperation with the FBI and the repressive strategies [of the state] … Even though I had no information to give, I had to resist.” This debased rationalization cannot be accepted in a civilized society. Dohrn and Ayers bear a large share of the moral responsibility surrounding this horrific crime. They created, and nurtured for more than ten years, a criminal organization whose members went on to murder three innocent men in cold blood.


Ultimately, Dan Berger is an apologist for terror. In the conclusion of his book he asks, “Was the [Weather Underground] a terrorist Organization?” His reply: “Terrorists? Apocalyptic nihilists? Hardly. The Weather Underground was, on the contrary, a militant continuation of the hopeful spirit of the early to mid-1960s, inspired by the success of national liberation movements the world over.” Bill Ayers parrots this same distorted line of reasoning in his memoir, Fugitive Days. “Terrorists terrorize, they kill innocent civilians, while the [Weather Underground] organized and agitated,” he claims. “Terrorists intimidate, while we aimed only to educate.”

This moral relativism eerily echoes Barack Obama’s blasé reaction to questions about his relationship with Ayers and Dohrn. The former is just “a guy who lives in my neighborhood” we are told. With a rationale like this Obama insults our intelligence. It is inconceivable that someone with his education – including at Columbia University, where the SDS’s occupation of the campus in 1968 is the stuff of legend – and his exposure to politics in Chicago, the sight of the 1968 Democratic Convention and the Days of Rage in 1969, knew nothing of the history of the Weather Underground when he first met Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. “I was just 8 years old” in 1969, Obama says. How old was he when Ayers and Dohrn emerged from hiding in 1980 to headlines across the country? How old was he when the Weathermen murdered two policemen and a Brinks security guard in Nyack, New York in 1981? He was twenty, well past the age of reason. What is more, he was in his junior year at Columbia University in New York City, less than forty miles from where the crime occurred. “Despicable acts” is his strongest description of what Ayers and Dohrn did. Wrong again. These were not simply “despicable,” they were evil, terrorist atrocities – and capital murders in the case of the Brinks robbery. Why can’t Obama, lauded for his oratory, speak plainly and truthfully about such actions, about a campaign that aimed to rip our country apart?

In recent days Deroy Murdock and radio talk show host Laura Ingraham have asked the right rhetorical question: what did Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn see in Barack Obama when they met him in Chicago? After reading Berger’s book the answer is clear: they saw in him a kindred spirit, a fellow traveler, an acceptable face of the radical agenda they were pushing. What is more, Obama saw kindred souls in Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn. This cuts to the heart of the matter. A person with a sound moral compass would have never developed a relationship with the two former terrorists in the first place, but would have immediately distanced himself from them. A person with a strong moral foundation, never mind a candidate for president of the United States, would have never sought to ingratiate himself with the likes of Ayers and Dohrn, a man and woman who have committed evil acts, who have admitted as such, and who have never repented for their transgressions.

This entire episode represents a profound failure of judgment on Obama’s part. It also has the most serious of implications regarding his presidency if he is elected. Remember, on Inauguration Day Obama will take an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic. He will be the highest law enforcement official in the nation. He will recommend judges to sit on the Supreme Court, appoint the Attorney General of the United States, and name the Director of the FBI. Bernardine Dohrn refused to cooperate with the latter agency and refused to testify before a grand jury. What does Obama think about this? What does his association with someone who has nothing but utter contempt for our legal system portend? Will he go soft on domestic terrorism? Can we expect him to take a page out of Bill Clinton’s book and pardon Judy Clark and Dave Gilbert? Will he sound off about moral equivalence, which we have already heard in some his statements? Can we trust him to enforce the rule of law? We do not ask these questions about John McCain because we know his track record. We ask them of Barack Obama because, for whatever reason, he is covering his tracks.


There is an international dimension to this issue that is directly relevant to the Constitutional obligations of the Commander-in-Chief. In 1974 the Weather Underground made a fraudulent intellectual case for its terrorist campaign in a subversive book, Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutions. It outlined three justifications for its bombings: those taken “to retaliate for the most savage criminal attacks against Black and Third World people, especially by the police apparatus … to disrupt and agitate against U.S. aggression and terror against Vietnam and the Third World … [and] to expose and focus attention against the power and institutions which most cruelly oppress, exploit and delude the people.” The introduction, signed by Bill Ayers, said the book was written for “communist-minded people, independent organizers and anti-imperialists … to all sister and brothers who are engaged in armed struggle against the enemy.”

The bombing rationale found in Prairie Fire as well as other aspects of the book — it was released on the fifteenth anniversary of the communist revolution in Cuba and its title comes from a quote by Chairman Mao: “A single spark can start a prairie fire” — remind us that the Weather Underground was a domestic component of an international terrorist network that spanned several decades, from the 1960s to the 1990s. This network included the Vietcong, Cuban terrorists, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the Red Brigades, the Baider-Meinhof Gang, the Irish Republican Army, ETA in Spain and, closer to home, the Puerto Rican FALN. Dan Berger delineates the link between all of these organizations. The Weather Underground, he writes, emulated “Third World revolutionaries — Cuba and Vietnam were especially the models — by going underground and taking armed actions … Weather viewed the underground as a way to express solidarity with the Third World, within and outside the United States.”

As such, the Weather Underground was part of an international movement that provided a template for radical Islamic terrorism. Assassinating American diplomats in Africa, targeting buildings in New York, bombing the Pentagon, targeting the U.S. Capitol, attacking world financial centers – the calling cards of Al Qaeda – were all first carried out by the Weather Underground Organization and other international terrorist groups, including the PLO. They overlap with Al Qaeda, in fact, which is a chilling connection in a post-9/11 world. Does Barack Obama, possibly our next Commander-in-Chief whose solemn duty is to protect the citizens of the United States, understand this connection, or has his friendship with members of the Weather Underground clouded his thinking on national security?


Barack Obama is being untruthful. The questions we must ask are: what did he know and when did he know it about Bill Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn, and the Weather Underground? Until he levels with the American people, the doubts about him will linger. They will be magnified by the fact that there are simply too many things we do not know about this candidate.

There is one thing, however, that is certain: Barack Obama’s partnership with William Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn calls into question not only his political judgment, but his ethical reasoning. Their sustained relationship raises the question of his soundness to serve in high office. The mounting evidence indicates that Barack Obama is morally unqualified to be the president of the United States of America.

– Joseph Morrison Skelly, a college history professor in New York City, writes frequently on international terrorism and international affairs.

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