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For Grandma Barb and for Mandy, the best dog, friend and littlest sister a girl could have.
Table of Contents I. Introduction Historiography Historical Context Overview of the Organization II. Chapter 1: Targets III. Chapter 2: Public Response IV. Chapter 3: Underground Issues V. Conclusion Bibliography
I. Introduction Historiography Detailed historical accounts of the Weather Underground Organization (WUO) are limited in numbers but vary broadly in scope.1 With an organization that took its actions to such extremes, differing reactions must be expected and are evident in every piece written about the group. The vast majority of books on the Weathermen are written from a sympathetic standpoint. They view the organization as one that merely acted on the anger felt towards the American government during the 1960s and 1970s. Jonah Raskin‟s brief introduction to The Weather Eye: Communiques from the Weather Underground, May 1970-May 1974, written in 1974 while the group was still active, is an extremely useful yet equally biased account of the Weathermen. Raskin, though not a member of the organization, was romantically involved with one of the female Weathermen. His book is the most extensive compilation of communications from the organization and his introduction is a comprehensive overview of the background of the group. Though he mentioned the major bombings the group undertook, he neglected to elaborate on the severe damage they caused. Instead of discussing historical parts of buildings that were destroyed by the group, he wrote, “By design, there has been only
The WUO has been referred to by many different names in the time since its conception. Before the June 1969 convention it was called Revolutionary Youth Movement I (RYM I). Between June 1969 and March 1970 it was called Weatherman, which was a faction of SDS. After March 1970 it was called the Weather Underground Organization or the Weather Underground. Group members are referred to as Weathermen or Weatherpeople and, in some instances, as Weatherwomen. For simplification purposes, I will refer to the organization as the “Weather Underground Organization” (WUO), individual group members as a “Weatherman” or “Weatherwoman”, and multiple group members as “Weathermen”, even when a different name would technically be more correct.
property damage, not attacks on individuals, and there have been only a few minor injuries.”2 Though it is true that the organization killed no civilians, Raskin‟s statement avoids detailing the extent of the damage, something news reports from the late 1960s and 1970s did not shy away from. Ron Jacobs, author of The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground (1997), similarly wrote of his awe for the group in his preface, stating that, “I found its politics difficult to understand but always admired its style and its ability to hit targets which in my view deserved to be hit.”3 In an attempt to further explain and understand the WUO‟s politics, Ron Jacobs‟ book focuses on the political history of the group instead of the people involved with the organization. According to Ron Jacobs the politics are more significant when studying the group than the individuals in it and he noticed a dearth of books written from such a viewpoint. Although Ron Jacobs‟ book provides a thorough history of the organization, it is important to take his personal activism and admiration of the group into account when reading the book. Dan Berger‟s Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity (2006) also portrays the organization in a similar light. He agrees with Ron Jacobs on the powerful image the group conjures and expands on Jacobs‟ book, focusing both on the politics of the group and the personalities involved with the organization. He writes in his introduction that, “the group needs to be rescued from myths and symbols,
Jonah Raskin, ed. The Weather Eye: Communiques from the Weather Underground, May 1970-May 1974 (New York, NY: Union Square Press, 1974) 8. 3 Ron Jacobs, The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground (New York, NY: Verso, 1997) vi. 5
and instead dealt with at the real level.”4 Berger is aware that writers and historians of the WUO are often impacted by their own personal activist views. Instead of directing attention towards the failures and negative aspects of the organization, his book focuses on the more positive parts. For example, he does not imply that the Weathermen were crazy or psychotic in their actions; rather he portrays them as young men and women with a lofty political agenda who were somewhat misled with the actions they took. This is a common theme in books and articles on the WUO and is extremely significant to acknowledge because it gives off a skewed vision of the group. In a manner similar to that of Ron Jacobs, Berger seems to excuse the Weathermen for the actions they took. Unlike many other accounts of the WUO, Harold Jacobs‟ preface to Weatherman, an extremely comprehensive book published in 1970 (just one year after the formation of the group) that contains various essays, articles and communications from the WUO, portrays the organization from a well-rounded, seemingly unbiased perspective. “Whenever a question arose over the value of a particular piece, I chose to include it, even at the risk of making the book unduly long and repetitious, to give Weatherman the greatest possible latitude in the presentation of its ideas. At the same time, I tried to include substantive criticisms of Weatherman to provide as genuine and useful a confrontation of ideas as possible.”5 Indeed, Harold Jacobs‟ book contains sources that both praise and criticize the WUO, providing the reader with an experience that leans in neither direction. For example, he included an essay by Carl Oglesby (SDS president from 1965-1966) that criticizes the Weathermen, stating that, “Any close reading of the
Dan Berger, Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2006) 12. 5 Harold Jacobs, ed. Weatherman (N.p.: Ramparts Press, Inc., 1970) ii-iii. 6
RYM‟s Weatherman statement will drive you blind.”6 Instead of praising the organization for its lofty ideals, Oglesby points out the contradictory and unfocused nature of their founding paper. Harold Jacobs‟ inclusion of Oglesby‟s essay and similar pieces demonstrates his balance, which is important when studying the WUO. Kirkpatrick Sale‟s SDS (1974) has a similar take on the Weathermen and covers the history of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the takeover by the WUO. Sale‟s book portrays the organization from a well-balanced perspective, something that Ron Jacobs and Dan Berger seemed unable to do in their histories of the organization. Although his book is written in a style that resembles that used by Berger and Ron Jacobs and is not a compilation of articles and communications, it provides a more balanced examination of the organization than the other two. Instead of portraying the Weathermen from a purely positive standpoint, he includes reactions to the group, both positive and negative, from outside sources. Ron Jacobs, Berger and Raskin seem to neglect this in their books, either because of their connections to the activist world or their honest attempts to write a straight history of the organization. In not including extensive criticisms of the organization, though, they offer misleading images and downplay the severity of some of the actions the WUO took. Although each book written about the WUO is useful to studying the background of the organization, the actions it took and its significance today, it is important to take the particular biases of each author into consideration. Ron Jacobs, Dan Berger and Jonah Raskin, all activists in their own right, are clearly sympathetic to the Weathermen. Whether they agreed with the actions, politics or goals of the group, each portrayed it
Harold Jacobs, 129. 7
from primarily one perspective and neglected to include extensive criticisms of the organization. Harold Jacobs and Kirkpatrick Sale, however, both examine the organization from both a positive and negative angle, providing well-rounded analyses of the group and its actions. They do not focus purely on one side or the other and refrain from giving off the impression that the WUO was just a group of young activists who meant well but somehow ended up wandering down the wrong path. In studying the organization there is no right or wrong regarding their actions and the views on their activities are extremely complex. While the group was well intentioned, they did make a great deal of mistakes, probably due to their youth and naiveté. Many of the group members indicate today that they either feel some regret about their actions or at least understand that violence was not the way to achieve their goals, a concept that takes away from the mythical nature of the group mentioned by Berger. This somewhat twisted view of the group, one that clearly affected Ron Jacobs, Dan Berger and Jonah Raskin in their writing, is one that is imperative to avoid in studying and analyzing the group. Through extensive research it is obvious that most historians have a great deal of trouble looking at the group through both a positive and a negative lens, because to do the latter results in rejecting the hopes and aspirations that came with the spirit of the 1960s and giving off a cynical view of the time.
Historical Context The period from 1965 to 1969 marked significant changes within activist movements in the United States and the rest of the world. Civil rights and the Vietnam War were the two most significant protest points in the United States. As with most
activist groups, civil rights groups started out with peaceful approaches. The nonviolent movement was led by Martin Luther King Jr., whose activism started in 1955 with the Montgomery Bus Boycott that spawned from Rosa Parks‟ arrest. At the start of the boycott, King told his followers that, “If you will protest courageously and yet with dignity and Christian love, in the history books that are written in future generations, historians will have to pause and say „there lived a great people—a black people—who injected a new meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization.‟ This is our challenge and our overwhelming responsibility.”7 King promoted nonviolent protest as a means of achieving civil rights, partially because of influences by other peace activists and, as his quotation indicated, to give blacks a good representation in the history books. If they used violent means they could be portrayed in a negative light and King believed in the importance of maintaining a clean image. The three most prominent civil rights organizations during the 1950s and 1960s were the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC, led by King), and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The groups initially held similar nonviolent views, but SNCC “acknowledged the possible need for increased militancy and confrontation” and both SNCC and CORE “became disillusioned, rejecting King‟s moderation, nonviolence, and universalism.”8 Unfortunately nonviolent activism, though it spread rapidly and attracted many people to the issue at hand, proved ineffective and was ultimately replaced with a shift to black power.
William H. Chafe, The Unfinished Journey: America Since World War II (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007) 157. 8 Darlene Clark Hine, et al., The African-American Odyssey, 3rd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc., 2006) 562, 583. 9
One of the main opponents of Martin Luther King Jr. was Malcolm X. Unlike King, who fully endorsed nonviolence, Malcolm X followed a different path. After a disturbing and troubled childhood, he declared in 1964 that, “Revolutions are never based upon love-your-enemy, and pray-for-those-who-despitefully-use-you. And revolutions are never waged by singing „We Shall Overcome.‟ Revolutions are based on bloodshed.”9 Malcolm X rejected the idea of acting peacefully to ensure that blacks would look respectable to future generations and instead believed in literally fighting for black rights. His passion for radicalization inspired other civil rights movement leaders, including Stokely Carmichael of SNCC who coined the term “Black Power.” In 1966 Carmichael proclaimed that, “The only way we gonna stop them white men from whippin‟ us…is to take over. We been saying freedom for six years and we ain‟t got nothin‟. What we gonna start saying is Black Power.”10 He, like Malcolm X, firmly believed that the only way for blacks to gain equal ground was to fight back and refuse to let whites control the system that demoted them to a lower status for hundreds of years. The idea of black power continued evolving and culminated in the militant Black Panther Party, an organization centered in Oakland and Chicago that formed in October 1966. The Panthers had no qualms when it came to violence and, “alarmed white Americans when they took up arms for self-defense and patrolled their neighborhoods to monitor the police…in black leather jackets, berets, and „Afro‟ haircuts.”11 Whites quickly realized that blacks were no longer going to allow themselves to be subjected to the ever-present inferiority they faced in the United States. Some of the Black Panthers
Hine, 584. Hine, 585. 11 Hine, 587.
faced endings similar to those of Malcolm X and MLK Jr., who were both assassinated. Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, members of the organization‟s Chicago faction, were killed in their sleep by Chicago police. Countless others were arrested after being spied on by the FBI‟s COINTELPRO program, which aimed to shut down groups that could potentially endanger the nation‟s security. Although the Black Panther Party was the most prominent militant black organization, it was not the only group to stage rebellions in the country. Three major black rebellions, along with countless smaller ones throughout the country, erupted in the late 1960s in Watts, Newark and Detroit. The Watts rebellion of 1965 was fuelled by extremely high unemployment and resulted in 34 deaths, 900 injuries and 4,000 arrests. Another rebellion broke out in Newark in 1967, also caused by anger over high unemployment and poverty, and resulted in 25 deaths. The most extreme of the rebellions, in Detroit in the summer of 1967, started when police raided a bar in a black section of town, resulting in five days of violence. The uprising grew so severe that President Johnson ordered 4,700 National Guardsmen (in addition to the 800 policemen already there) to subdue the situation. Ultimately 43 black people died, making it the deadliest riot of the year.12 The black rebellions, which were the result of years of harsh suppression, represented the highpoint of black discontent with the American system and demonstrated the extent to which they were willing to fight for equal standing. They had learned from years of experience that peaceful protests simply did not work and that the only way to achieve change was through violence.
Hine, 590. 11
Blacks were not the only ones to turn to violence in America in the late 1960s. The major white youth activist group at the time, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which formed in 1962, was slowly making the shift from peaceful to militant action. Founded by white students due to new black exclusivity amongst black activist groups such as SNCC, SDS primarily fought against the Vietnam War. As the war escalated throughout the 1960s, some members of SDS became increasingly militant. Finding that their peaceful protests were proving ineffective, violent action seemed to be the only way to accomplish anything. By the spring of 1967 the organization was starting to shift towards more direct activism. The New York Times wrote that year that, “the spirit of resistance and direct action constitutes perhaps the major attitude in the New Left today.”13 In the same article, one SDS member said, “I recognize that violence may be necessary, I‟m no pacifist…I‟m a white, middle-class girl, but I understand why Negroes, Puerto Ricans or Okies riot. I feel the same frustrations in myself, the same urge to violence.” The formerly nonviolent group was evolving, primarily due to the recognition that peaceful protests were simply not working. They understood why other groups had shifted to violence and recognized that to succeed in making changes they would have to follow suit.
Overview of the Organization 1969 marked a turning point in American society. The end of the decade of change was fast approaching and youth activists were starting to realize that they were unable to accomplish all they had initially aimed to do. Students for a Democratic Society
Paul Hoffman, “The New Left Turns To Mood of Violence In Place of Protest,” New York Times 7 May 1967: 1+. 12
(SDS), the largest and most influential activist organization, was growing increasingly violent, with “at least eighty-four bombings, attempted bombings, and arson incidents on college campus in the first six months of 1969, twice as many as in the fall, and another twenty-seven bombings and attempts in the nation‟s high schools…There was no mistake: violence had become a real part of the lexicon of American left-wing politics.”14 Although some members of the group supported violence, the majority did not and eventually left. By the summer, ideological cracks in the organization were becoming more and more visible and a significant change seemed imminent. This change took place on June 18, 1969 at the Chicago Coliseum, at SDS‟s ninth annual convention.15 SDS was already in the midst of a split with various groups emerging from the woodwork. The two major rival groups were Revolutionary Youth Movement I (RYM I) and Progressive Labor (PL). At the convention, RYM I passed out its “You Don‟t Need A Weatherman to Know Which Way The Wind Blows” paper (also referred to as the “Weatherman” statement), named after Bob Dylan‟s 1965 song “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” The lyric from which the group adopted its name implies that the direction the country needed to take towards revolution should be relatively obvious to American people. As Kirkpatrick Sale points out in SDS, the song had also been “used as a piece of underground advice to young Americans disaffected from the American system, with the usual Dylanesque overtones of antiauthoritarianism and youthful independence.”16 The name, and the song from which it came, served to promote youth activism and the
Kirkpatrick Sale, SDS (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1974) 512-513. Sale, 557. 16 Sale, 559. 13
potential for young people to change the system, as long as they were careful with their actions. The “Weatherman” statement was written by eleven central members of RYM I, including prominent activists Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, and Mark Rudd. The statement discussed international revolution, imperialism, the way in which race and class fit into these issues, and the need for neighborhood collectives to form a mass revolutionary movement. The paper argued that US imperialism is at the heart of all problems in the country and that socialism was the only system under which “reform fights” can occur. “[I]f we, as revolutionaries, are capable of understanding the necessity to smash imperialism and build socialism, then the masses of people who we want to fight along with us are capable of that understanding. On the other hand, people are brainwashed and at present don‟t understand it.”17 Instead of accepting that many Americans were comfortable with the capitalist system in the country and did not want to switch to socialism, the group simply stated that these people were brainwashed, a declaration that marked the beginning of many arrogant pronouncements on the part of the Weathermen. In terms of race struggle, the organization argued along with other revolutionary groups that there is a “black colony” in the United States. “What this means is that black people are oppressed as a whole people, in the institutions and social relations of the country, apart from simply the consideration of their class position, income, skill, etc.”18 They clearly point out that all black people in the country were oppressed purely based on race, not class or location. “Token exceptions aside, the specific content of this caste oppression is to maintain black people in the most
Harold Jacobs, 76, 75. Harold Jacobs, 53. 14
exploitative and oppressive jobs and conditions.”19 The group made note of “token exceptions” to indicate the hypocrisy in the country that blacks were kept on the lowest rungs of society but a select few with particular talents (mainly in the musical arena) were idolized. The American system was built around slavery, a system in which blacks were kept at the bottom and used to benefit the rest of society, and most white Americans felt little desire to disrupt a system that had worked well for them for the previous three hundred years. Responses to the “Weatherman” paper varied widely, but most were negative. While the paper, and those involved with the group that wrote it, ultimately beat PL at the convention, Kirkpatrick Sale argued that: There is much to criticize in „Weatherman‟. There is only a passing reference to „the woman question,‟ no attempt to set out a program either short or long range, a total misreading of the centrality of blacks in the economic structure, a thoroughly romantic image of the toughness and heroism of „working-class kids,‟ and unfounded overconfidence in the imminent collapse of the American system, and an utter confusion as to who is the „vanguard‟ for white youths to follow (blacks? Vietnamese? street kids?)…But all of that is almost unimportant next to the two major defects of the statement…[The first problem is that] it immediately creates a sense of distance, exclusion, and elitism… The second difficulty is that it reduces the role of white American revolutionaries to fighting other people‟s battles…Not only are students no longer an agency of change, they are not even an object of change; not only do white middle-class college-educated people have no battles of their own to fight, they have no legitimacy as a stratum or validity as a force. This is where the „best minds of the generation‟ had come to.20
Harold Jacobs, 55. Sale, 562-63. 15
Although the paper covered what the organization saw as necessary to change the country, it was not given the respect the WUO expected. It is evident through reading the paper that those in charge of writing it were wealthy young whites who believed that they knew exactly what to change in the country and how best to do this. The elitism Sale mentioned is evident throughout and resulted in a severe drop in respect from fellow activists and Americans. As Carl Oglesby said, “Any close reading of the RYM‟s Weatherman statement will drive you blind.”21 No matter how hard the organization tried to put forth an influential and well-constructed document, some ridiculed it and many did not see it as a feasible collection of ideas on which to base the entire white radical movement. The overarching goal of the Weathermen was relatively straightforward, which was to overthrow the capitalist and imperialist United States government. They hoped to replace it with a socialist system from which everyone in the country would benefit equally. The more specific objectives, however, were less easily defined. The group wanted to fight domestic and international imperialism, halt the war in Vietnam, eradicate racial inequalities, end sexism, and eliminate class boundaries. These targets had clearly evolved from other activist groups at the time, most specifically SDS, but had one crucial difference: the Weathermen sought to achieve these goals through violence. The age-old violence versus non-violence debate had been concluded in the student movement arena and violence had won. Drawing from revolutionaries such as Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh and Mao Zedong, the organization believed that violence was the only way to achieve revolution in the country. Their violence was evident at the June 1969
Sale, 562. 16
convention and was first truly put into practice in Chicago at the Days of Rage rally that year, which lasted from October 8th to 12th. Although the group tried to get together thousands of people to participate in the protests, they were able to assemble a crowd of no more than 600 during the four-day span.22 The activists ran through the streets, wreaking havoc on the city‟s property and inhabitants. Ultimately, though, the event was a failure and showed a significant lack of support for the group from other radical and revolutionary organizations. The violent aims of the organization were apparent in the closing paragraph of their “Weatherman” statement, which refers to “city-wide fights” and to the battlefields of the International Liberation army, which will be “added to the many Vietnams which will dismember and dispose of US imperialism. Long Live the Victory of People‟s War!”23 The violent terminology used and the mention of tearing apart and throwing out the current American system clearly reflects the quest for a violent revolution, but the organization seemed to be in the early stages of the decision to become violent. They used no specific examples of violence and made no mention of the bombing campaigns they started less than nine months later. This indicates that although they promoted violent revolution, they had not yet thought through what it would require. Although the Weather Underground Organization tried to change the country for the better, it ultimately fell apart without making a significant impact on the United States. It did not accomplish many of its broad goals, was generally perceived negatively by other organizations and the government, and suffered from extreme disunity after it moved underground in early 1970. These major problems are evident when looking back on the organization from a modern perspective, but it is understandable why they were
Sale, 603. Harold Jacobs, 90. 17
ignored at a time of such great distress. Studying the shortcomings of one of America‟s most notorious white revolutionary organizations is important because it can shed light on what makes such an organization collapse and what it takes for one to survive. Without understanding why past revolutionary movements were unable to succeed it is impossible to form one in the future that has the potential to truly alter the system.
II. Chapter One: Targets One of the main problems the Weather Underground Organization dealt with from the beginning was the vast number of institutions it attacked during its existence and its changing views on these issues. The organization was unable to focus purely on one issue, even a single broad one, such as racial inequality, and its focuses changed over time. Although the group was clearly passionate about all of its targets, the decision to focus on multiple problems was ultimately a hindrance, no matter how honorable the thought. The group was unprepared to fight for so many issues and barely had enough resources to fight for just one. Additionally, the organization‟s targets changed over time and lacked stability. The FBI report on the Weather Underground Organization discusses the group‟s inability to stick to one set of principles. “The WUO has undergone significant ideological changes from the Weatherman during the period from 1969 to 1976. Changes in the balance of forces in the world, the ending of the war in Vietnam, a less abrasive social fabric in the country, a general malaise of the revolutionary left coupled with their own maturing has affected their ideological outlook.”24 The FBI also discusses the Weathermen‟s ideas on revolution, changes in rationale for their activism, and their hope to bring communism to the United States. These changes, along with changes of focus that naturally occurred over time, played a large role in weakening and ultimately dismantling the organization. Unlike other organizations at the time, such as the Black Panther Party, which consistently fought for black rights, and the National
United States, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Weatherman Underground Summary Dated 8/20/76, Part 1 (Washington, D.C.: Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1976) 27 Jan. 2010 <http://foia.fbi.gov/foiaindex/weather.htm> 37. 19
Organization for Women, which readily campaigned for women‟s rights, the Weather Underground Organization targeted imperialism, racism and sexism with changing ideas. The most significant objective of the Weather Underground Organization was the elimination of American imperialism, symbolized by the war in Vietnam. As with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the organization‟s primary focus was the war, which they considered “the most vicious inhuman air war in history.”25 Even after the relatively recent World War II, in which millions of lives were lost, the Vietnam War stood out as the most atrocious and unjustified. This judgment could be based on the more dangerous warfare that had been developed after the World Wars or the seemingly unnecessary and unprovoked intervention in Vietnam. Either way, America‟s New Left was discontent with what was happening in the country and saw it not only as a massacre of the Vietnamese people, but as symbolic of United States‟ imperialism. The draft, for example, was seen as “an attack on poor, Black and Third World and working-class youth.”26 Those with enough money to avoid the draft were generally upper- and middleclass men, while the poor and underprivileged had few options regarding escape. In this way the government was able to protect those who were considered irreplaceable and use the less fortunate to further its goals, all while pretending the draft methods were nondiscriminatory. Although no man of the right age was automatically safe because of class alone, those who had the funds to attend university, for example, could use school as an excuse to avoid the draft. Those who could not afford schooling had no such excuse.
Raskin, 34. Bernardine Dohrn, et al. Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism: The Political Statement of the Weather Underground. (N.p.: Communications Co., 1974) 30. 20
In early 1971 the group issued communiqué #8, stating that they “attacked the Capitol because it is, along with the White House and the Pentagon, the worldwide symbol of the government which is now attacking Indochina. To millions of people here and in Latin America, Africa and Asia, it is a monument to U.S. domination over the planet.”27 The organization understood the importance of the monument to the country and knew the serious impact the bombing would have. It also chose to attack something symbolic that would not harm or kill innocent civilians. Instead of trying to kill millions, as the United States was doing in Vietnam, the Weathermen chose to send an important message that could cripple the country‟s pride and sense of security. The attack occurred on March 1st, 1971 and severely damaged parts of the building. An article written later that day nostalgically recalled several significant events that occurred in the Capitol, including the housing of the Senate, the House, the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress, speeches by John Adams and Daniel Webster, and the reading of the decision made by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney in regards to the Dred Scott case in 1857. “The explosion occurred deep in the original wing of the Capitol, for which George Washington laid the cornerstone in the fall of 1793.”28 Although the damaged areas were no longer in much use, they held symbolic weight and their destruction was taken as a personal attack on America and its history. The stone laid by George Washington, for example, holds little actual purpose with regards to the building, but it is commemorative of the country‟s first president and is therefore viewed with pride and significance.
Raskin, 34-5. Marjorie Hunter, “Capitol Rich in History Where Bomb Exploded,” The New York Times 2 Mar. 1971: 20. 21
Along with fighting US imperialism abroad, the Weathermen were against the oppression of non-white races in America. They viewed racial oppression, particularly against blacks, “as part of the international struggle against American imperialism.”29 Initially inspired by the actions of the Black Panther Party, the organization wanted to ensure that African-Americans had their support in all ensuing battles. In reference to their violent actions, the organization stated in communiqué #1 that, “This is the way we celebrate the example of Eldridge Cleaver and H. Rap Brown and all black revolutionaries who first inspired us by their fight behind enemy lines for the liberation of their people. Never again will they fight alone.”30 Although the actions black revolutionaries took did not directly benefit the upper-middle class white activists, they were inspirational and gave the Weathermen another cause to pursue. The Weathermen wanted to publicly declare their support of the Black Panther Party, of which Cleaver and Brown were prominent members, and used the term “fight” to emphasize that violent action was a strong possibility. The fact that the Weathermen would associate with and idolize people such as Brown, who once declared that “If America doesn‟t come around, then black people are going to burn it down,”31 could easily terrify the majority of white Americans. Not only were white activists threatening violence, but they were doing so alongside one of the most notorious and dangerous radical groups in the country. This was intimidating to the American people and government for both radical and racial reasons. The fear that more groups could adopt such violent ways of activism was
United States, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Weatherman Underground Summary Dated 8/20/76, Part 1 (Washington, D.C.: Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1976) 27 Jan. 2010 <http://foia.fbi.gov/foiaindex/weather.htm> 43. 30 Raskin, 18. 31 “Crime: Cherry Pie,” Time Magazine Online 25 Oct. 1971, 8 Feb. 2010 <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,877306,00.html>. 22
alarming in its own right, but the fact that the Black Panthers were indeed black was shocking to some in a different way. These white radicals were teaming up with radical blacks and it was difficult for most whites to differentiate between and prosecute radicals based on this. No longer could fingers simply be pointed at black radicals for wreaking havoc on the country—these radicals now included whites, and not just lower class whites, but upper-middle-class well-educated women and men. If these prominent whites could become revolutionaries fighting for the overthrow of the government, anyone could, and this instilled a great deal of fear in the government and civilians. Although the Weathermen supported the black rights movement, their purpose in the movement was unclear. They stated multiple times in various communiqués, other publications and interviews that they strongly felt for their black brethren, but in 1974 the group declared that, “Whatever decisions Black people and other oppressed peoples make in exercising this right to self-determination, white revolutionaries and anti-imperialists have a very clear-cut responsibility to support these decisions once they are arrived at.”32 This varied from their earlier comments in 1969 and 1970 about fighting alongside the Black Panthers and other revolutionary African-American groups, possibly indicating that they felt their role in the struggle had changed. Where they initially thought they should be fully entrenched in the fight for black rights, their experiences had shown them that perhaps this was not the place for them. They shifted from stating the need for them to fight alongside blacks to saying that their primary role was to support the black revolutionary groups once these groups had decided what to do.
Dohrn, et al., 122. 23
Similarly, with reference to the Mexican-American population in the United States, the Weathermen stated in 1974 that, “The oppression of Chicanos is deep and their resistance is extensive. Anglos have borrowed and benefitted from Chicano culture, skills, labor and struggles. The liberation struggle of La Raza is critical to creating a humane society in the US. We have a responsibility and a human need to learn about and actively support the Chicano struggle for self-determination.”33 Again, it seemed as if the Weathermen were losing their spark. They no longer spoke about declaring war on the United States government and people and instead discussed what was wrong in the country in a more passive way. Instead of stating what the organization intended to do about Chicano oppression in the United States, they discussed how and why these people were treated as lower class citizens. In discussing another oppressed group, the Native Americans, the Weathermen simply wrote, “Support the Wounded Knee freedom-fighters.”34 They summarized how Native Americans struggled in America and what the government did to ensure the group remained oppressed, but again gave no information on what they were doing to help the group. It is as if the organization was arguing that there were all of these various racial oppression issues in the country, but that they had to be solved by the groups themselves. This was a far cry from the Weather Underground Organization of just a few years prior. The group went from trying to fight alongside oppressed people to merely supporting them, something that is equally important but significantly different to their initial goals. Along with fighting for racial equality, the Weathermen also fought for women‟s rights. Although the issue of gender inequality was not initially a major target for the
Dohrn, et al., 125. Dohrn, et al., 124. 24
organization, it quickly gained significance in the movement. In the middle of 1973 the female members of the group wrote “A Collective Letter to the Women‟s Movement,” the purpose of which was “to mark a change—to commit ourselves as women to the cause of women…Since going underground we have never publicly committed ourselves to the right and duty of women to rebel, to the revolutionary content of women‟s demands, and to the profound feminist critique of Western culture.”35 Although gender equality was important to many people in the organization, they had not previously determined it a necessity to fight for women‟s rights and to include these in the revolution. After further examination it was clear to them that women played large and significant roles in society and that it was extremely important to support them, even if doing so took violent means. In “A Collective Letter to the Women‟s Movement,” the female members of the organization pointed out that, “Three years ago, we denied the legitimacy of white women‟s demands. Although we had been assaulted, underpaid, brainwashed, aborted, raped like women everywhere, we—and the left as a whole—did not recognize that women‟s demands for power over their own lives is fundamental to any revolution we would care to make.”36 This realization is crucial to studying the Weathermen‟s ideas on revolution and their own particular brand of it. The fact that they confessed to initially not supporting white women‟s rights showed their own form of racism. They ignored the struggles white women faced purely because they were white. They could look at similar issues faced by black women or Hispanic women and play them off as purely race related when, in fact, they had more to do with gender and class than ethnicity. It is difficult to
Raskin, 69. Raskin, 70. 25
determine whether the organization‟s denial of white women‟s rights was done on purpose to hinder whites or whether they truly did not realize that oppression based on gender was an issue. It is very possible that, with the group‟s all or nothing philosophy, they did not believe that some of their members could be both activists and victims. Unlike the Black Panthers, for example, who were fighting for their own rights, the Weathermen were fighting for the rights of other oppressed people and fighting the government on issues relating to imperialism, neither of which negatively affected them as privileged white Americans. They may have believed that focusing too much energy on their own issues would take away from their fight for the issues of less privileged individuals. In contrast to the organization‟s earlier views on the unimportance of fighting against sexism, they wrote in 1974 about the significance of women to revolutionary movements. The full participation and leadership of women is necessary for successful and healthy revolution. Revolutionary organizations must recognize the struggle for women‟s liberation as a fundamental political revolution and must repudiate the intolerable backwardness of all forms of sexism. The development of the independent women‟s movement as well as active struggle against the institutions and ideas of sexism are the basis for insuring that the revolution genuinely empowers women.37 This excerpt from the organization‟s political statement, Prairie Fire, was written five years after the group‟s founding and shows a dramatic change from their original beliefs on sexism and the roles of women. They initially made little note of actively supporting women‟s rights in 1969, but with the ending of the Vietnam War they had more time to
Dohrn, et al., 12. 26
focus on supporting women. Although it was to be expected that the views and goals of the organization would evolve with time, the dramatic changes in focus demonstrate that the group was unstable in terms of its views on its targets and was unprepared and unable to focus on purely one issue. It can be seen as positive that the group chose to focus on so many different topics plaguing America and countries it affected, but altogether the Weathermen did not have enough resources to target so many issues. It was somewhat naïve of the organization to try to combat nearly everything that was wrong with the country. The Weathermen also linked sexism back to the faultiness in the entire American system. In Prairie Fire the group wrote that, “The oppression of women perverts the cultural values of the whole society. Men are alienated from children and from human emotion. Women are cut off from one another, threatened and competing. Sexism is a form of cultural conditioning which enables the system to exploit everyone.”38 Here the organization indicated that sexism did not only negatively affect women, but also stunted male emotional growth and reduced the strength of father-child relationships. It pointed out that women were isolated and led to constant competition between their peers. Rightfully so, the Weather Underground Organization saw this as extremely detrimental to contemporary American society. Men, women and children were unable to grow to their full emotional and mental maturity because of constrictions placed on them by the rest of society. The organization wisely included men in the group to indicate that women were not the only ones who suffered at the corruptive hands of the American government. In their description of the issue, everyone was at fault and everyone was a victim. The
Dohrn, et al., 128. 27
group also stated in Prairie Fire that, “we believe that the struggle against sexism demands the destruction of the American state.”39 They truly thought that the only way to end sexism was to entirely get rid of the American system, a method that they seemed to think would solve the world‟s problems. What the organization overlooked in their decision to overthrow the American state was what system would be established and how this would occur. They had lofty goals, but lacked any solid plan on how to rectify the situation in America.
Dohrn, et al., 68. 28
III. Chapter Two: Public Response
External responses to the Weather Underground Organization played a significant role in the failure of the group. Although the organization tried to be taken seriously by other groups, its goals and tactics were ultimately refuted and the group was generally not considered a significant threat to the country. Members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) thought the group‟s violent methods were unnecessary and poorly planned, Black Panthers saw them as selfish, ignorant and unaware of what a true revolution would involve, and the FBI, though it collected hundreds of pages of evidence against the group through the agency‟s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), seemed unsure of whether or not to act. These, combined with responses from the general civilian public, demonstrate how the Weather Underground Organization was not taken seriously as a revolutionary group and was not perceived as an immediate threat to the nation. Eric Kingson, current professor of social work at Syracuse University and former member of SDS in Boston, remembers the decline of SDS and the takeover by the Weathermen. He stated in a recent interview that he has been extremely opposed to the organization since its inception. Upon discovering that I was writing my thesis on the Weathermen, he immediately declared that he thought they were “complete idiots!”40 In a recent email conversation he wrote: I thought then and think now that the Weatherman, individually and collectively, were politically psychotic. They were, at best, misguided and inept and absolutely idiotic in their boisterous statements about creating a revolution and completely wrong to consider using any
Eric Kingson, Personal Interview, 26 Feb. 2010. 29
kind of violence to achieve their ends. A few, while perhaps believing they were acting for good reasons, committed horrible acts, including murder. I understood, and shared, the anger and frustration they and others felt at the time about the Vietnam war, racial justice and other matters of social justice. Just as some in the Bush administration supported torture in the name of national security, the Weatherman, whether well-intentioned or not, went down the wrong track and I could not then and do not now see much that was redeeming in their actions.41 Kingson was active in SDS throughout his time as a student in Boston from 1964 to 1968 and continued in the movement afterwards, though it was somewhat disheartening when the violent organization took over and eliminated the group he had once cherished. Although the Weathermen may have had good intentions, they did not go about accomplishing their goals in a positive and effective way, something Kingson considers a significant error in their planning. Kingson told a story of a meeting he attended with other members of SDS and some Weathermen. In the middle of the meeting one of the Weathermen began saying extremely offensive things. Kingson and some of his friends stood up to leave and started moving towards the door where they were stopped by another member of the organization who threatened violence and told them that if they were unable to sit through the meeting they were against the cause in general. According to Kingson a brawl nearly started but he escaped from the venue without harm. In regards to the takeover of SDS by the Weathermen he argues that the group members “were a destructive force in anything they were part of,” thus explaining the decline of SDS after the Weathermen took charge. Later on Kingson wrote, “I thought their strategies were psychotic!” and when asked whether he thought their bombing campaign was successful he wrote, “No, quite the opposite. It galvanized strong reactions not only against their
Eric Kingson, Personal Interview, 17 Mar. 2010. 30
methods and them, but was also used by some to discredit others working to end the war.” According to Kingson, the Weathermen did not help further anti-war efforts and actually played a part in taking away from the hard work other organizations were doing to put a halt to US involvement in Vietnam. He stated that the student movement had strong potential and did play a role in ending the war, but that the Weathermen only took away from this. They took the focus away from the issues actually at hand (the war, racism, sexism, etc.) and spent more effort trying to bomb government buildings, thus distracting the government from the group‟s actual goals of ending the war and promoting civil rights. Lastly, Kingson wrote that, from what he saw, the Weathermen were not considered a serious threat in the United States. Similarly, entire chapters of SDS stated their rejection of the Weathermen throughout their reign. An October 10, 1969 press release from the Boston SDS headquarters showed the parent organization‟s disapproval of the Weathermen‟s actions at the Chicago Days of Rage. “Led nationally by Mark Rudd, this gang calling itself SDS-Revolutionary Youth Movement-Weatherman has absolutely nothing to do with SDS. They have been running all around the country attacking people. NO SDS CHAPTER SUPPORTS THEM!”42 Although the Weathermen had evolved from SDS, the organization definitively rejected them and negatively referred to them as a gang. In the same press release SDS denounced them as “lunatics.” Although SDS and the WUO had similar aspirations, their attempted methods varied so greatly that the rift between the two was irreconcilable. Former friends and comrades of the Weathermen were now rejecting them as crazy, indicating that the group was not respected by other white
Harold Jacobs, 614. 31
activist groups. Had they been acknowledged as a valuable organization with legitimate strategies, they may have been perceived differently by their peers and by the rest of the American public and have been able to succeed further in achieving revolution in the country. The Weathermen tried to fight alongside the Black Panther Party for black rights, and regularly declared their support of the organization, but the Panthers did not appreciate the group‟s support. “The Weatherman SDS has been trying to give the impression that the Black Panthers are on their side, but the Panthers deny this.”43 Fred Hampton, Black Panther Party Chairman, referred to the organization as “anarchistic, opportunistic, individualistic, it‟s chauvinistic, it‟s custaristic, and that‟s the bad part about it. It‟s custaristic in that its leaders take people into situations where the people can be massacred, and they call that „revolution‟. That‟s nothing but child‟s play, it‟s folly. We think these people may be sincere but they‟re misguided, they‟re muddleheads and they‟re scatterbrains.”44 Although Hampton recognized the organization as potentially sincere, he directly pointed out that they were going about obtaining their goals in an ineffective, irresponsible and impractical way. As the head of the Chicago faction of the Black Panther Party, Hampton‟s views possibly reflected those of the rest of the Panthers in his area, showing that the black rights organization did not support the Weathermen‟s activities. He also pointed out that the group believed society can work without a government, had selfish goals, firmly believed that its way was the only adequate and acceptable way of accomplishing its goals, and had an unrealistic view of revolution. This revelation must have been somewhat of a shock to the Weathermen who had so
The Weather Underground, dir. Sam Green, DVD, The Free History Project, 2003. The Weather Underground. 32
publicly declared their devotion to the Black Panthers. To find that a group that they so strongly supported saw their actions as “child‟s play” could have been devastating to their cause and have taken away from their philosophy. Mark Rudd explained in a recent interview that the Weathermen were aware of the Black Panthers‟ feelings about them, “but we blew them off, saying that they didn‟t understand what it took to build a white movement in solidarity with them. In retrospect, it was pure white racism on our part.”45 The group was unable to accept criticisms as valid, demonstrating a certain immaturity on their part. They were young and stuck in the mindset that their way of achieving revolution was the only way. Angela Davis, a black activist and member of the Communist Party associated with the Oakland faction of the Black Panther Party, reacted differently to the Weathermen. The group blew up two buildings in October 1970 in response to Davis‟ arrest for the abduction and murder of Judge Harold Haley. In their October 8th, 1970 communiqué, the group wrote, “Last night we blew up the hall of injustice, Marin County Civic Center…[W]e dedicate it to „the first of a new breed of freedom fighters‟— Jonathan Jackson and his comrades who were killed and captured, and to Angela—still alive and free! —who together began a new offensive in our struggle against the belly of the monster. Free all political prisoners!”46 The Marin County courthouse was where Judge Haley had worked prior to his murder and was considered a symbol of injustice to many in the radical community. Less than a week later, on October 14th, an all-female unit of the Weather Underground Organization bombed the Harvard Center for International Affairs, a bombing dedicated both to protesting the Vietnam War and to
Mark Rudd, Personal Interview, 18 Mar. 2010. Raskin, 24. 33
Davis. When asked about her reaction to the organization‟s actions taken in response to her arrest, she said, “They did that? I was in jail—I had no idea what was going on on the outside.”47 The fact that she was unaware of what the radical group was doing in her honor demonstrates that their actions were not taken seriously and were not significant enough to make it through the prison walls. Davis, however, did not indicate that she reacted negatively towards the actions of the Weathermen. Unlike Fred Hampton, she did not argue that they were “scatterbrains” or “muddleheads.” She instead stated that all activist groups must make mistakes and that these mistakes are the only ways in which such organizations can grow and evolve. She said that the organization was “broadening the terrain” in which radical groups can fight for revolutionary ideas. According to Davis, the Weathermen were not wrong to use violence as a means to try to achieve their ends. It was simply a method that had to be employed at some point in the fight and was ultimately a significant learning experience for the activist community. The difference in reaction to the organization by Fred Hampton, of the Chicago Black Panthers, and Angela Davis, of the Oakland Black Panthers, is significant not only because it shows a difference in tactics and beliefs that eventually stunted the activities of the Panthers, but also because it shows the range in which people reacted to the Weathermen. While Hampton saw the group members as childish people who put little thought into their actions, Davis saw them as activists testing out a new form of revolution at a time when it truly did have potential to change the country. Although there is no formulaic reason as to why the two felt differently about the group, their differing responses demonstrate varying political leanings. Hampton fought solely for black rights,
Angela Davis, Personal Interview, 25 Mar. 2010. 34
while Davis fought for black rights, gender equality, communism, education and prisoner rights. Davis believes that a group is most effective when it fights for many goals, instead of fighting for one thing, a mindset also evident in members of the WUO that may explain her lack of antagonism towards them. FBI documents on the “Weatherman Underground,” summarized on August 20th, 1976, focused primarily on the organization‟s links to Communist revolutionaries instead of on the potential takeover of the United States government and casualties that could arise from the Weathermen‟s activities. However, information and documents collected by the Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO), a clandestine series of operations directed by the FBI, focused instead on the organization‟s anti-war activities and other actions that could potentially disrupt the typical American way of life. Anything that went against the government could be considered a threat and COINTELPRO sought to eradicate these problems from the country. The program had no qualms regarding attacking organizations they perceived as threats. For example, In 1967 the Bureau initiated COINTELPRO-Black Nationalist/Hate Groups, adding a systematic program of harassment and disruption against the hundreds of civil rights and black power targets that the FBI had been monitoring throughout the decade. This program marked COINTELPRO at its most severe, resulting in the murder of Chicago Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark and contributing to the violent factionalization of the Black Panther Party generally. Apart from the Civil Rights Movement, other left-wing groups were feeling similarly besieged, especially those targeted by the Bureau‟s COINTELPROs against the Communist Party, Socialist Worker‟s Party, and the New Left.48
David Cunningham, There‟s Something Happening Here: The New Left, The Klan, and FBI Counterintelligence (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004) 110. 35
As significant leaders in the New Left, the Weathermen were included in this list of targets, indicating the FBI‟s distrust of their organization and activities. If the Weathermen had not been considered a threat, they would not have been a part of the FBI‟s major focus. However, the FBI never took steps, neither large nor small, towards physically targeting the group. They tried to halt publication of the group‟s newspapers and magazines, infiltrated the group with members of the secret agency, and kept track of the members when they could (which was difficult because the group was underground), but they did not take actions as serious as those they took against the Black Panther Party. For example, Fred Hampton was killed in December of 1969 in the middle of the night during an unprovoked police raid. He had been drugged prior to the raid, so he was unable to fully gain consciousness during it, and was shot multiple times in the head. As Deborah Johnson, Hampton‟s pregnant girlfriend at the time, described it, “I heard a pig say, „He‟s barely alive, he‟ll barely make it.‟ I assume they were talking about Chairman Fred. But then they started shooting again. I heard a sister scream. They stopped shooting. A pig said, „He‟s good and dead now.‟”49 Hampton was specifically killed off because he was a black leader in the revolutionary movement, something that did not happen to any of the Weathermen even though they could be considered even more violent than the Panthers. This could be based on race or on class, but either way it shows a discrimination on the part of the FBI against activists at the time. COINTELPRO used four main tactics to attack groups they declared as hazardous to the country (or, more specifically, the government). Brian Glick, an attorney in the
The Assassination of Fred Hampton How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther 2 of 3, YouTube, 10 Dec. 2009, 11 Mar. 2010 <http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=1DzzFEeHot8>. 36
period, identified these tactics as: “infiltration, psychological warfare, harassment through the legal system, and extralegal force and violence.”50 The tactics varied slightly depending on the group being targeted but for the most part they were the same. COINTELPRO only assassinated African-Americans, though, demonstrating a racist tilt. Dan Berger, in his book Outlaws in America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity, pointed out that some consider it unsurprising that the government used these tactics, especially the violent ones, against groups that were advocating violence. He then stated that the way in which the government used violence was extremely different from how radical groups used it. “When the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements used arms—as did Robert Williams‟s NAACP chapter in the mid-1950s, the Deacons for Defense in the early to mid-1960s, the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s—the emphasis was on self-defense. When the militancy of the white Left was on the ascendancy, it was focused more on property than people. Even with the turn to armed struggle, tactics differed.”51 Where the FBI used violence to attack and try to eliminate radical groups, the groups used violence to further their goals and rarely used it to kill civilians or government officials. The Black Panthers used violence to protect themselves and the Weathermen used it against buildings and other property to demonstrate their genuine desire to start a revolution—neither had any intention of killing or seriously harming others. In observing the responses to the Weathermen by others involved in participating in or destroying activist movements, it is clear that Americans for the most part were unsure of how to react to the organization. Former SDS members were astonished by the
Berger, 62. Berger, 62. 37
violent tactics the group employed, Black Panthers were split on the organization‟s actions, and the FBI, though it recognized the group‟s potential in the revolutionary arena, did not acknowledge it as a serious threat and refrained from taking any serious steps towards halting the Weathermen‟s actions. If the group had been treated as a true, legitimate threat to the American people and government, other groups would have stepped in to dismantle it long before it disintegrated on its own. Ultimately, no matter the responses by external friends or foes, the Weather Underground Organization was its own worst enemy. Outside groups likely recognized its instability and immaturity and, for this reason, did not take excessive steps to destroy or support it.
IV. Chapter Three: Underground Issues The decision to move underground in 1970 and the subsequent years spent in hiding were extremely influential on the productivity and sustainability of the Weather Underground Organization (WUO). Although members of the organization generally shared ideas relating to the war in Vietnam and racial injustice, they confronted issues within their own group about sexism and the direction the group should take. Violence was one of the earlier issues the group had to face. When Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) split up and the WUO took over as the primary New Left activist group, it was a self-proclaimed violent revolutionary organization. After seeing and participating in nonviolent SDS demonstrations, the founders of the WUO believed that violent revolution was the only way to obtain change in the United States. In its early days, the group declared that it needed “to be a movement that fights, not just talks about fighting.”52 Indeed, one of their main catchphrases was “Bring the war home!” The Weathermen truly believed that in order to start a revolution in America they would have to kill seemingly innocent people and, in a sense, give the United States a taste of its own medicine. The Weathermen chose the military camp Fort Dix as their first violent target in 1970. A dance was scheduled at the fort for military officers and the Weathermen decided to attack the venue and potentially harm hundreds of people. “Noncommissioned officers and their wives and dates in New Jersey would pay for the American crimes in Vietnam. At that point we had determined that there were no innocent Americans, at least
Jeremy Varon, Bringing the War Home: The Weather Underground, the Red Army Faction, and Revolutionary Violence in the Sixties and Seventies (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004) 21. 39
no white ones.”53 While group members were building the bomb in the basement of a townhouse in Greenwich Village on March 6th, two wires crossed, resulting in a devastating blast that demolished the building and killed three members, Diana Oughton, Teddy Gold and Terry Robbins. Kathy Boudin and Cathy Wilkerson, two other members who were upstairs, were able to escape. The explosion and the resulting media forced the Weathermen to move more deeply into hiding, as it was no longer safe to be in the open. Numerous Weathermen later recounted how devastating the blast was and how influential it was on later practices. For a group preaching violent revolution as the only way to change the country, they were in no way prepared to lose some of their own. Bill Ayers had a particularly difficult time after the townhouse explosion, as he had been in a relationship with Diana Oughton. “We had been playing at a deadly politics, it‟s true, and our rhetoric was filled with images of death. But not Diana‟s.”54 Although he admitted that death was something they were playing with, it was as if he never expected it to affect anyone he loved. It is naïve to be content with killing others and not be willing to accept the possible ramifications. After the townhouse explosion, Mark Rudd discovered that many other Weathermen felt uncomfortable with the plan to blow up the Fort Dix dance but had been afraid to voice their concerns. “Whenever anyone expressed a doubt about the planned Fort Dix bombing, Terry, Diana or any one of the collective members would turn around with an attack: „You‟re just accepting your white skin privilege,‟ or „Don‟t you think
Mark Rudd, Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2009) 194. 54 Bill Ayers, Fugitive Days: A Memoir (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2001) 191. 40
white people are pigs?‟”55 Rudd also remembered that, “Teddy had warned that anyone who pulled out of the action would have to be „offed‟ for the sake of security.”56 In such a situation there is little room for dissent. All members of the organization were clearly passionate about what they were fighting for, but it is extremely important to note that they were not all on the same page regarding violence, especially that of a deadly variety. The trauma of dealing with the loss of three friends and comrades led the Weather Underground Organization to slightly change its tactics. Instead of aiming to actually kill people, the group shifted to simply bombing buildings and issuing warnings to ensure that no one would get hurt. The first warning, communiqué #1, was distributed to radio stations, television news stations, and published in papers on May 21, 1970. “Hello. This is Bernardine Dohrn. I‟m going to read A DECLARATION OF A STATE OF WAR. This is the first communication from the Weatherman underground…Within the next fourteen days we will attack a symbol or institution of Amerikan injustice.”57 Almost three weeks later, on June 9, 1970, the Weathermen bombed the New York City police headquarters. According to communiqué #2, a warning was called in to the headquarters shortly before the blast to try to ensure that no one would be harmed.58 All future Weather Underground bombings were done in a similar fashion, demonstrating the significant change in the mindset of the organization. What had started out as a violent revolutionary group devoted to changing the American system had morphed into one that seemed quite concerned with public safety.
Rudd, 197. Rudd, 197. 57 Harold Jacobs, 509-510. 58 Harold Jacobs, 512. 41
Another extreme issue in the underground was the significant lack of organization. Naomi Jaffe was one member whose involvement in the Weather Underground was strongly altered and eventually cut short by the stunted organization of the group. People knew each other‟s whereabouts on a need to know basis. And toward the end that became more and more restricted, because everybody got more and more freaked out, paranoid I would say to some extent. I wasn‟t living in a collective, I was living on my own. And what I had as a connection was meeting to meeting, „we‟re going to meet at such and such a place at such and such a time.‟…I raised the criticisms in a particularly sharp way. I had a meeting with some people in leadership and they didn‟t show up for the next meeting and then I didn‟t have any way to get in touch with them anymore. So it was over for me.59 Jaffe speaks of her split from the organization in a sad and disheartened way. Although she could see it coming, she was not able to decide to leave the group on her own accord and was simply cut out. The organization seemed not to care about members who had devoted years to the causes, something that could easily take away from its strength. People are unlikely to care strongly about a cause if others involved with it seem to not want more help. Jaffe‟s expulsion from the group is also symbolic of its impending collapse. The organization had once promoted harsh criticism between members, believing that an organization cannot improve and retain its strength without constructive criticism. However, when Jaffe tried to share her concerns with the group, they kicked her out without paying attention to what she was saying. The Weather Underground probably knew it was failing and was putting up a defensive wall to try to keep safe what it could in its remaining time as an active organization. As Bill Ayers expressed in a
The Weather Underground. 42
recent interview, “We became dogmatic and quite intolerant and unwilling to debate. We were challenging ourselves to confront the greatest power on earth, we were scared, and we were a bit despairing.”60 Similarly, Mark Rudd wrote that, “We were constantly embattled from [the] outside (the rest of the movement, the police, parents, the government), so internal criticism was seen as disloyal.”61 Any member who tried to criticize the group was kicked out because the organization was too insecure and weak to handle criticism. They were ultimately too overwhelmed to try to make significant changes that could have helped the group retain more power and make more changes to the system. The decision to surface from the underground was the final blow in the split of the Weather Underground Organization. After five years of sporadic fighting against the government from hidden collectives and continuous struggles between group members, some activists decided it was time to turn themselves in. Surrender seemed like a relatively good idea at the time. An FBI memo explained that the majority of evidence against the Organization was obtained using prohibited methods of surveillance, thus making it “„in the best interests of the national security‟ not to pursue prosecutions.”62 Although the FBI once had a significant amount of information that could be used against the Weathermen, they had acquired the majority of it through illegal methods, deeming it not viable. With this somewhat free pass, it made sense for some of the Weathermen to emerge while it was still safe to do so. “Moreover, prosecutors had a strong incentive to be lenient to anyone who surfaced voluntarily, because harsh punishments would deter
Bill Ayers, Personal Interview, 19 Mar. 2010. Mark Rudd, Personal Interview, 18 Mar. 2010. 62 Varon, 296. 43
others from leaving the underground. Some Weathermen, remarkably, were no longer sought on any charges whatsoever.”63 As Bill Ayers wrote, “The conspiracy charges which had put us on the FBI‟s most wanted list were, ironically, dropped because of extreme governmental misconduct. It came out, in the wake of the Watergate affair, that the Bureau had recklessly tapped phones, broken into people‟s homes, even written a plan to kidnap Bernardine‟s infant nephew.”64 The FBI‟s illegal methods of obtaining evidence against the Weathermen demonstrate how strongly they felt about gathering information on the organization when it formed and that they saw it as an issue that could not be put on hold. In doing so they ultimately destroyed their own attempts at dismantling the group. It is important to compare this to the way the FBI targeted nonwhite radical groups, such as the Black Panther Party. Some black radicals, like Fred Hampton, were targeted and assassinated by the FBI and police departments in attacks that were never prosecuted or further studied by the government. Attacks like this were not aimed at white radicals, though, probably because of race and class. Although the FBI had spent a great deal of time studying and staking out the Weathermen, they never deemed it necessary to actually stage a direct attack on the organization. They may have wanted to interfere, as they did illegally with the Black Panther Party, but they did not. Like Ayers and Dohrn, who surfaced with little to no prosecution in 1980, Mark Rudd also got away with minor misdemeanors, serving two years probation and paying a small fine. He had not been as active in the organization as Ayers and Dohrn and was considered less of a threat. Tired of hiding his identity and concerned about the future implications of the clandestine lifestyle on his three-year-old son, Rudd turned himself in
Varon, 297. Ayers, 292. 44
in 1977. “My part in the destruction of the Weather Underground was actually very small. I did manage to advance the idea of „inversion‟—that is, bringing the belowground up out of hiding as one big unit.”65 The Central Committee, however, only contemplated inversion for a short while and saw it as a way to openly take over the whole revolutionary movement. Rudd did not sympathize with this. He viewed the leaders of the group, including Dohrn and Ayers, as exceedingly arrogant, both in regards to their leadership of the organization and the organization‟s leadership over other revolutionary groups. This seemed to be a far cry from the group‟s initial decision to move underground. It had shifted from guerilla revolutionary violence tactics to a more mediacentered focus, as exemplified in the 1976 documentary Underground.66 Other ideological shifts also played a large role in the decision to surface and the subsequent collapse of the organization. Mirroring the breakup of Students for a Democratic Society and the two major groups that emerged, RYM I (Weatherman) and PL, the Weather Underground Organization also split into two separate factions, one which aimed to continue the group‟s violent activities, and one which wanted to come out into the open and fight aboveground. As seen with the dissolution of SDS, no organization can survive such contrasting views, especially when they pertain to the safety of the group. Although the Weathermen had initially tried to do away with monogamous relationships because they were concerned that people‟s loyalties may lie elsewhere and that such relations were a burden, many of the group members had become romantically involved and had children. Mark Rudd married and had a son with a fellow Weatherwoman, Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers married and had two sons, and Kathy
Rudd, 279. Underground, dir. Emile de Antonio, DVD, 1976. 45
Boudin and David Gilbert were involved and had a son. Although some of the relationships may not have lasted (Rudd and his wife divorced, and Boudin and Gilbert were both imprisoned in separate facilities after the 1981 Brinks truck robbery and murders67), they still heavily impacted loyalties and primary concerns. As Rudd and Ayers have both stated, one of their primary reasons for emerging from the underground was to protect their families and give their children the chance to have a normal life. They waited to turn themselves in until they thought it would be the most safe and they have since become active members of society. Nearly all former Weatherpeople are involved in some form of activism today, showing that they did not lose touch with their radical roots, but have instead chosen to try to change the system in ways that are less detrimental to their families. The dissolution of the organization is unsurprising today when examining statements made by former members regarding the group. Dohrn said in 1977, “Why did we do this? I don‟t really know. We followed the classic path of so-called white revolutionaries who sell out the revolution.”68 Similarly, Rudd wrote that, “Our strategy of going underground in 1970 had simply been the wrong choice.”69 Although the organization had tried and fought hard over the years to develop a revolution that could overturn the government, it ultimately failed because of disunity within the group with
On October 20, 1981, several former members of the Weather Underground Organization and the Black Liberation Army attacked and robbed a Brinks armored car in Nanuet, NY, killing two police officers, a Brinks guard, and stealing $1.6 million. Most of the people involved were caught immediately and convicted. David Gilbert remains in prison to this day, and Kathy Boudin was released on parole in 2003.
John Kifner, “Weather Underground Splits Up Over Plan to Come Into the Open,” New York Times 18 Jan. 1977: 12. 69 Rudd, 279. 46
regards to common goals and the means used to achieve them. The entire time spent underground was unstable, from the decision to go into hiding to the activities employed while underground to the eventual emergence into the open. An organization can only succeed if it has a strong foundation, something that the Weather Underground sorely lacked. When they initially reached the decision to move underground, it was done in haste and not enough time was spent planning out the logistics. In order for the organization to succeed, more unity would have been an absolute necessity.
V. Conclusion Today it seems that the Weather Underground Organization (WUO) was bound to fail from its earliest conception. Constructed of fragments from the already declining Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the organization was blamed for the parent group‟s disintegration. Built on a weak foundation, the chances of survival for the fledgling organization were slim, and coupled with the major mistakes it made during its seven-year reign, it had little chance of success. The group tried to target everything they considered wrong with society, from the war in Vietnam and American imperialism to racism and sexism. This choice ended up spreading resources too thin, making it nearly impossible to lead a successful campaign against any of America‟s major social problems. The actions it took and statements it made distanced it from other significant activist groups, resulting in increasing isolation and a lack of support from organizations it expected to work alongside. The fact that other groups did not take the WUO seriously disheartened them and added to their isolation, resulting in an extremely dysfunctional organization. When the group moved underground in 1970 the number of members drastically dropped. Mark Rudd, for example, left the group by the end of 1970. The disunity, disorganization and unrealistic views of revolution resulted in the WUO developing too many rifts too quickly, fizzling out shortly after it had been founded. Mark Rudd, currently a math professor in New Mexico, did not speak about the organization for 25 years and does now because he thinks, “it might be useful for young people to learn what not to do.”70 He is now the most outspoken former Weatherman against the group. When asked whether revolution can succeed in the United States, he
Mark Rudd, Personal Interview, 18 Mar. 2010. 48
said, “No, it‟s a fantasy. The country is way too conservative. What do you want to do, kill ¾ of the population? Who will make the revolution? The fantasy of armed revolution replaced the practice of mass organizing. Only mass organizing could and can succeed. And it must be nonviolent.” Rudd had been one of the leaders of the WUO at its formation and was a major movement leader at Columbia University in the late 1960s. The fact that he now clearly states that there is no way armed revolution can succeed in the United States shows how strongly his views have shifted from those he held forty years ago. Rudd also wrote that, “in retrospect, I do think we could have saved it (SDS) if we had tried to hold it together and not pushed our hegemonic and arrogant line as the only true direction for the organization. We should have kept up campus organizing and pushed anti-imperialism, not total armed revolution.” Again, Rudd blames the Weathermen and their excessive arrogance for the destruction of SDS and, ultimately, the student movement as a whole. As Eric Kingson said, the organization took away from the strong efforts that had been made by other student activist groups and dissuaded them from carrying on with the movement. There is no way to know what could have happened with the movement had the Weathermen not taken over and SDS not have failed, but it is likely that another militant group would have taken the reigns with the decline of the major student group. As seen from the shift towards violence by other activist groups, such as those fighting for civil rights, it was only a matter of time before the white youth activist groups turned in the same direction. Bill Ayers, who stayed in the Weather Underground Organization until the end in 1977, does not speak of the organization in the same way as Rudd. He does not indicate that he regrets his actions and instead defends the group, saying that, “Every revolution is
impossible before it happens; afterwards it feels inevitable.”71 Although the revolution the WUO was trying to start did not develop in the way the group hoped, they had no way of knowing it was not going to succeed. If all revolutions seem impossible before they begin, the only way to know if one can succeed is to try as hard as possible to make it work. Reading Ayers‟ words, it is hard not to be swayed into thinking that revolution is possible and, more significantly, necessary. We wanted peace; we wanted to end white supremacy; we wanted to build a society on the principles of mutual recognition and simple justice, we wanted to change the world. Did I believe we could achieve that? I thought it was worth sacrificing for, but not because we could win…People make all kinds of quick judgments on history, and most turn out to be bullshit. If you take perhaps our most straight forward and easily understood goals, you would have to say we failed to achieve them: we wanted to end a particular war, and even after much sacrifice and struggle and success at persuading people to oppose it, the war ground on for ten excruciating years, and 3 million people were thrown into the furnaces of death; and then we wanted to end empire and usher in a world of equality and mutual recognition, a world without war, and look where we are.72 There is no denying that the goals of the group were positive and that the organization was fully justified in trying to achieve them. What Ayers fails to detail are the methods the group used to try to succeed in ending the war in Vietnam and create a world of peace and equality. The means used to achieve these goals were not peaceful or equal and, though Ayers may refer to this as “bullshit”, did indeed fail. No matter how honorable the goals, if the methods used go against the ultimate goals it can be argued that they were
Bill Ayers, Personal Interview, 19 Mar. 2010. Bill Ayers, Personal Interview, 19 Mar. 2010. 50
bound to fail from the start. It seems unrealistic to think that peace can start from the detonation of a bomb. Angela Davis, who is still active with women‟s rights, black rights and prisoners‟ rights seems to agree with Ayers that even though the organization may have failed in the most obvious way based on its explicit goals, it did play a role in changing the system. “What‟s exciting about this is that there‟s no closure. It goes on indefinitely.”73 The struggle for equality and justice for all is a never-ending battle. As soon as one goal is accomplished, another issue that needs to be confronted will arise, and so on. Some may see this as frivolous, but it is the only way for the status quo to change. Ayers understands this indefinite quest for change. He wrote, “So my expansive and expanding dreams are not realized, of course, not yet, not in my lifetime, but neither are they dimmed nor diminished. I‟ve always lived with one foot in the mud and muck of the world as it is, and another foot striving toward a world that could be, but is not yet. Like other freedom lovers, I dwell in possibility.”74 Although his dreams will likely not come to fruition during his lifetime, he is confident that they will eventually be realized and, to draw on Davis‟ statement, they will be replaced by new dreams in every generation. Just as history is constantly evolving, so are the goals of activists. The failure of the Weather Underground Organization, however, along with the failure of other activist groups at the time, both domestic and international, militant and peaceful, prompts the question of whether or not revolution or significant change can occur in the United States and similar nations. As Ayers wrote, when looking at the broad, overarching goals of the WUO we would have to consider them a failure. They did
Angela Davis, Personal Interview, 25 Mar. 2010. Bill Ayers, Personal Interview, 19 Mar. 2010. 51
not end the war in Vietnam. They did not bring a state of peace to America. They did not eradicate poverty, classism, racism or sexism. They did not directly change anything, but they did play a role, however small, in altering the system. Although their actions were not the most effective, they did demonstrate to the government how strongly some white, upper-middle class youths felt about changing the American system. They inspired other young activists, such as authors Ron Jacobs and Dan Berger, to continue the struggle and also provided an important cautionary tale. It was only a matter of time before the white activist movement of the 1960s turned violent, as demonstrated through other formerly peaceful movements that shifted to militancy as they saw their dreams go unrealized. Unfortunately for the Weathermen, they lacked the support that other activist groups had, something that aided in their demise. Social change movements cannot succeed without a strong combination of people working to alter the system. The women‟s rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s would not have succeeded had it not been for the radical women and men working to spread awareness and the less-radical, but equally passionate people working directly with the government and other higher ups to change legislation. The National Organization for Women (NOW), for example, used multiple tactics in fighting for women‟s rights. “Though NOW waged many of its high-profile battles in the courts, its members also educated, marched, picketed, and protested to publicize feminist issues.”75 NOW was able to promote its causes through marches and protests while also changing laws by bringing issues directly to court. Abortion was a controversial issue that NOW firmly confronted and managed to help. Although some members initially opposed
Ruth Rosen, The World Split Open: How the Modern Women‟s Movement Changed America (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2000) 83. 52
fighting to legalize abortion, the majority ultimately voted for making it an issue they should target.76 They worked with other women‟s organizations and abortion activists to give women full rights to abortion and on January 22, 1973 their dreams were realized with the Supreme Court‟s Roe v. Wade decision, which stated that, “We recognize the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwanted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the right of a woman to decide whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”77 Women had finally been granted the right to decide on their own accord whether or not to have an abortion. This achievement would not have succeeded without the various tactics employed by those fighting for the cause, including testifying in courts and “speaking out” in public forums where women would explain their choice and experience with illegal abortion.78 The women were able to demonstrate the significance of the cause on both emotional and physical levels and promoted change by appealing to the public and the courts. Without coming at the issue from multiple angles, the abortion laws likely would not have changed. Similarly, the civil rights movement could not have succeeded without both violent and non-violent protest. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”79 Instead of directly instigating violence, his form of protest attempted to provoke reactions that could then be used to spread awareness and make the issue so large that repressing it
Rosen, 83. Rosen, 158. 78 Rosen, 158. 79 Hine, 567. 53
would no longer be effective. Malcolm X‟s methods, on the other hand, which later evolved into those of the Black Panther Party, aimed to directly confront the issues at hand using the most effective means possible. After hearing about and witnessing the violent tactics used by whites to oppress blacks for centuries, Malcolm X believed that similar tactics should be used against whites. Martin Luther King Jr.‟s peaceful methods alone were ineffective, as were the violent ones of Malcolm X. When the two combined, however, and were enhanced by a significant group push for equality, the movement slowly succeeded and resulted in much less discrimination. Although today‟s racial equality is far from perfect, it is significantly better than it was in the 1960s. Ultimately, it is clear that change in the United States must be the result of a variety of groups and people working together. Slavery was not abolished purely because blacks decided they had had enough of being taken advantage of by whites, nor was it simply because some whites decided they wanted to start treating blacks as actual human beings. It was a combination of factors working together to eradicate the institution. This must be the same in all significant social movements. If an organization lacks support there is no way it can succeed, especially in a country as powerful as the U.S. Without a strong backing, the United States government and military can easily shut it down without much opposition from the American people. Militant resistance is portrayed as criminal, mass rebellion transformed into mob action, courageous choices derided as self-serving, moderately outrageous comments in the heat of the moment seized upon and repeated ad nauseam as if they were the whole story or true. Fine leaders are degraded and their contributions dismissed due to personal limitations and all-too-real flaws. This is the organized, contemporary, and legal companion to the illegal, secret
Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) of the FBI.”80 The government and other conservative people opposed to the actions of 1960s activists found various ways to detract from the movement and incriminate those involved. Tactics that were meant to bring good to the country were rejected as chaotic, destructive and criminal, and intelligent men and women who were inspirational to the people they were trying to help were subject to either character or physical assassination. The Weather Underground Organization was subject to this interference to a debilitating degree because it had isolated itself from similar activist groups at its conception. Bernardine Dohrn emphasizes the importance of resistance against the evils of imperialist governments in her preface to Letters From Young Activists: Today‟s Rebels Speak Out, a book of inspirational letters from some of today‟s young activists. She declares that it is our responsibility to take a stand against such governments. “This resistance can take the form of humor, art, militancy, or door-to-door organizing but the stance is what Edward Said called „a spirit in opposition, rather than in accommodation.‟ It is a choice to be vibrant dissenters, to question, to engage in what Foucault calls „a relentless erudition,‟ to remain insurgent, independent of the powerful to try to „speak truth to power.‟ It is the dead opposite of silences and aversions, of expediency, of orthodoxy and slogans, of mandatory patriotic nationalism.”81 Dohrn emphasizes that it is important to not merely sit by and allow a few like-minded government officials to completely control the country and the people in it. If something is wrong or unjust, it is the responsibility of those who are capable of fighting (either with physical violence or
Bernardine Dohrn, “Preface,” Letters from Young Activists: Today‟s Rebels Speak Out, ed. Dan Berger, et al. (New York, NY: Nation Books, 2005) xx. 81 Dohrn, xv. 55
peaceful protest) to take a stand and rectify the situation at hand. Sitting by and allowing a detrimental situation to continue benefits no one but the hegemonic forces in the country, and the only way one can expect to see a change is to try every possible method until it is achieved. Activists must recognize that the methods they use to strive for change may not work and might ultimately do more harm than good, but without trying there is no way to know what will happen. The Weather Underground Organization was one such group that tested an unpopular and ultimately unsuccessful approach to changing the American system. Although they did not succeed in acquiring the change they so strongly desired, it is extremely important to recognize that they did try and that they did not do so maliciously. After watching nonviolent protest go ignored by the government for so long, the next logical step was to do something a bit more controversial. As Dohrn writes, “history is seized, not given, change wrenched as a result of struggles from below. The women who challenged the mangling of our bodies—the sisters did not know how it was going to turn out…The young men who resisted the draft…—they did not know how it would turn out…When we think about historical moments, of course, we each read ourselves into it in heroic ways. It‟s so obvious now.”82 Dohrn mentions people who fought for change without knowing what the outcome of their actions would be. This is perhaps a reference to the Weathermen‟s radical actions and the way they are perceived today. If the organization had accomplished more of what it set out to achieve they would likely be viewed in the same positive light that the women‟s rights activists and the draft-resisters
Dohrn, xxi. 56
are today. Instead of seeing their actions as immature and unwarranted, they would be considered groundbreaking and necessary. In the late 1960s, though, the best course of action was not obvious, and if a violent revolution had not been attempted we would likely look back and think that it could have had the potential to change the country. We, as modern day historians, students and activists, have a tendency to look at the WUO as either a mythical revolutionary group that was unfairly repressed and shut down by the government or as a group of psychotic idiots with absolutely no sense of reality. Both of these mindsets ignore what I consider to be a more accurate interpretation, that the Weather Underground Organization was a group of intelligent young men and women who were inspired by other militant organizations and simply wanted to help change the American system in a way that had not yet been tried by a white activist group. Someone had to try it, even if in the end it failed.
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