Obama's Foul Weather Friends

The lack of media interest in the role of former domestic terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn in Democratic nominee Barack Obama's political ascent in Chicago is one of the most remarkable aspects of the 2008 presidential campaign.  When the question is raised at all, reporters are quick to repeat Sen. Obama's claim that his relationship with the two former bomb-makers was fleeting and casual.  Some cite Chicago mayor Richard Daley's defense of Ayers as a "distinguished professor of education" and "a valued member of the Chicago community."  Why then should there be cause for concern?    

Weatherman: bombs, rage and revolution

Weatherman was a revolutionary communist sect that split from Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1969.  Weatherman's founding document called for a "white fighting force" that would be "akin to the Red Guard in China" to work with the Black Liberation Movement and other "anti-colonial" movements to bring about a communist revolution and destroy "US imperialism."  Weatherman committed at least 40 bombings between 1969 and 1975.  Targets included the Pentagon, the State Department and the US Capitol, other government buildings, military bases, police offices and corporations.  Two of the group's primary leaders were Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn. 

Defenders argue that Weatherman was not a terrorist group, since it frequently tipped off police about the devices.  Bill Ayers recently called the bombings "a dramatic form of armed propaganda" and claimed "no one was ever hurt."  In reality, the relatively low death toll from the bombing campaign was mostly due to technical incompetence.

On March 6, 1970, three members of Weatherman were killed when a powerful bomb they were constructing exploded prematurely.  The device had been made from dynamite, wrapped with roofing nails to maximize casualties.  Its intended target was a dance for noncommissioned officers and their dates scheduled for that evening at Fort Dix.  The bomb that killed three in a Greenwich Village townhouse would have killed far more on a crowded dance floor. 

Larry Grathwohl, an undercover FBI agent who infiltrated Weatherman, later testified that Ayers had identified Bernadine Dohrn as the person who bombed a San Francisco police station in February 1970, killing one officer and injuring two others.  The agent also said that Ayers had constructed a bomb made from 13 sticks of dynamite that the group placed in a Detroit police officers' association building.  The agent contacted the police, who cleared the area, but the bomb failed to explode.  Ayers' murderous intent was clear enough, however.  According to the FBI agent, "Bill said that we should plan our bombing to coincide with the time when there would be the most people in those buildings."

Ayers and Dohrn were never prosecuted for the bombings because of government misconduct in collecting evidence.  In 2001, Ayers told the New York Times, "I don't regret setting bombs.  I feel we didn't do enough."

Befriending America's foreign enemies

Even before Weatherman began its notorious bombing campaign, the group's future leaders had formed relationships with others who shared their hatred for "Amerikkka."

Bernadine Dohrn made numerous contacts with Fidel Castro's Cuban Mission at the UN in 1968 and 1969, during which time she arranged for SDS groups to visit Havana. 

After returning from Cuba, Dohrn and others met with North Vietnamese and Viet Cong representatives in Budapest, Hungary, to discuss antiwar strategy on US campuses.  Speaking a few days later at an assembly of revolutionary student movements at Columbia University, Dohrn reported that the Vietnamese communists she met in Budapest were working with US GIs in Saigon, attempting to obtain military information.

As a gesture of solidarity, the Vietnamese who Dohrn met in Budapest presented her with a ring made from an American aircraft shot down over North Vietnam. Bill Ayers would receive a similar ring while meeting with Vietnamese communists in Toronto.  He later recalled being so moved by the gesture that he "left the room to cry."  He said, "I realized...America was an evil... and that I was... living inside the belly of the beast...." 

In January 1969, at the request of the Cubans and the Vietnamese, Dohrn assembled another SDS delegation to travel to Havana to plan what the Chicago Sun-Times called an "antiwar campaign during an eight-day seminar with representatives of Hanoi and the Viet Cong." 

Dohrn became a key planner in the founding of the Venceremos Brigades.  Ostensibly a "solidarity" program for US leftists to visit and support Castro's Cuba, the group was actually organized by Cuban intelligence as a covert attack on US security.  Cuban secret police offered the "brigadistas" money, advice and logistical support.  Some Americans were also given guerrilla warfare training and instructed in the use of weapons and explosives.  While they were in Cuba, Huynh Van Ba, a representative of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam (Viet Cong) advised his American allies to "look for the person who fights hardest against the cops."  Dohrn stayed in telephone contact with Ba after returning home.

In his autobiography, Fugitive Days, Bill Ayers recalled the "Days of Rage" protests he helped to lead in the streets of Chicago in October 1969:

"...A small determined group suited up for battle...wearing...motorcycle or army-surplus helmets...goggles and gas masks, heavy boots and gloves...Most of us carried an arsenal of...steel pipes and sling shots, chains, clubs, mace, and rolls of pennies to add weight to the punch... our bonfire was full up, feeding on...splintered park benches.... The crowd roared...HO, HO, HO CHI MINH...Bernardine (Dohrn)...shouted, ‘BRING THE WAR HOME'." 

Speaking before an SDS "National Action" conference in Cleveland, Ayers called "Days of Rage" "a strategy...that's going to help the NLF [National Liberation Front] concretely."

Ayers also led a group of rioters in an attack on the South Vietnamese Embassy in Washington.  The mob broke windows, smashed cars, and threw rocks, sticks, firecrackers and bottles at the Embassy.  At one point, a counter-demonstrator grabbed a Viet Cong flag from the group and set it on fire.  Ayers proudly recalled that he had "burned my left hand and broke my ring finger rescuing" the flag.  In contrast, Ayers was later photographed for a New York Times profile standing on a crumpled US flag.

Working within the system

Ayers and Dohrn were fugitives from justice for several years, living "underground" with assistance from sympathetic fellow radicals.  When they emerged, both were welcomed into the ranks of academia, where they quickly rose to positions of influence.  Ayers is now a professor of education and a Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  He was recently elected vice-president for curriculum of the 25,000-member American Educational Research Association, the largest US association of education professors and researchers.  Dohrn, who is now married to Ayers, is an Associate Professor of Law at Northwestern University, where she also directs the Children and Family Justice Center.  She has participated in several key American Bar Association committees and boards and was a founding co-chair of the ABA's Children's Law Committee.  

Ayers now uses his academic position and political connections to promote his theories of "progressive" education, a topic on which he has authored several books.  In 1995, Ayers co-founded the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a radical education reform project created to award grants to Chicago schools and "education networks."  The grant-making non-profit handed out well over $100 million between 1995 and 2001, but failed to measurably improve the Chicago school system.  Where all the money went may never be determined, but some of it was used to fund projects run by Ayers' radical friends.

For example, $175,000 went to former SDSer Mike Klonsky, who until recently was also a blogger at Obama's official campaign website.  Before reinventing himself as an educator, Klonsky founded an American Maoist communist sect that worked with the Chinese communists.  Among the organizations receiving funding from CAC were the community action group ACORN, the Arab American Action Network, Bernadine Dohrn's Children and Family Justice Center, and Trinity United Church, home base of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. 

The man Ayers and his friends chose as CAC's first board chairman was a little-known 33-year old associate at a small Chicago law firm, Barack Obama.  Ayers himself co-chaired CAC's other operational arm, the "Collaborative."  Ayers and Obama held their respective positions for more than four years, working closely together during that time.  They also served together on the board of the Woods Fund of Chicago for three years.

Their association extended beyond working hours.  In 1995, Obama launched his first political campaign, for the Illinois State Senate, at Ayers and Dohrn's home in Hyde Park.  In 1997, Obama endorsed Ayers' book on juvenile justice, and Michelle Obama hosted a panel discussion of the book in which Ayers and Barack Obama participated.

However, when asked to describe their relationship during the Philadelphia primary debate last April, Barack Obama recalled Ayers merely as "a guy who lives in my neighborhood."

Suppressing the evidence

Obama has been less than forthcoming with information that might shed light on these close associations in his past.   Until quite recently, researchers have been blocked from accessing the document archives of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, now held at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  This delay has provided ample time to review and quite possibly sanitize the contents.  When Klonsky was identified online earlier this year, all his posts at Obama's website were instantly deleted.  Documentation concerning many aspects of Obama's life remains unavailable, including papers from his time in college and law school, medical records, law firm clients, and files as an Illinois State Senator.      

Obama's campaign attorney has tried to suppress a TV ad that calls attention to his connection with Ayers, threatening the broadcast licenses of TV station managers and calling for the Justice Department to prosecute those who produced and financed the ad.

Throughout his life, Barack Obama has selected his mentors from the ranks of those who despise the United States.  This common thread connects Hawaiian Communist Party organizer Frank Marshall Davis, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright ("God bless America?  No, no... God DAMN America!") and the former Weatherman leaders, Ayers and Dohrn.  

Did Ayers, Dohrn and their fellow domestic terrorists ever give up their revolutionary goal of destroying the "imperialist" America they hate?  Or have they simply substituted new tools for the bombs and violence that were once the measure of their commitment?

Scott Swett is the primary author of a new book on the 2004 presidential campaign, To Set The Record Straight: How Swift Boat Veterans, POWs and the New Media Defeated John Kerry. He is also webmaster for SwiftVets.com and WinterSoldier.com.

Roger Canfield is the author of a forthcoming series of books on the antiwar movement:
Comrades in Arms: How the Ameri-Cong Won the Vietnam War Against the Common Enemy-America.