Bill Ayers: Please Go Away

For reasons best known to themselves, the NYT has published an op-ed by William Ayers:

“In the recently concluded presidential race, I was unwillingly thrust upon the stage and asked to play a role in a profoundly dishonest drama. (…)

“Now that the election is over, I want to say as plainly as I can that the character invented to serve this drama wasn’t me, not even close. Here are the facts:

I never killed or injured anyone. I did join the civil rights movement in the mid-1960s, and later resisted the draft and was arrested in nonviolent demonstrations. I became a full-time antiwar organizer for Students for a Democratic Society. In 1970, I co-founded the Weather Underground, an organization that was created after an accidental explosion that claimed the lives of three of our comrades in Greenwich Village. The Weather Underground went on to take responsibility for placing several small bombs in empty offices — the ones at the Pentagon and the United States Capitol were the most notorious — as an illegal and unpopular war consumed the nation.

The Weather Underground crossed lines of legality, of propriety and perhaps even of common sense. Our effectiveness can be — and still is being — debated. We did carry out symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism, and the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam war.

Peaceful protests had failed to stop the war. So we issued a screaming response. But it was not terrorism; we were not engaged in a campaign to kill and injure people indiscriminately, spreading fear and suffering for political ends.”

Oh, for heavens’ sake. The Weather Underground might have gotten its new name in 1970, but Weatherman, from which it morphed, was founded in 1969. Starting his narrative in 1970 allows Ayers to omit the time when Weatherman was not trying not to harm people: for instance, the Days of Rage:

“”The Days of Rage,” as the 1969 protest was called, brought several hundred members of the Weatherman — many of them attired for battle with helmets and weapons — to Lincoln Park. The tear-gassed marches, window smashing, and clashes with police lasted four days, during which 290 militants were arrested and 63 people were injured. Damage to windows, cars, and other property soared to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Around this time, Ayers summed up the Weatherman philosophy as “Kill all the rich people. Break up their cars and apartments. Bring the revolution home, kill your parents — that’s where it’s really at.””

Nor should we forget Bernardine Dohrn’s comment on the Manson murders at the Flint War Council in 1969: “Dig it! First they killed those pigs and then they put a fork in their bellies. Wild!” At the same meeting, Weathermen “debated the ethics of killing white babies, so as not to bring more “oppressors” into the world, and denounced American women bearing white babies as “pig mothers.”” (p. 159) And they sang songs about a lawyer, Richard Elrod, who had broken his neck during the Days of Rage: “Stay Elrod stay/ Stay in your iron lung/ Play Elrod play/ Play with your toes a while.” (p. 159)

The “accidental explosion” Ayers refers to occurred when three Weathermen blew themselves up while making nail bombs to detonate at a dance at Fort Dix. One was Ayers’ girlfriend, “who was later identified from a fragment of finger.”

After three of their own were blown up, Weatherman tried not to hurt people, though they did blow up property, and seem to have placed a lot of trust in their ability to tell, for instance, whether any janitors were still in the buildings they bombed. And after that explosion, according to Ayers, the Weather Underground got a new name. But when his co-Weathermen blew themselves up, they were planning to kill a whole lot of people. Weatherman was never nonviolent.

Bill Ayers and the Weather Underground did more than ‘cross lines of legality, of propriety and perhaps even of common sense.’ They were, by any syandard I can think of, terrorists. As one historian says, “The only reason they were not guilty of mass murder is mere incompetence (…) I don’t know what sort of defense that is.”

They say they did it to end the war in Vietnam. But how, exactly, that was supposed to happen is a total mystery. It’s the Underpants Gnome theory of political activism:

Phase 1: Set a bunch of bombs.
Phase 2: ???
Phase 3: The war ends!

That level of tactical idiocy is one thing when you’re collecting underpants. It’s quite another when you’re setting bombs.

Ayers may think that there’s still a debate about the Weather Underground’s effectiveness. And he might also think that he “acted appropriately in the context of those times.” To me, though, he’s just a shallow rich kid who took himself and his revolutionary rhetoric much too seriously, helped inspire people to do things that got them killed, and helped to discredit the anti-war movement and the left as a whole.

He has done enough harm already. Now he should do the decent thing and leave us in peace.

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