In discussing Obama's potential connection with Bill Ayers and his wife Bernadine Dohrn -- two members of the terrorist group The Weathermen back in the late 60s and early 70s -- the question often comes up as to whether it's fair to still consider the Ayers to be terrorists. Both of them are now respected professionals, and people shouldn't be held accountable for youthful indiscretions. And were they every really involved in terrorism?
I decided to explore this and see what they did in the 70s and find out how much I could document of their attitudes in recent years. Here's a summary of what I could come up with, using video where possible to avoid the possibility of false quotes.
For context, I'll start back when they were part of the Weathermen:
Per David Horowitz in his book The Professors:
At a 1969 "War Council in Flint, Michigan, Dohrn gave her most memorable and notorious speech to her followers. Holding her fingers in what became the Weatherman "fork salute", she said of the bloody murders recently commited by the Manson Family in which the pregnant actress Sharon Tate and a Folgers coffee heiress and several other inhabitants of a Benedict Canyon mansion were brutally stabbed to death: "Dig it! First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them. They even shoved a fork into the victim's stomach! Wild!" The victim of the fork attack was Sharon Tate. The "War Council" ended with a formal declaration of war against "AmeriKKKa," always spelled with three K's.
As documented on her Wikipedia page, her husband has said she was being ironic:
I didn't hear that exactly, but words that were close enough I guess. Her speech was focused on the murder just days earlier of our friend Fred Hampton, the Black Panther leader [...] She linked Fred's murder to the murders of other Panthers around the country, to the assassinations of Malcolm X and Patrice Lumumba, the CIA attempts on Fidel's life, and then to the ongoing terror in Viet Nam. "This is the state of the world," she cried. "This is what screams out for our attention and our response. And what do we find in our newspapers? A sick fascination with a story that has it all: a racist psycho, a killer cult, and a chorus line of Hollywood bodies. Dig it! ..."
Dorhn says it was "a joke". About this, Horowitz says:
"In 1980 I taped interviews with thirty members of the Weather Underground who were present at the Flint War Council, including most of its leadership. Not one of them thought Dohrn was anything but deadly serious".
Per the New York Times, Ayers was said to sum 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."
Ayers now says that was "a joke". Around the time he made that joke, he and his wife, along with the rest of the Weathermen, began their bombing campaign.
The bombing sites over the next few years included the New York City Police Headquarters, the Capital, and the Pentagon, as well as a dozen or so other locations.
Ayers has said they never intended to hurt people:
We were very careful from the moment of the townhouse on to be sure we weren't going to hurt anybody, and we never did hurt anybody. Whenever we put a bomb in a public space, we had figured out all kinds of ways to put checks and balances on the thing and also to get people away from it, and we were remarkably successful."
On March 6th of 1970, while preparing a nail bomb intended for the Fort Dix Army base, three members of the Weathermen were killed when it went off prematurely. People have questioned why they would be using a nail bomb if they didn't intend to harm anyone, as the only purpose for nails in a bomb is to maximize the number of people hurt and killed by the bomb (otherwise, you can just use regular explosives to make a big bang and a hole).
Per Wikipedia, Harvey Klehr, the Andrew W. Mellon professor of politics and history at Emory University in Atlanta, said in 2003:"The only reason they were not guilty of mass murder is mere incompetence. I don't know what sort of defense that is."
The Weathermen group collapsed.
Ayers and Dohrn turned themselves in to authorities. They were eventually released because government evidence was based on illegal wiretaps.
In an interview with David Horowitz, Bill Ayers summed up his legal situation as:"Guilty as hell. Free as a bird. America is a great country."
Bill and Bernadine were interviewed by Connie Chung:
Connie Chung: "A lot of people out there are probably saying, 'I would love to hear them say we were young, we were idealistic, we were foolish and we were probably stupid; we made mistakes and we're sorry about it. We're grown up now."
Bill Ayers: "I would say we were young, we were idealistic, we were romantic, we were foolish, we made mistakes, and I would do..."
Bernadine Dohrn: "And we'd do it again. I wish that we'd done more. I wish we'd been more militant. I wish a lot of things. But taken as a whole, we were so lucky to be born into that moment in history."
On 9/11/2001, the New York Times interview with Bill Ayers appeared, titled "No Regrets for a Love Of Explosives; In a Memoir of Sorts, a War Protester Talks of Life With the Weathermen", opening with:
"I don't regret setting bombs," Bill Ayers said. "I feel we didn't do enough."
Would he do it all again?
"I don't want to discount the possibility," he said.
In an interview done with the Chicago Tribune within days of the Times interview, Ayers said:"The truth is, we weren't extreme enough in fighting against the war, and we weren't extreme enough in fighting racism, which is still a stain on America."
In response to a letter to the editor about her, Bernadine wrote:
I have never endorsed terrorism, the use of violence to intimidate or coerce a civilian (or any other) population.
Bill Ayers attended the World Education Forum, hosted by Hugo Chavez. Appearing with Chavez, Ayers said:
"We share the belief that education is the motor-force of revolution...I look forward to seeing how...all of you continue to overcome the failures of capitalist education as you seek to create something truly new and deeply humane...Teaching invites transformations, it urges revolutions large and small. La educacion es revolucion."
Bernadine, introducing an activist:
"My experience traveling the last ten years has been that the majority of people who are activists have stayed the course in a way, in a variety of ways, devoted to overthrowing everything hateful about this government and corporate structure that we live in; capitalism itself, herself, himself, and determined to try to keep open and figure out how to move on...
We who are, as we used to say, in the belly of the beast, it again means not that it's the only purveyor of violence in the world, but that we have an extraordinary special responsibility, not necessarily the most enviable one, of how to act here, inside the heart of the monster."
UPDATE: Added more on their explanation of Dohrn's comments about the Sarah Tate murder; filled in more of the history including Ayer's "Guilty as hell" quote; linked to more direct sources where possible. If you know of relevant info I've left out, let me know.