No Regrets

From our August 2001 issue: “Kill your parents!” urged sixties leftist Bill Ayers, whose father was the chairman of Commonwealth Edison here. In Ayers’s new memoir, Fugitive Days, he reconciles his militant past with his present identity: father of three, esteemed professor at UIC—and unabashed patron of the great bourgeois coffee chain, Starbucks

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He grew up in Glen Ellyn, where the grass was literally always greener. His father, Thomas Ayers, was a long-time executive of Commonwealth Edison and served as chairman from 1973 to 1980. “Nice was crucially important,” Bill Ayers writes of his childhood, and it’s clear in his memoir that what Ayers has long been running from is not so much the law of the 1960s and 1970s but the upper-middle-class sensibility in which he was raised. He attended Lake Forest Academy, where he was the sole member of the Young Socialists of America; he hated every minute of school there. He liked what he found at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor: freewheeling thought, radicalism, and a passionate desire to stop the war in Vietnam, at almost any cost. Soon he dropped out, joined the Students for a Democratic Society, and became a full-time activist; arrests in demonstrations quickly followed, much to his family’s dismay.

One of the more amusing passages in Fugitive Days comes when Ayers recounts a generations-in-conflict conversation when his father counseled caution:

“Don’t close too many doors to the future,” he said. “Don’t take too many steps down a one-way street.”

“What are you doing to end the war?” I challenged.

“Edison isn’t political,” he said. “That’s not our business. . . . I’d be doubtful about a group calling itself Students for a Democratic Society—this is, after all, a democratic society.”

“Well, I’m doubtful about a group calling itself Commonwealth Edison,” I said. “There’s nothing common about wealth.”

He walked out of jail and into his first teaching job, at a daycare center in Ann Arbor. Soon he was the 21-year-old director of the place. It was there he met Diana Oughton, a beautiful and accomplished young woman. They fell in love and attended SDS conventions together. As the war dragged on and U.S. politics became more polarized, some of the war resisters—including Ayers, Oughton, and Dohrn—turned more militant. They started a group called the Weatherman, a name inspired by the Bob Dylan song lyric “You don’t need a weatherman / To know which way the wind blows.”

In 1969, they decided to “bring the war home” by staging a protest in Chicago during the trial of the “Chicago Eight” radicals accused of conspiring to cross state lines to incite a riot during the 1968 Democratic National Convention here. (Their conviction was later overturned.) “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.”

“The rhetoric was excessive because the times were excessive,” says Ayers. “The war had escalated, so naturally the language escalated. No one thought I meant that literally.”

Between 1970 and 1974, the Weatherman took credit for 12 bombings, including one of the United States Capitol and another involving several police cars. The group always emphasized that their targets were property, not people. And, in fact, no one was injured—except, of course, some of the Weatherman’s own.

In 1970, a bomb that was apparently being built in a Greenwich Village townhouse, occupied by at least five members of the Weatherman, accidentally exploded—killing three of the group, including Ayers’s beloved Diana Oughton. In Fugitive Days, Ayers tries to imagine what happened. Maybe Diana tried to stop the others from their path? Maybe they all drank too much coffee and smoked too many cigarettes?

Maybe Diana saw that this bomb, packed with nails and screws, would have exacted a heavy human toll if it had ever reached its destination—a New Jersey military base. Could she have, in a gesture of sacrifice, crossed the wires herself? “I’ll never know what happened,” he says. “That’s the price I have to pay.”

The deaths—and two federal indictments—sent Ayers and his remaining comrades underground. The fugitives eluded the FBI for ten years through a series of constantly changing identities and locations. In one of the most haunting scenes in Fugitive Days, Ayers wanders through remote Midwestern cemeteries, looking for the gravestones of babies who, like them, had been born between 1940 and 1950 but had died shortly thereafter. It was from those headstones that the fugitives would build their new identities. Overall, Ayers figures, he had at least 12 separate aliases while living in 15 different states. The one he used most often was “Joe.” Bernardine’s favorite was “Rose,” and to honor her, Ayers got the rose tattoo he now sports on his forearm.

In 1980, Ayers and Dohrn turned themselves in. (The first words Ayers’s father said to him were, “You need a haircut.") By then they had had two children together, and the bombing conspiracy charge against the couple had been dismissed due to government misconduct.

Dohrn plea-bargained to charges of inciting to mob action and resisting police officers. She was sentenced to three years’ probation and a $1,500 fine. Ayers was not charged. Even then he showed a way with words: “Guilty as hell, free as a bird—America is a great country,” he said.

The next year, a Weatherman killed a Brink’s guard and two state troopers in a bungled armored truck robbery. Kathy Boudin, the daughter of an esteemed New York civil rights lawyer, was sentenced to 20 years to life for her role in the crime; Ayers and Dohrn adopted her infant son. Today Ayers says it was partly because of “[the boy’s] questions of who he is and what the background of his mother’s life was that [Ayers] started to write this memoir.”

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6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

POS

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Doesn't surprise me in the least. There are plenty of old national socialists that aren't apologetic about their "Good Old Days" either. Why should this Left-wing fascist be any different?

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

>>> "Teaching has always been, for me, linked to issues of social justice," he says. "I've never considered it a neutral or passive profession."

Of course not. Neo-Marxists don't view education as the conveyance of information and skills, but as a means of political indoctrination for the next generation. No wonder his views are so popular amongst the American education monopolists.

Would love to hear his arguments in opposition to school choice and voucher programs, or rather why parents shouldn't be allowed to influence the educational system in any way. I bet he dances a merry jig around that one.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

The irony of people like this is hard to fully comprehend, in my opinion. Here's a guy that literally tried to start a bloody revolution in this "evil" country, yet never had to pay any price for his crimes. If he had done the same thing in one of his socialist utopia's, he would have been executed as a traitor. Instead, he's a rich man with ties to a potential (if not likely) President of the United States.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Pride goes before destruction,
And a haughty spirit before a fall.
Proverbs 16:18

6 years ago
Posted by freods

I wonder how Mr. Ayers would feel if a bunch of old vets decided to bring the war home - to his home. Oh, if Mr. Ayers agonizes over how his beloved blew herself up I'll tell him. She screwed up the bomb along with the other nitwits. Finally, how's this for the free exchange of ideas Mr. Ayers so passionately desired. Abortion is murder, Islamists are murderous barbarians, the Jews are right and the Palestinians are wrong, socialism is evil, capitalism is good, and the baby boomers are the most worthless, self obsessed generation in history. I would imagine Mr Ayers' present day comrades would not allow discussion on any of these ideas except maybe the last. But of course I doubt you could find anyone to take the other side of that argument since Mr Ayers' re-emergence makes the propostion self evident. How pathetically tiresome these retreads are still trying to justify their worthless lives and lousy choices. (don't bother to point to Mr Ayers' academic career as evidence of a life well spent. I taught in a university English dept. and have more respect for folks who work the midnight shift in a convenience store or who can wire a three way switch than I have for ANY liberal arts or ed. dept. faculty member)

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Remove his american citizenship

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

"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."

- Gee, I wonder how this historical account would have differed had the exact same protest taken place in China, Cuba, or the Soviet Union? My guess is it would have lasted 4 hours instead of 4 days with 0 arrests, 0 injured, and lots of body parts strewn around.

But hey, what do I know? I'm just a capitalist pig...

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

"There you have the complexity of Ayers: a man who once tried to overthrow his country's government and now works for a state university; an opponent of the bourgeoisie who has been married for 20 years; a left-wing radical who loves a good cup of imperialist coffee"

Nope, there you have typical liberal hypocrisy.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

typical. Hypocrite. scumbag.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

"The next year, a Weatherman killed a Brink's guard and two state troopers in a bungled armored truck robbery."

I must have missed the part where Ayers details how much of his University salary he has donated to the families of the guard and the 2 troopers, not to mention how he reimbursed the hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage done by his group's bombings and Days of Rage.

I guess he is too busy sipping his lattes and writing his memoirs to be worried by that.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Why, again, is it that this "esteemed professor" and demonstrable fool is not in jail?

-- Brian Kennedy

Kaohsiung, Taiwan

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

I am trying to imagine an article about say, a 60s Alabama Klan member who bombed churches, and his cool swagger, and how he loves Starbucks now.
Yeesh.

Karen Barefield
Arlington Virgina

6 years ago
Posted by Nathan Patrick

Hey, don't be so hard on Bill Ayers. This is a free country. He is perfectly free to be an idiot. Lord only knows how many upstanding American men and women in uniform have laid down their lives in defense of our nation so nut jobs like him can drink lattes and contaminate the minds of young people with left-wing dribble.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

He's a piece of garbage.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

I remember their mantra of "Don't trust anyone over 30" well how does it feel being twice that age? The fortunate thing about these 60's rejects is that the inevitability of their own mortality is rapidly approaching and they will soon have to face the six foot deep dirt nap and leave the rest of us alone. All their treasonous actions will fade into the history books as a sad footnote to the 20th century. It will be nice to have you feed the worms to help renew our environment - at least that is a worthy contribution along with your books in the landfills. Don't anybody dare drape an American flag over the coffin of this terrorist, he prefers a hammer and sickle or maybe a swastika since he is trying to create his own version of Hitler Youth through his teaching degree.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Is the University of Illinois a state-funded university? If so, do the residents of Illinois not have a say as to whether or not this terrorist remains on the faculty?

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Give the guy a break, he's not the testosterone-fueled radical of his youth. He's cleaned up his act and is a productive member of society.

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

Give him a break??? You have got to be kidding me? He wished he could do more so now he teaches our youth to follow in his footsteps. He got enough of a break because of a technicality and isn't rotting away in prison. Take a close look at the photo, isn't that an American Flag under his feet? Cleaned up his act? What drugs are you on?

6 years ago
Posted by Anonymous

"Give the guy a break, he's not the testosterone-fueled radical of his youth. He's cleaned up his act and is a productive member of society."

I doubt the 3 people the Weathermen killed think he deserves a break, and ol' Professor Ayers sure doesnt sound remorseful in the least now that he is a so-called productive member of society:

Ayers interviewed in the New York Times on September 11, 2001, of all days: “I don’t regret setting bombs. I feel we didn’t do enough.” Translation: “We meant to kill that judge and his family, not just damage the porch.” When asked by the Times if he would do it all again, Ayers responded: “I don’t want to discount the possibility.”

http://www.city-journal.org/2008/eon0430jm.html

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