Saturday, October 11, 2008

Academics support Bill Ayers

There are plenty of issues currently more important than whether Barack Obama was close to Bill Ayers - for example, the current meltdown of our economic system - but this minor issue has come to the fore due to the vile efforts instigated by Sarah Palin and John McCain to tar Obama with the terrorist brush..

Obama knew Ayers and worked with him in Chicago on educational issues. But he was not a close friend of his, and he's already denounced Ayers' terrorist past.

Now, some academics, with the perfect instinct for doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, have set up a web site to defend Ayers - Suppport4 Bill Ayers - gathering signatures on a petition to support him for all the work he's done in the past twenty years in education. I could understand why colleagues and those who have used his research might want to support him, except for the fact that the petition engages in egregious whitewashing of Ayers' record during his Weathermen days.
The current characterizations of Professor Ayers - “unrepentant terrorist,” “lunatic leftist” - are unrecognizable to those who know or work with him. It’s true that Professor Ayers participated passionately in the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 1960s, as did hundreds of thousands of Americans. His participation in political activity 40 years ago is history; what is most relevant now is his continued engagement in progressive causes, and his exemplary contribution - including publishing 16 books - to the field of education. The current attacks appear as part of a pattern of “exposés” and assaults designed to intimidate free thinking and stifle critical dialogue. Like crusades against high school and elementary teachers, and faculty at UCLA, Columbia, DePaul, and the University of Colorado, the attacks on and the character assassination of Ayers threaten the university as a space of open inquiry and debate, and threaten schools as places of compassion, imagination, curiosity, and free thought. They serve as warnings that anyone who voices perspectives and advances questions that challenge orthodoxy and political power may become a target, and this, then, casts a chill over free speech and inquiry and the spirit of democracy.
Italics mine. Ayers did not just "participate passionately" in the civil rights and antiwar movements - he joined the lunatic fringe of the antiwar left, the Weathermen, which committed terrorist acts which could very well have killed innocent people. They did manage to accidentally kill three of their own members in the Greenwich Village townhouse where they were making bombs.

And Bill Ayers never repented of his actions, and in fact has said in his own memoir of those days (Fugitive Days) that ''Everything was absolutely ideal on the day I bombed the Pentagon.''

I don't know if he is a "lunatic leftist," but he certainly never repented of, never renounced, never criticized his own violent actions or the violent actions of his fellow Weathermen. Academics and intellectuals who sign this petition in his defense gloss over his original actions, and his self-justifications and obfuscations. They are guilty of intellectual dishonesty by ignoring the blatant evasion of the truth in this petition. People whom I respect have signed this petition - and I simply don't understand how they could lend their names to this dubious and dishonest project.

I am not sure, but I would wager that the reference to "crusade" at the University of Colorado points to another dubious case that some on the left have taken up - the defense of Ward Churchill. Ward Churchill lost his job for plagiarism - which was finally proven - not for his offensive political opinions.

The attacks of Sarah Palin and John McCain against Barack Obama are vile - but they are not correctly refuted by calling for support of a man who, in truth, never repented of his earlier terrorist actions.


  1. I imagine also that DePaul refers to Norman Finkelstein.

  2. True - I didn't want to go into that, because I don't know enough about his case and what I think about whether he deserved tenure.

  3. To generalize that the near- 3,000 educators who have signed the petition are "guilty of intellectual dishonesty" is quite an accusation. It deserves a further look as to whether this is in fact a "dubious and dishonest" project.

    This is an excellent critical analysis of the petition, especially given faults in its language and its impact as the election nears. At the heart of the matter I believe is friends and educators taking a stand (and a very risky one at that) for someone they personally know and respect who because of the election, is having his life ruined by the media & a desperate McCain/Palin campaign.

    As far as being "unrepentant" and judging Ayers based on a sentence out of a book or things supposedly quoted in the media (exactly what the attacking media compounds and stretches during smear campaigns to inur folks), I think we should take the basic message from the educators for what it is - defense of a man they've known and respected through his dedication to the field of education and democratic ideals for the past 30 years. They're putting their own careers & reputations on the line after all by signing on.

    "Participated passionately" is definitely questionable language when it avoids what that entailed (violence against government buildings in response to the Vietname War). But to ignore this highly endorsed message is to whitewash otherwise a very admirable life and give in to the smears.

  4. Is this really so risky for them, in the midst of liberal academia? In my experience of academia, one takes very little risk by defending someone on the left - especially if all one is doing is signing an internet petition. What exact repercussions will the signatories suffer - especially those who are tenured faculty?

    Take a look at my earlier post on Ayers (from February of this year) - I was quoting from newspaper articles from 2001 and after which were published long before Obama was even running for president. The articles reviewing his book, Fugitive Days, were from August and September 2001 - and they were scathing. The interview with him in the NYTimes was published on Sept. 11, 2001 (scheduled for that date obviously before anyone knew there would be terrorist attacks on that day). His own words about himself are pretty damning, in my opinion.

    "Violence against government buildings" is again whitewashing what the Weathermen were attempting to do. When the three Weathermen were killed in the town house explosion in Greenwich Village, they were building bombs that would have been used against members of the American military in the United States - not against buildings. The Weathermen are very lucky that none of their bombs killed anyone else. If you set a bomb in a building, you run the risk of killing or injuring a person who happens to be in that building.

    If Ayers had in fact repented of his earlier actions, I would be much more inclined to agree with you that we should be paying attention to his post-Weathermen achievements, rather than focusing on what he did with the Weathermen. But since he did not indicate his repentance, I think it is entirely legitimate still to pay attention to those actions.

    And to repeat, I say this as someone who is a) a supporter of Obama and b) a lifelong Democrat.

  5. Well said.

    I'd say it's risky moreso than other petitions because the issue at hand is about "terrorist" accusations, and when it comes to terrorism in today's landscape, the government and far right are vigilant, unquestioning and fierce- names will be researched, added to lists, privacy will be invaded. Anyone on that list doing anything high profile in the future will be linked to Ayers through this, just as Obama was. Exactly what happens during smear campaigns and as was shown through McCarthyism of the 50s where reputations were crushed out of fear and hatred.


    folks are obviously trying to hack the petition website and maliciously reveal the personal info (home address, phone, etc) of the petition supporters to far-right activists. Lots of hate there obviously.

    I've been trying to understand a lot of this Ayers/Obama stuff around the net, and I think it constantly needs some informed context to stem the overt hatred for Ayers or anyone deemed "terrorist" and denial of how Ayers has turned his life around. Yes I'm an Obama supporter, so it plays into my interest in revealing such, but also I think Ayers is a man just trying to live his life- who won't apologize now because the post-war public demands it as if that will make everything he did OK. My guess is that it won't, and those unwilling to accept him as a whole will continue to condemn his whole life based on his 70s life.

    Context: What the Weathermen "were attempting to do" was not trying to kill Americans and be murderers. In the documentary on the group they explicitly said they took painstaking efforts to make sure buildings were empty prior, and that the bombs were about sending a message to a complacent public that an abominable war being carried out in their name as Americans. Each time the US military bombed a Vietnamese village or schoolhouse for example and it was in the news, they would bomb a public building in the states- attempting to tell people- hey we're at war people. There had to have been better, non-violent and legal ways to get this message out, but like many folks now looking back on the protests of the war, I wasn't alive then and don't quite understand what how that desperation could or should have manifested.

    I guess I won't speak for Bill Ayers when it comes to public admission of repentance, but I'll say that I think educators who know him supporting him and his actions as a human since the 70s antiwar movement is an effort to speak to a greater truth about repentance and justice. He wasn't found guilty or forced to serve time in jail - that was botched. He was let off the hook by the justice system, and since then has lived a very admirable life. What will an apology really do? I'm thinking here of the notion to judge a man not by what he says or certain things he did, but by the whole of his life's actions. The fact that he won't admit publicly what everyone wants to hear- an apology- is a matter of principle & personality. He's stubborn. Even if their bomb on that day was meant to kill people- it didn't. But the public has attached a murderer/terrorist's demand for repentance? I wouldn't want that on me if I 1. wasn't found guilty, and never killed anyone. I'm thinking he knows it doesn't really matter, and either do the colleagues & friends that know him personally.

  6. Bill Ayers: Unrepentant LYING Terrorist [Andy McCarthy]

    In that Fox interview that Rich linked to, Ayers preposterously claimed that he and his fellow Weather Underground terrorists did not really intend to harm any people — the fact that no one was killed in their 20 or so bombings was, he said, "by design"; they only wanted to cause property damage:

    Between October 1969 and September 1973, the Weather Underground claimed credit for some twenty bombings across the country, in which no one was harmed — save the three cell members who perished in a Greenwich Village townhouse in March 1970, when one of their creations detonated prematurely. Ayers claimed the fact that no other individuals were killed as a result of the Weathermen’s actions was “by design.”
    In his autobiography, Fugitive Days: A Memoir, Ayers recalled, he posed the question: “How far are you willing to take that step into what I consider the abyss of violence? And we really never did, except for that moment in the townhouse.… I actually think destroying property in the face of that kind of catastrophe is so — restrained. And I don’t see it as a big deal.


    First of all, "that moment in the townhouse" he's talking about happened in 1970. Three of his confederates, including his then girlfriend Diana Oughton, were accidentally killed when the explosive they were building to Ayers specifications (Ayers was a bomb designer) went off during construction. As noted in Ayers' Discover the Networks profile, the explosive had been a nail bomb. Back when Ayers was being more honest about his intentions, he admitted that the purpose of that bomb had been to murder United States soldiers:

    That bomb had been intended for detonation at a dance that was to be attended by army soldiers at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Hundreds of lives could have been lost had the plan been successfully executed. Ayers attested that the bomb would have done serious damage, "tearing through windows and walls and, yes, people too."

    In fact, Ayers was a founder of the Weatherman terror group and he defined its purpose as carrying out murder. Again, from Discover the Networks:

    Characterizing Weatherman as "an American Red Army," Ayers summed up the organization's ideology as follows: "Kill all the rich people. Break up their cars and apartments. Bring the revolution home, Kill your parents."

    Now he wants you to think they just wanted to break a few dishes. But in his book Fugitive Days, in which he boasts that he "participated in the bombings of New York City Police Headquarters in 1970, of the Capitol building in 1971, and the Pentagon in 1972," he says of the day that he bombed the Pentagon: "Everything was absolutely ideal. ... The sky was blue. The birds were singing. And the bastards were finally going to get what was coming to them."

    And he wasn't singular. As I noted back in April in this article about Obama's motley collection of radical friends, at the Weatherman “War Council” meeting in 1969, Ayers' fellow terrorist and now-wife, Bernadine Dohrn, famously gushed over the barbaric Manson Family murders of the pregnant actress Sharon Tate, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, and three others: “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!” And as Jonah recalled yesterday, "In appreciation, her Weather Underground cell made a threefingered 'fork' gesture its official salute." They weren't talking about scratching up the wall-paper.

    A Weatherman affiliate group which called itself "the Family" colluded with the Black Liberation Army in the 1981 Brinks robbery in which two police officers and an armed guard were murdered. (Obama would like people to believe all this terrorist activity ended in 1969 when he was eight years old. In fact, it continued well into the eighties.) Afterwards, like Ayers and Dohrn, their friend and fellow terrorist Susan Rosenberg became a fugitive.

    On November 29, 1984, Rosenberg and a co-conspirator, Timothy Blunk, were finally apprehended in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. At the time, they were actively planning an unspeakable bombing campaign that would have put at risk the lives of countless innocent people. They also possessed twelve assorted guns (including an Uzi 9 mm. semi-automatic rifle and an Ithaca twelve-gauge shotgun with its barrel sawed off), nearly 200 sticks of dynamite, more than 100 sticks of DuPont Trovex (a high explosive), a wide array of blasting agents and caps, batteries, and switches for explosive devices. Arrayed in disguises and offering multiple false identities to arresting officers, the pair also maintained hundreds of false identification documents, including FBI and DEA badges.
    When she was sentenced to 58 years' imprisonment in 1985, the only remorse Rosenberg expressed was over the fact that she and Blunk had allowed themselves to be captured rather than fighting it out with the police. Bernadine Dohrn was jailed for contempt when she refused to testify against Rosenberg. Not to worry, though. On his last day in office, the last Democrat president, Bill Clinton, pardoned Rosenberg — commuting her 58-year sentence to time-served.

    These savages wanted to kill massively. That they killed only a few people owes to our luck and their incompetence, not design. They and the Democrat politicians who now befriend and serve them can rationalize that all they want. But those are the facts.

  7. Gopack, I agree with you about the vileness of Ayers actions when he was a member of the Weathermen - but that has nothing to do with Barack Obama. Obama was, as he said, eight years old at the time. He is not a revolutionary - he is a pretty standard-issue Democratic liberal, which since I am also a Democratic liberal, I like about him. My complaint is not with Obama, but with Ayers and those who gloss over his earlier crimes.

  8. As I recall, Ayers was undoubtedly guilty of all the above accusations, by his own words as well as in court. However, the reasons he was let off were said to be because of the manner that the FBI went about gathering the evidence. I do not see why anyone would claim that he is not guilty just because he was let off in court: Ayers doesn't even say that, as his claims involve the opposite (as gopack elaborated on)!
    Anyway, great post. It is nice to read a democrat who doesn't back up Ayers. Fighting for an honorable cause involves going about it in an honorable way, otherwise, even if they receive victory, their cause has not. They would simply replace what they claimed to be fighting against. Thank you for the elegantly objective post, rebecca.

  9. Ayers's actions were beyond vile, they were treasonous.

    Obama's associations with Ayers nvite scrutiny - as indicators of his philosophy, temperament, judgment.

    The petition is a disingenuous attempt to shiled Ayers from scrutiny, judgment, even censure. As if he was just one of hundreds of thousands of anti-Vietnam war protestors - he was a conspiratorial leader not of an antiwar movement, but of the pro-North Vietnam forces in the US.

  10. Jeremayakovka -

    Obama associated with Ayers because they were both working on education issues in Chicago. As Obama said, he was eight years old when Ayers was in the Weather Underground. What does Obama have to do with that?