The Magazine

Don't Need a Weatherman

The clouded mind of Bill Ayers.

Oct 8, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 04 • By RONALD RADOSH
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Despite his numerous disclaimers that he was never a terrorist, Ayers often emotes about the mystical wonder of bombs. He reprints a verse in praise of dynamite by the nineteenth-century anarchist Johann Most: "Stuff several pounds of this sublime stuff into an inch of pipe,...plug up both ends, insert a cap with a fuse attached,...and light the fuse. A most cheerful and gratifying result will follow." Throughout the book, he often ends with such words as "Bombs away!" After witnessing riots and a shoot-out between police and black radicals in Cleveland—a murderous assault he calls a "loving attempt...to change so much of what was glaringly, screamingly wrong"—Ayers writes:

"Night after night, day after day, each majestic scene I witnessed was so terrible and so unexpected that no city would ever again stand innocently fixed in my mind. Big buildings and wide streets, cement and steel were no longer permanent. They, too, were fragile and destructible. A torch, a bomb, a strong enough wind, and they, too, would come undone or get knocked down."

The extraordinary mau-mauing that convinced the New York Times to print not just one but two obsequious profiles of Bill Ayers was only part of the publisher’s plan for promoting Fugitive Days. Had the events of September 11 not taken place, Ayers would have embarked on a twenty-city book tour. Ron Rosenbaum, writing in the New York Observer, found some merit to the "terrible logic" of the terrorists’ "convictions," praised them for having "emerged from the underground without betraying their principles." Edward Said, Columbia University’s own radical intellectual, blurbed the book for "its marvelous human coherence and integrity." Studs Terkel called it a "deeply moving elegy to all those young dreamers who tried to live decently in an indecent world." Thomas Frank declared Ayers a man who took a "quintessentially American trip," and Scott Turow in his blurb regrets that Ayers’s "critical point of view" is one we are "barely able to recall."

THE WORLD TRADE CENTER SEEMS to show that we are able to recall it all too well. In its press release after the attacks, Beacon Press printed a statement from Ayers (also printed, in shorter form, in the New York Times, though the Times has not printed any of the scores of letters it received protesting Ayers’s double appearance in its pages). In the statement, Ayers refers to "the barbarism unleashed against innocent human beings" as a "nightmare" and claims he is "filled with horror and grief." Noticing that his memoir is "now receiving attention in a radically changed context," he asks that we not "collapse time" and imagine that his words apply to the United States today. Fugitive Days, Ayers says, is simply his effort to explore "the intricate relationships between social justice, commitment, and resistance"—and "to understand, to tell the truth, and to heal."

Not surprisingly, to read Fugitive Days is to discover that Bill Ayers intended precisely the opposite when he wrote it. "Everything was absolutely ideal on the day I bombed the Pentagon," he rhapsodizes. "The sky was blue. The birds were singing. And the bastards were finally going to get what was coming to them."

Ayers and his comrade (and now wife) Bernardine Dohrn were merely "ordinary people," he recently explained to the Chicago Tribune, "trying to do our best in extraordinarily extreme and violent times." But Ayers remains, in fact, a man in love with his years of violence. In his account of the "Days of Rage," the October 1969 riot the Weathermen organized in Chicago, he describes Dohrn admonishing her troops to violence wearing a "short skirt and high stylish black boots....Her blazing eyes...allied with her elegance,...a stunning and seductive symbol of the Revolutionary Woman." (Ayers also reminds us that it was at the Days of Rage that Tom Hayden, one of the founders of SDS, told the rioters, "Anything that intensifies our resistance...is in the service of humanity. The Weathermen are setting the terms for all of us now.")