With the connection between Barack Obama and Weather terrorist and University of Illinois professor Bill Ayers finally receiving some attention, much of the focus zeroes in on the Weather Underground’s history of violence, such as its 1972 bombing of the Pentagon.
But the mind-set that rationalized such violence is deeply concerning in and of itself, as historian Allen J. Matusow describes it in his fascinating book The Unraveling of America: A History of Liberalism in the 1960s.
The group’s name comes from a line in Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” The core of its beliefs was “anti-imperialism”; its goal was the “liberation” of American “colonies”. Believing that such “liberation” would come from within the “colonies” themselves, the spoiled white kids in the Weather Underground assigned themselves a supporting role. To help assist “anti-imperial” movements around the globe, they organized themselves into “collectives” of five to 25 members in various American cities. The commitment demanded was total: wanna-be revolutionaries were expected to surrender their possessions, their bank accounts, their privacy, their individuality.
Even monogamy was sacrificed on the altar of the “collective”. Married couples were pressured to split up, monogamy replaced with “group marriage”, with the entire “collective” united in love. Susan Stern, a member of the Seattle collective, recalls, “A sleeping schedule was set up. According to it, you were to have a different bed partner every night, regardless of sex. The schedule was never enforced in our collective, but its very presence testified to the seriousness with which we approached the problem of smashing monogamy.”
While the new polyamorous ethic was supposed to overturn the subservience and dependency expected of women, it didn’t always work out that way. Ms. Stern recalls hearing a friend of hers sobbing one night, pleading that she was in love with someone else as she tried to fend off the persistent advances of one of the boys. “You have to put the demands of your collective above your love,” her attacker insisted. “Nothing comes before the collective.”
Contempt for monogamous love went hand-in-hand with hate and anger. The group’s hero was Charles Manson. They would salute each other with three upraised fingers, a symbol of the fork plunged into the stomach of one of Manson’s victims. They celebrated the murder of actress Sharon Tate, eight months pregnant, “because no white baby born in the mother country of the empire deserved to live”.
“Dig it,” explained Bernardine Dohrn, now married(!) to Bill Ayers. “First they killed those pigs; then they ate dinner in the same room with them; then they even shoved a fork into a victim’s stomach. Wild!”
Dohrn, Ayers, and others formed the Weather Underground from within the disintegrating Students for a Democratic Society. SDS had been infiltrated by members of the Progressive Labor party, which was formed by expelled members of the Communist Party USA who believed that the Soviet Union had betrayed communism and embraced “state capitalism” (in contrast to free-market capitalism, under state capitalism, the government intervenes in the market to protect and advance the interests of business). But unlike the Weathermen, PL believed that working-class Americans, not Third-World “colonials”, would form the revolutionary vanguard, and PL rejected any form of “nationalism”, including black nationalism, as reactionary.
To fight PL, the Weathermen formed an alliance with the Black Panther party, and invited some of them to speak at what would become SDS’s last national convention in 1969. But when one of the Panthers offerred a comment about “p—y power”, they were driven off the stage by shouts of “Fight male chauvinism!”, led by PL.
The Panthers returned briefly the next day to denounce PL and warn SDS that it would be “judged by the company it keeps”.