Why is the Weather Underground Still Making News? (2024)

Culture Watch

by John McMillian

Mr. McMillian teaches History and Literature at Harvard University. He is co-editor (with Paul Buhle)of The New Left Revisited (Temple University Press, 2003).

Why is the Weather Underground Still Making News? (1)

When Malcolm Cowley wrote about the "quaint mania of passing one's life wearing oneself out over words," he was referring to the temperament of the artist, to the burning love of literature that has called forth so many writers to give themselves over to their craft. But the phrase suits right-wing bashers of the Weather Underground equally well. Will there ever be a day when conservatives pass up a news peg that gives them a chance to denounce - for the umpteenth time - the ultra-militant New Left splinter group of the early-1970s?

This time the occasion is the announcement that Chesa Boudin, a 22-year old Yale senior, was recently awarded a Rhodes Scholarship. As a recent New York Times profile laid out, both of Boudin's biological parents - who were once members of the Weather Underground - are in prison for their role in a 1981 robbery of Brinks armored car that went badly awry; two police officers and a security guard were killed in the debacle. Boudin, who was barely a year old when his parents were sentenced, has since been raised by Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, themselves former Weatherleaders with two children of their own.

"Perhaps al-Qaeda should have blown up Yale or the New York Times" David Horowitz recently proclaimed. If they had, "then our treacherous elites" might better understand "the forces that are arrayed against us" -- the "pro-Communist, pro-terrorist anti-American left [that] is entrenched in our elite universities, and has won the support of the award committees of our highest academic honors and our most influential newspaper."

It's hard to believe that anyone could be more alarmist about Boudin's prize than this, but the creepy website propagandamatrix.com has Horowitz beat by a mile: "Son of Communist Terror Leader Given Keys to the New World Order," ran a recent headline.

That the Weather Underground was a violent and reckless organization is beyond dispute; throughout the early-1970s they claimed responsibility for about two-dozen bombings as they eluded capture by the FBI. Save for three of their own members who died in 1970 while building a bomb in a West Village townhouse, they never killed anyone; but their actions - along with their inflammatory rhetoric and mud-pie theories -put them at odds with the vast majority of the antiwar movement. In response to the Dylan lyric-cum-Weather slogan "You Don't Need A Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows," peace activists printed buttons that read "You Don't Need a Rectal Thermometer to Know Who the Assholes Are."

Why the far-right continues to make hash about the Weather Underground when most of the American left wrote the group off 30 years ago is something of a mystery. What Chesa Boudin has to do with any of this is an even greater puzzle, seeing as the group dissolved long before he was even born. But writers are making the connections.

Several have complained that Boudin has not sufficiently repudiated his parents. "Being the child of a leftwing domestic terrorists means never having to say you're sorry," writes Michelle Malkin in Jewish World Review - although just what Chesa Boudin ever did that he needs to apologize for is never explained. Emily Yoffe, at Slate, observes that Boudin once published a brief essay in Salon about the indignities of visiting his father in prison without explaining "what got his father put away in the first place" - as if the former story can't be told without the latter. In an essay for the History News Network, Edward Renehan Jr., grumbles that Boudin "downplays" the transgressions of his "four radical parents"

Presumably, one of the reasons Boudin won the Rhodes is his commitment to social justice. In addition to being Phi Beta Kappa at Yale, he's been a member of the peace movement, studied in Chile, worked for prison reform in Latin America, and he plans to pursue international development studies at Oxford University. He's expressed interest in a career in politics or U.S. foreign-service -- that is, in working within the system -- but to today's Weather-bashers this is all just evidence that Boudin is a dangerous clone of his parents. Yoffe alleges he has "embraced their ideology"; Malkin avers that Boudin "stands by the Weatherman's revolutionary agenda." Renehan says Boudin displays his parents' "unmistakable imprint." All three writers base their claim on a single quote in the Times. Boudin said: "My parents were all dedicated to fighting U.S. imperialism around the world. I'm dedicated to the same thing."

Of course, many millions of people have been against American imperialism; only a few hundred ever joined the Weather Underground.

Boudin's antagonists aim to stir up resentment at the violent tactics and sectarian arrogance of the "lunatic left," but in fact they only showcase their own vindictive cruelty. It's absurd to suggest that Boudin owes anyone an apology for events that occurred when he was an infant, and it scarcely takes a bleeding heart to recognize the painful dilemmas faced by children of incarcerated parents. Ironically, the publication that commented most appropriately about Boudin's Rhodes is People magazine, which framed the event perfectly ... as a touching human-interest story.

Why is the Weather Underground Still Making News? (2024)
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