BackgroundThe group initially emerged from the campus-based anti-war and anti-racism ("civil rights") movements during US military action in Southeast Asia, especially Vietnam, which continued despite the significance of an increasing global desire to stop the war. In the U.S., that desire was particularly evident upon the outcome of the 1968 US presidential election. With militancy gradually supplanting nonviolence as the dominant form of anti-war action, Weatherman had concluded that university campus-based demonstrations needed to be supplemented with more dramatic and violent statements with potential to interfere with the U.S. war-making and internal security apparatuses. The Weathermen thought that guerrilla actions of this type would help to jump-start the revolution.
Originally, Weatherman was part of the Revolutionary Youth Movement, within the Students for a Democratic Society. With their splits - first from the RYM's Maoist faction, and then from SDS itself - the Weathermen distinguished themselves from other self-proclaimed Marxist revolutionary groups by claiming that there was no time to build a vanguard party and that revolutionary war against the United States and the system of capitalism should begin immediately. To that end, they carried out a campaign of bombings, jailbreaks, and riots.
After the 1969 split, Weatherman's adherents explicitly claimed themselves the real leaders of SDS. Thereafter, any leaflet, label, or logo bearing the name "Students for a Democratic Society" or "SDS" was in fact the views and politics of Weatherman, and not of SDS as a whole, since the latter had collapsed. Since the Weathermen contained the vast majority of the former SDS National Committee, including Mark Rudd, David Gilbert and Bernadine Dohrn, the organization, while small, was able to easily comandeer the name of SDS, as well as all its membership lists. For a brief time contact with regional SDS cadre was maintained from the National Office, but with Weatherman in charge the contact didn't last long, and local chapters soon disbanded. It appears also that the 'Weatherman' moniker used by the group may have been meant as a rebuke against the Progressive Labor Party, whose Worker Student Alliance SDS faction had succeeded in recruiting many SDSers to its ranks, and had allegedly co-opted the 1969 convention.
The name of the group derives from the Bob Dylan song "Subterranean Homesick Blues", which featured the lyrics "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." The lyrics had also been quoted at the bottom of an influential essay in the SDS newspaper, New Left Notes. Using this title Weatherman meant to appeal to the segment of American youth inspired to action for social justice by Dylan's songs. With the growing success of the Vietnamese revolt against foreign rule, the Cultural Revolution in China, the 1968 student revolts in Europe, Mexico City and other places, the emergence of the Tupamaros organization in Uruguay, and the success of Marxist-led independence movements throughout Africa, the Weathermen believed that any reasonable person could see worldwide revolution was imminent.
The Weathermen were outspoken advocates of concepts that later came to be known as "white privilege" and identity politics. At the height of the United States ghetto rebellions of the Civil Rights Movement, Bernardine Dohrn said, "White youth must choose sides now. They must either fight on the side of the oppressed, or be on the side of the oppressor."
The opening salvo in the "Days of Rage," Weatherman's first event, came on the night of October 8 1969, when they blew up a statue dedicated to police casualties in the 1886 Haymarket Riot. Although the October 8 rally failed to draw as many participants as they had anticipated, the estimated two to three hundred who did attend shocked police by leading a riot through the Gold Coast neighborhood, smashing windows and cars. That night, six people were shot and seventy were arrested. Two smaller violent conflicts with police followed the next two nights.
In 1970, following the police raid that resulted in the death of Black Panther Fred Hampton, the group issued a "Declaration of a state of War" against the United States government, using for the first time its new name, the "Weather Underground Organization" (WUO), adopting fake identities, and pursuing covert activities only. These initially included preparations for a bombing of a US military noncommissioned officers' dance at Fort Dix in what Brian Flanagan said had been intended to be "the most horrific hit that the United States government had ever suffered on its territory" , but three WU members died in an accidental explosion in a Greenwich Village safe house while preparing the bomb intended for that action. An accident of history was that this was the former residence of Merrill Lynch brokerage firm founder Charles Merrill and his son, the poet James Merrill. The younger Merrill subsequently recorded the event in his poem 18 West 11th Street, the title being the address of the house. An FBI report on the incident later claimed that the group had posessed sufficient amounts of explosive to "level ... both sides of the street" .
After the Greenwich Village incident, the group released a number of manifestos and declarations while carrying on a series of bombings, which from then on were both successful and free of any human casualties. The bombing actions attacked the U.S. Capitol, The Pentagon, police and prison buildings, and the rebuilt Haymarket statue again, among other targets. To avoid any loss of life as a result of these bombings, a WU member would issue warnings to evacuate the building ahead of time via phone.
The group also took a $25,000 payment from a psychedelics distribution organization called The Brotherhood of Eternal Love to break LSD advocate Timothy Leary out of prison, transporting him to Algeria. When Leary was eventually captured by the FBI, he offered to serve as an informant to capture the Weather Underground members to reduce his prison sentence. The Weather Underground members, though, remained largely successful at avoiding police and intelligence agencies. Finally, most turned themselves in at the end of the 1970s, once it was clear the revolution they had all been working towards had failed to materialize.
After the group began dissolving in 1977, many members moved on to other armed revolutionary groups and were subsequently arrested and held for long periods. Very few served prison sentences for their time in the Weather Underground; the evidence gathered against them by the FBI's COINTELPRO program was deemed illegally obtained and inadmissible in court. Jennifer Dohrn, Bernardine Dohrn's sister, once said that according to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, the FBI planned at one point to kidnap her son when she gave birth.
Known members of the Weather Underground include Kathy Boudin, Mark Rudd, Terry Robbins, Ted Gold, Naomi Jaffe, Cathy Wilkerson, Jeff Jones, David Gilbert, Susan Stern, Bob Tomashevsky, Sam Karp, Russ Neufeld, Joe Kelly and the still-married couple Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers.
Many former Weathermen have re-integrated into society without repudiating their original intent. Bill Ayers is now a Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois, and said in a September 11, 2001 New York Times profile: "I don't regret setting bombs [against non-human targets]. I believe we didn't do enough." Dohrn and Boudin also still hold to their original beliefs. Other members, like Brian Flanagan, have expressed regret. Still others, such as Mark Rudd, believe the group's original motivation, particularly its position regarding U.S. imperialism, was justified, but its resultant actions were clearly wrong.
The WU insisted that Emile de Antonio shoot the documentary Underground in 1976. However, a much more extensive, widespread, and critically-acclaimed documentary emerged in 2002 with the Oscar-nominated The Weather Underground by filmmakers Bill Siegel and Sam Green.
Chronology of eventsJune 1969 – The “Action Faction” of the SDS releases a detailed statement of their political ideology in the official SDS newspaper “New Left Notes.” This essay concluded with the quotation “You Don’t Need A Weatherman To Know Which Way The Wind Blows” which gave rise to its adherents being called “Weathermen.”
18-22 June 1969 – The SDS National Convention, held in Chicago, Illinois, sees the organization collapse as a student group and the WUO seizing control of the SDS National Office. Henceforth any activity run from the SDS National Office is WUO controlled.
July 1969 – Bernardine Dohrn, Eleanor Raskin, Dianne Donghi, Peter Clapp, David Millstone and Diana Oughton, all representing the WUO, travel to Cuba where they meet with representatives of the North Vietnamese and Cuban governments.
August 1969 – WUO member Linda Sue Evans travels to North Vietnam. WUO activists meet in Cleveland, Ohio, for the purpose of making final plans for their “National Action” or “Days of Rage” protests scheduled to be held in Chicago in October, 1969.
4 September 1969 – WUO women members from various parts of the country converge on South Hills High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where they run through the school shouting anti-war slogans and distributing literature promoting the “National Action.” The term “Pittsburgh 26” refers to the 26 women arrested in connection with this incident.
24 September 1969 – A group of WUO members become involved in a confrontation with Chicago Police when they refuse to clear a street during a demonstration supporting the “National Action”, and protesting the commencement of an Anti-riot Act trial against eight individuals charged with initiating the riots in connection with the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
7 October 1969 – The Haymarket Police Statue was bombed in Chicago, Illinois apparently as a “kickoff” for the WUO “Days of Rage” riots which took place in the city during October 8-11, 1969. No suspects have been developed in this matter. The WUO claimed credit for the bombing in their book, “Prairie Fire”.
8-11 October 1969 – The “Days of Rage” riots occur in Chicago in which 287 WUO members from throughout the country were arrested and a large amount of property damage was done. Some of the current underground WUO members became fugitives when they failed to appear for trial in connection with their arrests during these four days.
November-December 1969 – The First contingent of the Venceremos Brigade (VB) departs for Cuba to harvest sugar cane. A small number of WUO members participate in this trip.
6 December 1969 – Several Chicago Police cars parked in a Precinct parking lot at 3600 North Halsted Street, Chicago, were bombed. The WUO stated in their book "Prairie Fire" that they had perpetrated the explosion to protest the shooting deaths of the Illinois Black Panther Party leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark on 4 December 1969, by police officers.
27-31 December 1969 – The WUO holds a “War Council” meeting in Flint, Michigan, where they finalize their plans to submerge into an underground status from which they plan to commit strategic acts of sabotage against the government.
February 1970 – The WUO closes the SDS National Office in Chicago, concluding the major campus-based organization of the 1960s. The first contingent of the VB returns from Cuba and the second contingent departs. By mid-February the bulk of the leading WUO members submerge into an underground status.
13 February 1970 - Several Police vehicles of the Berkeley, California, Police Department are bombed in the police parking lot.
16 February 1970 – A bomb is detonated at the Golden Gate Park branch of the San Francisco Police Department, killing one officer and injuring a number of other policemen. No organization claims credit for either bombing.
March 1970 – Several underground WUO members become federal fugitives when they unlawfully flee to avoid prosecution; warrants are issued in connection with their failure to appear for trial in Chicago.
6 March 1970 – Thirty-four sticks of dynamite are discovered in the 13th Police District of the Detroit, Michigan police bombing. During Feburary and early March, 1970, members of the WUO led by Bill Ayers are reported to be in Detroit during that period for the purpose of bombing a police facility.
6 March 1970 – Another group blows themselves up when their “bomb factory” located in New York’s Greenwich Village accidentally explodes. WUO members Theodore Gold, Diana Oughton, and Terry Robbins die in this accident. The Bomb was intended to be planted at a Non-commissioned officer's dance at Fort Dix, New Jersey. The bomb was packed with nails to inflict maximum casualties upon detonation.
30 March 1970 – Chicago Police discover a WUO “bomb factory” on Chicago’s north side. A subsequent discovery of a WUO “weapons cache” in a south side chicago apartment several days later ends WUO activity in the city.
April 1970 – WUO members Linda Sue Evans and Dianne Donghi are arrested in New York by the FBI.
2 April 1970 – A federal grand jury in Chicago returns a number of incidents charging WUO members with violation of federal anti-riot laws. Also, a number of additional federal warrants charging unlawful flight to avoid prosecution are returned in Chicago based on the failure of WUO members to appear for trial in local cases. (The Antiriot-Law charges were later dropped in January, 1974.)
10 May 1970 – The National Guard Association building in Washington, D.C. was bombed to protest the National Guard killings of four students at Kent State in Ohio.
21 May 1970 – The WUO under Bernardine Dohrn’s name releases its “Declaration of a State of War” communique.
6 June 1970 – The WUO sent a letter claiming credit for bombing of the San Francisco Hall of Justice, however, no explosion took place. Months later, however, workmen in this building located an unexploded device which had apparently been dormant for some time.
9 June 1970 - The New York City Police Headquarters is bombed in response to what the Weathermen call "police repression."
23 July 1970 – A federal grand jury in Detroit, Michigan, returns indictments against a number of underground WUO members and former WUO members charging violations of various explosives and firearms laws. (These indictments were later dropped in October, 1973.)
27 July 1970 - The Presidio Army Base in San Francisco is bombed to mark the 11th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. [NYT, 7/27/70]
12 September 1970 – The WUO helps Dr. Timothy Leary, LSD user break out and escape from the California Men’s Colony Prison.
8 October 1970 - Bombing of Marin County Courthouse in retaliation for the killing of Jonathan Jackson, William Christmas, and James McClain. [NYT, 8/10/70]
10 October 1970 - The Queens Courthouse is bombed to express support for the New York prison riots. [NYT, 10/10/70]
14 October 1970 - The Harvard Center for International Affairs is bombed to protest the war in Vietnam. [NYT, 10/14/70]
December 1970 – Fugitive WUO member Caroline Tanker, who fled the country for Cuba, is arrested by the FBI in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Fugitive WUO member Judith Alice Clark is arrested by the FBI in New York.
1 March1971 - The US Capitol is bombed to protest the invasion of Laos. Nixon denounces the bombing as a "shocking act of violence that will outrage all Americans." [NYT, 3/1/71]
April 1971 – FBI agents discover an abandoned WUO “bomb factory” in San Francisco, California.
29 August 1971 - Bombing of the Office of California Prisons allegedly in retaliation for the killing of George Jackson. [LAT, 8/29/71]
17 September 1971 - The New York Department of Corrections in Albany New York is bombed to protest the killing of 29 inmates at Attica State Penitentiary. [NYT, 9/18/70]
15 October 1971 - The bombing of William Bundy’s office in the MIT research center. [NYT, 10/16/71]
19 May 1972 - Bombing of The Pentagon in retaliation for the new U.S. bombing raid in Hanoi. [NYT, 5/19/72]
18 May 1973 - The bombing of the 103rd Police Precinct in New York in response to the killing of 10-year-old black youth Clifford Glover by police.
19 September 1973 – WUO member Howard Norton Machtinger is arrested by the FBI in New York. Released on bond, Machtinger again submerges into the underground.
28 September 1973 - The ITT headquarters in New York and Rome, Italy are bombed in response to ITT's alleged role in the Chilean coup earlier that month. [NYT, 9/28/73]
6 March 1974 - Bombing of the Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare offices in San Francisco to protest alleged sterilization of poor women. In the accompanying communiqué, the Women’s Brigade argues for “the need for women to take control of daycare, healthcare, birth control and other aspects of women’s daily lives.”
31 May 1974 - The Office of the California Attorney General is bombed in response to the killing of 6 members of the Symbionese Liberation Army.
17 June 1974 - Gulf Oil's Pittsburgh headquarters is bombed to protest its actions in Angola, Vietnam, and elsewhere.
July 1974 – The WUO releases its book “Prairie Fire” in which they indicate the need for a unified Communist Party. They encourage the creation of study groups to discuss their ideology, but continue to stress the need for violent acts. The book also admits WUO responsibility of several actions from previous years. The Prairie Fire Organizing Committee (PFOC) arises from the teachings in this book and is organized by many former WUO members.
11 September 1974 – Bombing of Anaconda Corporation (part of the Rockefeller Corporation) in retribution for Anaconda’s alleged involvement in the Chilean coup the previous year.
28 January 1975 - Bombing of The State Department in response to escalation in Vietnam.
March 1975 – The WUO releases its first edition of a new magazine entitled “Osawatomie”.
16 June 1975 - They bomb a Banco de Ponce (a Puerto Rican bank) in New York in solidarity with striking Puerto Rican cement workers.
11-13 July 1975 – The PFOC holds its first national convention during which time they go through the formality of creating a new organization.
September 1975 – Bombing of the Kennecott Corporation in retribution for Kennecott's alleged involvement in the Chilean coup two years prior.
"Weatherman (organization)." From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weathermen.