Roots of a Rhodes Scholar Radical
Mr. Renehan is the author of several books, most recently The Kennedys at War, 1937-1945, published by Doubleday in April 2002. http://renehan.net
Meet 22-year-old Yale senior (and newly-announced Rhodes Scholar) Chesa Boudin. Here’s a kid who has had an interesting life. His biological parents, Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, are unrepentant veterans of the Weather Underground. They are also inmates of the New York State prison system. Chesa was a babe of 14 months when mom and dad started doing time. Boudin, serving 20 years to life, was denied parole in 2001 after more than 35,000 Americans wrote letters opposing her release. Gilbert is serving three consecutive 25-years-to-life terms.
What got Boudin and Gilbert where they are today? If not brains and personality, then it must have been their happy participation in the murder of Rockland County police officers Edward O’Grady and Waverly Brown, along with Brinks guard Peter Paige, during an attempted robbery in 1981. Boudin pled guilty, while juries convicted Gilbert and several others.
As for Chesa, he’s been raised for the past 21 years by two of his parents’ radical colleagues. Chesa’s adoptive mother — Bernardine Dohrn, whose sultry likeness once hung in every US post office – is currently the director of the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University. His adoptive father, Bill Ayers, is a professor of education at the University of Illinois, Chicago.
As many will recall, publication of Ayers’s Fugitive Days – a book that celebrated, among other things, the Weather Underground’s 1972 bombing of the Pentagon — coincided directly with the September 11th tragedies. Ironically, the New York Times had run a glowing profile of Ayers and Dohrn (a puff for the book) that very morning. The piece featured a color photo of the affluent, middle-aged couple holding hands beside a headline that read: “No Regrets for a Love of Explosives.” Halfway down the column, Ayers told the Times’s Dinitia Smith: “I don’t regret setting bombs. I feel we didn’t do enough.”
Recently, when Ayers sat for yet another Times interview — this one to discuss the triumph of Chesa’s Rhodes Scholarship — he showed up wearing a red-star revolutionary pin.
Ayers and Dohrn were there at the founding of the Weather Underground. At a 1969 “War Council” that helped launch the organization, Dohrn raised three fingers in a “fork salute” to Charles Manson, whom she proposed as a revolutionary inspiration. She went on to joke about Manson’s victims and dubbed them the “Tate Eight” after Sharon Tate, the pregnant actress whom members of the Manson tribe stabbed in the womb with a fork. “Dig it,” said Dohrn at the time. “First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them, they even shoved a fork into a victim’s stomach! Wild!”
Later that same year, Ayers attempted to extort money from the Vietnam Moratorium Committee — demanding $20,000 to abstain from violence during a planned peace protest. After rejecting this demand, a member of the Moratorium group asked Ayers what he really wanted. “To kill all rich people,” Ayers responded. When another peace activist pointed out that Ayers himself came from wealth, the radical answered with an angry slogan: “Bring the war home. Kill your parents.” (Note: Neither of these stories made it into Ayers’s highly selective memoir.)
In the following months and years, Ayers, Dohrn and friends wreaked a lot of havoc. Bombings linked to the Weathermen took place in cities from San Francisco to New York, culminating with the March 1, 1971 bombing of the US Capitol and the May 19, 1972 bombing of a bathroom in the Pentagon. Then there was Boudin’s and Gilbert’s 1981 stunt with the Brinks holdup: the Weather Underground’s sad, last, stupid gasp in collaboration with the Black Liberation Army.
Dohrn and Ayers had realized, by this time, that radical was no longer chic. They’d already surrendered to the FBI the previous year. Charges against Ayers were dropped. (“Guilty as hell. Free as a bird. America is a great country,” Ayers said when interviewed by David Horowitz ten years ago.) Dohrn, meanwhile, pled guilty to aggravated battery and bail-jumping, but received only a fine and probation. Two years after her surrender, she spent seven months in jail for refusing to give information to a grand jury concerning at-large members of the Weathermen organization.
If his recent comments to the New York Times are any indication, Chesa Boudin shows the unmistakable imprint of his four radical parents, whose transgressions he downplays. It seems the larger crimes – couldn't we have guessed? — are those of the United States. “My parents were all dedicated to fighting US imperialism around the world. I’m dedicated to the same thing.”
Chesa refuses to apologize for the tactics of the Weather Underground. “The historical moment we find ourselves in determines what is most appropriate for social change…I’m sad that my parents [his biological parents, Boudin and Gilbert] have to suffer what they have to suffer on a daily basis, that millions of other people have to suffer as well.”
Most Americans, on the other hand, are rather glad that Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert sit behind bars. (Even better justice was done to three other Weathermen -- among them Bill Ayers's then lover, Dianna Oughton -- all of whom died in a Greenwich Village townhouse blast on March 6, 1970, the victims of their own homemade bomb.)
As for you, Chesa, we wish you bon voyage. Who knows what useful knowledge you’ll pick up during your year as a Rhodes Scholar? Perhaps, given a little distance, you’ll one day be able to cut those radical apron strings. That would be nice. To paraphrase your stepfather’s immortal words from 1969: Revolution begins at home. But you don't have to kill your parents, Chesa. Just move beyond them.
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Carol Tarlen - 9/9/2003
You may find this amusing if you are a fan of Mr. Renehan.
After I posted the original message, he sent emails to my home and to my work--four all together. In these emails he said that he had never before been critiqued by a leftwing poet. Since I hadn't mentioned poetry or my writing in the original email, I assumed he did a google search on me and discovered the fact that I do write poetry.
Because I was wondering what information was on the internet, I did a google search today and discovered someone with an identical name from the city I live in had written a poem, supposedly by me. That "poem" is listed in an email called below. That email is not from me. That poem is not by me.
Don't believe that Mr. Renehan doesn't have time to engage in little "tricks." He has discovered my two email addresses and sent me personal email. He has done an internet search to discover who I am. And now someone has attempted to impersonate me and my writing.
Whoever this latter person is, nice try, but I would never use a about Holly Near.
Carol Tarlen - 9/9/2003
The person who posted this is an imposter. I never wrote that "poem."
If you have any integrity you will delete this.
Steve Brody - 9/7/2003
I've followed this case for many years and have never heard, seen or read anything indicating that Kathy Boudin feels any genuine remorse for the murders that she participated in. The only time she voiced "remorse" was just prior to her sentencing, in a crass attempt for a reduced sentence.
It's interesting that you feel a need to attack personally anyone who finds Boudin a despicable character. Try and remember that the actions that she took that day resulted not only in the death of three men, but also in the orphaning of nine children.
Edward J. Renehan Jr. - 9/3/2003
A tip: You may want to grab a dictionary and then look up the word "epic" as opposed to "epoch."
As for your poetry: Hang in there. I can't wait to see what you do with Kathy Boudin.
Lastly: You've evidently got more time on your hands than I do. As you wouldn't know, with publishers come deadlines. So I have to sign-off. Bye-bye. Please continue the debate by yourself.
Carol Tarlen - 9/3/2003
I'll have you know that I have been hailed as one of the most brilliant poets of the American labor movement since the legal murder of Joe Hill - this despite carpal tonal syndrome, the result of years of wage-slavery as a clerical worker. I am currently work on an epoch poem about Kathy Boudin that I will post here soon. Meanwhile, here is another of my recent efforts, about the Triangle Fire. TRIANGLE/ By Carol Tarlen/ Triangle, my heart aches there for you,/ in the blistering smog/ of the fire’s last rapture./ Triangle, beating on the doors, desperate/ in the dark heat’s fog,/ that nothing can capture./ Like a song by Holly Near/ the fire’s light makes all so clear./ Sisters, sisters unite;/ Sisters, sisters alight/ From the burning room,/ The melting loom,/ The place of doom./
Edward J. Renehan Jr. - 8/31/2003
It is not everyday that I get instruction in wordsmithing from unread left-wing poets. I'll be sure to keep your criticisms in mind as I continue to churn out prose for Doubleday, OUP, Basic and other real publishing houses.
Thanks for the input. Good luck with the Revolution.
Ali - 8/28/2003
Ahhh...a literary genius amongst us..what a relief!
I'm humbled by your astute observations, insight and swell critique of "writing style". That SOOOOOOOOO addresses the point!!
Remorse? How moving. I think you should share that directly with the many, many children, family members, friends and colleagues
of the 3 men murdered in cold blood. I am POSITIVE that they will be moved too.
Carol Tarlen - 8/20/2003
Until you improve your literary efforts, you should refrain from commenting on these events since you have nothing original or profound to say. I am sure that Ms. Boudin's son is going to ignore you.She feels a lot of remorse for the deaths of those three guards, but you are too shallow to understand this. How do you make your living, anyway? I am curious. Do you get paid for writing? How amusing.
Stephen Thomas - 1/12/2003
I've posted this once before on another issue.
In this discussion, we see once again that Marxism is Nazism.
Just watched The Gangs of New York yesterday. Fascinating and flawed movie. What was fascinating was seeing men willing to fight over anything and everything with their fists. Intellectual men have become so sissified and feminized. It was almost a relief to watch men who were willing to fight for something.
This discussion is locked in the hermetically sealed universe of sissified men, caught in the straight jacket of feminist (and thus Marxist) thought.
This discussion would bring its participants nothing but puzzled looks or condemnation were the discussion to take place in a Ford dealership or a K Mart. The intellegensia is now as dangerously distanced from any connection to the ordinary life of citizens as were the intellegensia in pre-revolutionary Russia. At the bottom of this discussion is the old vendetta: is U.S. democracy the ascendent value of the world? The answer is "Yes", and there is nothing any of you can do to stop it. The reason for this is simple. The common people the Marxists purport to champion hate Marxist, leftist, feminist intellectuals.
In other words, the real fault of the Weathermen was that they were boorish elitists, just like the Bolsheviks. They (both) hated the religious, domestic capitalist sensibilities of the poor folk they pretended to want to liberate.
Watching The Gangs of New York is instructive in this regard. Marxism took hold in New York, not because it adequately described the nature of the New World, but because it brought the tenant/landlord dispute of the Old World to the New World. Marxism is not progressive or forward looking. It is the vengeance and retribution schema of the Old World brought to the New.
The cowboys who had any sense took one look at the gang strangelehold on New York City, found any way possible to collect the train fare to the west and got the hell out of there. The Midwest offered a place where the old gang hatred could be left behind, and a man could be whatever he could hack out of the wilderness. Thus, Abraham Lincoln.
Marxists (and most of the respondents to this discussion are conscious or unconscious Marxists), you aren't the scientific wave of the future. You are the carriers of the insane vengeance and reprisal cycle of the Old World.
Americanism will triumph and you will fail, because you are basically evil. You might as well give up. I live in Jersey City, and the shopping malls are full of Asians successfully buying into the American middle class way of life.
Marxism is laughable, when it is not evil and insane.
Steve Brody - 12/25/2002
John, I don't know if you will see this, but if you do, please forgive the tone of my last posting. I regretted it the second I clicked the "submit" button. And on Christmas to boot.
Suffice it to say, I had some involvement with the case and apparently some pretty strong feelings,
have a merry Christmas
Steve Brody - 12/25/2002
John, I'll sign off with this:
All this speculation as to what the target of the bomb was is really just obfuscation of the fact that it was a NAIL BOMB. Which means that it was an anti-personnel bomb, which means that it was meant to kill people, which is what I meant when I said "certainly intended to kill some innocent people with the bomb". It doesn't matter whether the Weathermen meant to kill soldiers and the young women they were dancing with or innocent library patrons. They meant to murder, John.
But according to your post, you were already aware of this, even as you claimed that "there was no evidence for such a serious charge". While you're questioning Renehan's moral code and Land's capacity for critical analsis evaluate your own capacity for dishonesty.
And your disengenuousness continues even in your last posting. You refer to "two former members, many years after the group ceased to exist" but you know or should know that arrested that day with Gilbert, while she attempted to recover a 9mm handgun from their vehicle, was Judith Clark, another Weathermen.
In fact, practically every Weatherman who had not given up or been arrested up to that point was soon arrested as a result of their involvement with the Nyack murders. Some were prosecuted for that involvement, some were not, most had some involvement.
I won't go through all the names, John, but Jeff Jones, Eleanor Raskin, Susan Rosenberg, Linda Sue Evans and others were all arrested as a result of the Nyack murder investigation. What is fair to say is that the Weather Underground and the BLA teamed up for the Nyack murders, and as a result both groups were eventually destroyed.
Your analogy regarding one man's membership in a large political party is preposterous and illustrative of how far you'll reach to whitewash the Weathermen. How can you seperate a group like the Weathermen from its violent, murderous membership?
John McMillian - 12/24/2002
Well I agree that the Weather Underground didn't hasten the end of the war, so at least there's that! I'll sign off for good after this:
I too have heard rumors that the bomb was intended for an army dance - which certainly would have been a heinous crime. But the NY Times reported on March 5, 2000 - around the 30th anniversary of the townhouse explosion - that the bomb was intended for Butler Library at Columbia University. A week later they ran a correction and said it was Low Library (Columbia's administration building). Police have always alleged that there were roofing nails in the bomb, which would be damning evidence if we could be sure it was true, and the Ayers quote is incriminating as well - but the fact is there's lots of stories floating around about the bomb's target. It's worth noting that Weatherman was always a tightly structured organization; the fact that they took responsibility for some two dozen bombings (the FBI said 39) without ever hurting anyone suggests to me that this wasn't an accident.
To Steve and N.K.: The group disbanded in 1976; they didn't dissolve or wither away; the group's members met and decided to terminate the organization. And I certainly don't think it's splitting hairs to point out that they never killed anyone! You wouldn't say that the Whigs preserved the Union and ended slavery because Abe Lincoln was once a Whig, so why would you say the Weather Underground was "murderous" because of the actions of two former members, many years after the group ceased to exist? As I mentioned earlier, Boudin and Gilbert were then affiliated with the Black Liberation Army, and it was BLA members who actually pulled the triggers against the two police officers and the security guard - so wouldn't it make more sense to blame the BLA for the murders?
Indepdendent of all this, Jeremy Varon has written the definitive history of Weatherman and the book is coming out in about a year, from University of California Press, and it should be of broad interest. My best,
Darrell Broce - 12/24/2002
You issued a challenge to the statement that the weathermen intended to murder people with the bomb that blew up that townhouse in New Yorkback in 1970. Please check out the 9/2/2001 Chicago Sun Times article " a 60's radical looks back at life in the underground". It is an interview of Bill Ayers, whose girlfriend was killed in that explosion.
The article clearly states that the device was filled with nails and screws and quotes Ayres: "to transform this into something deadly, something unspeakable". The article also states that it was meant for a nearby army base.
Other internet hits indicate that it was to be placed at a dance at FT Dix, NJ.
I think that is your "murderous intent" right there.
N.K.Land - 12/23/2002
Michelle Malkin has good things to say in her recent column about Chesa and his various parents. Here’s a sample: “Dohrn declared war on "Amerikka," helped stage the "Days of Rage" in Chicago, when Weathermen blew up a memorial statue to police officers and rioted violently, leaving 75 policemen wounded and one permanently injured in a wheelchair, and then spent years as a fugitive from justice before settling into a comfy post as director of the Legal Clinic's Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University.” You can find the rest of the article at http://www.jewishworldreview.com/michelle/malkin121102.asp
Steve Brody - 12/22/2002
So now Boudin and Gilbert didn't have anything to do with the Weather Underground because the Weather Underground didn't exist. Then why did you inject your defense of the Weathermen into a posting about Boudin and Gilbert? You must have seen some relevance.
You say the Weather Underground disbanded. Did they have a meeting of the Board and liquidate the organization? Did they cancel everyone's membership card?
The fact is this murderous (yes, John, murderous) band of thugs were just driven deeper underground by a withering government investigation. They continued to take "revolutionary action" (read murder) until the mid-1980's, when they had all either been arrested or were so far under that they dare not act.
You know ,John, you haven't been the least bit bashful about questioning others "moral code" or capacity "for critical analysis" while at the same time trying to claim some sort of moral high ground by splitting hairs about whether the weather Undergroung killed people by shooting them or blowing them up.
To make it clear, I believe that it is a distinction without a difference.
And finally , I believe that is clear that the bombings undertaken by the Weathermen did much to hurt the anti-war movement while doing nothing to bring about the end of the war.
N.K. Land - 12/22/2002
Do you actually think it matters that Gilbert and Boudin changed their letterhead sometime before they helped kill those three guys in Rockland County? The same spirit was most certainly behind it all: the same flagrant disregard for human life, for their country, and for the rule of law. And where, exactly, did the Weather Underground file the papers related to its dissolution?
John McMillian - 12/22/2002
Steve, By the time of the Brinks robbery in 1981, Boudin and Gilbert were affiliated with the Black Liberation Army; Weatherman had disbanded several years earlier. There's lots of things you can call the Weatherman, but "murderous" simply isn't one of them. And when I said "at least they didn't kill millions of people in a senseless war," I wasn't exactly *praising* them! I kinda thought that would have been obvious.
Steve Brody - 12/22/2002
Are you reading your own posts? You said "the weatherman never killed anyone except three of their own". That is not true and if you know anything about the Weathermen you know it.
Any one who does know anything about the Weathermen knows that they were a band of bank robbing, murderous thugs who committed most of their mayhem long after the war had ended.
As others have pointed out, the members of the Weathermen were responsible for the deaths of two police officers and a Brinks guard. Members also killed a New Jersey State trooper in the early 80's. A number of people were maimed by Weather Underground violence.
If you don't have any brief with the Weathermen, why the pathetic attyempt to link the actions of Boudin and Gilbert to the Viet Nam war? ( "...at least they didn't kill several million people in a senseless war,")
John McMillian - 12/22/2002
N.K. Land - Are you even reading my postings? I didn't say that Boudin and Gilbert were innocent of murder; I said that Weatherman (proper) never killed anyone with their bombs besides 3 of their own members; this in response to Brody's claim that Weatherman "certainly intended to murder innocent people" with the bomb they were building at E. 11th St. There's simply no evidence for such a serious charge. Independent of this, I don't know what work of mine you've read, but your claim that "When bombmakers die by their own bombs, that is justice" speaks volumes about your own capacity for critical analysis.
N.K. Land - 12/22/2002
There are three widows and something like nine orphans in Rockland County, New York who might differ with your opinion that Boudin, Gilbert & friends were never involved in killing anyone.
John McMillian - 12/22/2002
I certainly hold no brief for Weatherman, a violent and reckless group whose politics I abhor. Rather, my complaint was with Renehan's article, which was unsophisticated and (I thought) vindictive and cruel. Your claim that Weatherman "certainly intended to murder some innocent people with the bomb." This is a serious charge, so I'd be interested to know what evidence you have for it? You might be surprised to know that Weatherman never killed anyone except three of their own members. All of the other bombs they exploded were directed at symbolic targets, and typically warnings were phoned in in advance.
N.K. Land - 12/22/2002
Sorry, I supplied the wrong url. The url for the Slate piece is http://slate.msn.com/id/2075224/
N.K. Land - 12/22/2002
By the way, a writer for Slate, commenting on Chesa's situation, adopts the same [completely reasonable and sane] view of things as Renehan.
N.K. Land - 12/22/2002
No. 1: Renehan does not call for Chesa Boudin to denounce his parents. He merely points out the fact that Chesa has refused to be at all critical of his parents' odious actions.
No. 2: Mr. McMillian, who teaches at Harvard, bills himself as an historian of the 60s radical American left. But everything I've read of his work shows him to be an apologist for the same 60s radicals he pretends to study with some degree of objectivity. Thus, I suppose, springs his outburst against Renehan.
No. 3: When bombmakers die by their own bombs, that is justice. Slice it any way you will.
- N.K. Land
Steve Brody - 12/21/2002
Your lame defense of the Weathermen reveals much about your moral code. "At least they didn't kill several million people in a senseless war". Is thaaat what Boudin and Gilbert were doing when they murdered two police officers and a armored car guard in 1981? It was just a belated statement against the Viet Nam war.
You must have really liked the SLA. At least they murdered their innocent victims in the same decade that the war ended.
And yeah, I'd say the Weathermen who blew themselves up got justice. They certainly intended to murder some innocent people with the bomb.
John McMillian - 12/21/2002
I don't think I've ever seen an essay on History News Network as lame as this one. Renehan's battery of complaints against Weatherman are neither novel nor interesting; all of the material he presents here - the 1969 "War Council" at Flint, Dohrn's tasteless comment about Charles Manson, Ayers' obviously facetious quip about killing ones parents, his "free as a bird comment" - has been recycled many times over. Perhaps the best that can be said for Weatherman is at least they didn't kill several million people in a senseless war. More to the point, all of this happened before Chesa Boudin was even born! Renehan suggestion that this talented 22-year old has some obligation to denounce his own parents is vindictive and ludicrous - but not nearly as repugnant as his claim that "justice was done" when three members of Weatherman accidentally killed themselves while making a bomb -- which betrays more about Renehan's own moral code than he'll probably ever realize. John McMillian
Kasper - 12/20/2002
it's more like poetic justice
Phil Rubio - 12/18/2002
"Even better justice was done to three other Weathermen -- among them Bill
Ayers's then lover, Dianna Oughton -- all of whom died in a Greenwich Village townhouse
blast on March 6, 1970, the victims of their own homemade bomb."
This is historical analysis, or demagoguery?