Lotta talk, stemming from last night’s debate, about the Weather Underground. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, is friendly with a former member. Sen. Hillary Clinton’s husband commuted the jail sentences of two former members.
Does it matter? Is it a stupid and tangential issue?
And who were they?
It starts with the Days or Rage.
"In October 1969 hundreds of young people, clad in football helmets and wielding lead pipes, marched through an upscale Chicago shopping district, pummeling parked cars and smashing shop windows in their path," says the promo for a recent documentary about the group. "This was the first demonstration of the Weather Underground’s "Days of Rage." Outraged by the Vietnam War and racism in America, the organization waged a low-level war against the U.S. government through much of the 1970s, bombing the Capitol building, breaking Timothy Leary out of prison, and evading one of the largest FBI manhunts in history."
What’s the Clinton connection?
One former member of the Weather Underground, Linda Sue Evans, was in 1985 sentenced to five years in prison carrying a gun and for harboring a fugitive — Marilyn Buck, who drove the getaway car during the Black Liberation Army’s notorious Brink’s armored car robbery in Nanuet, NY, where a Brink’s guard and two police officers were killed. Evans was then tried for previous crimes. She got five years for conspiring to bomb the U.S. Capitol in 1983, since she had helped forge IDs for others involving in the bombing. She also was sentenced to 30 years on gun charges — for using false identification to buy three rifles, a pistol, and ammo.
Evans served 16 years, but in January 2001 her sentence was commuted by then-President Bill Clinton.
Another former member, Susan Rosenberg was in 1984 caught in possession of 740 pounds of dynamite intended for use in terrorist attacks. She was sentenced to 58 years in prison. Rosenberg was also allegedly involved in the Brink’s robbery.
Asked today if Sen. Clinton thought it was wrong for her husband to free Evans and Rosenberg, a Clinton campaign spokesman refused to answer the question.
"The difference here is that Bill Ayers hosted an event for Senator Obama at his home when he was running for state senator," Clinton campaign spokesman Phil Singer said. "I can tell you that neither Linda Evans or Susan Rosenberg hosted an event for her, and I think that’s why the question becomes relevant."
Singer added that, "Bill Ayers is unrepentant of what he did…and that is a difference, of course, between Linda Evans and Susan Rosenberg."
But when Evans was released after Bill Clinton pardoned her, she told the Austin American-Statesman, "I’m not repentant. That’s for sure. I wouldn’t go about it the same (violent) way." But "we still need solutions, and we still need justice just as badly as we ever did."
Ayres, whose relationship with Obama we’ve discussed before, is a Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and founder of both the Small Schools Workshop and the Center for Youth and Society, which is how Sen. Barack Obama knows him.
But before he and his wife Bernardine Dohrn — also a former member of the Weather Underground — became what the Obama campaign refers to as (quoting Alexander Cockburn) as "respectable fixtures in mainstream liberal Chicago years ago" — they were leaders of the militant group.
They went underground after a 1970 town house explosion in Manhattan killed three of the group’s own members, after which they were indicted for crossing state lines to incite a riot — the Days of Rage — as well as for ”conspiracy to bomb police stations and government buildings," including the Capitol, the Pentagon, and New York City Police Headquarters. Those charges were dropped because of illegal surveillance and other examples of prosecutorial misconduct.
While Ayers and Dohrn were hiding from law enforcement, the Weather Underground participated in the bombings of the US Capital, the Pentagon and a State Department building. In 1981 Ayers and Dohrn turned themselves in to federal authorities, but all charges were dropped as a result of alleged "government legal misconduct."
In 1980, Ayres and Dohrn surrendered and pleaded guilty to possession of explosives. Ayres didn’t serve any time; Dohrn did seven months in prison for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury investigation into the Brinks robbery. They married during a prison furlough.
So Obama asked the question last night — which is worse, using this "guilt by association" technique, his being on a board with Ayres and having been to his house for.a key political meeting? Or Bill Clinton commuting Evans’ and Rosenberg’s sentences? Or is it all equally disturbing? Or equally irrelevant?
Power to the people.
UPDATE: This post has been corrected to reflect the fact that Rosenberg was not pardoned, her sentence was commuted, despite how the media covered it at the time.