Unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers’ trip down memory lane came to a merciful end Thursday night, but not before a speech by the man who says he welcomes dissent was interrupted by a dissenter who was promptly arrested.
What better example can there be of Ayers’ hypocritical, dishonest four-day pose as a “Guest in Residence” at the University of Illinois’ Allen Hall?
Ayers, an education professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago, makes appearances all over like the one at the UI. He traveled to Canada a few weeks ago to speak there, but authorities threw him out of the country as soon as they realized who he was.
A 1970s radical who stuck it to The Man by setting off bombs, including one at the U.S. Capitol, Ayers now poses as a conscience-driven protester forced to extremes by an unyielding criminal establishment. College kids, most of whom know little to nothing about the Vietnam era, apparently eat it up.
But Ayers really was much more than that and hardly the altruist he portrays himself to be.
The son of a wealthy Chicago utility executive, Ayers was bent on leading a revolutionary movement. He and his associates in the Weathermen (attesting to the group’s hip self-image, the title was taken from a Bob Dylan song lyric) and later the Weather Underground led violent protests, set off bombs and even committed crimes in which people were killed. They were a nasty bunch of authoritarians.
Ayers and his wife, fellow radical Bernadine Dohrn, ultimately became fugitives from justice, living under phony names. But that was such a drag they eventually turned themselves in. The irony is that Ayers’ family wealth and connections ultimately got him off the hook. Ayers later acknowledged he was “guilty as hell,” but the charges against him were dismissed.
Dohrn, however, served time in jail and was denied a license to practice law in Illinois on character and fitness grounds. Isn’t life unfair?
Both landed comfortably on university faculties, where the radical-chic attitudes of so many faculty members and the sandbox politics of campus life suit them perfectly.
Ayers has tried to take advantage of his notoriety long before now. But he’s had bad luck.
His memoir “Fugitive Days” was published in 2001. Unfortunately, a front-page profile about Ayers appeared in The New York Times on Sept. 11, 2001, the day Islamic terrorists crashed their planes into the World Trade Center.
Suddenly, terrorists weren’t nearly so cool. Ayers compounded his image problem by announcing that not only was he not sorry about the bombings but that he wished he had set more.
“I don’t regret setting bombs,” he said. “I feel we didn’t do enough.”
Ayers, however, got a big break when Barack Obama, his friend and neighbor in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, ran for president. Obama foes, including then U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton, used Ayers’ association with Obama to try to put a dent in Obama’s popularity ratings.
Obviously, it didn’t work. After the election, Ayers went public to take advantage of his newly renewed public persona. His publisher reissued the failed memoir, and Ayers hit the speaking tour, where he minimizes his criminal behavior and maximizes his self-proclaimed nobility.
“I don’t defend what we chose to do, but I can explain it,” said Ayers, who regularly states that “we didn’t kill or hurt anyone, but we did destroy property.”
That sounds so mild for a leader of an organization that in 1970 issued a “Declaration of a State of War” against the United States.
The UI students who buy this bilge probably never heard of the 1970 Greenwich Village bombing, where Weathermen — including Ayers’ girlfriend, Diana Oughton — were making a bomb packed with nails that they intended to set off at a noncommissioned officers’ dance at Fort Dix, N.J. They didn’t know what they were doing, and the bomb went off, killing three — including Oughton.
One of the survivors of the blast, Kathy Boudin, escaped, and later was involved in an armored car robbery in which $1.4 million was taken and three people were killed. Ayers and his wife took Boudin’s son to raise, a generous act to be sure but also an undeniable expression of support for Boudin.
There were so many other acts of violence. People were killed and injured as a result of Ayers’ activities. He can deny it to the ignorant, but the record proves otherwise.
Even leftists, if they knew more about Ayers, might be dismayed. Campus feminists ought to Google the article “Remembering a Sixties Terrorist” by Donna Ron, a once-smitten classmate of Ayers at the University of Michigan. They will not be impressed.
But his dishonesty aside, how much does Ayers matter at this point? He’s a senior citizen reliving his youth for fun and profit. He puts himself on display and college kids come to watch, just like children visit a carnival to see the bearded lady. It’s a harmless enough exercise, as long as nobody takes anything this con man has-been says too seriously.