Ayers, Wife Complain on Pacifica Radio: He Became a 'Cartoon Character'

Evidence of how much softer the ABC interview with Bill Ayers could have gone on Friday was displayed by the radical-left (and yet taxpayer-funded) Pacifica Radio network, as Ayers and his wife and fellow Weather Underground bomber Bernadine Dohrn appeared on the talk show "Democracy Now!" Co-host Juan Gonzalez asked: "As you say, in 1968, you were expecting that the war would be ended, because a majority of the population opposed it. Your concerns about how the political leaders in the United States today deal with the fact of our country being an empire?"

Some of the Ayers answers on Pacifica were the same as his ABC answers, particularly on how his friendship with Obama was warm, and yet he was among "thousands" of other Chicagoans who knew him warmly. Like on ABC, Ayers protested he was demonized in the campaign: "We actually didn’t pay a lot of attention to it. We recognized that there was this cartoon character kind of thrust up on the screen, and I was an unwitting and unwilling part of his presidential campaign."

He repeated that he was never a terrorist, but our government was:

I was not a terrorist. I never was a terrorist. And the idea that the Weather Underground carried out terrorism is nonsense. We never killed or hurt a person. We never intended to. We existed from 1970 to 1976, the last years, the last half-decade of the war in Vietnam. And by contrast, the war in Vietnam really was a terrorist undertaking. The war in Vietnam was terror on a mass scale, with thousands of people every month being murdered, mostly from the air. And we were doing everything we could to stop it....

Some joined the Democratic Party and tried to organize a peace wing. Some left the country. Others decided to organize in communities. Some built communes. And we decided that we would build an organization that could resist and create a more militant response to the American misdeeds in Vietnam.

Gonzales pushed back gently on the T word:

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, obviously, when you say that the Weathermen was not a terrorist organization, many Americans, who would see that the organization set bombs in government buildings and in other places, would dispute that. Why would you say that it was not a terrorist organization?

BILL AYERS: Because—

BERNADINE DOHRN: No-–

AYERS: Go ahead.

DOHRN: Can I jump in, Juan?

AYERS: Sure.

GONZALEZ: Sure, Bernadine.

DOHRN: Nothing the Weather Underground did was terrorist. And, you know, we could make lots of choices if we were reliving it. Nothing we did was perfect. But decision was made, after the death of our three comrades in a townhouse, not to hurt people, to engage in direct actions that were symbolic, that were recognizable and understandable to the American people and that protected people. And that kind of restraint was widespread. There were tens of thousands of political bombings over that first three—1970, ’71, ’72, ’73, all across the country, not under anybody’s leadership, but they were overwhelmingly restrained, symbolic.

Now, nobody in today’s world can defend bombings. How could you do that after 9/11, after, you know, Oklahoma City? It’s a new context, in a different context. So you have to go back to the savage and unrestrained terror that the United States was unleashing in the world, in Vietnam, as Bill said, and at home. You remember that the assassinations of black political leaders in the United States was a regular feature of life. And, you know, it seemed -- the context of the time has to be understood.

Ayers told Pacifica he wasn’t upset at anything Obama said about him, and agreed that Obama had denounced his actions, although there was no elaboration on where or when other than in this presidential election cycle. They could agree to disagree:

Well, you know, I would say calling those acts despicable forty years ago, I guess I would disagree with. But more to the point is that it’s an irrelevant—it’s an irrelevant issue in this campaign.

And what’s interesting is that it was raised up in an attempt to replay the culture wars. You know, there was this wonderful moment on Stephen Colbert where the word for the night was "the ’60s." And he has a clip of Obama saying, "Can’t we just leave the ’60s behind?" And it comes back to Colbert, in full anger, saying, "No, Senator. We can’t leave it behind. It’s the gift that keeps on giving."

And frankly, I think the fact that this may be the last time that the ’60s is raised in that kind of cultural warrior-ish way is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I think it is time to move on, and there’s a new generation. And a lot of the nostalgia for the ’60s, both the hatred of it and the love of it, is misplaced. I think it’s time to look forward. On the other hand, I think that it’s a sad thing that we’ve never really had a truth and reconciliation process about the war in Vietnam, about the black freedom movement and what happened. And that means, among other things, that we haven’t learned the lessons of invasion and occupation. We haven’t learned the lessons of what happens when people get involved in direction action and struggle, and both the advances that can be made and also the limits of those struggles. We haven’t learned the lessons that might make for a more peaceful, more just future. I think that’s the problem.

Dohrn naturally agreed that the 1960s were a glorious time for making bombs, oops, change:

And I think, you know, one of the things that’s interesting about reviving the ’60s, by using Bill as a caricature, as a placeholder during this election to try to make the ’60s seem dangerous and terrifying, is worth examining. In fact, the ’60s was liberatory and exciting and gave birth to a whole progeny of social struggles that transformed American life. Barack Obama could not have been elected president without the great struggles of the civil rights and the black freedom movement; without white people in the United States wrestling with the issue of racism and white supremacy; without the women’s movement; without the veterans’ movement, really, to tell the truth about the Vietnam War and all wars of occupation and conquest; the disabled rights movement; the environmental movement; the green movement; the labor struggles. So these are the part of the ’60s that are being pushed aside, disremembered, and in an attempt to really rewrite the notion that, you know, the issues of our day are defined by what people do.

Ayers and Dohrn were part of the Obama victory celebration in Chicago:

On the other hand, the exciting thing about today – Bill and I were in Grant Park last week, the day of the, night of the election. And I think one wants to note that many of the tools of the ’60s – the participatory engaged organizing, the door-to-door, the volunteerism, people changing their lives to go listen and talk to people they don’t know about critical issues of our time – this is extremely hopeful. Many of the great tools of the ’60s have been picked up and transformed in the course of this campaign, in the course of these terrible wars we’re involved in, and now in the course of this economic collapse and global peril. So I’m hopeful that we can, not continually rerun the disagreements about the ’60s, but actually recognize that the ’60s were a springboard for this election and for really a historic and momentous milestone that just happened last week. And we can savor that milestone, before we have to critique it and disagree with it and fall to squabbling again.

Ayers agreed, and underlined how glorious it was to rid America of the Bush era:

This was all unity, all love. And what people were celebrating was this milestone, which was sweet and exciting and important. But they were also celebrating—there was—you could kind of cut the relief in people’s feelings with a knife. I mean, it was the sense that we were going to leave behind the era of 9/11 and the era of fear and war without end and repression and constitutional shredding and scapegoating of gay and lesbian people, on and on. And there we were, millions, in the park, representing everybody, hugging, dancing, carrying on right in the spot, forty years ago, where many of us were beaten and dragged to jail. It was an extraordinary feeling.

Finally, Ayers hinted that the re-release of his memoir Fugitive Days was delayed until after the election, though he implausibly suggested it would have been "lost" as the candidates fought over Ayers during the campaign:

Beacon [Press] decided to bring it out again. Ill say a couple things about the book. One is that I didn’t want it to come out in the last few months, partly because I thought it would have been lost. I didn’t see how anybody could pick it up and read it when so much else was going on. So, you know, it was – it’s coming out now.

A second installment of the Ayers/Dohrn interview will air on "Democracy Now!" on Monday.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis