The Weather Underground

2 minute read
Claire Suddath

On Oct. 6, republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin claimed that Barack Obama “pals around with terrorists,” reiterating charges that Obama associated with Bill Ayers, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor who co-founded the militant group the Weathermen in 1969, when Obama was 8 years old.

The Weathermen, who took their name from Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”), were a radical offshoot of the 1960s activist group Students for a Democratic Society. Members lived in collectives, rotated sexual partners and trained with weapons. Their first offensive, a series of riots in Chicago, drew only a few hundred militants; several were shot and 287 arrested. Subsequent attacks on government offices, banks and police departments led the FBI to declare the Weathermen a domestic terrorist group. After three members were killed when a bomb they were building exploded in the basement of a Greenwich Village town house in 1970, the group renamed itself the Weather Underground and went into hiding. Riven by infighting, it disbanded by 1976. Charges against Ayers and his wife, fellow Weather Underground member Bernardine Dohrn, were dropped in 1974; the couple resurfaced in 1980.

Both Ayers and Obama served on a Chicago charity board in the 1990s. Ayers hosted a campaign event for Obama during his 1995 state-senate run and contributed $200 to his re-election campaign in 2001. But by the time they met, Ayers’ days as a Weatherman were long past. He has two grown children and advocates public-school reform.

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