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What led the Weathermen to violent action—and given the chance, would they do it again? Former Weather Underground members Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers talked to members of the press about regret, the Sixties and student activism at the Television Critics’ Association Press Tour in January 2004 in Hollywood, California.
In the film, Mark Rudd talks about his qualms and his very divided feelings about what he did. You don’t make any equivalent statement, and I wondered why not… How do you feel about what you did? Would you do it again under similar circumstances?
Bill Ayers: I’ve thought about this a lot. Being almost 60, it’s impossible to not have lots and lots of regrets about lots and lots of things, but the question of did we do something that was horrendous, awful?… I don’t think so. I think what we did was to respond to a situation that was unconscionable.
Two thousand people a day were being murdered in Vietnam in a terrorist war, an official terrorist war… This was what was going on in our names. So we tried to resist it, tried to fight it. Built a huge mass movement, built a huge organization, and still the war went on and escalated. And every day we didn’t stop the war, two thousand people would be killed. I don’t think what we did was extreme…. We didn’t cross lines that were completely unacceptable. I don’t think so. We destroyed property in a fairly restrained level, given what we were up against.
Dohrn: I can iterate four or five things that I have profoundly complex feelings about. I wish that we hadn’t been hierarchical, and had a concept of leadership. I wish that I had bridged the feminist movement and the anti-war movement better than I did. I wish that we hadn’t used the language of war. You heard me saying a declaration of war. I wish we had used the language of resistance.
Obviously, we didn’t stop the war. We were part of an authentic, aroused opposition to the U.S. empire and to racism at home. Those were two issues we had a grip on…. Of course, I wish we had done better, and I wish we had stopped the war earlier, and I wish we had been more effective, and I wish we had been more unifying. Or at least fought for unity even when we couldn’t achieve it.
At the end of the day, I feel like we were lucky to be in that history. We were lucky to be in that history. We were lucky to be in that moment where there was hope and a sense of libratory possibility.
Ms. Dohrn, how do you get off of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List?
Dohrn: That’s a very good question. A friend gave us a book, that’s in our living room if you come to visit us, about the FBI. You know, Hoover invented the Ten Most Wanted List. It was his PR machine. It was a brilliant idea, because he put people on his Ten Most Wanted List right before he was about to catch them. Then he would catch them the next day as they were going to visit their mom.
So this book is one page of everybody who was ever on the Ten Most Wanted List…. From 1922 to 1972, they were all bank robbers, and kind of the guys in wool suits, thick-necked guys. And then suddenly there are six people on the Ten Most Wanted List—Angela Davis and Rap Brown and me and these students from Brandeis and so on. It’s very strikingly strange.
They took us off, we didn’t get caught, they took us off when the federal indictments against us were dropped for governmental misconduct.