Chapter 4: Bring the War Home | Crooked Media
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June 16, 2022
Mother Country Radicals
Chapter 4: Bring the War Home

In This Episode

The Weathermen decide to bring the horrors of the Vietnam War back to America’s doorstep, planning an action that will change the future of the organization, and Zayd’s family, forever.

 

For more of the story, check out: 

 

Transcript

 

Chapter 4: Bring the War Home

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: Previously on Mother Country Radicals:

 

Deborah Johnson: I heard a sister scream. The pigs said, “he’s good and dead now.”

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: Black Panther leader Fred Hampton is assassinated by Chicago police.

 

Cathy Wilkerson: Terry picked up the phone and said, “Oh my God, Fred has been killed.”

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: Setting the weathermen on a new, more dangerous path.

 

Bernardine Dohrn: I was in a rage at the absolute stench of American life.

 

Cathy Wilkerson: I mean, I had to dedicate my life to responding to this. It didn’t matter that it didn’t make sense. It didn’t matter that it was unpleasant. This is what I had to deal with.

 

Bill Ayers: Because I couldn’t, I couldn’t think of another way, I couldn’t think of a way to go that avoided the possibility of death.

 

Cathy Wilkerson: And if somebody said they had a way to deal with it, I would follow them.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: This may be the darkest chapter of the Weathermen story, the most painful part for my parents and for their friends. And for me, it’s the most difficult to write about, even to imagine, because it involves people who are important to my family and their history, but whom I never got to meet. On March six, 1970, a townhouse explodes in Greenwich Village at 18 West 11th Street. The explosion collapses the four-story building in on itself, leaving nothing but a smoking hole, a gap between the two row houses on either side like a missing tooth. Two young women stagger out of the wreckage, bleeding, disoriented, ears ringing from the sound. One is naked. She was in the shower when the building collapsed. Neighbors take them inside, clean them up, and lend them some clothes. But by the time police arrive, the two women have disappeared. A crowd of rubberneckers gathers. One of them–and this is a bit weird–is Dustin Hoffman, the film actor who lives right next door. This is, after all, Greenwich Village, 1970. In news photographs from that day, you can see this young movie star running up and down the steps of his home carrying big canvas oil paintings over his head to safety so they won’t be damaged by fire or smoke.

 

[clip of Dustin Hoffman] That was March 6th, and at that time there had been no bombings and everyone thought it was a boiler explosion.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: But a few days of digging in the rubble reveals something much worse.

 

[news] They found 60 sticks of dynamite, 30 blasting caps, and assorted wires and pipes in the basement wreckage.

 

[news] Police said it had been used as a bomb factory by young radical left wingers.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: They also find body parts of the three young people killed in the explosion, all members of the radical Weathermen organization. When I was growing up in New York City, my family used to take me every year on March 6th to put flowers on the stoop of the townhouse. It had been rebuilt in a more modern style, the facade jutting out at a sharp angle with big plate glass windows up front. I was a kid, three, four, five-years old. I mostly remember the new owners prop the big teddy bear in those windows facing the street. I liked going there, the bear, the flowers on a sunny, tree-lined block. You couldn’t picture anything awful happening there. Honestly, it’s still hard for my parents to talk about. Hard for me to imagine. But here goes.

 

This is chapter four: Bring the war home.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: After Fred Hampton’s death, Weathermen find themselves at a crossroads, divided about what to do next. Some are planning to go underground, but they’re uncertain when or even whether to take the decisive step. Diana goes home for Christmas to see her family one last time. Her mom is upset to see how skinny she looks. She hasn’t been eating well in the collective, barely sleeping, working all the time. Diana helps her nanny, Ruth, make the holiday meal, and she seems to like her gifts–clothes from her mom, a fisherman sweater from her sister. I imagine Diana and her father must have argued about politics over dinner, but people there later described the interaction as pleasant. Everyone was trying.

 

[clip of James Oughton] She had a feeling that there was that the world needed changing, and so do I. And I’d given my ideas and she’s given me her ideas, and of course, I’ve disagreed with her, and she’s disagreed with me.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: James Oughton is one of the richest men in Illinois, an industrial farmer, cattle rancher, part owner of a bank. His daughter’s transformation is incomprehensible to him.

 

[clip of James Oughton] I think it’s, I think she was completely carried away. I think it was almost an intellectual hysteria.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: Diana leaves after dinner, she doesn’t tell her parents what she’s planning. Maybe she’s not entirely sure herself, because there are arguments within Weathermen about what to do next. Some members want to stick to symbolic bombings, calling in warnings beforehand to make sure buildings are empty. Believe it or not, the Weathermen, that’s the moderate position, but the moderates are starting to be drowned out by the more militant voices–even an extremist group has its extremists. Terry and JJ are leaders of the New York chapter, and they’re saying, We need to level up, fight back against the racist police and the American war machine, using their own tools: assassinations, deadly force, anti-personnel bombs.

 

Bill Ayers: I can remember several conversations with Terry in which he said “This is a decisive moment. You either have to learn how to be part of a military cadre or get left behind.”

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: So Bernardine calls a meeting to settle the question. It’s billed as the SDS National War Council, which should give you a sense of their state of mind at the time. Weathermen leadership reaches out to Bill and Diana’s friend, Eric Mann, to scout a location, a place to hold the gathering.

 

Eric Mann: It’s an enormous, cavernous place, as I remember, and we went in there and the guy said, “Well, we just have to clean it up because the guy was shot in here the other day–he’s dead, But don’t worry, I’ll have it cleaned up by the time you guys get there.” So I said, Now this is my kind of rental, I’m sure this is going to work out fine.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: It worked out exactly as you might expect. On December 27th, 1969, a couple of hundred Weathermen, including Bill, Diana, and Bernardine, descend on this big, cavernous venue, a dilapidated dance hall in a Black neighborhood in Flint, Michigan, called the Giant Ballroom. They’ve decorated the walls with posters of Fred Hampton and Che Guevara, a big cardboard machine gun, bullets attached to pictures of Nixon, Mayor Daley, and Ronald Reagan. Sleeping bags and pillows are piled up in the corners. Weathermen are supposed to sleep only an hour or two a night to dedicate themselves to the work 24-7, and the council is scheduled to go on for days. At first, it’s just like a slightly more intense version of the SDS convention of six months earlier: people give speeches, lead workshops. Tom Hayden, the founder of SDS, is there.

 

Eric Mann: He was leading the karate, but it just shows that Weatherman was not considered crazy.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: But as the meeting drags on, the tone shifts. They start playing Sly and the Family Stone on loop over and over on this big sound system that shakes the floor and people start singing, changing the lyrics, and chanting slogans. And the dancing turns into a free for all. People high on speed, tripping on acid. They start having sex in public. Tom Hayden suddenly feels out of place. “I was feeling very bourgeois” he said later. “I was with my girlfriend. It was no place for couples. My rock foundation was the early ’60s. Theirs was the mid to late 60s. It doesn’t sound chronologically like it’s not much distance in time, but it’s an eternity. I was becoming out of touch. I mean, these people were having flat-out naked wild orgies as a political act.” The remaining couples, Bill and Diana, Bernardine and JJ, are breaking down, everyone’s sleeping with other people now, sleeping with all the people. But the energy at Flint isn’t lighthearted or fun. It’s apocalyptic. J.J.–John Jacobs–my mom’s sometime boyfriend and Terry’s partner in New York, takes the stage promising a violent war against bourgeois morality. “We will burn and loot and destroy.” He tells the crowd. “We are the incubation of your mother’s nightmare.” And my mom, in a riff that would come back to haunt her for years, brings up the Charles Manson killings, then dominating newscasts and headlines. “Dig it” she tells the crowd. “First, they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the room with them, then they even shoved a fork into pig Tate’s stomach–wild.” She’s trying to be provocative, to get a reaction from the crowd. But she’s since come to regret it.

 

Bernardine Dohrn: I thought that was a real step into, you know, the sewer.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn: Say more.

 

Bernardine Dohrn: Well, you know, it, glorifying violence. You know, I saw right away, and in fact, Tom Hayden and Anne came right up to me. They were in the front row, and they said, How could you say that? You know, it was right away. It was like I was caught.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: But the speeches are just the visible or audible part of a deeper radicalization. They’re not just saying crazy things, they’re getting ready to do them. The rest of the council is dedicated to planning: how to build a clandestine movement, how to find weapons, how to build bombs. The slippery slope is getting slipperier. The next day, groggy, hung over, Weathermen stagger out into the snow. They’ve made a collective decision. The FBI file from the War Council reports that Weathermen had agreed to engage in guerrilla warfare against the U.S. government. It’s January 1st, 1970, a dark beginning to a new decade. After Flint, the Weathermen split up into cells spread across the country, Bernardine and Jeff Jones, the surfer guy who led the charge at the Days of Rage, head west, towards California. Bill and Diana stay in the Midwest, leading the collective in Detroit. And Terry and J.J. go back east to New York. The network is spread out, decentralized by design.

 

Bill Ayers: This is what we were learning from Third World revolutionaries, we have to build the kind of a cell structure so that everybody doesn’t know everybody. And we began to call it the “need to know” principle. Do you need to know this? If you don’t need to know it, you’re not going to know it. Where is Terry staying? You don’t need to know that.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: But we do know now. Within a matter of weeks, Terry’s back in New York, hiding out in a place nobody would suspect as the base of operations for a cell of militant revolutionaries. He’s in Greenwich Village, at the townhouse. By this point, Weathermen have been protesting the Vietnam War for what feels like their entire lives: as high school students, college kids, as young activists. Now they’ve marched against it, voted, campaigned for presidential candidates, they’ve canvased, run sit-ins, be-ins, die-ins. Years of effort and nothing’s changed. Now, in fact, the war is escalating. A month before the Flint War Council, news breaks about the massacre at My Lai.

 

[news] They said a patrol of 100 Americans stormed into the hamlet, then opened fire with automatic weapons.

 

[news] They said shoot everything–man, woman, children, and the whole bit, everything that–.

 

[voice clip] Well, they figured that the babies, when he grew up, they will be VC anyway, so why give them opportunity to grow up?

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: The sheer number of Vietnamese dead isn’t a secret. In fact, military officials report the body count every night on purpose to convince the American public of the progress they’re making in the war.

 

[news clip] 477 South Vietnamese were killed, and enemy dead were reported to be almost 3,800.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: That’s an average of nearly 4,000 killed every week, plus more than 200 American GIs. And because of the draft, no family or group of friends is immune. Everyone seems to know someone who’s been killed in Vietnam. So for some Weathermen, by 1970, nothing seems too extreme. If they can figure out some way to stop that, or cut it short by even a day.

 

Bernardine Dohrn: Are we going to just let another day dawn when we see this carnage of women and children and people and devastation to the landscape and Agent Orange burning people up? How can you not do something?

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: Cathy Wilkerson had grown up on the East Coast, a good girl transformed by the activism of the ’60s, like Diana, or like my mom. She’s a college student the first time she gets arrested at a protest.

 

Cathy Wilkerson: Women did not get arrested, ever, unless you were basically a prostitute. So it had a shock value to it.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: Her mom thinks Cathy has wrecked her future.

 

Cathy Wilkerson: She was hysterical, and she said, You’ll never be able to get a job as a teacher and you’ll never be able to get a job doing anything worthwhile. You’ve ruined your chances in life.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: But Cathy doesn’t want that life. She joins SDS, follows Bernardine during the walkout, and joins Weatherman, where she meets Bill’s friend, Terry. And Cathy and Terry become a couple.

 

Cathy Wilkerson: He had the same kind of gut passion that I had, and we bonded around that. He was much more committed to sort of the Weatherman-style of militancy, but ambivalent at the same time. So it was a sort of an odd relationship, but, but very intense.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: In February 1970, Cathy gets a call, an invitation to join her boyfriend back east.

 

Cathy Wilkerson: “Do you want to come to New York and be part of this sort of secret thing that’s going on there?” And I didn’t know what it was, but I wanted to be with Terry, so I said yes. And I flew to New York, and I was still in that state of mind about Fred–just tell me what to do. So they needed a place to work.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: Cathy’s father, an ad executive, is about to go on vacation in the Caribbean for two weeks. His townhouse in Greenwich Village will be empty. And she makes a big decision.

 

Cathy Wilkerson: So I told him I had the flu, and could I stay there a little bit while they were gone? And with great reluctance, he gave me the key to the house and said, “Don’t stay any longer than you have to.”

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: As soon as her father leaves, Weathermen start to show up at the door. The two leaders of the New York cell, Terry and J.J., joined eventually by Ted Gold, Kathy Boudin, and a few teenagers Cathy’s never met before. Their plan, once they finally settle on one, is the culmination of all their years of frustration and rage, a literal incarnation of “bring the war home.” They’re going to bomb Fort Dix, an army base in New Jersey, the closest physical manifestation of the war in Vietnam. There’s an officer’s dance coming up, soldiers soon to be deployed–a soft target. They figure it should be easy enough for Weathermen, or better yet, Weatherwomen, dressed up for a night out, to blend in with the girls arriving to meet their officer boyfriends. To the most hardcore members of the New York cell, these are enemy combatants on their way to supervise the slaughter in Vietnam, but they’re also young men and women, civilians and off-duty soldiers about the same age as the Weathermen themselves. The plan, whether they admit it to themselves or not, is to commit mass murder. But Cathy remembers, whenever anyone tried to express concern:

 

Cathy Wilkerson: It was tamped down, and people said, No, we don’t want to talk about that now. We’ve made this decision. There was no discussion about what it would do to human beings.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: So the New York group gets to work. Their last few actions–torching the recruiting centers and judge Murtagh’s house in solidarity with the Panther 21–they weren’t technically bombings. The police and the press called the devices firebombs, but they were more like glorified Molotov cocktails, bottles of gas ignited with burning cigarettes or firecrackers. And they were temperamental devices, unpredictable.

 

Cathy Wilkerson: And that was why we turned to dynamite. It works better and more reliably.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: This bomb would be different, not an incendiary device, but an anti-personnel weapon packed with carpenter’s nails to mimic the shrapnel of the cluster bombs falling over Vietnam. They’ve acquired two crates of explosives. Two whole crates–way more than they need.

 

Cathy Wilkerson: Needless to say, being middle-class kids, we had over consumed, and we had all this dynamite we weren’t using

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: And it’s all stored in the basement of the townhouse.

 

Cathy Wilkerson: We were all terrified. Anybody who’s been around lethal weapons, who’s not completely zoned out knows the capability of these weapons, and none of us knew what we were doing.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: Every day they’re strategizing: how to get a bomb into a dance, where to hide it. And meanwhile, Terry’s trying to figure out how to build the thing.

 

Cathy Wilkerson: He was totally freaked. He was a poet and an artist and a creative guy. He hated anything technical. Even more than me, he was completely intimidated by it. He said, You know, I don’t like this, I don’t know how to do this, I don’t feel confident. But he felt like he had to overcome all that.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: Cathy tries to slow him down, suggests they move the action to a later date. Give them time to think it through.

 

Cathy Wilkerson: And he said, No, we need to just do it. We need to do it and get it done.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: A few days before Cathy’s dad’s supposed to get home, in the middle of this manic, hyperactive work, a new recruit shows up at the townhouse to join the cell. It’s Diana Oughton, my dad’s girlfriend.

 

Bill Ayers: Terry recruited her. His argument was, We need more people. We need Diana, we need her wisdom, her common sense, her militancy. And Terry very much wanted an ally, a friend, someone he was really close to with him.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: My dad’s stays back in Detroit.

 

Bill Ayers: She was going to New York for a while to work on a project, right? And so that’s not unusual. You know, people were making decisions all the time to leave the group, to stay with the group, to join a different faction, to leave the movement altogether. Every relationship was under strain. It was a tense time and we were all gritting our teeth. So it’s kind of hard to make love through gritted teeth.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: Bernardine visits New York too, less than a week before the planned action. As Weathermen’s leader, she says she had a vague sense of what the individual groups are up to, but she doesn’t know details. That’s by design, the decentralized command structure, cells operating independently of one another. The truth is, she doesn’t really want to know, but in retrospect, she feels like she should have asked.

 

Bernardine Dohrn: Yeah, I had been in New York days before the townhouse, traveling through, and I had seen JJ, and I did not see Terry. You know, kind of interesting when I look back at it and worry.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn: What do you mean? You say when you look back and worry, what do you mean?

 

Bernardine Dohrn: You know, I worry that I didn’t stop it. And I worry that I should have.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: March 6th is a cold spring day in Greenwich Village. Cathy’s dad is scheduled to fly back from the Caribbean that night, so most of the members of the New York cell have been sent to stay at other safe houses. Five Weathermen remain, to finish the bomb, get the extra crates of dynamite out of the basement, empty the communal flophouse–all before Cathy’s dad gets back. And this is just crazy to me. These are urban guerrillas planning a violent attack on the U.S. military, and they’re scrambling like a bunch of teenagers trying to clean up a kegger before dad gets home that morning. Cathy goes upstairs to iron her father’s sheets.

 

Cathy Wilkerson: I didn’t actually know people sent sheets to the laundry, you know, if they were in a hurry and they had a lot of sheets. So I washed the sheets and I was ironing them all because my parents usually had their sheets ironed.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: The other, Kathy, Kathy Boudin, gets into the shower. The others are cleaning, packing up to leave, getting the bombs ready to move.

 

Cathy Wilkerson: Terry and Diana were downstairs in the sub-basement where there was a workbench, and they did it down there because they thought that the safest place to do it.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: Ted Gold calls upstairs from the entrance. He’s running to the drugstore. He’ll be right back. It’s about noon. Quiet for a few minutes.

 

[explosion]

 

Cathy Wilkerson: There was a loud noise, and the whole house sort of lifted up a foot or two and then just kind of disintegrated all around me. I couldn’t see anything because it was just solid dust and splinters. There were not floors and walls. You didn’t know where to take a step even. The dust is in my eyes so I can’t like, look, I can only blink open and blink closed constantly. It’s like very strobe-like. I had no shoes on. I don’t have any idea how I managed to walk across all the splinters and rubbles. And then there was a big, huge crater down to where they were. I called out to Terry, and obviously there was no response, and I knew there was going to be no response. As I was looking down into the crater, I saw the glow start of the fire, and then I knew that I had about a minute to get out of the house before the whole things went up in flames. There was no window or door holes, particularly. There were just openings. You could see daylight out, you know, towards the front of the house. And so I called out to Kathy because I knew she had been in the shower, and she called back and I went and grabbed her and we went towards the street. We went towards the opening. Kathy came out naked because she had been in the shower and somebody threw a coat around her. We were caked in dust. A woman came up and put her arm around us and said, Let’s get out of here, come to our house and you can sit down and, you know, wash up. We went into her closet and found clothes to put on, including shoes. I ended up with a pair of pink patent leather boots. And we went through the pockets of the remaining clothes and found one subway token. There was a housekeeper there and we told her we were just going to the drugstore to get something. And we left and went through the turnstile together into the subway.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: The next night, across the country in San Francisco, Bernardine and Jeff are having dinner with their lawyer, Michael Kennedy. Michael is an interesting guy himself, a successful defense attorney, with a long list of famous clients, from mob bosses to porn producers to Ivana Trump in her divorce against Donald. But in the 1970s, he’s known as the go-to lawyer for leftist radicals. He represents Cesar Chavez, Black Panther founder Huey P. Newton, LSD guru Timothy Leary, and my mom. Bernardine and Jeff have just sat down to dinner when the phone rings. Michael goes into the kitchen to answer it.

 

Bernardine Dohrn: And then he came back in and said, “There’s been an explosion in which people were killed.” And it really wasn’t until that phone call that we knew that it was the townhouse, that our comrades had been there and that people had died.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: Jeff sees Bernardine’s face stricken, ashen.

 

Jeff Jones: It was certainly a moment where you realize that something big or horrible in this instant has happened, and it’s going to change everything.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: Jeff and Bernardine, get up, excuse themselves. At this point, they know there’s been an explosion and they know it was one of their safe houses. But they don’t yet know for sure who was inside. Pretty soon, though, news starts to trickle in.

 

[news clip] Last Friday, an explosion destroyed a New York City townhouse, and in the rubble, exposed tragedy and the makings of a sinister conspiracy.

 

[news] In a rich man’s home, they found a basement workshop with sticks of dynamite and the materials needed to make bombs. Also, the literature of SDS and the radical left.

 

[news clip] Three bodies were found in the rubble. One of them was identified only–

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: Three bodies, so destroyed by the explosion they have to be identified over several days by a severed finger and a torso. Ted Gold never made it to the drugstore.

 

Cathy Wilkerson: I mean, he was literally on his way out. My father had all kinds of fascinating things in the house, and he must have dawdles being a young person with tremendous curiosity about all kinds of things and looking at one of those artifacts that my father had.

 

Cathy Wilkerson: And Terry was down at the workbench in the basement, nervous and exhausted, popping pills to stay up, keep working. Maybe he crossed a wire, attached an improperly set timer, something.

 

[news clip] In the wreckage, the bodies of two young people, a man and a woman.

 

[news] One of them was identified only this week by the print of a little finger, belonging to a girl member of the violence-oriented Weatherman group.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: Diana was sitting next to Terry on the work bench, helping with the device, or just keeping him company. My dad hasn’t heard yet. A few days after the townhouse explosion, he’s at a roadside phone booth in rural Ohio waiting for a check-in call, looking out at the highway.

 

Bill Ayers: Midwest flat, you know, a few scraggly trees, wind blowing through an abandoned building, a concrete slab, and a shitty phone booth–and that’s where I got the call. Bernardine told me on the phone that there’d been an explosion in New York, an accident, and that Diana was dead. The feeling was falling on your back and cracking your head open. It felt like devastation itself, felt like an atomic bomb. I mean, I just went to pieces. One minute, the person is there, and the next minute gone. To know that she was so vivid, so alive, so vivacious, so strong, and then literally disappearing from the world. It was a horrifying thing to come to terms with and frankly, I don’t think, I may never have come to terms with it, honestly. I see her all the time, I see her when I, when I write about kids, which I do all the time. So I learned to teach side-by-side, hand-in-hand with Diana, and the teacher that I am, so much comes from those first days.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: Diana was just 28 when she died. Today, she would have been 80 if she’d lived. Maybe she would have gone back to teaching. Maybe she and my dad would have stayed together. Maybe they would have had kids, different from me and my brothers.

 

Bill Ayers: Because her life was cut short, that means that her life is, you know, the on-goingness of her life is a fantasy, it’s a fiction. My life went on and her life ended.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: Reporters catch up to Diana’s father, James, Oughton outside their family home, where she had spent Christmas Day just a few months earlier.

 

James Oughton This, I, it’s very difficult for me to see what these, what these young people are doing. I mean, I know what they say they’re doing, but it’s difficult for me to see this way of accomplishing these ends. When you, when we tear this world apart, what kind of a world will we replace it with? And this is something they don’t seem to be able to answer.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: Mr. Oughton is dressed in a jacket and tie his hair neatly combed, but he seems like he’s in shock.

 

James Oughton She was a person that never had any pretensions. She, she wasn’t a, she wasn’t a society-type person. I know that Diana was a lovely girl, and she–

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: He chokes up. And on the news broadcasts, you can hear a reporter cautioning viewers that James Oughton could be any of them.

 

[reporter] What emerges is a story that is becoming more and more familiar to parents, the story of a bright, wealthy, socially-concerned young lady who started out trying to help people, but who became a violent revolutionary.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: Few people, outside their families and close friends, had much sympathy for the people killed in the townhouse. Most thought it was just what they deserved, or at the very least, that it had prevented a much larger tragedy. And it’s true. If their plan had worked, if the New York cell had bombed that dance at Fort Dix, dozens more people would have died. So Terry, Diana, and Teddy were not innocent victims, or even civilians. They turned themselves into soldiers. Three more casualties in a war that was killing thousands every week.

 

Bernardine Dohrn: It continued to hit me. It still does, I’m thinking, 51 years–who would they be?

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: My mom usually keeps her emotions close, but she’s pretty open about this.

 

Bernardine Dohrn: How did they not get to have children, grandchildren, you know? How do they, how do their parents possibly have to live with that? And I think it’s important, you know, to remember them, and remember, you know, some of the worst of what happened, what we did.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: And those who got out of the townhouse are left reeling.

 

Cathy Wilkerson: I was in survival mode for many, many days. I had blown up my parents’ house. I had family considerations to consider. I had the political implications to consider. And I was a mess, and I didn’t feel capable of dealing with anyone. So disappearing seemed to make a lot of sense right then.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: The explosion scatters them. The police are looking for the Weathermen now. The story is all over the news. So they drop out of sight. Overnight, they abandon cars, houses and friends. What was supposed to be an orderly, intentional process that would take months, becomes a frantic scramble to run, and hide, to get away.

 

Bill Ayers: We were racing forward, really on speed and adrenaline. Nothing else.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: The war they’ve been planning for is finally here. The townhouse brought it home.

 

Next time on mother country radicals: my parents disappear.

 

Bill Ayers: I went underground by simply changing my name. One day I was one thing, and the next day I was another thing.

 

Bernardine Dohrn: Going from being a dark brunet to being blond was a big change.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: They go on the run from the FBI.

 

Jeff Jones: As soon as she pulled out, a car behind us turned around and started following us down the street.

 

[clip of Bernardine Dohrn] For Diana Oughton, Ted Gold, and Terry Robbins, we will never go back.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: And at the same time, Bernardine and a small group of allies try to pull each other back from the brink, to figure out a way forward, to reconnect with the Black freedom movement and the larger youth counterculture.

 

Bill Ayers: And he said, these folks are interested in getting Tim Leary out of prison.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn, narrating: A way to participate in militant armed struggle without killing, and maybe find a better way to fight a war.

 

Zayd Ayers Dohrn: Mother Country Radicals is an original podcast from Audacy and Crooked Media. It’s produced by Dustlight Productions. I’m Zayd Ayers Dohrn, your host, writer, and executive producer. From Crooked Media, executive producers are Jon Favreau, Sarah Geismer, Lyra Smith, and Alison Falzetta, with special thanks to Katie Long. From Dustlight, executive producer Is Misha Euceph. Arwen Nicks is our executive editor. Ariana Gharib Lee is our senior producer. Stephanie Cohn is the producer. Thai Jones is our historical consultant. All three also helped with writing on the series. This episode was sound designed by Stephanie Cohn. We had production Help from Tamika Adams. Valentino Rivera is the senior engineer. Andy Claussen is the composer. For Audacy, Tim Clarke is head of audio content. Lindsay Grant is head of platform marketing, and Brian Swarth leads podcast marketing. Special thanks to Melissa Providence, Lizzy Roberti Denihan, Andy Slater, and Danny Kutrick. Thanks to our development and operations coordinator at Dustlight, Rachel Garcia, apprentice Shomari Kirkwood, and Mark Wilkening, and the team at Chicago Recording Company. Mother Country Radicals is an Audacy original podcast.