Ayers Under Fire

, Bethany Stotts, Leave a comment

The Support Bill Ayers petition has now garnered signatures from thousands of academics and other citizens in support for former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers, but Ayer’s reputation in academia may not be so rosy after his time in this year’s election spotlight.

“It seems that the character assassination and slander of Bill Ayers and other people who have known Obama is not about to let up,” the petition states. It sports 4,291 signatures as of this writing. “While an important concern is the dishonesty of this campaign and the slanderous McCarthyism they are using to attack Obama, we also feel an obligation to support our friend and colleague Bill Ayers.”

“Many, many educators have reached out, asking what they could do, seeking a way to weigh in against fear and intimidation,” it reads.

Not surprisingly, Ayers, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor, is exporting the same rhetoric while traveling the academic lecture circuit. He is due to speak with former Professor Ward Churchill and activist Derrick Jensen at the University of Colorado-Boulder on March 5, just four days before Churchill begins his jury trial in the Denver District Court.

The panel, entitled “Forbidden Education: The Rise of NeoMcCarthyism,” is being organized by Students for TRUE Academic Freedom, the Student Environmental Action Commission (SEAC) and the One Hundred Eighty Degree Shift at the 11th Hour. They argue that the panelists’ “presentations will unveil the mask of liberal academia and link Churchill’s fight with other scholars who have been attacked for their strong beliefs.”

Ayer’s post-election academic travels have been far from uneventful.

• He has been met with protests at both Forida State University and Saint Mary’s College in January,

• On February 9, his visit to Georgia Southern University was rescinded due to potential “security costs;”

• he was recently denied entry into Canada and therefore had to cancel his University of Toronto speech;

• and the UIC professor lost a speaking engagement at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln due to “safety reasons” in October 2008.

“Mr. Ayers had spoken at Georgia Southern before without any serious incidents,” reported Peter Schmidt for the Chronicle of Higher Education on February 12, but the University claimed the event could lead to as much as $13,000 in “security costs.”

Ayers’ speaking engagement at Millersville College, scheduled for March 19, has met additional resistance, with Lancaster County Republican lawmakers issuing a statement which argues Ayers “appearance would represent ‘an inappropriate promotion of a man whose history includes violence against the United States of America,’” reports Tom Murse for Lancasteronline.com.

Ayers claimed last November that he was thrust “unwittingly” and “unwillingly” into the national spotlight during the campaign and the victim of a “thoroughly dishonest narrative…and the big lie that gets perpetrated…that somehow I killed people, somehow I’ve been a violent person, all of it false and I couldn’t find a way to interrupt the demonization.”

However, two knowledgeable WU-affiliated persons contradict this story. Former Weather Underground founder Howard Machtinger wrote on February 18 that

“On its own initiative, this [Weather Underground] collective had planned to attack a Non-Commissioned Officers’ (NCO) dance at Ft. Dix with a fragmentation bomb. Had this action been carried out, it would have undoubtedly led to the deaths of not only officers, but also their dates and other bystanders—by any definition, an act of terrorism. Instead, the device went off accidentally and killed three WU members of the Townhouse Collective.”

“WU leaders—then and since—failed to reckon candidly and directly with what it meant, politically and humanly, that core members of the organization had planned to use fragmentation bombs to kill attendees at a dance,” wrote Machtinger for In These Times, a progressive publication founded by James Weinstein in 1976.

While Machtinger, who used to work for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, falsely maintains that the Weather Underground committed no terrorist actions because they only attacked property, not people, he does question the motivations that led to the planned Fort Dix bombings and acknowledges the WU connection to the Black Liberation Army killings of two cops.

He writes,

“After the WU dissolved in 1977-78 and most of its members turned themselves in to state authorities, there remained a leftover grouplet connected to members of the May 19 Communist Organization (an aboveground group linked to the WU which functioned in the New York area between 1978 and 1985) that was critical of any compromise with the state. It was this small group that, in tandem with elements of the Black Liberation Army, carried out the armed Brinks robbery in 1981, during which two police officers were killed.”

Larry Grathwohl, an FBI informant who went undercover within the Weather Underground, offers his own interpretation of the WU’s “Days of Rage” and Ayer’s personal connections to the bombings.

Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.