By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Last words on the Weather Underground

After I posted my item on the FBI and the Weather Underground yesterday, I received some good advice from several people, both in the comments and in private e-mails: that I should ignore attacks from the likes of Michael Graham and Cliff Kincaid.

I’m not going to take that advice, because I still have a few facts I want to lay out. I will try to keep this as brief as I can (i.e., not very), and reasonably dispassionate. I hope and expect this is the last time I will write about the Weather Underground.

Yesterday I reported that the FBI had revised a Web page that identified convicted murderer Katherine Ann Power as a member of the Weather Underground; the agency explained that its original reference to her had been made “inaccurately.” Power and four accomplices murdered Boston police officer Walter Schroeder (photo) in a 1970 bank robbery. Though Power and one of those accomplices, Susan Saxe, were campus radicals at Brandeis University, neither had ever been credibly linked to the Weather Underground.

After Graham, a talk-show host on WTKK Radio (96.9 FM), posted his item showing that an FBI site claimed Power was a Weather Underground member, I started digging. In two posts (here and here), I found that the underlying FBI document linked from that Web page made no mention of Power, Saxe or the Schroeder killing; that books on the Weather Underground contained not a hint of any link to the Schroeder case; and that, at both the time of the murder and Power’s 1993 arrest, there was never any mention of a possible connection to the Weather Underground.

At that point I contacted the FBI press office to seek an explanation for why it had identified Power as a member of the Weather Underground. For a week, I exchanged e-mails with FBI press officer Paul Bresson. I first called and wrote to him on March 30. Later that day, he wrote:

I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if this was simply a caption error. When she was announced on our Top 10, we made no reference to her association with the WU then. Seems like we would have.

He also told me that the FBI’s “resident historian” would look into the matter further. Then, yesterday morning, I noticed that Power’s photo had disappeared from the FBI page, and a notice had been added saying that her inclusion had been made “inaccurately.” I asked Bresson whether the FBI would issue a statement. He responded:

No. It was a caption error. Not unlike what happens in the media from time to time.

Again, thanks for pointing it out.

I also sent an e-mail to Power last week, but did not receive a response.

If you go to Graham’s blog, you will find that he is still running the Power photo as proof of her membership in the Weather Underground. He has also neither revised, corrected nor apologized for an item in which he refers to me as “some moron who claims to teach at Northeastern University” because of my insistence that Power was not connected to the Weather Underground.

Personal insults aside, it’s fair to ask whether Graham should be held accountable when, in fact, an FBI Web page did identify Power as a member of the Weather Underground. I think the answer is yes, for three reasons:

  • There was nothing on that FBI Web page about Power or the Schroeder murder — just one photo identifying her as a member of the Weather Underground. That should have led Graham to investigate further.
  • The Web page linked to an underlying FBI document representing the agency’s own, extensive 1976 history of the Weather Underground. Again: Not a mention of Power, Saxe or the Schroeder murder.
  • Though Graham’s fellow WTKK host Michele McPhee has been claiming for some time that the Schroeder murder was somehow linked to the Weather Underground, there is no credible evidence. Hints here, rumors there? Sure. But that’s not the same as on-the-record facts.

How did I get dragged into this? Last fall I was struck by a post-election interview that NPR’s Terry Gross conducted with former Weather Underground leader William Ayers. Ayers came across as smarmy and self-satisfied. But he is also a respected education reformer, and his and his family’s lives had been put in danger because of the pounding he’d been subjected to over his ties to Barack Obama. And despite some reprehensible activities in his youth, including bombings, neither he nor the Weather Underground had ever been credibly tied to any killings. So I wrote it up for The Guardian.

Now let me try to deal as briefly as I can with Cliff Kincaid, of the media-watch organization Accuracy in Media. Laughably, his piece, which was posted yesterday morning, still contains two links to the now-revised FBI page. No correction, and no comments allowed.

It’s hard even to find a point of entry in Kincaid’s column. I’m reminded of a lawyer who once told jurors that if they found something rotten floating at the top of the barrel, they were under no obligation to stick their hands in to see if there was something better underneath. Kincaid’s double reliance on a now-corrected FBI error is enough.

But let me look at one additional piece of evidence that he recommends: a 1975 report (PDF) by the Senate Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws. The document is not searchable, but Kincaid provides a helpful guide, instructing readers to go to pages 33 and 36.

On page 33 the report briefly mentions the Schroeder murder and says this: “Police charged both Susan Edith Saxe and Katherine Ann Power of the Weatherman group with complicity in the murder and robbery.” That’s it. There is no indication of where this information came from.

The reference on page 36 says this:

Three female members of the Weather Underground were on the FBI “List of Most Wanted Fugitives” for a full three years without being apprehended. They were Bernardine Rea Dohrn [Ayers’ wife], Susan Edith Saxe, and Katherine Ann Power.

But that’s wrong. Recall what FBI spokesman Bresson told me: “When she [Power] was announced on our Top 10, we made no reference to her association with the WU then. Seems like we would have.”

Finally, in my original Guardian column I briefly mentioned that Time magazine had knocked down an assertion that the Weather Underground had been linked to the 1970 murder of a police officer in San Francisco. Beyond that, I know nothing about that case, but Kincaid mentions it.

As it turns out, just a few weeks ago, on March 12, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the city’s police union publicly accused Ayers and Dohrn of having been involved in the bombing. According to the story:

The union’s accusation surprised some authorities. According to a source familiar with the probe, who spoke on condition of anonymity, investigators have found no evidence that links the Weather Underground to the bombing.

A week later, the Chronicle reported that police chief Heather Fong had ordered the union to stop talking about the case, which is being actively investigated and which could soon result in an arrest or arrests. So maybe we’re on the verge of a definitive answer.

Two final points.

Let’s not forget how all this foolishness started. People who wanted to bring President Obama down during the campaign sought desperately to transform Ayers from a washed-up radical into a washed-up, murdering radical. The goal was to tie Obama to a cop-killer, despite the lack of any credible evidence.

And let’s not forget Walter Schroeder, who left nine children. His brother John, also a Boston police officer, was murdered three years later. For all the anger and angst Ayers, Power, Saxe and their like have inspired over the years, it was the Schroeder family that suffered the most, and, I’m sure, is suffering still.

Update: Kincaid has written a hilarious response. He’s actually going to FOIA records about my contacts with the FBI.

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  1. Bill Baar

    Someone had U of I shut down access to the files Ayers had donated on the Chicago Annenberg Challange.Ever occur to you someone might be taking a look at what files the FBI has on Ayers?This is a Chicago crew in Wash now, steeped in Chicago ways…

  2. Eric

    I understand the need to challenge blatant lies.

  3. Bill Baar

    I understand the need to challenge blatant lies.Think Ayer’s will sue?

  4. Michael Pahre

    Dan, nice summary, but I hope you are generally done with this kind of stuff.You could waste many FTEs correcting the record of false statements made by talk radio hosts and their cable brethren. And that’s what Media Matters does. Maybe you could twist MM’s arm to do the work next time?

  5. Dan Kennedy

    Michael: I think it’s a little different when I’m the one being attacked. No?

  6. Paranutz

    Michael you failed to mention Former FBI informant Larry Grathwohl calling you yesterday to talk to you about the WU. You said you would talk to him. He would be able to tell you what he learned while “in” the WU as an informant. He called you immediately after he read Mr. Kincaids article. Why didn’t you mention his attempt to talk to you yesterday?

  7. Paranutz

    Dan not Michael..typo..Thanks

  8. Dan Kennedy

    Paranutz (oh, very nice): I’m Dan, not Michael. Yes, I did talk with Grathwohl, and I told him I’d call him back. I decided against it. Here’s why:The San Francisco Chronicle reported on March 12 that “Grathwohl asserts that he infiltrated the Weather Underground as an FBI informant and heard Ayers confess to a role in the bombing.”The story continues: “Ayers has denied any involvement in the bombing and, in January, called Grathwohl a ‘paid dishonest person’ in an interview with The Chronicle.”So there you go. He said, he said. My main interest is the Schroeder case. I really don’t know anything about the San Francisco case. It makes no sense for me to interview Grathwohl — who struck me as a sincere guy — unless I’m also going to interview a dozen other people, including Ayers. Which I’m not going to do.The only reference I’ve ever made to the San Francisco case was in my Guardian column last fall, when I wrote — accurately — that Time magazine had reported there was no credible evidence linking the San Francisco case to the Weather Underground. I don’t think that obligates me to jump down the rabbit hole and start chasing every lead.And now it’s being reported that there may be an arrest or arrests soon. So perhaps we’ll know the truth before too long.

  9. Bill Baar

    Grahtwohl is must read on Ayers. Check PJ Media on the chit-chat on mass executions after the revolution. Ayer’s is a barbarian.. then, and now. A guy who hid behind his Dad’s immense wealth and political clout while other’s blew themselves up carrying out the dirty work.

  10. Paranutz

    Dan,Try reading the book:Bringing down America : An FBI Informer with the Weathermen: Larry Grathwohl; by Larry Grathwohl and Frank Reagan.It will bring a wealth of information on not just San Francisco but the attacks by the WU around the Country in the 1970s.Thanks.

  11. Dan Kennedy

    Check PJ Media on the chit-chat on mass executions after the revolution.Gee, Bill, that sounds really credible. Let’s wait to see if there are any arrests, OK? It sounds like the San Francisco authorities may finally be getting ready to bring this to a close.

  12. Dan Kennedy

    Paranutz: Let’s cut to the chase — if Grathwohl links the WU to killings, why doesn’t the FBI? Do you have an explanation for that? You must, since you’ve read the book.

  13. Paranutz

    Dan,Ever Hear of the FBI agent by the name Mark Felt AKA “Deep Throat”? He did something wrong in the investigation and it was thrown out. Ayers told Grathwohl to his face, that it was a shame that Bernardine Dohrn had to Plan and plant the Bomb at Park Station in SF. The Bomb went off on 16 FEB 1970 at 10:44 PM, one minute before the Midnight shift briefing at 10:45 PM. Grathwohl described the content of the Bomb. My father was the first Policeman on the scene. It was his SGT that died. My dad has a piece of the metal Staples used. He picked one up off the ground that night. When Grathwohl decribed the Bomb and its placement and what was in it, my dad had no doubt about the link. The Police that were there, since retired, feel the same way. My Dad has had the scrapnel in a scrap book with the SF Examiner article for 39 years.Thanks

  14. bob gardner

    I don’t understand why Michael Graham is still in this country. Isn’t the government supposed to deport undocumented motorists?

  15. Johnny

    This 1975 senate subcommittee report that Kincaid loves so much is self-described as “not encyclopedic” and anticipates future information given by an FBI informant.The 1976 FBI report which I assume includes information given by this FBI informant doesn’t mention Powers or Saxe at all.

  16. James

    I am a bit late to all of this, but I just wanted to say thanks to Dan for not taking the easy road and backing down on this point. Your tenacity and willingness to take the time to exhaustively report on the issue is much appreciated. Listening to passionately hateful folks like Graham on the radio occasionally, I don’t think I would put myself in their headlights. But for those that do, I applaud you.

  17. mike_b1

    Bill, what’s your point? That Ayers is a bad guy because his father was rich? Or that Ayers is a bad guy because a bunch of clowns he hung out with blew crap up?In some respects, that would mean anyone who sat around and listened to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold must be a bad guy too.

  18. Bill Baar

    Mike,Ayers is a bad guy because he used his Dad’s wealth and influence to avoid responsibility for egging on some bad clowns to blow up crap.A rich kid domestic terrorists. I remember the bring the war home slogans. I remember being in Chicago for days of rage. Ayer’s wipped up a lot of kids, some of those kids went out and killed whether Ayer’s had a direct hand in it or not (I’d add the Madison Math building bombing and murder to the list too).Ayers had a big roll in creating these times and he’s never expressed any remorse for the damage done.He just used his Dad’s clout to settle into a nice life here in Chicago.

  19. Bill Baar

    Gee, Bill, that sounds really credible.I remember SDSers talking about killing all sorts of pigs and so on and so on… it was pretty brutal stuff. I remember it first hand.I don’t know if it’s criminal, but I sure remember an atmosphere of violent talk that I believe pushed some inot violent acts. Whether it’s criminal I can’t say.. but Ayer’s has never expressed any remorse over it to my knowledge…

  20. Dan Kennedy

    Bill: To my knowledge, Ayers has never expressed any remorse over the lunatic views he held during that time. In fact, the evidence suggests that today he holds slightly modified versions of the same lunatic views.The issue: Has he and/or the Weather Underground ever been credibly linked to any actual killings? The answer: No.

  21. counterfeiting

    Hello Dan Your inability to link Ayers to the weather undergound is almost comical. I doubt they had a list of employees or a board of directors. I listen to your comments on Emily Rooney’s show and my impression is that you are an apologist for left, some of your comments on Ayers cement that observation another local slimeball, associted with the weathermen, is now running around Boston as a “community activist”. he tried to murder to Massachusetts State Troopers on Route 95 Regards Bob Cerra a matter of persepctive, unless you hail from the left

  22. Dan Kennedy

    Bob: Excuse me? Ayers was the leader of the Weather Underground. Where have I ever said anything different?Care to provide a name and some evidence about the “local slimeball”?

  23. b.f.

    What also should be mentioned is that in a footnote to page 206 on page 416 of Susan Braudy’s book, Family Circle, Braudy apparently wrote that “Another FBI agent, Larry Granthwol, would attempt to take credit for the explosion” at the W.11th Street Greenwich Village townhouse on March 6,1970 which killed 3 Weatherman activists “claiming he had tampered with the bomb’s mechanisms.” Yet, ironically, this “Accuracy In Media” right-wing media pressure group seems to be now working with Mr. Granthwol to “weatherbait” journalists and professors like Dan Kennedy for just checking out the accuracy of “Accuracy In Media”‘s far-fetched version of 60s and 70s U.S. history.

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