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

Tag: Katherine Ann Power

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.

FBI: Power was not in Weather Underground

I’m planning to write a much longer post tomorrow. But since Cliff Kincaid of Accuracy in Media is attacking me today, I thought I would provide a sneak preview.

Both Kincaid and WTKK talk-show host Michael Graham have pointed to an FBI Web page identifying convicted murderer Katherine Ann Power as a member of the Weather Underground as proof that I’m wrong — OK, worse than wrong — in arguing otherwise (as I do here and here). Power and four accomplices killed Boston police officer Walter Schroeder in a 1970 bank robbery.

Well, here’s that FBI page again. Oh, look! The photo of Power has been removed. Let’s scroll down to the bottom of the screen, shall we? Here’s what it says:

Photo of Katherine Ann Power was removed because she was inaccurately associated with the Weather Underground.

As Graham himself so elegantly put it to one of the commenters on his blog recently: “I’m supposed to take your word for it that Powers [sic] didn’t consider herself a member of the Weather Underground…and NOT the FBI? You know–the people who actually investigated the crime?”

Michael, I’m taking the FBI’s word for it. How about you?

Kincaid responds: “Dear Professor: So what was inaccurate about it? This doesn’t explain anything. In order to clear this up, I strongly suggest that you explain who at the FBI you contacted, and who in the Bureau made this change on your behalf. What’s more, please tell me how this last-minute change refutes anything former FBI official Revell told me, or what was contained in the Senate report? How does it refute Romerstein’s comments? And what about the Park Station bombing case? You have a lot more explaining (and correcting) to do. You’re not out of the woods by any stretch. Sorry, but I won’t let you off the hook. Cliff Kincaid.”

Well, Cliff, you’ve got me. Regular readers of Media Nation know what great pull and clout I have with the FBI. I was hoping you wouldn’t find out.

The Weather Underground again (II)

As it turned out, it really didn’t take me that long to skim the 1976 FBI history of the Weather Underground.

At 420 pages, it is a comprehensive overview of whom the FBI considered to be associated with the Weather Underground and what activities they engaged in. And there is not one solitary mention of Katherine Ann Power, Susan Saxe or the 1970 murder of Boston police officer Walter Schroeder.

As I wrote earlier, the section in the index where Power’s name might have appeared has been blacked out (or, to be more accurate, whited out). But from actually scanning through the document, it is clear that she’s nowhere to be found. Whoever’s name has been whited out, it’s safe to say, isn’t Power’s.

In another part of the document (PDF) is a section titled “WUO [Weather Underground Organization] Communiques and Bombings 1970-1976.” The section comprises a long list of terrorist acts for which the Weather Underground took credit — everything from bombing New York City police headquarters and the U.S. Capitol to helping Timothy Leary escape to Algeria. Again, there is no mention of the bank robbery in which Officer Schroeder was killed.

The only FBI reference to Power’s alleged membership in the Weather Underground is a photo caption on a Web page that links to the 1976 report. Based on what I’ve found so far, I think someone in the FBI communications department made a mistake.

Moving right along: Over at Google Books, I was able to search “The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground,” by Ron Jacobs (1997). There are no references whatsoever to Power, Saxe or the Schroeder case.

Using’s “Search Inside” feature, I also peeked at William Ayers’ memoir, “Fugitive Days.” Again, no reference to Power, Saxe or Schroeder.

I also consulted stories from the New York Times and the Associated Press published at the time of Schroeder’s murder. Both reported the FBI’s belief that the suspects were involved in “revolutionary” activities. Neither story made any mention of the Weather Underground.

I see no reason to back down from asserting that Katherine Ann Power had no connection to the Weather Underground.

The Weather Underground again

Proving a negative can be damn near impossible. So consider this a first, halting effort to refute Michael Graham’s claim that Katherine Ann Power was a member of the Weather Underground.

Power, as you may recall, is a convicted murder — a former student radical who was one of five people responsible for killing Boston police officer Walter Schroeder in a 1970 bank robbery. Last year, Michele McPhee, like Graham a talk-show host on WTKK Radio (96.9 FM), repeatedly claimed that Schroeder was killed by the Weather Underground; that because William Ayers, a former leader of the Weather Underground, knows Barack Obama, it must therefore follow that Obama was being disrespectful to the Schroeder family or something.

Now Ayers has been invited and disinvited to speak at Boston College, which occasions Graham’s missive.

Graham’s evidence is a link to an FBI Web page in which Power is identified as a member of the Weather Underground. Yet it is an odd document to which Graham refers — there is nothing in it about the Schroeder murder or Power. There are, however, photos of Bernardine Dohrn (Ayers’ wife, and indeed a former member of the Weather Underground) and Power. No further information is provided.

There is also a link to an FBI document, in multiple parts and hundreds of pages long, that is a 1976 internal history of the Weather Underground. However, it is unsearchable, as it is in the form of a PDF image file. It would take me many hours to read through it. I don’t have the time, but if anyone would like to try, be my guest. I’d like to know what’s in it.

More interesting is another link Graham provides — to a long article in National Review, published in 1993, not long after Power’s arrest. In it, one of her former Brandeis professors, Jacob Cohen, goes into deep, fascinating detail about Power and her classmate and co-murderer Susan Saxe. Cohen makes it clear that Power and Saxe were consumed by the radical insanity of the time. But Cohen, who knew them well, offers no indication that either of them was a member of the Weather Underground. It just doesn’t come up.

The thing is, Power’s story is well-known. She and Saxe, while students at Brandeis, hooked up with three ex-convicts and robbed a bank so that they could raise money for the Black Panthers. It sounds crazy, and it was. The crime they committed was unspeakable. But with the sole exception of that FBI page, I don’t think you will find anything anywhere suggesting that they were tied to the Weather Underground.

Here is how the New York Times described it following Power’s 1993 arrest:

The bank robbery came in a year when the anti-war movement had splintered, with some groups going underground and turning to violence. That March, three members of the Weathermen, a radical group, blew themselves up in the Greenwich Village town house where they were trying to build bombs.

Then the United States invaded Cambodia. Four days later in early May, four Kent State University students were shot to death by the National Guard during a protest of the invasion. The next day Kathy Power was one of thousands of students who walked out of classes in protest.

A national committee to coordinate student strikes was set up at Brandeis and it included Ms. Power, Susan Saxe and a state prison inmate on a college furlough program, Stanley Bond. All three took part in the bank robbery.

I am trying to find out more. Given the FBI statement, I am treading carefully. But, so far, I have seen no facts that would challenge the public record: that Power and Saxe had nothing to do with the Weather Underground.

Instant update: I just had a flash of inspiration and looked at the index of Weather Underground members in that FBI report (PDF). The place where Power’s name would be (if it’s there) has been blacked out. Saxe is not mentioned at all.

Still more: I see that Graham has referred to me as “some moron who claims to teach at Northeastern University.” We shall see who’s the moron by the time this has been resolved.

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