The main research topic is a radical group, the Weathermen, popularly known as the Weather Underground or the Weather Underground Organization. The study aims to reveal this violent organization’s history, its leaders, tactics and strategies, recruitment policies, the significance of their violent acts, and how authorities managed the situation. The research will be conducted through the different resources found on the Internet. The researcher will look for critical information related to the topic and list the findings related to the group’s history, aims and goals, key leaders, tactics, and recruitment strategies, as well as the response made to counter the impact of the Weathermen.
Weathermen (USA) (1969)
Violent movements, riots, terrorist attacks, and radical groups have characterized the history of the United States. While such organizations have played a critical role in shaping the country, some have been more remarkable than others. The Weathermen, also known as the Weather Underground or Weather Underground Organization, is an interesting case study of a left-wing terrorist organization that attacked using bombings, jailbreaks, and riots from 1969 to the 1970s. The group was a violent faction fighting for carefully selected goals. The study focuses on the history of and important facts about the organization. Although the Weathermen was not the most violent militant group in the United States, its impact was adverse, and hence, it was at the top of the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
The History of the Weathermen
The Weathermen developed as a distinctive political entity in the U.S. The group was formed in June 1969 within the New Left movement’s political and cultural efforts to change the country. However, its original idea, titled the Weather Underground, emerged in 1968, when the country experienced the effects of the Vietnam War. The organization appeared to be born out of the 1950s national liberation and left-leaning revolutionary or guerrilla movements (Zalman, 2017). Its proponents witnessed a new world that would turn over the political and social ladder between the developed and the developing worlds, between genders, and among races.
According to Zalman (2017), one of the most famous movements of that period was Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Founded on New Left ideals, the group was radical, particularly in contesting the country’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The organization opposed the idea that the U.S. is an imperialist state and committed to transforming American society to embrace the communist ideal. The Weather Underground was an SDS splinter group with similar sentiments (Zalman, 2017). The difference is that it chose an even more radical path.
Born from SDS, the Weather Underground fought for similar goals, to free America from the obsession with war and imperialist ideals. However, the Weathermen added a military aspect to the original tactics used by SDS (Zalman, 2017). The leaders were motivated by other violent groups in different parts of the world that were fighting for similar revolutions. Members believed they needed to pressure the government to change using radical approaches. From the political perspective, the group was grounded on the efforts of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam war movements. Culturally, the group was founded on the ideals of the so-called counter-culture (Daniels, 1974).
However, their interests were to promote these political and cultural aspects and create a guerrilla group that would bring a revolution in the United States. The Weatherman took advantage of the free speech movement of the 1960s to gain more strength than its predecessor, SDS (Stern & Browder, 2007). Consequently, the group became a powerful movement that impacted the history of the country. Although there is controversy regarding the extent of the threat it posed to the U.S., it is evident that the Weathermen was influential in American history.
The Weatherman potentially caused the death of SDS after it developed out of the movement. It took a decade of a strong revolutionary effort to eliminate a powerful white radical group composed of campus youth. While the argument remains controversial, it is possible that the founding of the Weatherman was a sign of the Left’s fragmentation among students. The group assumed a path different from the earlier student movements, such as SDS, which were founded on the ideas of peace and human rights. In contrast, the Weatherman focused on revolutionary goals. Many people believed that the group was representative of a new age of nihilism and desolation (Stern & Browder, 2007). The organization was responsible for a great deal of violence committed by radical youth in the 1970s.
The Weathermen’s Stated Aims and Goals
The Weathermen was an organized group with particular structures, including aims and goals. The organization’s primary objective was to contend with racism and the American military actions in other countries, such as the Vietnam War. The group used violence to bring down the U.S. government. The faction had revolutionary ideals and desired to change the history of the most powerful nation (Daniels, 1974). From the onset, they blamed American imperialism for exploitation, poverty, and other social problems in the country and internationally. Their goal was to destroy U.S. expansionism and domination and achieve a classless world of communism. The organization considered blacks to be a colony within the nation and compared their struggle to a Third World country’s liberation army (Daniels, 1974). The group was committed to using all the available resources and support to achieve its revolutionary goals.
The Weathermen was relatively well-structured and had a declaration to guide its operations. The group’s position was specifically stated in its manifesto:
On the one hand, if we, as revolutionaries, are capable of understanding the necessity to smash imperialism and build socialism, then the masses of people who we want to fight along with us are capable of that understanding. On the other hand, people are brainwashed and at present don’t understand it. (Daniels, 1974, p. 435)
The Weathermen aimed at using war to achieve its revolutionary objective. In 1970, the organization announced its “Declaration of War” against the U.S. to end imperialism. The goal in the statement was to “lead white kids into armed revolution” (Zalman, 2017, para 1). The group was like no other in the United States because of, among other things, the nature of its composition and the use of violence by the youth desiring to undertake a revolution and change the most powerful country in the world.
The Weathermen’s Key Leaders
Just as any other political or revolutionary organization, the Weathermen must have had strong leadership to develop and become a strong force in the country during the late 1960s and 1970s. The Weather Underground was formed by a group of white American students fighting against the Vietnam War and advancing communism through political violence (Lambert, 2017). They found the opportunity to make a statement that would change American society. The original Weatherman, Bernardine Dohrn, James Mellen, and Mark Rudd, were the leaders of the “action faction” of SDS.
During the SDS national convention in June 1969, the group presented a position paper “You Don’t Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows,” which was published in New Left Notes. The title was borrowed from Bob Dylan’s song, and the statement stressed the importance of black liberation as the basis for the Left’s struggle against American imperialism (Lambert, 2017). Overall, the leaders of the new movement supported the use of violence to achieve the revolutionary objective of weakening American imperialism.
Many individuals involved in the formation of the organization were known for campus and anti-war activity. For example, one of the pioneers of the group, Mark Rudd, was famous for his role in the Columbia occupation of 1968. Another leader, Terry Robbins, who died later in an explosion, was responsible for most of the foundation activities at Kent State, which ended in the students strike against the U.S. military campaign in Cambodia (Daniels, 1974). The leaders participated in politics successfully and were intellectuals who had also prospered in academics. An anonymous law school professor considered Bernadine Dohrn as “probably one of the most promising young lawyers in the country” (Daniels, 1974, p. 435). The group’s leadership had a strong academic background and comprised youth who were focused on change in the United States. Furthermore, they had the chance to express their ideals to gain support from other students and young Americans.
The Weathermen’s Key Tactics and Strategies
The Weathermen used a variety of tactics and strategies to achieve its objectives in the country. The group followed in the steps of the May 2 Movement, taking an internationalist position regarding revolution (Daniels, 1974). They were prepared to use violence to achieve revolutionary objectives. Particularly, the group organized bombings, jailbreaks, and riots. Violence as a revolutionary strategy had already developed in the United States in the 1960s; therefore, the Weathermen chose to use the same approach. The organization perpetrated violence against various groups; they assaulted law enforcement officers, vandalized stores, and planted bombs around government buildings (Stern & Browder, 2007). The leaders motivated the members to use violence as a calculated approach to achieve their goals.
The tactics and strategies used by the group were necessary to achieve the change in the country and internationally. The so-called Revolutionary Youth Movement and the Black Liberation Army of America were expected to support the objective of World Revolution. In addition, the organization desired to use exploited countries’ Liberation Armies to end U.S. imperialism (Daniels, 1974). Young people believed that they could do whatever they had to for the sake of the revolution. The Weathermen followed Regis Debray’s theory of exemplary violence, postulating that a small group of activists using disorder to pursue their political cause could inspire the underclass to stir up a revolution (Stern & Browder, 2007). The members also admired Frantz Fanon’s theory explained in his essay, “On Violence.” It discounted the value of nonviolence and instead campaigned for:
The violence which has ruled over the ordering of the colonial world, which has ceaselessly drummed the rhythm for the destruction of native social forms and broken up without reserve the systems of references of the economy, then customs of dress, and external life, that same violence will be claimed and taken over by the native at the moment when, deciding to embody history in his person, he surges into the forbidden quarters. (Stern & Browder, 2007, pp. xv)
The Weathermen used so-called justified violence. According to Fanon and the founding principles of the Weatherman, violence was a necessity to overthrow oppressive regimes. It was essential during the colonial days and remained a powerful force. It plays a significant role in freeing the natives from an inferiority complex and desperation and restores their self-respect by motivating them to action. The Weathermen embraced the idea of transformative violence such that its members even admired mass murderers and celebrated white infanticide (Stern & Browder, 2007). Thus, their level of violence overtook the ideas of Debray and Fanon because the group was founded on such ideals and the use of any possible means to achieve the revolutionary goal.
The Weathermen’s Effort to Win Public Support and Recruitment Strategies
The Weathermen would achieve success by communicating its philosophy to people to gain support. It primarily targeted the youth, convincing them about the need to end American imperialism and embrace communism. During its initial stages, the organization was keen to stress the importance of mass backing (Daniels, 1974). The Weathermen gained support and membership by using the free speech movement, which had taken root in the country at the time. As a result, the group became influential as an antiwar faction on American campuses (Stern & Browder, 2007). According to Stern and Browder (2007), instead of having half-million members and sympathizers like SDS, the group had a few thousand members. Regardless of the smaller number, the Weathermen committed to using violence to achieve its goals and spread its revolutionary ideas to recruit more youth, particularly students.
The Weathermen as a Threat
The Weathermen’s actual threat was exaggerated. The activists, who were intellectuals, maintained that the Weathermen would be highly structured and organized to pursue its objectives. However, the opposite became true because the organization ignored its “bourgeois” origin and instead engaged in anti-intellectualist programs of direct action. The group grew in violence in line with the theory as well as the dogmatism of the Old Left (Daniels, 1974). The use of force was the primary threat created by the organization in the United States. With each attack, the Weathermen left a mark that lasted for years and influenced American history. However, it remains controversial whether the organization was an actual threat to the country.
The Weathermen largely did not manage to actualize its extremely violent agenda. Some of the operations cited by the FBI included “the bombing of the Capitol itself (March 1971), the bombing of the Pentagon (May 1972), and the bombing of the State Department (January 1975)” (Eckstein, 2016, para 4), were indeed ambitious. Furthermore, the group comprised individuals determined to change the country; they were not just an organized faction of misbehaving children. The FBI cited their sworn desire to destroy the government and change the nation. However, it would be confirmed later that the agency had overestimated the threat posed by the Weathermen (Eckstein, 2016). Although the organization might have brought a challenge to national security, the danger was not in the magnitude portrayed by the FBI.
Response to the Weathermen’s Threat
The government agencies made considerable efforts to neutralize the Weathermen. Although it was a group of young students who wanted to make a statement, their violent acts could not be ignored by the authorities, including the FBI. The FBI put the members of the movement on its Most Wanted List, revealing the importance of the efforts to end their illegal operations in the country. However, the Bureau’s initiative only made some of the Weathermen leaders famous. Some experts claim that the FBI’s and other authorities’ efforts in fighting the organization were not warranted because of the group’s minor effect. Their tactics were already common in the country as various movements fought for injustices.
For example, the Weathermen only planted 25 bombs within seven years of its existence (Eckstein, 2016). Furthermore, the bombs were relatively small and would not have much impact. The authorities managed to detonate half of the bombs early enough in 1970. On average, the group could set off only a bomb every half a year, most of them in bathrooms of some organization headquarters and government buildings (Eckstein, 2016). Thus, the government agency’s response to the Weathermen was inadequate.
Critics have argued that other motives besides national security encouraged the FBI to counter the group. Eckstein (2016) suggests the possibility that bureaucratic interests and imperatives were the leading factors behind the agency’s focus on the Weathermen. It is possibly the reason the FBI did not capture any group member. For instance, radicals remained free until 1977-1980, when the majority quit the revolutionary path and assumed their usual role as productive members of society. The group did not necessarily end because of the effectiveness of authorities in stopping it. Therefore, opponents believe that the FBI’s efforts to eradicate the organization were largely unnecessary.
Personal Opinion on the Weathermen’s Threat
Any illegal organization is a threat to the security of a country. From the perspective that the Weathermen was founded on revolutionary ideals and used violence to achieve its objectives, the group was a threat to the United States. The organization supported various forms of violence to change the system from imperialism to communism. The Weathermen grew in numbers and would have probably continued to increase if the government failed to act. However, the threat from the organization was not of the magnitude portrayed by the FBI. The members did not qualify to be placed on the list of the most wanted criminals. Regular policing activities were enough to neutralize the impact of this faction and enhance peace in the areas affected by the Weathermen’s activities.
As it is evident from the analysis, the Weathermen is one of the groups in the United States that aimed at achieving revolutionary goals. The organization desired to change the country from its imperialist nature to becoming more communist. Therefore, to realize their objective, the group used violence in various forms, including riots, vandalizing, and bombings. The faction borrowed various theories of violence to justify its actions. Although the group’s membership was not significant, it posed a threat to American society. Therefore, the authorities, such as the FBI, attempted to deal with the Weathermen by putting them on the most wanted list. However, experts have revealed that the security agency’s efforts were unwarranted. Although the group was a threat, it was unnecessary to commit such resources to fight the youth. Law enforcement officers needed to address the risk using minimal resources because the nature of the violence involved was not high in magnitude.
Daniels, S. (1974). The Weathermen. Government and Opposition, 9(4), 430-459.
Eckstein, A. M. (2016, November 2). How the Weather Underground failed at revolution and still changed the world. Time. Retrieved from http://time.com/4549409/the-weather-underground-bad-moon-rising/
Lambert, L. (2017, August 28). Weather Underground: American militant group. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Weathermen
Stern, S., & Browder, L. (2007). With the Weathermen: The personal journal of a revolutionary woman. New Jersey, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Zalman, A. (2017, June 2). The Weather Underground. ThoughtCo. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/weatherman-aka-weather-underground-3209156