The BLA connection to Park Station may be a red herring—or it could mean that McDonnell’s murder was simply the result of two militant groups working in tandem. A prime tenet of the Weathermen’s through-the-looking-glass revolutionary doctrine was that it was their duty to shed “white-skin privilege” and put themselves at the service of black radicals, and there are indications that the affinity between the BLA and Weathermen was particularly strong. For example, the BLA collaborated with former Weather Underground members Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert in a 1981 armed robbery in Nanuet, New York, that ended with the deaths of two police officers and a Brink’s armored-truck guard. And Ayers and Dohrn named their son, Zayd Dohrn, after BLA member Zayd Shakur, who died in a shootout with New Jersey state troopers in 1973.

*     *     *

From today’s vantage point, the spectacle of so many revolutionary groups competing to blow up or shoot sworn peace officers might seem strange. But in the late 1960s and early 1970s, America’s major cities were in something close to a guerrilla war. In 1972 alone, the FBI attributed 1,500 bombings within the United States to “civil unrest” from domestic radical groups. Max Noel, a retired FBI agent who investigated the Weathermen in the 1970s while based at the bureau’s San Francisco field office, said police officers routinely searched their patrol cars for bombs before starting their engines.

Former Weather Underground leader Bernardine Dohrn (right) is suspected by investigators of organizing the deadly attack on Park Police Station
Photos courtesy Max Noel
Former Weather Underground leader Bernardine Dohrn (right) is suspected by investigators of organizing the deadly attack on Park Police Station
Weather Underground co-founder Bill Ayers (below), pictured in a law-enforcement identification kit from the 1970s
Photos courtesy Max Noel
Weather Underground co-founder Bill Ayers (below), pictured in a law-enforcement identification kit from the 1970s

In this environment, many law-enforcement officials resorted, with unfortunate results, to dubious practices of their own. The most notorious example of police overreach from the era was the FBI’s COINTELPRO, an elaborate program of domestic espionage that targeted peaceful civil-rights groups alongside the Black Panthers and the Weathermen. Senate hearings on the program in the late 1970s concluded with a formal denunciation of such FBI tactics as wiretapping and illegal property searches.

The rise and fall of the Weather Underground is one of the more outlandish chapters in the phantasmagoria of Vietnam-era radicalism. Formed in 1969 as a militant faction of the mass antiwar movement Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), what was then commonly called the Weathermen—named after the Bob Dylan lyric “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”—proclaimed a desire to foment what they saw as an imminent, global, communist revolution within the U.S. Their motto: “Bring the war home.” (After the winter of 1970, the Weathermen became the Weather Underground, a nod to the group’s fugitive status and disdain for sexist pronouns.)

In December 1969, the group convened a “war council” in Flint, Michigan, announcing its plans to attack institutions of the U.S. government and oppose “everything that’s good and decent in honky America,” according to an account of the meeting by former Weatherman Mark Rudd in his memoir, Underground.

Presiding over the meeting was Dohrn, the mercurial beauty whom FBI director J. Edgar Hoover once called “the most dangerous woman in America.” The University of Chicago-educated Dohrn was a diva of the radical left, known for her shrill revolutionary creed. “We’re about being crazy motherfuckers,” she announced at the war council.

This darker phase of the Weathermen lasted through March 6, 1970, when three members of the group were killed in an accidental explosion while building a bomb at a Greenwich Village townhouse. That bomb, members of the group would later reveal, was intended to cause a massacre at an Army dance in Fort Dix, New Jersey.

Following the townhouse explosion, the Weather leadership convened a summit at a beach house on California’s fog-hung Mendocino coast. At that conference, they decided to alter their bombing campaign, targeting only empty government facilities, according to Rudd’s memoir. Now in hiding or “underground” because of riot and conspiracy charges, the Weathermen went on to claim responsibility for setting small bombs at the Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol and the State Department, none of which resulted in the loss of human life.

The attack on Park Station falls within the narrow period between December 1969 and March 1970 when the Weather Underground was still loudly devoted to killing people. “During that 10 weeks, they were intending, by their own statements—many statements—to commit acts of violence against persons,” said Todd Gitlin, a Columbia University journalism professor and former SDS president who has written extensively on the history of the 1960s. Gitlin admitted that he had no direct knowledge of the Weathermen’s actions during the time in question, but said the bombing would have fit their m.o.

Resurfacing at the end of the decade, many of the Weathermen saw charges against them dropped or resolved with meager penalties because of the questionable FBI tactics used against them. Some went on to rehabilitate themselves through careers in academia. Dohrn is now a professor at Northwestern University Law School, and Ayers is an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Machtinger became a teacher in North Carolina. No former member or associate of the Weather Underground has ever publicly acknowledged a role in the Park Station bombing.

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