Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


The Weathermen

The Sixties were a tumultuous era on American college campuses. The specter of Vietnam hung over the nation's youth like an executioner's axe. Every college student was theoretically subject to the draft and many young people did not like the idea of fighting a war in a faraway place where the goals were not clearly defined. During the period 1967-1969, as the war intensified, press coverage of lurid battle scenes frequently appeared on television. The killing and destruction in a distant, backward nation displayed on the nightly newscasts, both repelled and frightened America.

Student  protest rally, late '60's
Student protest rally, late '60's (AP)

Slowly, the tide of public opinion began to turn against the war. But supporters of the Vietnam effort were many and those that were against the war were often denounced as traitors, cowards and worse. The issue tore America apart in a way not unlike the Civil War. It turned friend against friend, brother against brother and father against son. Passions were strong on both sides. Columbia University in New York City and Berkeley University in California were two institutions where radicals assumed center stage. Various political groups and peace organizations sprung up everywhere but especially on college campuses where anti-war factions found fertile ground for recruitment.

One such political organization was the Students for a Democratic Society (S.D.S.). The S.D.S. wanted action, not words. But as time passed, several groups broke away from the organization to form their own ideological cells. Such a camp was the Weathermen, named after a line in a Bob Dylan song, "Subterranean Homesick Blues." The line went like this: "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."

The Weathermen were radicals. They wanted their people to get involved, demonstrate, get arrested and force change down the throat of the "establishment." They fought at the Democratic Presidential Convention in 1968 and converged in Chicago in 1969 for an event that came to be known as "Days of Rage." The more violent extremists during that era were responsible for a score of bombings in places like Harvard University, various corporate headquarters and a number of government institutions. They praised Charles Manson and freed Dr. Timothy Leary from prison. Wherever there was violence and chaos in the name of dissent, the Weathermen were there. But after the townhouse explosion in New York City in 1970, the group was forced to go "underground" and remove itself from the prying eyes of law enforcement and public scrutiny.

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