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Date: Mon, 28 Jan 2002 15:54:43 -0800
From: radtimes <email@example.com>
Subject: Graying Radicals Are Facing New Ire in America
Graying Radicals Are Facing New Ire in America
Recent arrests in the 27-year-old SLA robbery are raising concerns for
By JOHN JOHNSON and GEOFFREY MOHAN TIMES STAFF WRITERS
January 28 2002
Their hair is thinner and their girth broader. Their lifestyles tend more
to the minivan and gardening than to any utopian fantasies favoring the
overthrow of what they used to call Amerika.
Oh, and there's one more thing the graying lions of the radical left share
in the aftermath of Sept. 11 and the arrests of four former members of the
bumbling, trigger-happy Symbionese Liberation Army: a growing disquiet that
it could be open season on countercultural figures of the Vietnam era,
whether they were involved in serious crimes or not.
The long-buried divisions that tore at society 30 years ago, they fear, are
resurfacing. "At what point do they say, 'We better start rounding up the
old activists?'" worried John Buttny, 63, a onetime member of the
Weathermen organization, who now lives outside Santa Barbara and works for
a member of that county's Board of Supervisors. Since the terror attacks,
Buttny's old FBI file has been circulated by political enemies to the local
media. "I have often remarked to friends that the '60s were nowhere near
this repressive," said Buttny. He now recalls almost fondly how, as a young
radical in Boulder, Colo., he used to joke with FBI agents when they came
to buy his left-wing literature.
Karl Armstrong, who spent eight years behind bars for blowing up a U.S.
Army research building in 1970 at the University of Wisconsin, killing a
researcher, is now facing a boycott of his sandwich shop, Radical Rye, in
Madison. "I thought it was unfair," he said of the boycott called by a
conservative radio talk-show host. "But I figure it's all just part of the
And then there's Weathermen stalwart Bill Ayers, who admits in his new
book, "Fugitive Days," to playing a role in blowing up a restroom at the
Pentagon in 1972. Ayers, who is married to former radical Bernardine Dohrn,
canceled his book tour after Sept. 11 and issued a statement defending the
work as "a condemnation of terrorism in all its forms."
"It would be preposterous," said Ayers, an education professor at the
University of Illinois at Chicago, "to use [the book] now to suggest that
any of the Vietnam-era protesters would endorse acts of terrorism such as
those we witnessed."
Dohrn, once dubbed by J. Edgar Hoover "la pasionara of the lunatic left,"
has been the focus of a protest by alumni at Northwestern University, where
she teaches law. Some have threatened to withhold financial support if she
isn't removed. Law school dean David Van Zandt has so far stood behind her,
saying she has expressed an "abhorrence for violence."
Some of the old radicals say they can't understand the arrest of the SLA
members last week, all these years later, unless there is a political
"I assume [authorities] didn't prosecute before because they didn't have a
case," said Marshall Berzon, once part of a Weathermen collective in Boston
that was arrested en masse and accused of shooting up the Cambridge, Mass.,
police station three decades ago. "There is a significant segment of the
population today that lumps people like William and Emily Harris in with
John Walker [Lindh] and Osama bin Laden."
Fellow activist Mark Rudd, accused by the FBI of leading the riots at
Columbia University in 1968 and who spent seven years underground, said he
is confused by the SLA arrests these many years later. "They were living
openly, right?" said Rudd, who now teaches at a community college in New
Prosecutors say there is nothing suspicious about the arrests now. They say
the investigation of Sara Jane Olson in connection with a plot to blow up
Los Angeles police cars provided new evidence on the 1975 Carmichael bank
However it came about, Rudd is right. William and Emily Harris were not
hiding in some bunker or donning sunglasses when they went to the market.
Hoping their radical pasts had receded in the cultural rearview mirror,
along with the mod shirt and white man's Afro that William Harris once
sported, they had settled into numbingly normal lives.
Emily Harris, now known as Emily Montague, lived on a quiet street in
Altadena and worked as a computer analyst. Her former husband has worked as
a private detective in San Francisco and at times as an investigator for
the district attorney's office. He was driving his two sons to school when
he was arrested for a robbery that netted $15,000 and took the life of
Myrna Opsahl, who had been depositing church receipts during the 1975 robbery.
Fellow defendant Michael Bortin has owned a hardwood flooring business in
Portland, Ore., for 20 years. His sister-in-law, Olson, married a doctor
and lived as a Midwestern housewife while on the lam for more than two
decades. Olson, who was sentenced Jan. 18 to 20 years to life for her role
in the police car bomb plot, will also face murder charges in connection
with Opsahl's death.
Even though Patricia Hearst wrote a book implicating the four defendants in
the robbery, three Sacramento County district attorneys felt there was not
enough evidence to file charges. But after Sept. 11, some say, things changed.
"The difference is being attacked in your own country changes everything,"
said Buttny, a founder of the Students for a Democratic Society chapter in
Boulder. "I feel absolutely helpless," he said. "There is a huge fishing
expedition going on."
Buttny attended the 1969 Flint, Mich., "War Council" that led members of
the Weathermen group to go into hiding. They later resurfaced as the
bomb-making Weather Underground. Buttny said he dropped out of radical
politics after being arrested 15 times during demonstrations. The next
arrest, he felt, would bring a long prison sentence.
"One of our slogans," he said, "was to bring the war home. By that we meant
agitating to stop the Vietnam War. As soon as I saw [the attacks on the
World Trade Center] that phrase popped into my mind."
If Osama bin Laden brought war to America, Buttny thinks he is suffering
the collateral damage. He is a deputy to Santa Barbara County Supervisor
Gail Marshall, who is now embroiled in a recall movement launched by people
questioning her--and Buttny's--patriotism. Critics accuse her of opposing a
salute to the flag at a community meeting, which she denies.
As the war of words escalated in Santa Barbara County, Buttny's old FBI
file surfaced. It said Buttny trained in guerrilla warfare methods abroad
with the goal of infiltrating government. He denies planning to overthrow
the government, but he admits he once liked to joke that he'd accomplished
his secret mission by going to work for the county. He's not laughing any
more. "I find myself with e-mails and phone calls being careful" what he
says. "I don't joke about something that might be taken the wrong way."
Measured against the horror of Sept. 11, some of the violence in the late
'60s and early '70s seems almost quaint, but at the time, the bombing of a
restroom at the Pentagon shocked "Laugh In"-era America.
Violence peaked with an explosion at a Weather Underground bomb factory in
New York in 1970, which killed three members of the group. "I was in Cuba
when the townhouse blew up," said Berzon, who now lives in the Berkeley
Hills and has an 11-year-old son. "That changed everything. We realized
this is real."
Although the Weather Underground never killed anyone but its own members
with its bombs, that wasn't true the same year in Madison, where the Army
Mathematics Research Center was bombed. A man working inside was killed.
"We felt really bad about someone dying and we were never able to reconcile
it," said Armstrong, who was not affiliated with the more well-known
radical groups. "It was the farthest thing from our minds. We knew even if
anyone got hurt in the bombing it would be politically counterproductive."
The SLA burst into prominence three years later, with the murder of Oakland
school Supt. Marcus Foster and the kidnapping of newspaper heiress Hearst,
who morphed into the gun-toting, beret-wearing Tania.
In her 1982 book, "Every Secret Thing," Hearst described the Carmichael
robbery, during which, she said, Olson, then Kathleen Soliah, emptied the
tills while Emily Harris stood guard and William Harris waited outside.
Opsahl was killed when, Hearst said, Emily Harris' shotgun went off
accidentally. "She was a bourgeois pig anyway," Emily Harris reportedly said.
Six members of the SLA, including its leader, Donald DeFreeze, died in a
spectacular firefight in Los Angeles in 1974.
After leaving prison, Armstrong reclaimed a semblance of a normal life in
1980, and these days tends his shop, as well as a performance space above
his Madison eatery. Called Che's Lounge, it is named for Che Guevara, the
Argentine revolutionary, who is still among his cultural heroes, Armstrong
"It's the last thing I thought I'd be doing," Armstrong, 55, said by phone
from his shop, where customers and employees interrupted, and the sounds of
soft reggae wafted in the background. "When you run a small business, you
develop a storekeeper's mentality. You have a different set of concerns.
Now, I have to fire people. In a restaurant, if I catch someone with drugs,
they're out the door. I'm personally opposed to the whole war on drugs, but
running a business is a whole different shtick."
All the Madison bombers had lived as fugitives for several years, but only
one, Leo Burt, remains at large. Sightings of him have become folklore.
Friends of Burt from that era, including Armstrong, declined to talk about him.
"First of all, I don't know where he is and I wouldn't want to know where
he is," said Armstrong. "And if I did find out, I wouldn't tell."
As for other notable extremists, two other SLA members, Russell Little and
Joseph Remiro, were arrested in connection with the Foster slaying. Remiro
remains in prison; Little was retried and acquitted. San Francisco attorney
Stuart Hanlon said Little works as a teacher outside California and has "a
wonderful life." Hanlon refused to say where he is.
Berzon said it will be hard for a contemporary jury to understand the
context of these decades-old crimes. "The legal system doesn't recognize
political crimes. I think it should be recognized that however misguided
[SLA members were], they were acting out of a deep sense of wanting to do
something good. Although the same thing could be said for bin Laden,
After being cleared of the Cambridge shooting, which he called a police
setup, and his return from Cuba, Berzon dropped out of the movement. Today,
he's not politically active, which he considers a personal failure. "Family
life is hard enough," he said.
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