How the Weathermen Got Their Money

One of the great mysteries of the Weatherman story involves the sources of its funding. Of the half-dozen largest underground groups active during the 1970s, it was one of only two that did not resort to armed robbery to raise money. Many have assumed that because a number of prominent Weathermen were the children of wealthy families—Bill Ayers and Cathy Wilkerson are often cited—they lived off donations from family and friends. While some families did help, money remained a chronic problem for many Weathermen. In San Francisco, Jeff Jones and the cadres he was responsible for lived on $1,200 a month and kept to strict budgets. At various times the FBI launched probes into traveler’s-check and credit-card scams it suspected the organization was using for money, but nothing ever came of them.

In fact, the single largest source of funding appears to have been donations from Movement sympathizers. Most gave willingly; others, it appeared, had to be persuaded. “I remember this one guy they targeted in Brooklyn, a rich guy, Fred something, his father founded [a toy company],” recalls Elizabeth Fink. “They find out he has like twenty-five grand. So they have this party, eight or nine people, all of them Weatherman or connected to the underground. Fred is the only one not in the underground. He just thinks they’re fun. I don’t know what happened, but the next morning I heard they got every cent of that money, all twenty-five grand.”

Among Weatherman’s financiers, by far the most important single source of money was a group of radical attorneys in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Almost all belonged to the National Lawyers Guild, a network of left-wing lawyers founded in 1937 as an alternative to the American Bar Association. “Money? It was the lawyers, all of it,” says Ron Fliegelman, a sentiment echoed by several other Weather alumni. Of the dozen or so attorneys mentioned as key supporters, only a handful will admit helping out. One is Dennis Cunningham, then a Chicago attorney who represented Black Panthers. “I gave them money, sure, and I raised even more,” he says. “Without the lawyers, I’m telling you, they couldn’t have survived.”

“You gotta understand, honey, we were lawyers, but we were revolutionaries in our hearts,” says Elizabeth Fink. “We didn’t have the balls to go underground, you see, but those who did, they were our heroes. You can’t believe the excitement of helping the underground, the romance of it, the intrigue. It was enthralling, and addictive. Any of us—Dennis, me, a bunch of us—we would’ve done anything for these people. Money, strategy, passports, whatever it was we could do, you just did it. This was the revolution, baby, and they were the fighters. But a lot of what they did, you know, was because they had attorneys like Dennis and me and a lot of others aboveground helping out.”