The Weathermen Get Macho

Few outside Weatherman itself thought that any of this, especially the Days of Rage, made much sense. When Mark Rudd met with leaders of the group that organized the largest mass protests of the era, the National Mobilization Committee—the “Mobe”—they adamantly refused to join forces, arguing that street fighting and battling police were counterproductive. The Panthers too thought the Days of Rage a bad idea. The Chicago Panthers’ charismatic young leader, Fred Hampton, held shouting matches with Dohrn and other leaders; the Panthers refused to help, and Hampton actually went public with his opposition, calling the Days of Rage “Custeristic.”

Inside Weatherman, especially in its male-dominated upper reaches, the surest way to lose face was to share these doubts. JJ set a macho tone, and a number of those who trailed in his wake, including Bill Ayers, Terry Robbins, and Howie Machtinger, were short young men who seemed to compensate by adopting façades of arrogant swagger, scoffing at anyone who dared question Weather dogma; several of them had begun carrying guns. When Rudd made the mistake of questioning the Days of Rage, Ayers and Robbins snorted. “How could you succumb to that liberal bullshit?” Robbins demanded. “We’ve got to do it. It’s the only strategy to build the revolution.” As Rudd wrote later, “The scene plays in my memory like a grade-B gangster flick. Billy looks on in smirking contempt as Terry dismisses me with a flick of his ever-present cigarette. ‘How could you be so weak?’ That settled it.”