What Kinds of Actions Were Authorized

Outside the leadership, there was widespread confusion as to what kinds of actions were authorized (as there was for decades afterward). There would be bombings, everyone assumed, but what kind? “There was so much macho talk, you know, like the Panthers, ‘Off the pigs,’ ‘Bomb the military back into the Stone Age,’” recalls Cathy Wilkerson. “But did that mean we were actually going to kill people? I never really knew.” Bill Ayers and others would later insist there were never any plans to harm people, only symbols of power: courthouses, police stations, government buildings. The handful of Weathermen who crossed that line, Ayers claims, were rogues and outliers. This is a myth, pure and simple, designed to obscure what Weatherman actually planned. In the middle ranks, in fact, it was widely expected that Weathermen would become revolutionary murderers. “My image of what we were gonna be was undiluted terrorist action,” recalls Jon Lerner. “I remember talking with Teddy Gold about putting a bomb on the [Chicago railroad] tracks at rush hour, to blow up people coming home from work. That’s what I was looking forward to.”

In fact, what constituted a legitimate target for a Weatherman bombing was the topic of sensitive discussions among the leadership at Flint. It was during these talks, according to Howard Machtinger and one other person who were present, that the leadership agreed that they would, in fact, kill people. But not just any people. The people Weatherman intended to kill were policemen. “If your definition of terrorism is, you don’t care who gets hurt, we agreed we wouldn’t do that,” recalls Machtinger. “But as to causing damage, or literally killing people, we were prepared to do that.” According to one side of the argument, says Machtinger, “if all Americans were compliant in the war, then everyone is a target. There are no innocents. That was always Terry and JJ’s argument. But we did have a series of discussions about what you could do, and it was agreed that cops were legitimate targets. We didn’t want to do things just around the war. We wanted to be seen targeting racism as well, so police were important.” Military personnel were ruled to be legitimate targets as well.