Skip to comments.Barack Obama's Close Encounter with the Weather Underground [1981 NYC]
Posted on 10/29/2008 8:04:54 AM PDT by KayEyeDoubleDee
Barack Obama's Close Encounter with the Weather Underground
Did the presidential candidate and the revolutionary terror group cross paths at a violent 1981 anti-Apartheid protest?
Barack Obama would have you believe that the bombings by the radical domestic terrorists known as The Weather Underground were something that happened "when I was eight years old" and with which he had absolutely no connection. And while it is true that their bombings started when Obama was eight years old, they actually continued until he was twenty years old. And, incredibly, the life of Barack Obama and the terror campaign of the Weather Underground nearly intersected on the evening of September 26, 1981 at an anti-Apartheid protest which turned violent at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.
I'm tempted to say they may have intersected, rather than just "nearly." But I don't know for sure.
| Members of the Weather Underground after a violent
anti-Apartheid protest in New York in 1981
• Obama Became Involved With Anti-Apartheid Protests and Embraced Far-Left-Wing Politics While at Occidental College
• Obama in New York at Columbia: What Little We Know
- - Journalistic frustration: The media hits a blank wall about Obama's New York years
- Did Obama move around frequently, or stay in one place?
- Was Obama a member of the radical Black Students Organization, or not?
- Was Obama active politically, or did he live a solitary life?
• The Anti-Apartheid Protest at JFK Airport Against "The Springboks," the South African National Rugby Team
- - Acid-throwing incident at John F. Kennedy Airport
• The Connection Between the Springboks Protest, the Brinks Robbery, and the Weather Underground
• Bonus Links
To avoid being mistaken for a sellout, I chose my friends carefully. The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets. We smoked cigarettes and wore leather jackets. At night, in the dorms, we discussed neocolonialism, Franz Fanon, Eurocentrism and patriarchy.To hear an mp3 audio clip of Obama himself speaking this passage about his Marxist friends, simply click here (right-click or control-click to to download the mp3).
Obama became more serious during his sophomore year, taking dense philosophy courses, becoming involved with the Black Students' Association and a campaign to divest funds from apartheid South Africa. He got his first taste of the allure of public speaking at a rally for the anti-apartheid campaign, where he played the role of an activist giving a speech in a piece of street theater. After a few opening remarks, white students dressed in paramilitary uniforms were to come on stage and drag him away. As it happened, after he got through his opening remarks:I stopped. The crowd was quiet now, watching me. Somebody started to clap. "Go on with it Barack," somebody else shouted. "Tell it like it is." Then the others started in, clapping, cheering, and I knew that I had them, that the connection had been made....
According to the Los Angeles Times, Obama's main political interest in 1980 and 1981 while at Occidental was the anti-Apartheid movement:
Though some express surprise at his current prominence, classmates recall a slim, good-looking teen with a moderate Afro, a taste for Casa Bianca's Hawaiian-style pizza (pineapple and ham) and a role in protesting college investments in firms doing business in South Africa during the apartheid era.
He and others recall a strong speech Obama made at a campus rally urging South Africa divestment. Obama, in his book, considered that a big moment: "I figured I was ready, and could reach people where it counted," he wrote. "I thought my voice wouldn't fail me."
This video made by the Boston Globe discusses in greater detail Obama's political involvement with the anti-Apartheid movement in 1981. After getting his bearings during his first year at Occidental, he took a political turn as a sophomore:
Obama had been somewhat rudderless when he first arrived on campus. He gained a sense of direction in his sophomore year [i.e. late 1980 through mid-1981] when he joined a student campaign to push the college to divest from South Africa on account of the Apartheid policies of the white minority government. "That group of students remains, in my mind, one of the most serious groups of students to have gone through Occidental College. The [South African] divestment movement was to the '70s and '80s what civil rights, the anti-war movement and the women's movement were to the '60s."
This article about Obama on the Occidental College Web site also reveals how Obama was deeply involved in the anti-Apartheid movement there:
Almost 30 years ago, he was a freshman from Honolulu living in Haines Hall, playing pick-up basketball and developing a reputation as a campus activist. Today, Barack Obama '83 is a Democratic presidential hopeful...
According to Obama, who then went by the name of Barry, it was his involvement in the South African divestment movement at Occidental that first set him on his current path. "I got into politics at Occidental," he said in a 2004 interview with Occidental magazine. "I made a conscious decision to go into public policy."
It was a decision that eventually led him to transfer to Columbia University - "the idea of being in New York was very appealing," he says...
Bonus Coincidence: That speech by Obama referenced above, which was the first political speech he ever gave, was to a group at Occidental associated with the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) -- which itself had been the precursor to the Weather Undergound.
So, we know beyond any doubt that Obama was into Marxism and other far-left ideologies and was an active anti-Apartheid protester as of June 1981, which is when he left Occidental and transferred to Columbia. In fact, that was one of the reasons why he transferred to Columbia -- to pursue his growing interests further.
Protests against racism and apartheidAfter several years of pressure from such protests, Columbia University on May 7, 1984 finally relented and agreed to stop investing in South Africa.
Further student protests, including hunger strike and more barricades of Hamilton Hall during the late 1970s and early 1980s, were aimed at convincing the university trustees to divest all of the university's investments in companies that were seen as active or tacit supporters of the apartheid regime in South Africa.
As he pursued a political science degree, specializing in international relations, Obama says he was somewhat involved with the Black Students Organization and participated in anti-apartheid activities.This same fact was cited on page two of this New York Times article.
Yet he declined repeated requests to talk about his New York years, release his Columbia transcript or identify even a single fellow student, co-worker, roommate or friend from those years. ... His 1995 memoir, "Dreams From My Father," weighs in at more than 450 pages. But he also exercised his writer's prerogative to decide what to include or leave out. Now, as he presents himself to voters, a look at his years in New York - other people's accounts and his own - suggests not only what he was like back then but how he chooses to be seen now. Some say he has taken some literary license in the telling of his story."Taken some literary license" is a nice way of saying: Lied. The Times then goes on to demonstrate many inconsistencies in Obama's version of events.
Obama claims to have participated to some extent in anti-apartheid activities with the Black Students Organization, but no one is quite sure....and so forth. If the people at Columbia themselves seem to be so unsure about Obama's time there, how can an outside journalist expect to find the truth?
He majored in PoliSci, and claims to have concentrated in "International Relations"...
Sources first differed on whether he wrote his senior thesis on Soviet nuclear disarmament or the North-South debate on trade and the "new international economic order". Later, it emerged that he had not really written an official thesis at all...
It has been reported that Obama graduated without honors...
The Obama campaign declined to discuss Obama's time at Columbia and his friendships in general. It won't, for example, release his transcript or name his friends. It did, however, list five locations where Obama lived during his four years here: three on Manhattan's Upper West Side and two in Brooklyn - one in Park Slope, the other in Brooklyn Heights. His memoir mentions two others on Manhattan's Upper East Side. In about 1982, Siddiqi and Obama got an apartment at a sixth-floor walkup on East 94th Street.That's seven different locations in total.
Was Obama a member of the radical Black Students Organization, or not?
As we saw above, in articles in The New York Times and Columbia College Today, Obama claims to have been a member of the Black Students Organization while at Columbia. But was he really?
This is a photo of the Columbia Black Students Organization, taken from the 1983 yearbook The Columbian. As you can see, Obama was not among them, even though 1983 was his senior year at Columbia. (The bright spot in the lower left is a reflection of the camera flash. In case you're wonder whether the flash accidentally obscured Obama, this photo shows the missing portion of the image - which also doesn't include Obama.) Earlier editions of the Columbian did not include photos of the BSO.
This image comes from the Black Students Organization's own history page. Both the image and the text depict the BSO (and its predecessors; before 1976, the Black student group at Columbia changed names several times) as being extremely radical; famously, in 1968, the Black student group "armed with guns" took over a building on campus and initiated a complete shutdown of Columbia. After their heyday in the late '60s and early '70s, things calmed down somewhat, but they kept up their radical activism continuously since that time.
Yet, no mention of Obama is made anywhere on their site. And the same New York Observer article linked to above, states:
The former vice president of the Black Students Organization, senior Mark Attiah, was shocked to learn that Obama was even a member of the BSO. "I knew that he graduated from Columbia, but he doesn't talk about it that much, which I get," Mr. Attiah said.... Coincidentally, Mr. Attiah worked at the 25th reunion of the class of '83 last year, and not surprisingly, reported that Senator Obama did not attend.... In fact, there is not a single picture of Senator Obama in any of the yearbooks from the period when he was a student--he is not even listed as absent in the BSO photo from 1983.In fact, aside from Obama's own assertion, I could find no real evidence suggesting that he was a member of the Black Students Organization at Columbia. Again, his claims do not stand up under scrutiny.
Was Obama active politically, or did he live a solitary life?
Obama claims that, while at Columbia, he was active in the left-wing political scene. For example, in addition to the anti-Apartheid activities and the Black student groups mentioned above, Obama discusses in a passage from Dreams From My Father:
the socialist conferences I sometimes attended at Cooper Union.To hear an mp3 audio clip of Obama himself speaking this passage about attending socialist conferences, simply click here (right-click or control-click to to download the mp3).
I spent a lot of time in the library. I didn't socialize that much. I was like a monk.Well, which is it? Was he a radical black activist who went to socialist conferences and anti-Apartheid protests, or was he a solitary bookworm?
But alas, the name is misleading; because the description of the collection reveals that it is almost exclusively devoted to the glamorous, glorious, delirious period between 1968 and 1972. And this pdf which gives a detailed description of each box in the collection reveals that it's not even "almost" exclusively about that era; despite the ambitious title of the collection, it has nothing whatsoever about 1981 or any year close to 1981.
So we actually have no idea, and essentially no way of finding out, what exactly happened protest-wise during Obama's stint at Columbia. He could claim anything, either way, and there would be no way to confirm or deny it.
But, as with his other claims, this puts him in a bind. If he's telling the truth about his political fervor and anti-Apartheid activism, that puts him into the orbit of Ayers and the Weather Underground. If he's not telling the truth -- well, then, he's a liar.
Bonus Coincidence: As Andrew McCarthy pointed out in this article at the National Review Online, entitled "Why Won't Obama Talk About Columbia?":
- Obama took a class at Columbia from Edward Said, the influential Palestinian activist and intellectual.
- Obama was later photographed sitting and chatting with Said at an Arab-American dinner, showing they must have continued their relationship.
- Said wrote the blurb for William Ayers' Weather Underground memoir Fugitive Days.
- Ayers attended Columbia Teachers College in the 1980s and almost certainly at that time knew Said, who was then a professor at Columbia.
The Anti-Apartheid Protest at JFK Airport Against "The Springboks," the South African National Rugby Team
Now let's jump to the other thread in this investigation. As we'll soon find out, this Springboks thread is not as disconnected from the rest of the story as it may first appear: at one end, it becomes deeply entangled with the Weather Underground. At the other end, it almost touches the thread of Barack Obama's life. Almost. But not quite. Or at least not that I can prove. Because right here in the center is the one missing link in the chain of evidence: Was Obama at this protest?
In 1981, the government of South Africa, stung by international criticism of its Apartheid policy (which legally separated whites from blacks in South African society), sent its national rugby team "The Springboks" on a round-the-world "goodwill tour" from New Zealand to the United States, in an attempt to humanize South Africans in the eyes of the average person. The tour turned out to be one of the biggest public relations blunders in history. Instead of engendering goodwill toward South Africans, the tour only served to ignite ferocious and sometimes violent anti-Apartheid protests wherever the team went.
The first stop was New Zealand, where the entire country was thrown into turmoil due to official and unofficial protests against the team. The violent confrontations which erupted at almost all of their games remain to this day among the most significant incidents of civil unrest in New Zealand history. Swarms of protesters would dash onto the field, only to be beaten back by police; planes flew low over the matches dropping harmless "bombs" made of flour onto the field; riot police patrolled the streets; criminals gangs used the chaos to beat each other up in mass rumbles; politicians yelled and pointed fingers at each other; and then there was the infamous "Clowns Incident," in which New Zealanders were outraged by footage shown on TV of policemen beating up mobs of defenseless clowns -- or at least protesters dressed as clowns. (Seriously.)
News of the political and social uproar in New Zealand reached American anti-Apartheid protesters before the Springboks even arrived in the United States. Although the Springboks were only scheduled to play three matches, protests were quickly scheduled for all of them. As revealed in this detailed history of the 1981 Springboks tour in America, a cat-and-mouse game ensued between tour organizers and protesters, with game times and locations being changed to thwart any planned disruptions.
The tone of the protests changed dramatically on September 21, 1981, when a rugby league office in Schenectady, New York was bombed. A ripple of fear went through the team, and the rest of the tour was almost cancelled, but went forward anyway, after an emergency ruling by the United States Supreme Court denied a challenge by a protest group to have the tour stopped by legal means.
A series of nonviolent protests preceded the Springboks' arrival at their matches, but aside from the bombing, there was no significant violence. That is, until the tour was already over.
Acid-throwing incident at John F. Kennedy Airport
On September 26, a group of anti-Apartheid protesters from New York showed up at John F. Kennedy Airport in the city to protest the departure of the Springboks back to South Africa. Due to a mistaken news report, the protesters had arrived at the wrong time; the team had changed their schedule, and were going to take a completely different flight. But no matter -- the protesters were unaware of this.
Thinking they were attacking the plane containing the Springboks, some of the protesters rushed froward from the main body of protesters and threw "acid" or some kind of corrosive liquid at the plane and at security officials guarding the plane. A policemen named Evan Goodstein was blinded by the acid, and several other personnel received mostly minor injuries.
(To see a full-size high-resolution version of this article, click here or on the image above.)
This article, which appeared in Newsday in October of 1981, gives the clearest description of the violent acid-throwing incident at the airport. It is also the only article which reveals the names of all the acid-throwers:
Timothy Blunk (misspelled as "Blonk")
Why are these names significant? Because investigators later discovered that all of the arrestees were members of the Weather Undergound -- or at least the splinter groups that were the surviving components of the Weather Underground.
I searched high and low for photographs or videos taken at this protest. But the only one I ever located was in this ABC News television report from October 26, 1981 which, according to someone who has seen it, briefly displays the only known photograph from the September 26 incident. Unfortunately, the photo does not show the protest itself, but rather the arrest of one of the acid-throwers in the airport after the attack; the remaining protesters are not shown. And the video is not viewable online; the only way to see it is to order a copy from the Vanderbilt University Television News Archive; and even then, one must obtain written permission from ABC to broadcast or display any portion of it.
Photographs of this protest are the only way we can ever find out for sure if Obama was present or not. Once again, the truth is tantalizingly close, yet out of reach.
...Eve Rosahn was arrested in person at the Airport incident, so we know she was involved there; and she owned one of the the getaway cars for the Brinks robbery and rented the other -- so she must have been involved there as well.
2. On October 20, 1981, a Brinks armored truck containing funds of the Nanuet National Bank was robbed by a group of gunmen. In the course of the robbery and the attempts to escape therefrom one Brinks guard and two police officers were killed. Shortly thereafter a federal grand jury in the Southern District of New York began investigating the robbery and a series of similar robberies that have occurred over the past several years. Investigation of the Brinks robbery uncovered the facts that one of the "getaway" cars was registered to Eve Rosahn and that a van used in the robbery had been rented from a car rental agency located near Rosahn's residence by an individual fitting Rosahn's description. Searches at the robbery scene and of the van have produced strands of hair that the government apparently believes to be those of the participants.
3. Eve Rosahn was arrested by New York State authorities on September 26, 1981 (almost a month before the Brinks robbery) on charge of first degree riot. The charge arose out of events that allegedly occurred during a protest demonstration in Queens, New York. Rosahn has been represented on matters relating to this charge by Sharon Flood, Esq.
4. New York State authorities arrested Rosahn a second time on October 27, 1981, arraigning her on the charge of criminal facilitation of the Brinks robbery and murders. She was indicted and arraigned on the indictment on October 30, 1981.
Newspaper Says Link Probe Between Weatherman and Rugby BombWhat this means is that the three incidents were all connected: The Schenectady bombing was the third-to-last Weather Underground attack, the Kennedy Airport acid assault was their second-to-last attack, and the Brinks robbery was their last attack.
Authorities believe there may be a link between members of the radical Weather Underground group who were arrested this week and the explosion that rocked the office of a local rugby club last month, the Albany Knickerbocker News reported Thursday.
In a copyright story, the newspaper said it learned from Walter Bleyman, the agent in charge of the Albany office of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, that authorities are probing a possible link between a New Jersey bomb factory and the bombing in Schenectady, which preceded a match involving a South African team.
"It was similar to bombs attributed to the Weathermen in years past," Bleyman was quoted as saying.
The Sept. 22 blast, which authorities blamed on a well-made, powerful explosive, did an estimated $50,000 damage to the building housing the Eastern Rugby Union offices, which were only lightly damaged. The ERU was the chief sponsor of a three-game American tour by the South African Springboks.
On Tuesday after robbers ambushed a Brink's armored car at a shopping plaza in Nanuet, in Rockland County. Authorities captured four suspects, two of whom were identified as members of the Weather Underground, a 1960s radical group that dropped out of sight after a March 1970 explosion that destroyed a Manhattan town house.
On Wednesday authorities said they had found a New Jersey bomb factory that they believe was the group's headquarters.
Police in Rockland County said a getaway car in the robbery was registered to Eva Rosahn, 30, who was arrested on riot and assault charges during a clash between police and anti-apartheid demonstrators at Kennedy Airport. The demonstrators were protesting the Springboks tour because of South Africa's policy of racial separation, or apartheid. The Knickerbocker News quoted an unidentified federal investigator as saying, "We have known almost since the beginning that the bomb used in Schenectady was the type used by the Weathermen."
Q. Now, did there come a time when you began to get experience representing people who were charged with conduct that they, the defendant, said had a political motivation?
Q. And about when was that?
A. I would say, in the early '80s. I was -- wanted to reach out to the political community that I had been part of during the '60s, the antiwar movement, the people who were trying to make change. Let's define it that way. And I have -- I was busy earning a living. We had been busy earning a living, my husband and I. By the '80s I had run into a friend that I knew from state court and I knew she was involved in representing people accused of crime who were asserting some political defenses. And I mentioned to her that if there was a case and they needed a lawyer I would be interested in doing that case. And would she please contact me. That was Susan Tipograph. And sure enough a little while later she did contact me.
Q. And do you remember what that first case was that was of that nature?
A. I remember it very well. It was a case where there had been a demonstration at Kennedy Airport against the Spring Box, which was a rugby team from South Africa that had toured the United States to tremendous amounts of disapprobation. Demonstrations weren't able to take the field in certain places because it was, of course, in those days, an all-white team from this country that was so blatantly practicing apartheid. The demonstrators, a number of them had been arrested --
Earlier in the same testimony, on page 7475, Stewart says:
I had learned in other cases where the media was very, very high, cases that I had handled in the Bronx involving Larry Davis, cases up in Rockland County involving the Brinks hold-up and the subsequent accusations of murder of political people who were arrested at the scene; all of these cases had had a suffocating media, almost.And this site notes:
In 1981 Stewart began to combine her law experience with her political concerns. That year several of her friends were arrested at JFK Airport for protesting the arrival of the South African national rugby team. Objecting to the team's presence in the US was a significant action for anti-apartheid activists. The same year members of the radical Black Liberation Army and the Weather Underground killed two policemen while robbing an armored car in Nyack, New York. Stewart decided to represent two of the defendants. One client was acquitted; the other's guilt was never in question. Stewart used the opportunity of her defense to elucidate the elements of US politics and society that the radical groups felt compelled to attack.So, to summarize the connections:
In this essay I have striven to only make factual assertions. The following links are more speculative in nature, and are only provided here as an addendum, possibly to spur further research. Let's just say: These are for entertainment purposes only.
Human Events magazine published an article called Obama's Plumbers, alleging that the Obama campaign has a secret squad that has been running around trying to expunge or suppress any damning evidence from Obama's past. After my experiences researching this essay, I tend to lend it some credence.
This essay was originally inspired by this posting on the Just One Minute blog.
This posting at The Motley Fool points out a few more intriguing coincidences and suggests several additional avenues of investigation regarding Obama's time at Columbia.
This completely unattributed and unproven comment at the New York Sun speculates that Obama may have possibly even lived with Ayers for a brief period -- a bizarre theory which can never even be investigated due to the absence of any evidence (we don't know where Ayers lived during this time).
This wild and woolly post by private investigator Bill Warner tracks down some of the same Obama/Ayers connections that are detailed in this essay, with added literary flair.
On the left: Barack Obama in New York ca. 1982. On the right: William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn in New York in 1982. Had their lives just overlapped?
They were in the same city as each other, at the same time.
They lived near each other.
The went to school near each other.
They had the same political interests.
Their circles of friends and associates intersected.
By sheer coincidence, a decade later in Chicago, they were in the same city as each other, at the same time; they lived near each other; they had the same political interests; their circles of friends and associates intersected.
Or was it not a coincidence at all?
This report would not have been possible without the outstanding research contributed by quickjustice, Irene NYC, Toasty, and Chicken Kiev.
Pic 1, Barry, a junior, at the Punahou High School; Pic 2, NYT -- Barry during his Columbia years; Pic 3, Barry now
How did Barry the high school junior with the smallish, turned up nose become Barry the Columbia student with a nose spread like that...??? nose job? Pakistan visit switch in 1981?
NYT pic and caption here
I bet Ayers and wife wouldn’t have liked it if someone had bombed their son!
The nose continues to grow your entire life. I learned that in a painting class. It is true. So his nose may have gotten that much bigger. Mine sure did! I HATE my huge nose.
And, it's a shape change too.
Coke, most likely.
honestly, a truly GREAT post — maybe the best FR post I’ve seen in a year — really helpful!
Great summary. Apparently Obama also mentions working for NYPIRG (remember them - always turning up near the subway begging, with some kind of phony petition to sign?). The account that I read, probably here on FR, mentioned that this was “at City College” the year after his supposed Columbia career ended (around 1985-86?). Did he also go to City at some point?
City at that time was a hotbed of crazy black racist separatists, such as Leonard Jeffries, and it’s certainly possible that he would have at least hung out there. But I was intrigued by the mention of his possibly having spent a year at City. Anybody with any way of following up on this?