What Were Those 1960s Terrorists Thinking, Anyway?
We are forces of chaos and anarchy
Everything they say we are, we are
And we are very
Proud of ourselves.
–Jefferson Airplane, We Can Be Together
This is the inside story of how my late husband Stew Albert and I became prime suspects in CAPBOM, which is the FBI codename for the 1971 Weather Underground bombing of the United States Capitol Building in Washington D.C. Sarah Palin and her cohort of extreme right-wing really, really scary people used the Capitol bombing to link President-elect Obama with the not nearly as scary 1960s Weatherman and 1997 Chicago Citizen of the Year Bill Ayers. At the time, my widely quoted take on the Capitol bombing was: “We didn’t do it, but we dug it.”
As a former 60’s protestor, celebrating with everyone else the results of this historic election, I’d like to give my personal point of view about the attacks on the 1960s that were made during the campaign – specifically “guilt by association” and “domestic terrorism.” And also to reflect a bit on how I feel about those issues today.
Wrong Place, Right Time
In the spring of 1971, on the day the Capitol bombing takes place, I’m living in our nation’s capital organizing an anti-war demonstration. Along with Stew, Abbie and Anita Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, his girlfriend Nancy Kurshan and satiric journalist Paul Krassner, I’m an original Yippie. Yippies believe in the politics of theatre. We call ourselves Groucho Marxists and use comedy to turn serious issues on their head. We’re cultural revolutionaries who raise political awareness by having as much fun and getting as much media attention as we can. We’re a youth movement who doesn’t believe in hierarchy: every Yippie is her or his own leader. Our favorite Bob Dylan mantra is: Don’t follow leaders, watch the parking meters.
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and FederalReserve Chairman Ben Bernanke are not the first to throw money at Wall Street. In the spring of 1968, Abbie, Jerry and the rest of us stopped trading on the New York Stock exchange when we threw $1 and $5 bills at greedy stockbrokers who grabbed at the money floating down from a balcony. Yippies brought the New York Stock Exchange to a halt for a mere $250.
By the summer of 1968, at the Democratic Convention in Chicago, we’re running a pig named Pigasus for president as a send-up to protest the election and an unjust and illegal Vietnam War. In what is to become an iconic American moment, 15,000 of us — Yippies, mainstream anti-war demonstrators, the media and even a member of the British Parliament — are severely gassed and beaten by the Chicago police.
But three years later, by the time of the Capitol bombing, it’s becoming more and more difficult to find the fun in protest. All of us in the anti-war movement are frustrated by the seemingly endless parade of atrocities being committed in Vietnam, which we see in living color at home on TV every night, and a recent campaign of deadly, intense carpet-bombing in Laos.
The Mayday Tribe
I’m staying temporarily in Washington DC, in a collective house at 2226 M Street.
Chicago Conspiracy 8 defendant and anti-war activist Rennie Davis, and at least 30 others live in the surrounding neighborhood. The M Street house is situated directly across the street from a red-brick fire station that, in addition to fire-trucks, is outfitted with surveillance cameras so overtly visible in the front window that I occasionally lead a group of us out front just to dance and wave at the cameras.
We call ourselves the Mayday Tribe. Our name – Mayday — is intended to convey an urgent distress call about the war to the American people and motivate protestors to come to a demonstration scheduled for three months later. We’re putting together a People’s Peace Treaty on behalf of the American public to draw attention to the Nixon administration’s obdurate refusal to make peace. Our admittedly utopian demonstration slogan states: “If the government won’t stop the war, we’ll stop the government.”
We predict thousands of people will take to the streets and block traffic to protest the war and this recent escalation in bombing.
At my initiation, Stew and I have officially broken off our two-year-old romance. As I recall, I feel fine. Liberated in fact. I have no qualms about publicly labeling Stew an arrogant, patronizing, sexist, male chauvinist pig, which, looking back on it, was about 35% true, and 65% women’s movement PC rhetoric. Besides, we’re still on speaking terms. I realize he’s lonely without me and know I can still get him to do almost anything I want, so I ask him to come and visit from New York and bring with him, on the plane, a large satchel of high quality marijuana donated to the cause by a sympathetic New York City lawyer. I’m trying to lighten things up by introducing some traditional Yippie medicinals into our ultra-serious organizing effort.
The Day of the Bombing
Early in the morning of Monday March 1, the M Street phone rings. We’re told that members of the Weather Underground, originally known as Weatherman, (from Bob Dylan’s prophetic mantra “You don’t need a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows”) are taking credit for placing a bomb in an out-of-the-way men’s bathroom. The Weathermen say:
We have attacked the Capitol because it is, along with the White House and the Pentagon, the worldwide symbol of the government which is now attacking Indochina.
When I first hear this news, I feel exhilarated. Irrationally exuberant in fact. My reaction is documented by an unknown person, possibly an informant who, in a later legal affidavit, describes me and the others in M Street as “exultant” – which is not so far removed from my own recollection. But why, you quite rightly ask — and I ask myself the same question — did I feel so positive about this act — especially when placing a bomb is something I could never do – or did – myself?
As an anti-war activist, I considered dissent to be patriotic. Still do. At the time of the bombing, I felt like I was rooting for David in the face of Goliath. I saw the Weathermen as courageous enough to take the lead in our very own, 60’s style Boston Tea Party. In my view, they blew up a U.S. Capitol bathroom on my behalf and on behalf of the entire anti-war movement. And I appreciated that they did so for the most compelling of reasons — to stop the endless, brutal killing war in Vietnam and Laos. Which is why I could, in good conscience, make the statement: “We didn’t do it, but we dug it.”
Immediately after the bombing, M-street house surveillance intensifies. Firemen swarm. Burly new guys start hanging around outside the firehouse. They don’t look and weren’t even dressed like firemen. Stew and Leslie Bacon, a young, anti-war activist friend, decide to take a walk to Lafayette Park, directly in front of the White House. Beyond the macho of it, I can’t speculate about Stew’s motives. Most likely I disapproved because, at that particular moment in our on-again, off-again relationship, almost anything he said or did was enough to provoke my disapproval.
As the tension-filled, day-after-bombing dragged on, it became increasingly clear to me that there was no time like the present to get the hell out of Dodge.
Leslie chooses to remain in DC. I grab Stew, Colin and Michael, two other M Street residents, plus a couple of bags of clothing and we hop into my 1969 dark blue VW Beetle named “Lindequist.” (When I bought the car I found the previous owner’s name “Lindequist”, inscribed on the dashboard; I currently drive Lindequist 3.) A few blocks into our getaway I realize I’ve forgotten my all-time favorite hat – a fisherman’s cap made out of fluffy brown Canadian beaver pelts with a brown leather front brim. Stew and I immediately get into a huge fight. Stew, the pragmatist, now recognizes the wisdom of leaving town as quickly as possible. I, the Yippie fashionista, will not leave my favorite hat to the mercy of the pigs. It’s my car, I’m the driver: we circle back. I run in, save my hat and, Keystone Cops like, we once again beat a retreat. There’s no PETA yet to make my hat a political issue.
But in the early evening, just we’ve reached the outskirts of Baltimore, I suddenly notice flashing lights behind me. I pull Lindequist over and hear a loud, gruff male voice coming over a loudspeaker “get out of the car with your hands up.” Shotguns at our heads, the four of us are quickly spread eagled against the VW. Colin is shaking so hard I think he might pee himself – but he doesn’t. The boys are put in one police car; I’m alone in another for what feels like hours. I’m buzzy with adrenaline and really bored sitting alone in my personal Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome cage. I can’t see much except cops and the boys’ heads in front of me in the other car, so all I can do is bite my nails and obsess. Lindequist and the satchels are thoroughly searched. Eventually we are released and, in true Yippie absurdist fashion, are given a ticket for a bald tire by a local highway patrolman who signs his name James Bond
We’re not Weathermen. It literally didn’t occur to me we were being stopped because of the Capitol Bombing. I am really grateful we left the marijuana back in DC.
What Happens to Leslie
Five days before Mayday, on April 28, Leslie, who at the time is 19 years old, is arrested in Washington D.C. by the FBI and appears a few days later before Judge John Sirica, later of Watergate fame. Leslie is taken to a Seattle hotel where she is held captive in a room for weeks, with no access to family or friends, only to lawyers. She is questioned harshly about the Capitol bombing but there’s nothing she can tell them because there’s nothing she knows. On May 1, the Weathermen make public a communiqué addressed to Leslie’s mother:
Your confidence in Leslie is justified because she is completely innocent of any involvement in the bombing of the US Capitol. We know this for a fact because, as the FBI and Justice Department well know, our organization did the bombing.
Leslie said to me recently that her mother, an upscale, conservative, California homemaker, told the national and international press staking out their Atherton home:
I don’t see why everyone is so upset about someone blowing up a building when the government is blowing up people.
Standard operating procedure for FBI agents and prosecutors, then and now, is to target young women who they consider potential “weak links” in an evidentiary chain and most likely to give up information. These young women become their special victims. I’ve come to believe that Leslie’s kidnapping, imprisonment and resulting unwanted national media attention, was the moral equivalent of a rape. The federal prosecutor and the FBI violated a 19 year old woman’s trust and privacy, and, even though today Leslie is teacher and grandmother, this incident still poisons her sense of security and well- being.
Facing My Fear
I learned at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968 that, when you’re in a true “face your fear” moment, you need to take action. Don’t delay. Don’t procrastinate. Don’t over think the consequences. By facing your fear, you can discover inside yourself the courage to take your life – and your freedom — into your own hands.
This is one such moment. My mantra serves me well. By the time I drop Stew off in New York City, check in with the marijuana-donating lawyer for free legal advice, and drive back home to Boston, I’ve talked myself into believing I’ve emerged from this incident shaken but unbowed.
In Boston, as my FBI files later reveal, agents have evicted my next door neighbor and ensconced themselves in an adjoining apartment. A group of Boston women, me included, take over a building at 888 Mass. Ave and turn it into a women’s center. The takeover becomes a springboard for the women’s demonstration that preceded Mayday — the April 10 Women’s March on the Pentagon.
The march attracts no more than 500 women — but the contingent I lead marches under a beautiful purple Janis Joplin banner.
Monday May 3, 1971 — Mayday
Our Mayday demonstration doesn’t stop the war – or the government.
The day before the demonstration, rock concert permits are cancelled. Police, reprising Chicago 1968, and presaging the 2008 Republican Convention, teargas as many demonstrators as they can; they destroy tents and use other coercive tactics to force protestors to leave a day early. Many do.
The remaining demonstrators begin assembling at 6 a.m. When it’s time to get up, I make a strategic decision, based purely on personal sloth, to let myself and my Boston affinity group sleep in — we’d been smoking too much of that dope and partying the night before. By the time we arrive downtown, streets are empty. Traffic is flowing smoothly. Stew and Abbie are among 7,000 demonstrators already arrested and locked up in an emergency detention center next to RFK stadium. Some claim Mayday is the largest mass arrest in U.S. history.
For me, Mayday is a bust. No pun intended. And it’s my own fault.
My failure of leadership is what my new fiancé David calls an AFOG – another f—-g opportunity for growth. It’s a harsh lesson that stays with me: don’t wimp out just before the end is in sight. Follow through on your commitment. No excuses. And never, ever smoke really strong dope the night before a big demo. Duh.
Guilt By Association
Three weeks after Mayday, Stew receives his subpoena to a Grand Jury investigating the Capitol bombing. He burns it publicly in New Haven to support Black Panther Party Chairman Bobby Seale, who is on trial there at the time.
I receive my Grand Jury subpoena in Boston a few days after Stew. Why me? Perhaps no-one got the memo that Stew and I had broken up. Or perhaps the FBI was pissed about my arrogant, fuck you dance in front of the cameras on M-Street’s front porch. Or maybe the Feds just wanted to “round up the usual suspects.”
The eminence gris federal prosecutor responsible for all grand juries investigating Weather Underground bombings is a smartly dressed, slick-haired man named Guy Goodwin. Goodwin also convened a grand jury to investigate another equally false allegation — that Rev. Phil Berrigan and Elizabeth McAllister, a nun, are plotting to kidnap President Nixon’s evil national security advisor Henry Kissinger. He harassed Vietnam Veterans Against the War so much that, in 1972, they filed a $1.8 million civil suit against him.
My first response to my Grand Jury subpoena is to go numb. I’m facing a possible 20 year sentence. My “face your fear” mantra just doesn’t cut it. Denial works a whole lot better. Stew writes that I:
buried the great fear deep in her soul and beamed smiles that would bounce off the moon…but underneath the smiles, Judy was truly terrified. Even though we had officially parted, I knew that I still loved her, which meant that I had to look out for her so that, as a strange Canadian in a stranger America she would not come to harm.
On a PBS interview all I can say about being subpoenaed is: “It’s annoying. Uncool. But our lawyers will take care of it. Nothing to worry about.” Perhaps it’s a positive thing I grew up in a dysfunctional, alcoholic family – repression and denial are terrific short-term survival techniques for really tough times.
We Didn’t Do It But….
Pretty soon my inner Yippie re-emerges and my “face your fear” mantra kicks in. Stew and I decide the appropriate Yippie response is to hold a press conference in front of the Capitol Building.
Stew invites Jerry Rubin along for both his expertise and moral support. Abbie and Jerry believed passionately in the 1960s communications guru Marshall McLuhan’s dictum that the medium is the message — which led them to measure their success by how much media coverage they got and how frequently they got it. For all the time I knew them, and up until their deaths, a defining aspect of the Abbie/Jerry relationship was their constant competition with each other for the media spotlight. Manipulating the media to expose establishment hypocrisy was a primary Yippie value.
I paint my forehead with a Weather Underground Rainbow, cover one cheek with a woman’s symbol, the other with an NLF (otherwise known as Viet Cong) flag and I put a green marijuana leaf on my chin. And yes, that is a cigarette I’m smoking in the photo – I quit for good a few years later. In my press statement I quote a Weatherman communiqué that says:
The Weather Underground bombed the Capitol to bring a smile and a wink to all the kids in America who hate their government.
Then I pull off my 15 minutes of fame by adding: We didn’t do it but we dug it.
It’s obvious to me, almost 40 years later, that Sarah Palin did a remarkable job getting global media attention for Bill Ayers and his associational link to the Capitol bombing – way better than Billy, the Weather Underground, Stew, Jerry or I ever accomplished at the time. If Palin wasn’t a neo-fascist, I might consider giving her a Yippie Excellence in Media Manipulation award.
In the time immediately preceding our Grand Jury appearances, Stew and I are so overtly hostile to each other that we become famously difficult to be around. Observers who witnessed what Stew and I came to call our “pussycat fights” – meow, hissssss, scratch, pose – are horrified. In the photograph with Colin, I can’t tell if I’m gazing at Stew adoringly, or whether I’m just about to yell at him for some real or imagined sexist act. It’s clear to me now that Stew and I needed to break up, intensely and publicly, to allow us to get back together with each other as full and equal partners. Which we did two years later — and remained together until Stew’s death on January 30, 2006.
In the summer of 1971, I arrive to make my one time appearance before the Grand Jury dressed like a witch and surrounded by a contingent of women. In fact I am a member of W.I.T.C.H. — an early New York City based women’s liberation group appropriately named the Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell. Back then, you could use the word terrorist in a joke and not be labeled unpatriotic.
I walk into an old, dimly lit New York City in my long witchy dress, alone but unintimidated. Two rows of older men and women, black and white, arms crossed, stare stonily at me. On our lawyers’ advice I refuse to testify. Instead I cite Constitutional Amendments 1, 4, 5, 6 and 9. These numbers are indelibly imprinted in my memory – although, as a Canadian, I was at the time a little fuzzy about what each Amendment actually stood for. But now I get it why America’s founders gave us freedom of speech and due process. It’s another reason I consider myself a patriot – just like Abbie and Anita who named their son America.
A few months after my Grand Jury appearance, our subpoenas are quashed — I assume because they can find no evidence of wrongdoing. That guard who claimed to Guy Goodwin he saw Stew at the Capitol building was either set-up, a liar or befuddled – or perhaps he conflated the historic Capitol building with Lafayette Park. It’s a huge relief. Guilt by association loses out to the real world. In the 1980s, in an act of true Yippie bravado, I buy a car with the proceeds of our successful lawsuit against the FBI and get for it a “CAPBOM’ license plate.
Reframing “Domestic Terrorism”
The recent media hysteria about the Capitol bombing has prompted me to revisit, if not re-consider, how I feel today about my long ago “didn’t do it, but dug it” statement. It’s one of those situations where I really miss Stew’s advice and counsel. What would Stewie say?
In the 1980s, shortly after Stew and I moved to Portland, Oregon, I was driving down a street and saw some picketers. My initial gut response is to identify with the protestors, to honk my horn in support, but as I get closer I realize they are anti-choice fanatics picketing what turns out to be the Planned Parenthood affiliate where I will later be employed. The anti-abortion fundamentalists and right-wing extremists – that same breed of bottom feeder who sent hundreds of e-mail death threats to Bill Ayers — have it all over the Weather Underground when it comes to domestic terrorism.
Lest we forget, just over a decade ago this country witnessed a horrific killing spree carried out by our very own, home grown American terrorists: in 1993, abortion provider Dr. David Gunn was assassinated; Dr. John Britton, another abortion provider, was shot in 1994; in that same year 25 year old Planned Parenthood receptionist Shannon Lowney and women’s clinic worker Leanne Nichols were murdered within hours of each other. In 1995, in the worst case of domestic terrorism this country has ever seen, right wing racist gun nut Timothy McVeigh and two of his “pals” killed 168 people including 19 children by setting a bomb in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. In 1998, an anti-choice fanatic killed abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian.
The Weathermen bombed bathrooms. They destroyed property. Which is why calling them “domestic terrorists” doesn’t resonate with me. In every case of a Weather Underground bombing there was an advance call warning people to get out of the building. The Weathermen who died were three of their own. Conflating Bill Ayers and the Capitol bombing with Osama Bin Laden’s terroristic destruction of the Twin Towers feels like an enormous truth stretch. It disrespects those who died.
I’m a widow. I’ve experienced the excruciating pain brought on by death of your loved one. I can’t condone action that results in the death of human beings.
In my humble opinion, members of the Weather Underground turned into purists who came to so completely idealize and romanticize the liberation struggles of anyone who was African-American, Vietnamese, or what we used to call “third world” that they fell into an uncritical objectification of violence for its own sake. Their stated doctrine of “lead by example,” resulted in groups attempting to imitate Weather tactics with devastating results. In 1970, an unaffiliated collective bombed the University of Wisconsin’s Army Math building, tragically killing a researcher. In the 1980s, a rogue splinter group that included former Weathermen killed a guard and two policemen in a disastrous, bungled robbery of a Brinks truck. Most of them are still in jail.
Personally, I feel this may be an appropriate moment for truth and reconciliation. Even if Henry Kissinger and surviving members of the Nixon war machine aren’t going to repent and atone for the enormous death and destruction they wreaked on Southeast Asia, I believe it’s time for former Weather Underground leaders to publicly acknowledge the collateral deaths, in addition to the deaths of their own comrades. And then they should be forgiven – and forgive themselves.
JUDY GUMBO ALBERT is an original member of the 1960s countercultural anti-war group known as the Yippies. Judy is co- author of The Sixties Papers: Documents of a Rebellious Decade (Greenwood Press, 1984) and The Conspiracy Trial (Bobbs Merrill, 1970). For many years Judy was an award winning fundraiser for Planned Parenthood. She is currently living in Berkeley, California writing a memoir titled "Yippie Girl". Her chapter about the Battle of Chicago, 1968 can be found at albert08282008.html. Photos can be found at Judy’s website: www.yippiegirl.com.
Judy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.