Lynne Stewart & the “Blind Sheikh”: a love affair

Lynne Stewart

Over the course of her career, Lynne Stewart – who died on March 7 and whose career we began looking at yesterday – defended Weather Underground cop-killers David Gilbert and Kathy Boudin. Black Panther Willie Holder, and Mafioso Sammy “The Bull” Gravano. But she had her standards. She wouldn’t represent a Nazi or a white supremacist. But she admired Islamic radicals. She saw armed jihad as the solution to oppression in the Middle East, and had no problem with the prospect of victorious jihadists introducing sharia law into conquered territories. She even said she would have taken Osama bin Laden as a client. She came close: her most famous client was Omar Abdel-Rahman, the famous “blind sheikh” who plotted violent acts against the U.S. and whose own terrorist crew, the Islamic Group, was closely tied to al-Qaeda.

Omar Abdel-Rahman

Rahman was a key figure behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the USS Cole bombing in 2000. His public statements made clear his desire for the destruction of America and the killing of as many Americans as possible. When he was given life in prison in 1996 for his role in the World Trade Center attack and on unsuccessful efforts to blow up United Nations Headquarters and the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels in New York City, he vowed that “infidel” America would “be destroyed” and that “nothing [would] remain.” His life sentence caused Stewart to break into tears. She actually saw this bloodthirsty creature “as a fighter for national liberation on behalf of a people oppressed by dictatorship and American imperialism.” And she admired – believe it or not – “his honesty, his strength of character, his teasing humor.” (In 2003, she called Rahman “a very learned scholar” who “deserved to have a platform, deserved not to be entombed in the middle of America and not able to speak.”) In an effort to obtain Rahman’s release, his followers carried out the 1997 Luxor massacre in which, as Daniel Greenfield has noted, “European tourists had their ears and noses cut off before being killed.”

Remains of European victims of the Luxor massacre await repatriation.

After Rahman was locked up, Stewart was allowed to visit him on the condition that she not act as a conduit between him and anybody on the outside. But she was soon caught on tape transmitting coded messages to and from his jihadist comrades. Michelle Malkin has spelled out Stewart’s crimes: “Stewart ferried messages to the Blind Sheikh from fellow jihadist Rifa’l Ahman Tara urging him to support a new wave of Islamic violence in Egypt – and then smuggled out a coded order to his followers lifting a ceasefire between his terrorist group and the Egyptian government.” On surveillance videos, moreover, as the Middle East Quarterly explained, “Stewart could be seen shaking a water jar or tapping the table while [the translator] and the sheikh exchanged communications that were then later disseminated to the sheikh’s followers.”

In other words, Stewart made it possible for Rahman to send out the word to terrorists in Egypt to resume killing. What happened next? Tune in tomorrow.

The Weathermen: from terrorists to professors

We’ve been looking at the Weather Underground, or Weathermen, described by Arthur M. Eckstein in his book Bad Moon Rising as “the most notorious American radical group committed to political violence in the late 1960s and early 1970s.”

14 Oct 1970 --- Washington: Replacing one woman with another, the FBI, October 14, added to its 10 Most Wanted list of fugitives, Bernardine Rae Dohrn, (shown in FBI flier), a self-proclaimed Communist revolutionary who advocates widespread terrorist bombings. In putting her on the list in place of the captured Black militant, Angela Davis, the FBI described Miss Dohrn, 28, as a reputed underground leader of the "Violence-Oriented Weatherman Faction of Students for a Democratic Society". --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

As we’ve noted, J. Edgar Hoover was desperate to bring them down. Yet when President Nixon tried to get him to employ illegal means to gather intelligence on the organization, Hoover resisted. Eventually, however, at White House urging and with Justice Department approval, Hoover’s men bugged the homes and phones of Weathermen friends, relatives, and supporters. Yet all their efforts proved to be unavailing. The Weathermen had gone underground, and the FBI couldn’t find them.

Job Talk
L. Patrick Gray

Hoover died in May 1972 and was replaced by L. Patrick Gray; before the month was over, the Weathermen set off a huge bomb in the Pentagon. (Today, the ease with which they managed to do it seems mind-boggling: “A female member of Weather had simply walked into the vast building along with crowds of civilian employees to scout a suitable location for a bomb, then had returned the next day, again simply walking in. She placed the bomb in a women’s restroom.”) No one was hurt, but the bomb caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage. “Under Gray,” writes Eckstein, “capturing the Weathermen became the main task of the Bureau’s entire Domestic Intelligence Division.” Though hampered by a June 1972 court ruling that effectively forbade most of the Weathermen wiretaps, the war on the Weathermen continued. Yet, in Eckstein’s account, it was a clumsy war, fought against a kind of enemy the FBI had never faced before.

kathie-boudin-fbi-posterIn the end, indeed, the downfall of the Weathermen was the result less of effective field work by the FBI than of “an aspect of traditional Marxist-Leninist political life that had bedeviled the American far Left from its origins: ideological division and disagreement, combined with savage factionalism.” What happened was this: in the mid 1970s, with the radical counterculture rapidly evaporating and the mainstream culture itself becoming more accepting of far-left ideas, Weathermen top dog Bill Ayers and others tried to steer the group away from violent underground revolution and toward open community organizing – toward, that is, the “education” (read: radicalization) of the working class and an emphasis on addressing practical political issues. The goal – Leninist revolution – was the same; only the method was different.

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Clayton van Lydegraf

But other members of the group, under the leadership of an old Stalinist named Clayton van Lydegraf, revolted, declaring themselves to be the real Weather Underground and returning with new brio to the business of planting bombs. They began by planning a deadly attack on the office of California state senator John Briggs. But they turned out to be as careless as they were violent. Unlike the earlier incarnation of the Weathermen, this one proved to be much easier for the FBI to penetrate. The Bureau even managed to plant an undercover agent in Lydegraf’s home – as a roommate. Before the Weathermen could carry out their bombing of Briggs’s office, then, the FBI managed to arrest its five top leaders – an action that, in one fell swoop, cracked the back of the national Weather Underground.

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Kathy Boudin today

Some of them went to prison, but not for long. And thanks to the entry of leftist counterculture values into the mainstream of elite American culture (especially the academy), many former Weathermen enjoyed successful post-terrorist careers and, in time, came to be treated as heroic veterans of the legendary Sixties. Bill Ayers became a professor of education at the University of Illinois – Chicago; Bernadine Dohrn is a law professor at Northwestern; Cathy Wilkerson teaches math in Brooklyn; Mark Rudd is a professor of math in New Mexico; and Kathy Boudin who was in that house on West 11th Street when it exploded in 1971 and who was later convicted of felony murder in connection with a 1981 Brink’s truck robbery in Nyack, New York, in which two police officers and a security guard were killed is now an adjunct professor at Columbia University.

The murderers on West 11th Street

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After the bombing

On March 6, 1970, bombs created by a radical terrorist group called the Weather Underground destroyed a three-story townhouse at 18 West 11th Street in Greenwich Village. Three people (Diana Oughton, Terry Robbins, and Ted Gold) were killed, and two others (Kathy Boudin and Cathy Wilkerson) were injured. When police inspected the premises, they found enough unexploded dynamite to have destroyed every building on both sides of that rather long block. (At the time, actor Dustin Hoffman lived right next door.) The truth that eventually came to light was that the house itself which the poet James Merrill had lived in as a child, and which had later been the home of lyricist Howard Dietz had not been the target of the bombers, but had been their headquarters. The five people who had been killed or injured had, in fact, planned to bomb a dance at Fort Dix in New Jersey. “It is likely,” writes Arthur M. Eckstein in his history of the group, Bad Moon Rising, “that dozens of people would have been killed if the plan had succeeded.”

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18 West 11th Street, then and now

At first they called themselves Weatherman – singular, not plural. After a while they came to be known publicly as the Weathermen or the Weather Underground. The group itself had begun as a faction within the radical organization Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). It was a Leninist group, devoted to an international revolutionary struggle on behalf of the proletariat against the forces of imperialism, capitalism, and racism; many of its members had spent time in Cuba, idolized Che Guevara, met with North Vietnamese officials, and/or been influenced by Mao Zedong.

After the townhouse bombing, the Weather Underground publicly announced that the 11th Street bombers were members of a renegade New York cell that had been engaged in a “rogue operation” that had not been approved by the Weathermen’s national leaders. The Weathermen’s national leaders further announced that, while they would continue to work toward a guerrilla revolution that would overthrow the U.S. government, they would make certain not to plant bombs that might actually harm or kill people and would instead carrying out bombings that would do damage only to property.

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Bill Ayers today

In the years and decades that followed, this claim – that the townhouse crew had gone rogue and that the Weathermen, as a whole, weren’t out to murder but only to commit vandalism – was faithfully repeated in the writings and public statements by members (and, later, former members) of the group, most famously Bill Ayers, who has since become famous as a friend and mentor of former President Obama. This relatively benign line was also reliably echoed in the Academy Award-nominated 2003 documentary Weather Underground and in Jeremy Varon’s 2004 book Bringing the War Home (a comparison of the Weather Underground with Germany’s Red Army Faction, which we wrote about last September). Only in recent years has this narrative been prominently challenged. As Eckstein makes clear in his book, many if not most members of the Weather Underground were, in fact, devoted to killing, and Ayers and other Weather leaders presented “a united front committed to maximum violence.” In short, the would-be bombers who worked out of that 11th Street townhouse were not defying the Weathermen leadership; they were engaged in precisely the sort of activity that Ayers urged upon them.

More tomorrow.

Robert Redford: glamorizing totalitarians

rrSince starting this site, we’ve talked about several of Hollywood’s most reprehensible stooges. But we’ve given short shrift to Robert Redford.

He’s been acting since 1960. He was the #1 money-making star for three years in a row in the 1970s; he’s won an Oscar for best director; he’s a top film producer; and he’s the founder and head honcho of the highly influential Sundance Film Festival.

In short, he’s got power. And he uses it. How? To churn out shrill propaganda films that betoken useful stoogery of the first order.

lionsTake The Milagro Beanfield War, a 1988 tale of heroic Mexican peasants and evil U.S. landowners – directed by Redford and starring John Heard – that was breathtakingly cliche-ridden and one-dimensional. Or Lions for Lambs (2007), a numbing talkfest about the War on Terror, directed by Redford and starring him, Meryl Streep, and Tom Cruise, that the left-wing Guardian‘s reviewer Peter Bradshaw called a “muddled and pompous” dose of “fence-sitting liberal agony” and “injured sensitivity” that “gives liberalism such a bad name that on leaving the cinema, I felt like going out and getting a nude study of [right-wing editor] Norman Podhoretz tattooed on my inner thigh.”

The_Company_You_Keep_posterThen there’s The Company You Keep (2013), also helmed by Redford, which glamorized several aging former members of the Weather Underground, a Vietnam-era Maoist group that sought to bring down the U.S. with bombings, killings, kidnappings, mass imprisonment, and “re-education.” (The ex-terrorists were played by Julie Christie, Susan Sarandon, and Redford himself.) Striking what the New York Times‘s Stephen Holden called “a scrupulously ethical balance in contemplating domestic terrorism” (what’s that supposed to mean?), the film was a morally reprehensible exercise in nostalgia for the ideologically rooted violence that marked “The Sixties” at their very worst. Redford freely admitted that back in the day he’d sympathized with this crew of creeps; after seeing the movie, Peter Collier, himself a recovered left-wing radical, asked a pointed question: “Weatherman was always radical, but how did it become chic? How did this group—proudly totalitarian in its day—get mainstreamed without ever having to undergo denazification? Why has it been allowed a rehabilitation without evincing at least a token of remorse?”

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The Weather Underground in its heyday

Deploring the film in the New York Post as a “rose-colored hagiography of bloodstained killers” that “defiles the memory of all those victimized by left-wing militants on American soil,” Michelle Malkin recalled the couple on whose story the movie was loosely based: 

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Boudin’s mug shot

In 1981, rich-kid Weathermen ideologues and lovers Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert joined forces with Black Liberation Army thugs and other ragtag commie revolutionaries to hold up an armored Brink’s vehicle in Nyack, NY….Two of the victims gunned down in the botched Brink’s robbery were police officers; one, a private security guard. All were veterans from working-class backgrounds….

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Boudin receives an academic award

Boudin and Gilbert were convicted and sent to prison. Prior to her arrest, she had been an 11-year fugitive from justice after an accidental homemade bomb explosion at her New York City townhouse resulted in the death of three people….Boudin was paroled in 2003 after convincing the parole board that she acted nobly out of “white guilt” to protest racism against blacks. Never mind that Waverly Brown was black.

Boudin, by the way, is now a professor in the School of Social Work at Columbia University; in 2013 she was also a Scholar-in-Residence at NYU Law School. (The useful stooges take care of one another.) 

These, then, are the kind of monsters whom Redford glamorizes in his films. Oh, and let’s not forget Che Guevara. We’ll get around to him next time.