I grew up six miles from White Pines State Park in northern Illinois. I remember attending many family gatherings as a child at the park during the 1960s and 1970s. The Civilian Conversation Corps (CCC) originally constructed the lodge at the park during the 1930s. The CCC project also included sixteen one-room log cabins and three four-bedroom cabins. The lodge and cabins were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
In October 1969, Weatherman organized the Days of Rage demonstrations in Chicago. They started their protest by blowing up a bronze statue of a policeman in Haymarket Square. Over the next few days, they clashed with the police, vandalized dozens of cars and businesses, and injured dozens of police officers. Nearly 300 members of Weatherman ended up being arrested.
The quiet, peaceful environment campers and picnickers enjoy at White Pines State Park offers a stark contrast to Weatherman violence and vandalism in Chicago. The conservatism of Ogle County is also a far cry from communist ideology espoused by Weatherman. However, the park’s history does include a chapter involving the Weather Underground.
“Less than two weeks after the end of the Days of Rage, the Weather Bureau got together at White Pines State Park in northern Illinois,” Mark Rudd wrote in Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen (2009). The Weather Bureau was the Weathermen leadership, which included Rudd, Jeff Jones, Linda Sue Evans, Terry Robbins, Bernardine Dohrn, and Bill Ayers.
The group’s members had rented cabins at the park, where they discussed their future plans. According to Rudd, those plans entailed a violent overthrow of the U.S. government. “We’ve learned from Che [Guevara] that the only way to make revolution is to actually begin armed struggle,” Dohrn told the group.
“[F]ear shot through me when I heard Bernardine talk about actually beginning the clandestine armed struggle,” Rudd wrote. “Going ‘underground’ would mean not only a profound shift in the organization but also a complete transformation of our lives, yet she had spoken coolly, rationally, as if she were suggesting we go out for supper. She proposed we had to make two fundamental decisions in this meeting: that a ‘front four’000Bernardine, Jeff, JJ [John Jacobs], and Terry—be given the go-ahead to plan clandestine work, and that the rest of us would, over the next few months, close the National Office, abandon SDS, and take the entire Weather organization underground.”
Interestingly, thanks to Linda Sue Evans keeping a rental vehicle longer than she should have, the new Weather Underground’s first meeting, in which they planned to do clandestine work, was recorded in newspapers throughout the country, although the violent details were not known at the time.
In an Associated Press dispatch with the dateline Oregon, Ill., and headline “Militant SDS Group Nabbed in Park Raid,” the October 25, 1969 issue of the San Antonio Express-News reported the following:
Police raided three cabins at White Pines State Park Thursday night and turned up some top leaders of the militant Weatherman faction of the Students for a Democratic Society. Two persons were arrested — Jeffrey C. Jones, 22, SDS Interorganizational Secretary from Cylmar, Calif., and Linda Sue Evans, 22, of Ann Arbor, Mich. Among others questioned and released were Mark W. Rudd, 22, National SDS Secretary from Maple Park, N.J.; Bernardine Dohrn, 27, former Interorganizational Secretary from Chicago; and William C. Ayers, 24, of Ann Arbor, SDS Educational Secretary. Jones was charged with possession of a deadly weapon—a blackjack—and released on $1,000 bond. Police said Jones is at liberty on $10,000 bond on an aggravated assault charge in Du Page County. Miss Evans was accused of auto theft after authorities said she had not returned a rented automobile on time. Police dropped the charge, however, on learning the renter would not sign a complaint.
For some reason, the dispatch didn’t mention Terry Robbins.
The group also had two .38-caliber revolvers, which Rudd hid in the woods behind one of the cabins after he saw a large number of police cars at the lodge.
In March 1970, Robbins was with Weather Underground members in Greenwich Village, New York, where they were planning a terrorist attack. “A few nights before, Ted [Gold] had told me what his group was planning,” Rudd wrote. “‘We’re going to kill the pigs at a dance at Fort Dix,’ he said. It was to be an antipersonnel bomb made out of stolen dynamite with sixteen-penny nails for shrapnel. Noncommissioned officers and their wives and dates in New Jersey would pay for American crimes in Vietnam.”
Rudd acknowledged that he assented to this plan. “At that point we had determined that there were no innocent Americans, at least no white ones,” he wrote. “They—we—all played some part in the atrocity of Vietnam, if only the passive roles of ignorance, acquiescence, and acceptance of privilege. Universally guilty, all Americans were legitimate targets for attack.”
Fortunately, Robbins, Gold, and Diana Oughton, Ayers’ girlfriend at the time, accidentally blew up themselves instead of the noncommissioned officers and their dates. After this accident, Ayers and other members of the Weather Underground insist they decided to eschew violence against people and instead target property with their bombs. They also insist their terrorist organization never killed anyone before or after the accident. That may not be entirely true. In February 1970, a bomb placed at a San Francisco police station killed a sergeant and wounded several other officers. Larry Grathwohl, who infiltrated the Weather Underground in late 1969 as an FBI informant, wrote in Bringing Down America: An FBI Informer with the Weathermen (1976) that Ayers told him personally that Dohrn planted the bomb. Leaders of San Francisco’s police officers union continue to believe that Ayers and Dohrn were largely responsible for the bombing.
In a 1982 documentary, Grathwohl discussed the Weather Underground’s plans after successfully achieving a communist revolution in the United States:
I brought up the subject of what’s going to happen after we take over the government. You know, [once] we become responsible for administering, you know, 250 million people. And there was no answer. No one had given any thought to economics. How are you going to clothe and feed these people? The only thing that I could get was that they expected that the Cubans, the North Vietnamese, the Chinese, and the Russians would all want to occupy different portions of the United States. They also believed that their immediate responsibility would be to protect against what they called the “counter-revolution.” And they felt that this counter-revolution could best be guarded against by creating and establishing re-education in the [American] Southwest, where we would take all of the people who needed to be re-educated into the new way of thinking and teach them how things were going to be. I asked, “Well, what is going to happen to those people that we can’t re-educate, that are diehard capitalists?” And the reply was that they’d have to be eliminated. And when I pursued this further, they estimated that they’d have to eliminate 25 million people in these re-education centers. And when I say “eliminate,” I mean kill 25 million people. I want you to imagine sitting in a room with 25 people, most of whom have graduate degrees from Columbia and other well-known educational centers, and hear them figuring out the logistics for the elimination of 25 million people. And they were dead serious.
Lowell Park, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011, is located just eight miles to the south of White Pines State Park. Forty years before the Weather Underground made plans for a violent overthrow of the U.S. government, a young man named Ronald Reagan worked as a lifeguard at Lowell Park. Over seven summers on the Rock River, Reagan saved seventy-seven lives.
Reagan was quite different from Ayers, Dohrn, Jones, and other leaders of the Weather Underground. Reagan was born in a flat above a bank in Tampico, Illinois. The flat had no indoor toilet facilities, no central heat, and no running water. When Reagan was two, the family moved to Chicago, where his father had gotten a job selling shoes. Their flat near the University of Chicago “was lighted by a single gas jet brought to life with the deposit of a quarter in a slot down the hall.” After moving several times, the Reagans settled in Dixon, Illinois, in 1920. “Later in life I learned that, compared with some of the folks who lived in Dixon, our family was ‘poor,'” Reagan wrote in his autobiography, An American Life. “We always rented our home and never had enough money for luxuries. But I don’t remember suffering because of that.”
Ayers’s father never had problems lighting his family’s home. Thomas G. Ayers was, after all, the chairman and chief executive officer of Commonwealth Edison, the largest electric utility in Illinois, in the 1970s. Dohrn grew up in Whitefish Bay, an upper-middle-class suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The daughter of a credit manager, Dohrn was voted the most popular girl in the class of 1959. She graduated from the University of Chicago with honors in 1963 and received her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School in 1967.
Jeff Jones’s father started a career with the Walt Disney Company in 1954. Home screenings of the latest Mickey Mouse cartoons made Jones popular at his birthday parties.
Diana Oughton, who died in the Greenwich Village explosion, was the daughter of James Henry Oughton, Jr., vice-president of the family bank and owner of a successful restaurant. Her great-grandfather, William D. Boyce, founded the Boy Scouts of America.
Ted Gold, who also died in the explosion, was the son of Hyman Gold, a prominent physician and a mathematics instructor at Columbia University. Gold’s mother was a statistician who also taught at Columbia. The family lived in an upper-middle-class apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
Kathy Boudin, who survived the Greenwich Village explosion, is the daughter of attorney Leonard Boudin, who had represented clients such as alleged KGB spy Judith Coplon, Fidel Castro, and Paul Robeson. Dohrn has characterized Leonard Boudin as her “friend, mentor, and colleague among New York anti-war lawyers.” He was also the grandfather of Ayers and Dohrn’s adopted son, Chesa.
When we look at the divisions in the United States today, I wonder if instead of seeing Red America vs. Blue America, conservatives vs. liberals, or Democrats vs. Republicans, perhaps we should consider Destroyers vs. Preservers. I think what occurred at the two northern Illinois parks I mentioned above perfectly illustrate this division. The Weather Underground planned to kill fellow Americans when they met at White Pines State Park in 1969. Ronald Reagan worked to save lives as a lifeguard at Lowell Park. The Weather Underground sought to bring down America. Reagan saw America as a “shining city on a hill” worthy of emulation throughout the world. The members of the Weather Underground are Destroyers. Reagan was a Preserver.
“How to account for ordinary Americans who, in the millions, seem willing to be willing participants in the dismantling of their own country?” Balint Vazsonyi asked in America’s 30 Years War: Who Is Winning? (1998).
To answer this, we have to go back to the 1960s one more time. As we observed, in Europe, the intellectual alliance of former fascists, national socialists, some social democrats, anarchists, Soviet-style and Western-style communists—now all gathered under an all purpose Marxist umbrella—at last mustered the kinetic energy to launch their ideological missile across the Atlantic. As we also observed, by that time America offered a constituency eager to perform the docking maneuver on its arrival. An entire generation of Americans was affected, a generation now at the zenith of power. And here a point of seminal importance: Unless a person has consciously repudiated the teaching of the 1960s, that person will unconsciously carry on the 1960s agenda.
The former Weather Underground leaders and their followers certainly carry on the 1960s agenda. However, the Destroyers were at work prior to the 1960s. After all, in Ideas Have Consequences (1948), Richard Weaver wrote, “First of all, I would maintain that modern man is a parricide. He has taken up arms against, and has effectually slain, what former men have regarded with filial veneration. He has not been conscious of the crime but has, on the contrary—and certainly this is nothing new to students of human behavior—regarded his action as a proof of virtue.”
Perhaps the difference between Weaver’s time and today is the Destroyers appear fully conscious of their crimes while regarding their actions as proof of their virtue. They’re well aware of the fact they are working to destroy our religion, our culture, our traditions, our history, our language, our borders, our Constitution, and even life itself if that life is deemed inconvenient or resistant to re-education. The Destroyers are well-organized, well-financed, and willing to bide their time.
What about the Preservers? I believe we outnumber the Destroyers. Unfortunately, we’re not really in the fight. We occasionally demonstrate that we have a little fight in us, as we did when we elected Ronald Reagan in 1980, a Republican Congress in 1994, and started the Tea Party movement in 2009. However, too often we mistakenly believe the overall war is won after winning a single battle. More often, we give up the fight altogether because we believe the Destroyers are well on their way to winning the war.
I recently watched The Darkest Hour and was struck by this quote from Winston Churchill: “Nations that went down fighting rose again, but those that surrendered tamely were finished.”
Perhaps the Destroyers will ultimately win the war that they have started. However, don’t we owe it to our children to go down fighting?
Kevin Groenhagen is the author of The Tea Party Challenge: Understanding the Threat Posed by the Socialist Coalition.