There have been few satisfyingly detailed chronicles of the inner workings of the Weather Underground, a left-wing group active in the late 1960s and 1970s that claimed to fight US imperialist violence around the world with violence at home. This rarity is likely because the major players were indeed living “underground” to avoid law enforcement. Fifty years later, a new podcast, Radicals of the motherlandaims to deliver a more detailed history of gangs.
Two of the most notorious members of the Weather Underground, Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, had children, one of whom happens to be the host of this podcast. Zayd Ayers Dohrn therefore has a uniquely intimate and uniquely enjoyable view of their violent shenanigans. The podcast succeeds, although probably not always in the way the creative team intended.
It’s fair to say that the comrades of the Weather Underground were largely motivated by righteous anger. But the podcast doesn’t examine the most obvious elephant in the room: whether their theoretical goals justified their actual means, which included, among other things, blowing up buildings. One botched explosion famously killed three of its own members, and host Dohrn admits they weren’t victims in the traditional sense. But then you hear him interviewing his father, Bill, who chuckles that Bernardine’s placement on the FBI’s Most Wanted List was “at the top of its field.”
Former members describe in detail sessions of humiliation where they would target a comrade, strip him and berate him into accepting his racist, sexist nature, sometimes filled with screams and tears. We’ve been hearing about uncomfortable intersectionality before there was even a word for it. Perhaps unintentionally, this podcast holds up a mirror to today’s social justice movements.