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Romancing Radicalism

New Criterion, February 2012 | Go to article overview

Romancing Radicalism


Valentine's Day came a little early for the former Weather Underground member Judith Alice Clark this year in the form of a long cover story in The New York Times Sunday Magazine on January 15. Currently a guest at the maximum-security Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, Clark is nearing the halfway mark of her seventy-five-year sentence for her part as an accomplice in the 1981 Brink's robbery ($1.6 million netted) in Nyack, New York, that left one guard and two policemen dead and others wounded. "Judith Clark's Radical Transformation" is one of those emetic pieces that the Times periodically assembles to assure itself and the world of its politically correct "progressive" sentiments. Written by Tom Robbins, a reporter for the Daily News and The Village Voice, this exercise in sentimental political rehabilitation takes its place alongside other such bijoux as the Times's publicity efforts on behalf of Kathy Boudin and President Obama's mentor Bill Ayers, who co-founded the Weather Underground in 1969.

Remember the Weather Underground? This mephitic offshoot of the radical Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) carried the narcissistic radicalism of the Sixties out of the classroom and into the streets. It was dedicated, Ayers and his fellow radicals said in a founding document, to the "destruction of U.S. imperialism" and the achievement of a "classless world: world communism." One of their models was the Chinese Red Guards--How many millions did they murder?--a "movement with a full willingness to participate in the violent and illegal struggle." In September 2001, Ayers published Fugitive Days, a memoir of his years underground after a nail-bomb-making project went awry in 1970, destroying a Manhattan townhouse and killing three of the bomb makers.

The Times was on hand to celebrate Ayers's literary project. On September 11, 2001--remember that date?--the Times published a fawning interview with Professor Ayers (as he had since become) in which he said "I don't regret setting bombs.... I feel we didn't do enough." There are some, we feel sure, who think that Ayers's thuggish cronies did more than enough: Joe Trombino, for example, one of the Brink's guards whose arm was nearly severed from his body when he was hit by several rounds from an M-16 during the robbery. Mr. Trombino fared better than Peter Paige, who took multiple hits and was killed instantly, leaving behind a wife and three children, who also, we suspect, believe Ayers and his colleagues did more than enough.

Judy Clark, like Kathy Boudin (who was released from prison in 2003), drove one of the getaway vehicles. She was thirty-one at the time. When Boudin's U-Haul was stopped by the police, she temporized while her gun-wielding colleagues jumped out and opened fire. According to one report, "Officer Brown was hit repeatedly by rifle rounds and collapsed on the ground. One robber then walked up to his prone body and fired several more shots into him with a 9mm handgun, ensuring his death." Waverly Brown left three children behind: What do you suppose they would have to say to Bill Ayers? Or how about Edward O'Grady's wife and three children, aged six, two, and six months? Officer O'Grady was shot several rimes and died ninety minutes later on an operating table. Enough?

These events hover mist-like in the background of Tom Robbins's plea for absolution. "When I first started visiting Clark," he writes toward the end of the essay, "I also wondered whether her transformation was a calculated effort to get out of prison. Over time I've come to see her differently." And how! "A dozen former inmates," he writes, "told me stories of how Clark helped them sort out their own troubles." Isn't that nice? She also raises puppies to help war veterans, writes poetry, and pines for the daughter she left with a babysitter one morning in 1981 in order to drive a getaway car for America-hating robbers and murderers.

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