Exclusive: Obama – Time to Level with the American People about Domestic Terrorist Bill Ayers
by THE EDITORS
October 10, 2008
What did he know? When did he know it? These are questions being raised about Sen. Barack Obama’s relationship with Bill Ayers, one of the founding members of the Vietnam-era domestic terror group Weather Underground (a/k/a the Weathermen). FamilySecurityMatters.org’s Pam Meister had a conversation with John Murtagh, whose family had a terrifying brush with the Weather Underground during the terror group’s heyday in the early 1970s.
PAM MEISTER: There’s a growing amount of interest right now about Bill Ayers, the unrepentant domestic terrorist who is an associate of Sen. Obama’s. We understand that Ayers’ terror group, the Weather Underground, bombed your family’s home when you were a child and that more than one bomb was exploded in an effort to murder your father or the whole family. Can you tell us what happened that night, and why do you think they were compelled to try to kill you?
JOHN MURTAGH: Well, what happened was exactly as you described. February 21, 1970, I was nine years old at the time. My family lived in upper Manhattan, just below the Bronx line in a private home. About 2 o’clock in the morning, while my mom, dad, my sister brother and I were asleep in the house, fire bombs were detonated both at the front door of the house and under the gas tank of the family car by the back door. No one was ever arrested for those crimes.
Bernardine Dorhn, Bill Ayers’ wife, several months later in a statement to the Associated Press, took credit for the New York bombings – and incidentally, there were a string of bombings both that night and on other occasions. The night we were attacked they also bombed two military recruiting stations in Brooklyn, and a police facility in Greenwich Village, New York. Bernardine Dohrn took credit for the attacks on behalf of the Weathermen and as recently as two years ago Cathy Wilkerson, a self-professed former member of the Weather Underground in New York, wrote a memoir in which she took credit; basically assigned responsibility to the New York cell of the Weather Underground. So there’s clearly no doubt who committed the crime against my family.
The lawyer in me would say we have to ask them what their motivation was; but as a practical matter, my father was a sitting New York State Supreme Court judge and at the time he was presiding over what was then a fairly notorious trial called the Panther 21 trial involving members of the Black Panther party who were being prosecuted for an alleged plot to firebomb a series of landmarks and department stores in New York City at the time.
PM: What a frightening experience. How did the bombing change you and your family?
JM: It always to me – it sounds a little flip when I say this, but strange as it sounds, obviously it was a very frightening experience when it happened – but at the same time, you know, when you’re nine years old perhaps in a way you sort of roll with the punches. I can certainly tell you that for years afterward, I’d hear the sound of a fire engine, you know, a siren, and I would have a visceral reaction. It clearly had some effect on me. But day to day it was not something we dwelled on, although we had around the clock police protection for the next year and a half. But you know, life goes on. It’s certainly something you live with; it’s clearly going to be part of my character, my life story, who I am at the age of 47. As I said, we moved on. My dad passed away about five years later; my mom sold the house about a year later and we moved to Westchester County.
PM: Do you know how long Sen. Obama has known Bill Ayers, or can you at least give an educated guess based on facts of which you are aware?
JM: Obviously the person who can answer that question is Sen. Obama, and he has refused to do so. When he was initially challenged on this issue a year or so ago, his somewhat flippant remark was, “Oh, Bill Ayers is a guy in my neighborhood in Chicago.” Later on, he acknowledged that in fact he had held his first political fundraiser and campaign kickoff in Bill Ayers’ and Bernardine Dohrn’s home. Now as an elected official myself in local politics here in Westchester County, I can tell you, you don’t hold political fundraisers in the homes of strangers. You hold political fundraisers in the homes of friends and supporters, so clearly there was a relationship that had to have predated that event.
Certainly later on, Sen. Obama, when pressed, acknowledged that in fact he and Mr. Ayers had sat on the board of the Woods Foundation, which they self-describe as a charitable educational foundation, in the late ‘90s. In addition, there was an organization called the Annenberg Challenge which was also education – an ostensibly education-related program which Mr. Ayers wrote the initial grants for, which he really founded in Chicago, and which Mr. Obama was hired as the executive director for and served in that capacity for about three years, so it’s at least linking an ongoing relationship there.
In addition, an issue which needs to be explored further – or again, they could save everyone the exploration if they would just lay the cards on the table – Bernardine Dorhn, Ayers’ wife, who took credit for the New York bombings as I said, she was – even prior to the bombings of our home – she was actually a law school graduate. Needless to say when she came in from the cold, as they say, in the early 1980s, given her history, given the crimes and given the jail time she served for refusing to testify here in New York regarding a bank robbery in which two police officers were killed, she could not get admitted to bar. But back in Chicago, Bill Ayers’ father, who was a wealthy local businessman, apparently secured her a job with Sidley Austin, one of the largest law firms in Chicago and really the nation. She worked there from about 1984 to 1988. Michelle Obama was a summer associate at that firm in 1987 and returned the firm in 1988 when she graduated from Harvard Law School. So it clearly appears that they were colleagues at the same time at the firm. Now there’s no question it’s a large law firm, but it begs the question whether a personal relationship and a connection don’t go back as far as far as the mid-1980s.
PM: What do you think when Sen. Obama says that he was only eight years old when Ayers’ group was doing its dirty work back in the early 1970s?
JM: Look, clearly Barack Obama is not responsible for what happened to my family; he’s not responsible for the police officers who were murdered; he’s not responsible for the bombing of the Pentagon, the bombing of the Capitol. But he’s responsible for his own choice of friends; his own choice of mentors; his own choice of colleagues as an adult. And really, the question is not where was he and what was he doing in 1970 when Bill Ayers was attacking government buildings and attempting to kill people – it begs the question, what is Barack Obama’s judgment? What is his philosophy? What is his world view that would allow him to associate with, to befriend and to work with for years, really, an unrepentant terrorist? Because not only are Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn guilty of these acts, but for example, in a 1997 interview with Connie Chung, Bernardine Dohrn remarked that she only wished they had been more militant. In a – ironically, September 11, 2001 interview with the New York Times, Bill Ayers said that his only regret was that he had not done more.
These are the people we’re dealing with – not in 1970, but in 1997 and in 2001, when Barack Obama was working with him. Certainly if I, as a local elected official here in Westchester County, a sitting councilman, a candidate for the state senate, if I was associated with individuals with that history and that apparent philosophy, it would certainly be a relevant question and a very fair question why I was associated with them and working with them.
PM: Why wasn’t Ayers ever convicted of the crimes that he committed?
JM: He apparently – because it was so many years ago, I’m obviously not privy to all the details – but apparently he was excused because of alleged prosecutorial misconduct. There’s a quote, in fact, from Bill Ayers – he was interviewed by, I believe, David Horowitz – and his quote was something to the effect, “guilty as hell and free as a bird, it’s a free country.”*
PM: The Obama campaign is saying that Sen. Obama didn’t know anything about Ayers’ background when Ayers launched Obama’s political career from his own home. Do you believe that’s true?
JM: It’s certainly hard to believe. It could be true. If it’s true, it certainly shows a shocking lack of knowledge of recent history, particularly for someone who attended Columbia University in the early 1980s and was in New York at the time of the Brinks robbery when the Weather Underground murdered two policemen in cold blood – one of the most famous crimes in the early 1980s in the New York metropolitan area. That being said, if you take it at face value that he didn’t know, the next obvious question: when did you find out and once you found out, how could you continue that relationship?
PM: During the primary debates, Hillary Clinton brought up Obama’s connection to Ayers, and that was back in April. Yet the general public still knows very little about it. Why do you think the mainstream media has been reluctant to talk about the Ayers connection?
JM: Well, they clearly have, they clearly continue to be. Why they’re not willing to explore Sen. Obama’s background in this regard, you’d have to ask the mainstream media.
PM: Fair enough. What do you want the American people to know about this whole situation?
JM: I think really it’s Sen. Obama’s responsibility, given the very relevant questions that are raised, to finally – and really, for the first time – completely level with the American people about the nature and the extent of his relationship with Mr. Ayers and with Ms. Dohrn. And then it’s up to the American people to decide what relevance that has as they choose the next Commander in Chief.
PM: What do you think it would mean to have someone in the White House like Sen. Obama based on this kind of information and other questions?
JM: As I said, clearly, to me it shows a complete lack of judgment to knowingly work with and consort with someone who A, engaged in horrific attacks against the United States, and B, far from ever repenting or refuting those acts in later life, celebrated them and continues to celebrate them.
*Editor’s note: The quote was “Guilty as sin, free as a bird, it’s a great country,” and was from an August 2001 article entitled “No Regrets” in Chicago Magazine, in which Ayers was touting his book Fugitive Days.