Bill Ayers' better (and successful!) half

I don't normally correct historical details in stuff I read, but in this case I thought I should, because it sheds a little light on the truly horrid background of one of Barack Obama's political sponsors who hasn't been getting enough attention. I refer to Bernardine Dohrn, a notorious and unrepentant terrorist I have called evil, whose praise of the Manson murders was detailed at the Corner by Andy McCarthy:

As I noted back in April in this article about Obama's motley collection of radical friends, at the Weatherman "War Council" meeting in 1969, Ayers' fellow terrorist and now-wife, Bernadine Dohrn, famously gushed over the barbaric Manson Family murders of the pregnant actress Sharon Tate, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, and three others: "Dig it! First they killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them. They even shoved a fork into the victim's stomach! Wild!" And as Jonah recalled yesterday, "In appreciation, her Weather Underground cell made a threefingered 'fork' gesture its official salute." They weren't talking about scratching up the wall-paper.
That's the right story, but the wrong "pigs." (I'd say "close but no fork" but I'll leave the wisecracks to Ayers and company.)

I think it's worth noting that the people Dohrn called pigs (and in whose grisly fate she took such delight) were Leno and Rosemary LaBianca -- a small business owner (a World War II veteran whose parents were Italian immigrants) and his wife. They were strangers to the Mansons, and this was what happened to them:

Sometime during the early morning hours of August 10, 1969, Manson family members entered the LaBianca house. Manson and Watson awoke a sleeping Leno LaBianca, on the couch in his living room, at gunpoint. Leno was assured by Manson and Watson that he would not be hurt and that they only intended to rob him. Manson removed a leather thong from his neck and had Watson use it to tie up Leno's hands. Leno was then asked if there was anyone else in the house. He told Manson and Watson that his wife, Rosemary, was in the bedroom.[2] Manson went to the bedroom and awoke Rosemary. He allowed her to put a dress on over her nightgown before leading her into the living room where Watson had Leno tied up. Manson and Watson reassured the couple that they wouldn't be hurt, and were just being robbed. After collecting all the cash in the house, Manson ordered Watson to take Rosemary back to her bedroom where Watson placed a pillowcase over her head and wound a lamp around her head, gagging her with a lamp cord. He told her to stay quiet and remain in the room. Watson returned to the living room and Manson then left the house. Within a few minutes, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel entered the residence and were instructed by Watson to go to the bedroom.[1]

Watson then began stabbing Leno repeatedly, only stopping briefly when Leno screamed, "Stop stabbing me!" Rosemary, hearing her husband screaming, began screaming and flailing around the room, still blinded by the pillowcase on her head. Krenwinkel and Van Houten called Watson for help. Watson left the badly bleeding Leno in the living room, and entered the bedroom to find Rosemary swinging the lamp still attached to the chord used to gag her. Tex lunged forward and stabbed her until she fell to the floor. By the time the stabbing ended, Watson, Krenwinkel, and Van Houten had stabbed Rosemary 41 times.[1]

Leno was still alive when Watson came back to the living room and the stabbing resumed. After Watson finished stabbing Leno, one of the family members carved the word "WAR" into Leno's stomach. Krenwinkel then stabbed him a number of times and left a carving fork protruding from his stomach, and a steak knife from his throat. The girls then wrote messages in Leno's blood. "Death to pigs" and "Rise" were written on the living room wall, and "Helter Skelter" [sic] was written on the refrigerator.[1]

After the murders, the family members remained at the house. Some ate food from the LaBianca's refrigerator, played with the couple's dogs and showered before hitchhiking back to the Spahn Ranch.[6]

Barack Obama was just a small boy when this happened, and obviously, he's not responsible for Bernardine Dohrn's statements of support for the gruesome murders, or her "fork" salute that celebrated them.

But frankly, the whole thing gives me the creeps, as does Dohrn.

However, it's easy to complain about people like her going directly from the FBI Most Wanted list to cushy jobs in the finest law firms right after being released, but I like to look for explanations. As it turns out, her employment was enabled by a very respectable man named Howard Trienens:

Dohrn's post-revolutionary successes are even more remarkable, considering she was the more notorious. During their underground days, she made the FBI's 10 most wanted list. Upon surfacing, Dohrn got three years of probation and a fine.

Today, Dohrn is on the faculty of Northwestern University's School of Law. She teaches a course titled Children in Trouble with the Law.

Neither Ayers nor Dohrn returned e-mail or phone messages asking for comment. So we cannot tell you how they see their ascent back to responsibility.

But it's hard for an outsider not to see the map of family connections behind their paths.

Ayers' father moved in philanthropic circles with Howard Trienens, an attorney with the powerhouse firm of Sidley Austin. The two served together on Northwestern University's Board of Trustees. Ayers was chairman of that group, then handed the post off to Trienens in 1986.

Trienens headed Sidley Austin when the firm hired Dohrn in 1984. She had never practiced law and had been out of law school for 17 years.

When I asked Trienens if he had hired Dohrn, he replied: "Yes."

Wasn't that a bit of nepotism, considering his relationship to her father-in-law? A lot of lawyers would love a first job with such a prestigious firm.

"We often hire friends," replied Trienens, 84.

Wow. I also haven't practiced law for years, and I've been out of law school for an even longer period of time. Will Trienens hire me too?

Probably not. I don't have the right friends. Nor do we contribute to the same causes. (As it turns out, Trienens has given thousands of dollars to the Obama campaign.)

Eventually, Dohrn seems to have decided that she'd rather teach law. It just so happens that her pal Trienens was also Chairman of the Board at Northwestern, and he of course denies that he had anything to do with hiring her:

Dohrn's route to Northwestern is harder to discern. Trienens said he had nothing to do with it, though he was then board chairman.

"The dean hired her," he said, referring to Robert Bennett, who was then law school dean. (Bennett did not return phone calls seeking comment.)

Daniel Polsby, a law school faculty member in 1991, recalls Dohrn's appointment going through an academic side door. Because she was brought on as an "adjunct," she was never put before a faculty vote.

Cool! Maybe if I can find a guy like Trienens, I can get him to slip me through the door somewhere as an "adjunct."

I've always wanted to be an adjunct anyway. Sounds like the best of both worlds.

Needless to say, the Tribune reporter got nowhere trying to figure out precisely how the hiring occurred:

Seeking clarification from the university, I was told to put my questions in writing. Which I did:

Was her appointment at NU's law school made by the dean acting alone? Did it have to be ratified by the Board of Trustees?

Instead of answering the questions, the university responded with a boilerplate statement of support: "While many would take issue with views Ms. Dohrn espoused during the 1960s, her career at the law school is an example of a person's ability to make a difference in the legal system."

Yeah, well I have to admit I take issue with her views on killing pigs. Especially which "pigs" should be killed, and why. She and her husband have tried to explain that her cheering for the LaBianca killings was just a joke, but it was taken deadly seriously at the time. I think it echoed the "kill your parents" meme they famously promoted:
Kill all the rich people. Break up their cars and apartments. Bring the revolution home, kill your parents, that's where it's really at
This makes Leno LaBianca a perfectly legitimate target. Because not only was he an affluent small businessman (owner of a successful grocery business, to be exact), he was a father of three kids.

Might his mutilation at the hands of Patricia Krenwinkel (young enough to be his daughter) have captured the imagination of young Bernardine?

I realize this is just armchair psychology, but I don't believe the Ayers/Dohrn denials, and as I say, I like to look for answers. I think it just might be significant that Dohrn's father was another small businessman; fellow Weather Underground radical Mark Rudd described her as "just the daughter of a credit manager of a Milwaukee furniture store":

In Destructive Generation, Collier recounts a chance meeting at around that time between Dohrn and Mark Rudd, another radical leader who'd also been underground for a time. "She asked him what he thought about the whole experience," Collier writes. "He told her that he thought of it as seven years of wasted life; that neither he nor they had accomplished anything, and he wished he'd gotten out at the beginning. 'She got furious [Rudd recounts] and said: "But what about the contribution we made to the overall struggle for armed struggle and revolution in America?" I couldn't believe the rhetoric. The same old shit. I just said to myself, "Oh, later for you, lady," and took off. Later on it occurred to me how her ego was still totally involved with all that dead history. How little she had looked at herself all those years. She should have had to admit how wrong her ideas were, how meshuga her self-conception was. A great revolutionary leader' She had no great revolutionary ideas. None of us did. She was just the daughter of a credit manager of a Milwaukee furniture store.'''
I guess poor Bernard Dohrn (described by his daughter as a "true believer[] ...with no political interests and little understanding of her commitment") was lucky they didn't practice what they preached, or he'd have ended up looking like this.

(I'll bet she was too chickenshit even to give her dad the three-fingered salute!)

By any standard, Dohrn's past is absolutely dreadful, yet like her husband she is unrepentant to the core. What accounts for her success? What enabled her to go from the FBI Ten Most Wanted list to a position where she could assist in the launching of the career of a man poised to be president? And why are she and other unrepentant terrorists considered mainstream? (Like it or not, by prevailing liberal standards, they are.)

Perhaps the lesson here is that it's a mistake to be repentant.

(You might end up as just the daughter of a credit manager of a Milwaukee furniture store....)

MORE: To be fair to Sidley Austin, Howard Tienen, Northwestern University, and the countless others who have helped and enabled Bernardine Dohrn's place in the American mainstream, I think it needs to be remembered that this is no ordinary woman, but someone who is clearly driven. She may be a revolutionary Marxist, but she possesses the Midwestern work ethic in spades.

Really. Consider that when still in her twenties, she issued a Declaration of War against America, and she did her damnedest for years to carry it out. How many individual terrorists have declared war on America and actually had their war taken seriously? Osama bin Laden comes to mind, but in general, they're few and far between.

What employer wouldn't jump at a chance to hire a dynamo like that?

posted by Eric on 08.28.08 at 10:20 AM


Dohrn is an Eater (SM Stirling, Dies the Fire). She's the kind of person who would hunt, kill, and eat fellow humans if society ever collapsed. She has the mentality, and she deals with other people with that mentality. That is what lies behind her personality. And her success. For she gets support from fellow Eaters in the academic and legal community.

Treating people like unthinking beasts makes it easier to see them as food.

Alan Kellogg   ·  August 28, 2008 4:18 PM

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