The Weathermen Launched a Terror Campaign in the 1960s and 1970s

The Weathermen Launched a Terror Campaign in the 1960s and 1970s

Trista - February 21, 2017

The Weathermen formed in 1969 as a radical branch that derived from the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The name itself came from a popular Bob Dylan’s song Subterranean Homesick Blues that features the line, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”

Peaceful protests turned into street riots as The Weathermen organized attacks on federal buildings throughout the country in protest of the Vietnam War. The violent actions were meant to bring about a revolution, but failed to deliver.

The Story of Diana Oughton

Diana Oughton was born January 26, 1942. She came from a well-respected family; her parents founded both the Keeley Institute and the American Boy Scouts. Most of her family members earned Ivy League educations.

She was a promising student, too. Her childhood consisted of riding horses, playing the piano, and living in an upper-middle class neighborhood. Nevertheless, she had independent thoughts and strong opinions.

As she entered college, Oughton became influenced by community issues and social affairs, especially regarding poor, minority groups. She helped people register to vote and tutored underprivileged students.

After that, she began to travel; from Germany to Guatemala, Oughton learned new languages and once again became enthralled with political injustices.

The Weathermen Launched a Terror Campaign in the 1960s and 1970s
Diana Oughton in 1964 in Guatemala. United Press International

Once her Latin America excursion ended, she continued to further her education at the University of Michigan and earned a teaching certificate.

The Weathermen Launched a Terror Campaign in the 1960s and 1970s
Diana Oughton studies in college. Joy Cassidy. Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan

She was involved with Children’s Community School, which is where she met Bill Ayers in 1968.

The Students for a Democratic Society

Before The Weatherman, Bill Ayers founded the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1960 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and was a prominent political leader of the organization.

The Weathermen Launched a Terror Campaign in the 1960s and 1970s
Bill Ayers founded the SDS. He was arrested several times including in August 1968. Chicago Historical Society

Oughton joined, too, and her radical views bloomed. She demanded revolution. Her parents and other family members lost contact with Oughton after she joined the SDS; they knew her ideas were extreme.

In 1963, the SDS created the Economic Research and Action Project (ERAP), which helped poor, urban communities get involved with the democratic system. The ERAP was established in cities including Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Newark, and Philadelphia. Most of the projects did not last long, but as soon as one ended, another task was implemented.

The first generation of SDS dealt with domestic issues, but by 1964, the second generation of the SDS was focused on the Vietnam War. The group formed antiwar campaigns. In April of 1965, they marched in Washington D.C. to protest the bombing of North Vietnam just a couple months earlier.

As the war in Vietnam grew, so did the number of demonstrators. The SDS initially had around 250 members, but that number rose to 2,500 by December 1964. In October 1965, over 25,000 people claimed to be members of the SDS. The original founders thought politics and the government system, in general, would reform itself. In contrast, members who joined after 1965 did not feel the same way. As the years went on, and the war heated up, even the original members doubted their peaceful beliefs. In 1967, a new phase came over the SDS; they focused solely on the draft and the resistance to war. Due to poor records, it was estimated that the SDS membership reached between 80,000 and 100,000 people.

The Weathermen

In June 1969, the SDS held a convention, and the organization became divided. The Weathermen and the Progressive Labor Party split the SDS. Oughton and Ayers both followed The Weathermen, which was the more radical and violent of the two.

Oughton actively passed out pamphlets to high school students about her strong opinions in Flint, Michigan, which led to one of her many arrests. In Chicago, Oughton participated in the “days of rage” in which The Weathermen went on raids against the police.

In October 1969, the extreme Weathermen group gathered in Chicago. They organized a protest against what had happened there a year before during the Democratic National Convention of 1968, where police publicly beat thousands of Vietnam War protestors.

It was labeled as a police riot by the government. Young Americans viewed televised pictures of city officers clubbing demonstrators, which angered them enough to respond to the police brutality. Some of them fought violence with violence. After the Democratic National Convention of 1968, a poll revealed that an overwhelming 368,000 young citizens considered themselves revolutionaries. The Weathermen desired to “bring the war back home.”

Although massive crowds marched for the defendants’ protest, The Weathermen simply could not mobilize the young Chicagoans. Ultimately, more of The Weatherman suffered from injuries and financial damage than their targets, and 200 of the members were arrested that day. As the American people welcomed a new decade, the violent words and actions of The Weathermen continued to frighten them. Oughton and the others held a secret meeting in Flint, Michigan and planned a wave of terrorist bombings.

From 1970 to 1972, the passionate group took credit for eight bombings including the New York City police headquarters, part of the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, and the Army’s mathematics lab center in Madison, Wisconsin. Oughton was never officially accused of conspiracy to plot a bombing or the action bombing itself.

On March 6, 1970, Oughton and four other members of The Weathermen were working in a townhouse basement in Greenwich Village in New York City. The location was specifically used as a bomb factory. The 11th Street house accidentally blew up and killed three people. After discovering a severed finger, 28-year-old Diana Oughton was identified as one of the victims.

The Weathermen Launched a Terror Campaign in the 1960s and 1970s
Aftermath of the explosion in Greenwich Village. Free Republic

A Shift in Power

After all of the arrests, bombings, and deaths, the violent organization was forced to go underground. With hardly any support left, the members scattered; some assumed fake identities, while others connected with the Black Panther Party.

The group became known as The Weather Underground and announced a “Declaration of War” against the U.S. They still desired to persuade young Americans, especially white people “into armed revolution,” which was required to stop the injustice against African-Americans and other minorities both at home and overseas in the Vietnam War. By 1976, the organization mostly dissolved. That did not stop a few members from randomly robbing banks and bombing buildings in the name of The Weather Underground until 1985.

The radical group once had good intentions rooted in the SDS, full of ethos and compassion, but after a militant feature was added, and the belief that violence was required for change, more people were hurt than helped, including Diana Oughton.