Northwestern’s Resident Terrorist
By: Brian Hecht
Wednesday, February 16, 2005

While Ward Churchill has gained infamy for supporting our terrorist enemies, Bernardine Dohrn can lay claim to actually being one.

Although the controversy over University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill’s pro-terrorist ravings has captured national headlines recently, the flirtation between America’s institutions of higher learning and radical, left-wing activism is hardly a new phenomenon. U.S. colleges and universities are rife with Marxist holdouts like Churchill and other relics from the Sixties. And while many, like Churchill, have openly supported America’s terrorist enemies, a dubious few have actually held prominent positions in terrorist groups. One of the most notable examples of this disturbing phenomenon is Bernardine Dohrn, an Associate Professor and the Director of the Children and Family Justice Clinic at the Northwestern University Law School

Although it is conveniently absent from her biography on Northwestern’s website, Dohrn was one of the leaders of the Weathermen (a.k.a: the Weather Underground), a band of radical students and student-aged activists who emerged from the antiwar group, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The Weatherman won the SDS elections in 1968 and then dissolved SDS, saying, “We've smashed the pig.” The Weathermen are responsible for multiple terrorist acts, including the bombings of the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, Ft. Dix and office buildings in various U.S. cities.  In fact, the group claimed credit for 12 terrorist bombings between 1970 and 1974 alone; and while no innocent civilians were killed:

1. They planned to blow up a social dance at Fort Dix. The bomb went off and blew three of the bomb builders up.

2. The police are investigating the bombing murders of two policemen attributed to Weatherman. 

In other words, if no innocents were killed, it certainly wasn’t for lack of effort on the Weathermen’s part. The group’s lawlessness was hardly limited to setting explosives, as they also helped plan and execute the escape of Harvard professor and LSD advocate Timothy Leary from federal prison in 1970, furnishing him with a fake passport and smuggling him to a Black Panthers training camp in Algeria.

Bernardine Dohrn, tellingly enough, helped set the tone for the Weathermen’s militant agenda. She was arrested for assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest during an attempt to incite a riot during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and even spent time on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List.  In 1969, shortly after members of the Manson Family committed the brutal Tate/LaBianca murders, Dohrn, speaking before an audience of SDS members, exclaimed, “Dig it! Manson killed those pigs, then they ate dinner in the same room with them, then they shoved a fork into a victim's stomach.”  Dohrn now claims to have made the remark in jest, “mocking violence in America.”[1] Her recent characterization, however, injects some irony to her tale, as the Weathermen did their level best to increase the amount of violence in America during their heyday. 


Yet, despite her militant track record, Dohrn has managed to secure gainful employment at one of America’s most prestigious law schools. For Dohrn, her current prominent position at Northwestern is the culmination of nearly four decades of violent anti-Americanism.


Dohrn graduated from the University of Chicago School of law in 1967,[2] and joined the National Lawyer's Guild, a radical left-wing group of attorneys which represent many an anti-American, anti-capitalist cause (for instance, National Lawyers Guild attorney Lynne Stewart was found guilty last week in a New York courtroom of aiding and abetting her former client, the notorious Egyptian terrorist, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman). But Dohrn’s initial foray into the legal field was short-lived—she quickly became even more extreme than her NLG comrades (no small feat) and branched out as a leader of some of the most ultra-radical elements within the anti-Vietnam war movement.  


Adding even more irony to Dohrn’s position at a Family and Legal Justice clinic is the fact that the Weathermen were not only violent, but also decadent. Dohrn’s husband, Bill Ayers, a leader of the Weathermen in his own right who is also currently a "distinguished professor" of Education at the University of Illinois, is not only on record as having said he thinks the Weathermen “didn’t do enough” in their pursuit of violence; he also wrote in his memoirs of the Weathermen’s sexual experimentation and their determination to “smash monogamy.” But while smashing monogamy might seem diametrically opposed to a future career dealing with legal issues involving the American family, it is the Weathermen’s predilection for violence and explosives which makes it most difficult to imagine an erstwhile leader of the group holding a faculty position at a top 20 law school. Ayers reportedly described the Weather Underground’s credo as such: “[k]ill all the rich people. Break up their cars and apartments.  Bring the revolution home, kill your parents, that's where it's really at.”[3] 


Dohrn, for her part, failed to appear in court for her assault charges in Chicago, and opted instead to become, along with Ayers, a fugitive from justice, spending a decade on the lam. During that time, she was indicted for inciting a riot, and both she and Ayers were charged with a conspiracy to bomb police stations and other government buildings. The charges against Dohrn and Ayers were later dropped, not because of their innocence, but due to the government’s bungling of the case.[4]  Dohrn resurfaced in 1980, surrendering to the police and pleading guilty to charges of aggravated battery and bail jumping, for which she received 3 years probation and was ordered to pay a fine of $1500.[5]


Two years later, Dohrn served seven months in jail for refusing to testify in front of the grand jury investigating a Brinks truck robbery in which another member of the Weathermen, Susan Rosenberg allegedly drove the getaway car.[6] Dohrn chose not to cooperate with the government, claiming that the grand jury system was “illegal” and “coercive.”[7] By 1984, however, Dohrn was ready to reenter the legal profession. She took, and passed, the New York State bar exam, and was hired by a major law firm. The Character Committee of the New York Bar Association, however, denied Dohrn’s admission application, citing her questionable commitment to the rule of law.[8] 


But Northwestern apparently has a lesser standard for its law faculty. Indeed, one does not need a law license to teach law, which is good for Dohrn, because judging from her experience with the New York Bar Association, she has likely disqualified herself from practicing law in any U.S. jurisdiction. In fact, she told the New York Times that she has yet to apply for admission to the Illinois Bar Association,[9] despite running her Children and Family Justice Clinic.


Yet Northwestern is not the only institution to lend some legitimacy to Dohrn’s career, despite knowledge of her past as a terrorist icon. Dohrn is the co-chair of the American Bar Association's Task Force on Children. Although the ABA is a policy and advocacy group and does not license attorneys, it is still a major force in America’s legal system.  And the foundation of no less than the most generous contributor to the Democratic Party touts Dohrn as a “nationally renowned professor, advocate, and author,” with absolutely no mention of what she is most known for: her leadership position in a homegrown terrorist group.


In addition to her oversight of the Family Justice Clinic, Dohrn also taught a class in 2003 titled Children in Trouble with the Law (she has more than her fair share of first hand experience in the matter) and this Spring is teaching a class called Children and Human Rights.  Her main agenda has been to argue for relaxing and rolling back the rules that many educators and citizens deem necessary to protect young children in an academic environment, which has unfortunately all too often become dangerous and fraught with peril because of increased gang activity.   Yet one of America’s finest law schools has tapped an individual, whom the New York Bar Association deemed unfit to practice law due to a lack of understanding and commitment to justice and the rule of law, to educate the next generation of attorneys about the best way to safeguard children.


Due largely to outside pressure, both the administration of Hamilton College and University of Colorado Board of Regents are reviewing the policies that led to their courtship of terrorist sympathizer Ward Churchill. But, as evidenced by Bernardine Dohrn’s ascension at the Northwestern University School of Law, such introspection and accountability remains largely unwelcome at our institutions of higher learning.




[1] Dinitia Smith, “No Regrets for a Love Of Explosives; In a Memoir of Sorts, a War Protester Talks of Life With the Weathermen” New York Times, September 11, 2001.


[2] Susan Chira, “AT HOME WITH: Bernadine Dohrn; Same Passion, New Tactics,” New York Times, November 18, 1993.


[3] Smith


[4] Smith.


[5] Chira


[6] Chira


[7] Smith


[8] Chira


[9] Chira

Brian Hecht is an attorney and terrorism analyst at the Investigative Project, a Washington DC-based counterterrorism think-tank.