Conservative student and radio talk show host Guy Benson recently published the following article in The Daily Northwestern, the newspaper of Northwestern University. In his article, he asked troubling questions about Northwestern Law Professor and former domestic terrorist leader Bernardine Dohrn. Dohrn, in turn, wrote a letter to the editor in response, accusing him of "McCarthyism." We reproduce both items below and let you decide which party is guilty of baseless slander. -- The Editors.
On its official website, Northwestern offers an impressive biography of Law Prof. Bernardine Dohrn, detailing her work in children's law, her educational background, her academic appointments and other notable accomplishments. The university's profile curiously omits one of her most significant leadership positions: She was a principal organizer of the Weathermen, a radical cabal, during the late '60s and early '70s.
Among its many criminal exploits, the group claimed responsibility for no fewer than 12 bombings between 1970 and 1974, and Dohrn spent a decade hiding from federal authorities to avoid prosecution for assaulting a police officer.
A basic Internet search turns up additional details regarding Dohrn's checkered past, including a New York Times article which, ironically, hit newsstands on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. The story featured Dohrn and her husband, Bill Ayers, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, about their days as domestic terrorists. In one of several outrageous statements, Ayers said he "did not regret setting bombs," concluding the Weathermen "did not do enough" in the way of violence. A search also turns up Dohrn's mug shot from when she was on the FBI's list of 10 most wanted fugitives in 1970.
Offended by Dohrn's statements and actions, and concerned that my tuition may help to pay the salary of an unrepentant former terrorist, I tried to contact her to set up an interview. I hoped Dohrn would be willing to condemn some of her crimes and strike a note of reconciliation. Dohrn would not even speak to me, however, and her assistant informed me that she only discusses her radical days with "certain magazines."
Since Dohrn flatly refuses to answer questions from skeptical sources, she makes it very difficult to discern whether she regrets her crimes and whether she now rejects terrorism as a means to achieve political ends. If Dorhn has truly changed her ways, it would behoove her to clear the air and continue pursuing her laudable work in child advocacy. Her refusal to even discuss these issues leaves many questions unanswered and turns skeptics into cynics.
Below is a sampling of the questions I intended to ask Dohrn. I believe that NU students, who subsidize her livelihood, deserve forthright answers to these questions:
1. According to the New York Times article, your husband is said to have described the Weathermen credo as, "Kill all the rich people. Break up their cars and apartments. Bring the revolution home, kill your parents -- that's where it's at." Did you subscribe to that ideology? Do you reject it now? If so, will you apologize for those statements?
2. During the '70s and '80s, you pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer, jumped bail, were indicted for inciting a riot, and spent seven months in jail for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating a robbery. Do you regret any of those actions, and do you have any newfound respect for the rule of law?
3. Your group has claimed responsibility for several bombings, including attacks on New York's police headquarters, a Harvard University building, the Capitol and the Pentagon. Were these attacks justified? Did they constitute terrorist acts?
Dohrn's presence at NU can hardly be classified as breaking news. However, the fact that NU employs someone with Dohrn's past is astounding, and her stonewalling has not assuaged my concerns.
Despite the considerable evidence I managed to access online, I am quite hesitant to call for anyone's dismissal without hearing both sides of the story. Through her refusal to discuss the matter, it is Dohrn herself who acts as the greatest obstacle to a balanced assessment. Therefore, I hope that many of my fellow students will join me in demanding some answers from Prof. Dohrn.
Bernardine Dohrn's Response Letter:
The tone of Guy Benson's April 5 guest column, "Law Prof Owes Explanation," is the kind of poorly researched "new McCarthyism" so suddenly fashionable. The reporter says he is denied "both sides of the story," unable to get a "balanced assessment." He quotes my "assistant" and the New York Times quoting my "husband" and asks me to clarify his alleged comments.
Since I speak publicly about the war in Iraq, racism, children's rights, international law and human rights, Benson and all NU students are welcome to be part of the regular give-and-take I enjoy with students, audiences and activists. To clarify, I have never endorsed terrorism, the use of violence to intimidate or coerce a civilian (or any other) population.
I fought the illegal, immoral war against Vietnam and the organized terrorism of my government -- and I unequivocally oppose the terrorism of governments, individuals, and religious, political and irregular organizations. I believe we all have an obligation to speak up about what is being done in our name.
-- Bernardine Dohrn, professor, School of Law