- Leader of the domestic terrorist group Weather Underground Organization
- Participated in the bombings of New York City police headquarters in 1970, the Capitol building in 1971, and the Pentagon in 1972
- Delighted in Charles Manson's infamous murders
- Director of the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern University
- Professor at Northwestern University Law School
See also: Students
for a Democratic Society Bill Ayers
Weather Underground Organization
in Chicago in January 1942, Bernardine Rae Dohrn earned a
B.A. in political science from the University of Chicago in 1963, and
a J.D. from the University of Chicago School of Law four years later.
attending law school, Dohrn became an anti-Vietnam War organizer and
closely with the Black
Freedom Movement. After completing her legal studies, she
became a national
student organizer for the New York City-based National
New York in the fall of 1967, the attractive Dohrn, with her tight
miniskirt and knee-high Italian leather boots, created an instant
sensation among males in leftist circles. As she traveled from campus
to campus to do “draft counseling,”
potential draft-resisters flocked from miles around just to see her. “I'll
never forget the first time I saw Bernardine,” Sixties student
activist Greg Calvert would later recall. “She was wearing an
orange sweater and a purple skirt, and while everyone else had on
“Stop the War” buttons, hers said: “Cunnilingus is cool,
fellatio is fun.”
April 4, 1968, shortly after Martin Luther King, Jr. had been killed by an
assassin's bullet, a distraught Dohrn told a friend that while King's
politics may have been passé, she had nonetheless admired the man.
Later that night, Dohrn put on what she called her “riot clothes”
and proceeded to join the mayhem that was taking place on the streets
of New York's Times Square.
the late Sixties, Dohrn became a leader
Youth Movement (RYM), a wing of the Students
for a Democratic Society (SDS).
June 1968 she ran
unopposed in an election for the SDS post of Inter-Organizational
Secretary. Defining her politics at that time, Dohrn declared:
“I consider myself a revolutionary Communist.”
June 1969, Dohrn and ten
fellow RYM-affiliated SDS members (including such
notables as Jeff
Jones and Dohrn's lover Bill
Don't Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows"—a
manifesto whose title was derived from Bob Dylan's song,
"Subterranean Homesick Blues." Printed in the SDS
this manifesto marked the genesis of a new radical outgrowth of
of which Dohrn was the
goal [of revolution] is the destruction of U.S. imperialism and the
achievement of a classless world: world communism," the
manifesto characterized African-Americans as a "black colony"
within the United States. Said
Dohrn: “The best thing that we can be doing for ourselves, as well
as for the [Black]
Panthers and the revolutionary black liberation struggle, is to
build a fu**ing white revolutionary movement, not a national paper
alliance. Building a white Left movement from the ground up means we
need the Panthers and black radicals there—at
In July 1969, Dohrn and a number of fellow
to Cuba to meet with political representatives of Communist North
Vietnam. On August 29, 1969,
Left Notes reported
that those Vietnamese delegates had
told the American radicals in Cuba: “When you go into a city, look for
the person who fights hardest against the cops. That's the one you
talk all night with. Don't look for the one who says the best thing.
Look for the one who fights.”
Vietnamese delegation's leader, Huynh Va Ba of the Provisional
Revolutionary Government, had put it this way: “The war
is entering its final phase. You must begin to wage armed struggle as
soon as possible to become the vanguard and to take leadership of the
revolution.” Dohrn assured Ba that she and her comrades would try their best to fulfill his
to promptly carry
out the type of revolutionary violence urged by the Vietcong
directive, Weatherman called for a "national
action" to be held in Chicago from October 8-11, 1969. Dohrn
played a key role in fomenting violent riots at these so-called "Days of Rage." On the
first night, she
stood on a makeshift podium, the wind furling Vietnamese flags around
her, and used a bullhorn to shout praise and encouragement to the hundreds of supporters who had gathered there. After lauding them for being "truly a vanguard" of "courage[ous]" revolutionaries, Dohrn proceeded to lead the mob into the Loop, downtown Chicago's historic commercial center, where they smashed windows, set cars on fire, and trashed the famed Chicago Gold
Coast. Six people were wounded by police gunfire that first night, and dozens
were hospitalized for other injuries. Sixty-eight were arrested and
The next day was the so-called Women's Action. Again, Dohrn roused the troops with a fiery
speech and led some 80 protesters into the streets for more mayhem. Dohrn herself
was arrested that night and was put in jail.
Chicago district attorney named Richard Elrod was seriously
injured in the Days of Rage violence and became permanently paralyzed as a result.
Dohrn later mocked Elrod by leading her comrades in singing “Lay,
parody of the Bob Dylan song
1969, Dohrn recounted an incident that provided a window into her
psyche: During a recent plane ride, she and her boyfriend had openly
fondled one another and relished in the discomfort of their fellow
passengers. Said Dohrn afterward: “They didn't know we were Weathermen. They
just knew we were crazy. That's what we're about—being
crazy motherfu**ers and scaring the sh*t out of honky America.”
December 1969, Weatherman
a “War Council” at a black-owned concert hall in a Flint,
Michigan ghetto. At
that event (whose
included SDS leaders Tom
Hayden and Jeff Jones),
Dohrn launched a scathing attack on Hayden and his white confederates for
not being radical enough. Said Dohrn: “Since October 11 [the last
day of the Days of Rage], we've been wimpy…. A lot of us are still
honkies and we're scared of fighting. We have to get into armed
struggle.” Also during the Council, Dohrn
gave her most memorable and notorious speech to her followers.
Holding her fingers in what became the Weatherman “fork salute,”
she said of the bloody murders recently committed by the Manson
Family (in which the pregnant actress Sharon Tate and a Folgers
Coffee heiress and several other inhabitants of a Benedict Canyon
mansion had been brutally stabbed to death): “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!”
War Council yielded two
major decisions. The first was that Weatherman would go
underground and wage a violent, armed struggle against the state,
without attempting to organize the masses. Indeed
the Council ended with a formal declaration of war
against “AmeriKKKa,” always spelled with three K’s to signify
the United States' allegedly ineradicable white racism. The
second decision was to dissolve SDS.
Government Security hearings on March 31, 1970, U.S. Senator
asked Chicago gang leader Mike Soto to offer his assessment of Dohrn,
whose whereabouts were unknown. Soto replied:
"I have talked to her and she is a violent maniac, because when
I talked to her she said 'let's pick up arms, let's blow up this
country apart until we take over.'"
In April 1970, federal prosecutors charged Ayers and Dohrn, among others, with having incited the riots in Chicago eight months earlier. In June 1970, a federal grand jury indicted the couple and 12 others for conspiracy to bomb and kill civilians. At that point, Ayers and Dohrn, facing a lengthy trial and possible incarceration, went underground and would evade law-enforement authorities for the next decade. Weatherman thenceforth became known as the Weather Underground Organization.
May 1970 Dohrn made a tape
recording of a "Declaration of a State of War" on
behalf of WUO, and sent a transcript of the tape to the New
On October 14, 1970, Dohrn's name was added
to the FBI's list of the 10 Most Wanted Fugitives and remained there
until December 1973.
During her time underground (which
spanned most of the 1970s), Dohrn
periodically issued additional “war communiqués” to the public
at large. These communiqués commonly called for white Americans to
shed their “white skin privilege” and launch a violent race war
on behalf of Third World People.
1974 Dohrn co-authored—along
Ayers, Jeff Jones, and Celia Sojourn—a
book titled Prairie
Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism. This
book contained the following statements:
are a guerrilla organization. We are communist women and men
... deeply affected by the historic events of our time in the
struggle against U.S. imperialism."
intention is to disrupt the empire, to incapacitate it, to put
pressure on the cracks, to make it hard to carry out its bloody
functioning against the people of the world, to join the world
struggle, to attack from the inside."
only path to the final defeat of imperialism and the building of
socialism is revolutionary war."
war will be complicated and protracted. It includes mass struggle
and clandestine struggle, peaceful and violent, political and
economic, cultural and military, where all forms are developed in
harmony with the armed struggle."
mass struggle there can be no revolution.
struggle there can be no victory."
need a revolutionary communist party in order to lead the struggle,
give coherence and direction to the fight, seize power and build the
job is to tap the discontent seething in many sectors of the
population, to find allies everywhere people are hungry or angry, to
mobilize poor and working people against imperialism."
is the total opposite of capitalism/imperialism. It is the rejection
of empire and white supremacy. Socialism is the violent overthrow of
the bourgeoisie, the establishment of the dictatorship of the
proletariat, and the eradication of the social system based on
an allusion to Mao
Zedong's observation (in
a January 1930 letter) that "a single spark can start a
prairie fire." Dohrn's book was dedicated to a bevy of
violent, America-hating revolutionaries, including Sirhan Sirhan
(assassin of Robert F. Kennedy).
In late 1975, WUO put out an
issue of a magazine, Osawatamie,
which carried an article by Dohrn titled "Our Class Struggle,"
wherein she clearly articulated
are building a communist organization to be part of the forces which
build a revolutionary communist party to lead the working class to
seize power and build socialism. [...] We must further the study of
Marxism-Leninism within the WUO. The struggle for Marxism-Leninism is
the most significant development in our recent history. [...] We
discovered thru our own experiences what revolutionaries all over the
world have found—that Marxism-Leninism is the science of
revolution, the revolutionary ideology of the working class, our
guide to the struggle […]"
during the Seventies, Dohrn and Ayers, still unmarried, gave birth to two sons. One was named Malik (the
Muslim name of Malcolm X), and another was named Zayd (after
Zayd Shakur, a Black
Panther who had been killed while driving the cop-killer JoAnne
a hideout in 1973).
Dohrn and Ayers spent the last years of their
underground life (in the late 1970s) in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, where
they used the aliases Christine Louise Douglas and Anthony J. Lee. Unbeknownst to both, federal charges against them had been dropped in 1974 after the Supreme Court had ruled the FBI's wiretap techniques unconstitutional.
In the late Seventies, WUO split into two factions,
the "May 19 Coalition" (which advocated that its members
remain in hiding) and the "Prairie Fire Collective" (which
favored coming out of hiding). Dohrn and Ayers were members of the
latter. In 1980 they surrendered to authorities and were delighted to find that the charges against them had been dropped. Dohrn did plead guilty,
however, to charges of aggravated battery and bail-jumping, for which
she paid a $1,500 fine and received three years of probation.
Shortly after turning themselves in,
Dohrn and Ayers adopted Chesa Boudin, son of former Weather
Underground members Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, when the parents
were convicted of a 1981 murder that had taken place during an
armored car robbery.
Dohrn later served seven months in jail for refusing to testify against ex-Weatherman Susan
Rosenberg in the latter’s 1982 trial for armed robbery. During that jail stay, said an Associated Press report, Dohrn "changed her mind about one principle, her long-standing opposition to marriage ... she took a weekend furlough to wed William Ayers, her longtime companion and her boys' father."
1984 to 1988, Dohrn was employed by the Chicago law firm Sidley
Austin LLP. In
1991 she was hired by Northwestern
University School of Law
in Chicago, as an adjunct professor of law.
Also in 1991, Dohrn was
listed as a member of the "tribute committee" for the Chicago
Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights Bicentennial Celebration,
as part of the struggle to disband the House Committee on Un-American
Activities (HUAC). More recently, the Chicago Committee fought to
abolish the PATRIOT
In 1994 Dohrn and Bill Ayers were listed
on a "Membership, Subscription and Mailing List" for the
of Correspondence, an offshoot of the Communist
In the mid-1990s, Dohrn and Ayers hosted
at their Chicago home to introduce the budding politician
Obama to their neighbors during his first run for the Illinois
has been a commencement speaker at several university graduations,
including California’s prestigious Pitzer College, where in 2004
she told the graduates:
“During your student years here, the
shredded economy and loss of jobs, the consequences of deregulation
and devolution that bankrupted state and local governments, the
relentless punishment and imprisoning of over two million people in
America, flagrant corporate plunder and criminality, rolling
blackouts, the apparently permanent war on terrorism, the shock and
awe occupation of Iraq, systematic and degrading detention without
trial, torture and extra-judicial assassinations, and the
establishment of a crescent of new U.S. military bases across the
Middle East and South Asia—all
have transformed whatever blissful illusions were harbored as you
April 2006, Dohrn was invited
at the first conference (in Providence, Rhode Island) of the new
for a Democratic Society (SDS). Four months later, the
first national convention
of this new SDS was held in Chicago and opened its proceedings with a
reading of a written greeting from Dohrn.
In August 2006, Dohrn
and Ayers were interviewed
by the Chicago-based socialist journal In
In the interview, Dohrn called for a major "progressive"
movement to push the U.S. government farther to the left—as
had happened under Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s and Lyndon
Johnson in the 1960s. Asserting that the Democratic Party was not
nearly radical enough for her taste, Dohrn said:
don’t look to the Democratic Party. I don’t have hope for the
Democratic Party. I think the Democratic Party is bankrupt. And I
think the only answer is for us to build an independent, radical
movement, and, I mean, the big ‘us.’”
Also in 2006, Dohrn was
of the newly formed Movement
for a Democratic Society (MDS).
November 2007, Dohrn spoke at a 40th anniversary celebration of the
original Students for a Democratic Society. In her
remarks, she praised leftist activists for their long-term
efforts aimed at "overthrowing everything hateful about this
government and corporate structure that we live in, capitalism
itself." She approvingly cited the late Martin Luther King,
Jr.'s assertion that "the greatest purveyor of violence on
this earth is my own country." "I think that's still true
today," Dohrn added. Further, she lamented "the whole
structural implications of white supremacy and the ways in which race
and class and gender are just so intertwined in the United
2008, Dohrn signed a statement
circulated by the Partisan
calling for the release of convicted cop-killer Mumia
Mumia for being a “former Black
who had been “framed” as a murderer and sentenced to death by a
racist U.S. justice system, and denouncing capital punishment as “a
legacy of chattel slavery and a barbaric outrage ... the lynch rope
To view a list of other prominent signatories, click
of 2009, Dohrn was an editorial board member of the socialist journal In
December 2009, Dohrn and Ayers were among the 1,300
American and European activists
who traveled to the Egypt-Gaza border to participate in a
pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel demonstration led by Code
a November 4, 2010 interview, Dohrn said
of the American political Right: "It’s racist; it’s armed;
it’s hostile; it’s unspeakable." "The
real terrorist is the American government,” she added, “state
terrorism unleashed against the world.”
In February 2012 Dohrn stated that the anti-war movement, which had become largely silent since the election of President Barack Obama, had now become the Occupy (i.e., Occupy Wall Street) movement. Dohrn herself had supported the Occupy movement since its inception in September 2011.
at least one occasion, Dohrn has been a guest speaker at a gathering
of the Left
To view a list of additional noteworthy Left Forum speakers and
today is a member
of the Chicago based organization
network of artists, scholars and writers working in the tradition of
civil-rights activist Ella Baker (founder of the Ella
Baker Center for Human Rights).
is currently an associate professor of law at Northwestern
University, where she is also director of the Legal Clinic’s
Children and Family Justice Center. She sits on important committees
and boards of the American Bar Association, and she formerly served
as an advisory board member
for the American
Civil Liberties Union.
Dohrn was also a board of trustees member of a Chicago-based graduate school in child development known as the
Erikson Institute, named after the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson and co-founded by Barbara Bowman, the mother of Barack Obama's close advisor Valerie Jarrett. (In
1950 Erikson became a hero
to the left by choosing to resign from his professorship at the
University of California rather than sign an anti-communist loyalty
oath as the school required.) Tom Ayers (father of Bill
Ayers) has also served on the Erikson Institute's board.
Dohrn has expressed no real regret
over her radical past. Though she has distanced herself from the
Manson remark (insinuating, falsely, that it was a “joke”), her
political views are as extreme as ever. Regarding her Weatherman
past, she contends: “We rejected terrorism. We were careful not to
hurt anybody.” Both assertions are false, however. Weatherman's
twofold agenda was terrorism (which is why Charles Manson was Dohrn's
hero) and war (the organization’s very existence was launched with
a formal “declaration of war”).
 Peter Collier and David Horowitz, Destructive
Generation (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 1989), p. 73.
 Ibid., pp. 81-82.
 Ibid., pp. 87-88.
 Ibid., p. 83.
 Ibid., pp. 93-94.