The Real Issue Surrounding the Daily Caller Dinner with Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn: Your Tax Dollars Helped the Illinois Council on the Humanities Sponsor It!
The real issue surrounding the recent Sunday event in Chicago, in which former Weather Underground leaders Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn hosted a dinner for Daily Caller editor-in-chief Tucker Carlson, Caller editor Jamie Weinstein, media mogul Andrew Breitbart, Weekly Standard writer Matt Labash, and a Caller reader, is the legitimization of Ayers and Dohrn. That was not the fault of those who attended the dinner, but of the Illinois Humanities Council, the state’s facilitator and affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), which is subsidized by your taxpayer dollars.
The reason that Carlson and company were attending the dinner is because they won it at an auction held by the Council. Carlson cast the highest winning bid, which was $2,500. One might wonder why the Council would even think of auctioning off a dinner with two unrepentant advocates of “armed struggle,” who are dedicated in principle to the creation of a revolutionary communist future for the United States. A quick run through the Council’s search engine provides the answer: Bill Ayers in particular is a regular participant in the Council’s programs!
Moreover, they describe Ayers in the following words:
Bill Ayers is a school reform activist and Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is founder of the Center for Youth and Society and founder and co-director of the Small Schools Workshop. He has written extensively about social justice, democracy, and education. His book, Fugitive Days, is a memoir that chronicles the anti-war movement of the 60s.
Notice what is missing. The most prominent omission is that for which Ayers is most well known: as a founder and leader of the revolutionary terrorist group active in the 1960s and 70s, the so-called Weather Underground Organization, originally known as The Weathermen, but which had a name change after its revolutionary women -- including Dohrn -- criticized the leadership for its “sexism.”
Instead of letting Council readers know what the members believed, they simply praise Ayers for his concern for “social justice, democracy and education.” And anyone who has actually read Ayers’ memoir knows that it is hardly a chronicle of the anti-war movement.
Rather, as I pointed out in the review I wrote of Fugitive Days, he wants to “puke” when he hears anyone say that America is a “fair and decent place.” As I pointed out,
Ayers still looks back with fondness on the violence of what was called in those days the "New Left." Indeed, in Fugitive Days, he attempts to bring his readers to share his reasoning. He and his comrades were moved, he insists, by the most decent of motives to undertake, not terrorism, but a restrained and purposeful form of "resistance." Terrorists seek to harm average people—men, women, and children—without regard to the target. For the Weather Underground, "the symbolic nature of the target" was paramount. They were only trying to prove "that a homegrown guerrilla movement was afoot in America," and thus they bombed police stations, statues to those they considered oppressors, ROTC buildings, draft offices, and corporate headquarters.
What an advocate of social justice, indeed. On the day their group bombed the Pentagon, Ayers writes that “everything was absolutely ideal on the day I bombed the Pentagon.The sky was blue. The birds were singing. And the bastards were finally going to get what was coming to them." And he describes his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, as “admonishing her troops to violence wearing a ‘short skirt and high stylish black boots....Her blazing eyes....allied with her elegance,...a stunning and seductive symbol of the Revolutionary Woman.'”
Ayers has talked for the Council on such topics as “Should Public Schools be Saved?,” “A Culture of Fear?,” “Reading, Writing, Revolution,” and a series on “Civic Cinema.” Ayers is, clearly, a regular figure in programs featured by the Council. We should not be surprised. When Richard Daley was Mayor of Chicago, he awarded Ayers the distinction of being Chicago’s citizen of the year in 1997. Nevertheless, the decision to have a dinner hosted by Ayers and Dohrn actually led two of the Council’s board members to resign in protest. This month, both Gary Koch, who had been on the board since 1999, and Thomas Pavlik, a board member for the past two years, resigned.
In his letter of resignation, Pavlik wrote that “I have been vocal and adamant in my view that it was a mistake to auction off the Ayers/Dohrn dinner and that the proverbial ‘plug’ should have been pulled on the entire matter some time ago. Although I take consolation that I have fought the good fight, my arguments have been unavailing.” When the Board refused to do what he and Koch recommended, he regretfully resigned, telling them that “my conscience will not allow me to remain on the Board of an organization that, if only tacitly, condones citizens who advocated violence as part of civil protests,” which he noted “betrays the very nature of the humanities.”
In Gary Koch’s letter, he wrote that “I … find it reprehensible to be associated with individuals who advocated blowing up police stations and federal buildings. I would be a hypocrite to look the other way on this." The Council’s executive director, Kristina Valaitis, refused to make any public comment, only telling the press that “why people…choose to end their service is an internal matter.” At 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Valaitis phoned me. Refusing to make any comments, she set up a phone appointment for me with the chairman of the Illinois Humanities Council, Alton Harris, who will phone me tomorrow. I will post an update after I talk with him.
According to Judy Havemann, communications director of the NEH, their office recommended to Valaitis that “the dinner not be held.” Havemann said that 38 percent of the NEH budget goes to all local councils, and that she had no idea how much of that received by the Illinois Council made up the percentage of the Council’s entire budget. A source familiar with the NEH, however, told me that the Illinois Council’s budget was funded almost entirely -- over 90 percent -- by federal contribution, which means taxpayer dollars. When I asked whether or not the chairman of NEH had any position on whether an affiliate state body should be sponsoring events by Ayers and Dohrn, she responded that it was their position only that these decisions were up to the local council, and not the national NEH.
The truth is, however, that the chairman of NEH has to sign off on its national funds going to the local council. Even though they may have recommended that they cancel the dinner, Jim Leach, the NEH chairman, did not denounce the dinner, nor did he publicly dissociate NEH from the endeavor, even though its name is used by the Council in such sponsorship. One can argue that by failing to do that, Leach implicitly condoned it, especially since until now, no one even knew that NEH advised -- but did not insist -- that they not hold the event. A call to Jim Leach was not returned.
As for what happened at the dinner, it is clear that Tucker Carlson did not get his money’s worth. He had intended to have a discussion on what the relationship was between Barack Obama and Ayers and Dohrn when Obama lived in Hyde Park. Many have speculated that the couple had a close relationship with the man who is now our president.
At the Daily Caller website, editor Jamie Weinstein provides an account of what transpired. As Weinstein writes, “on Super Bowl Sunday former Weather Underground leaders and Obama friends Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn feted The DC to an elaborate gourmet meal at the home of a very rich friend to fulfill the obligations of a charity auction won by Daily Caller editor-in-chief Tucker Carlson.” Held at an “extravagant penthouse,” those present included the apartment’s owner, Lisa Yun Lee, and Univ. of Chicago history professor Adam Green, who is also a board member of the Illinois Humanities Council.
If they really intended to learn anything, it was clear that their goal would not be met. As Weinstein puts it, they were “guarded and seeking to avoid controversial topics,” something which the couple rarely appears guarded about -- except when they know they are in the presence of ideological opponents. What they got is a disingenuous claim by Dohrn that she is “disenchanted with politics,” and the statement from Ayers that “I find some unity with Ron Paul,” about which he did not elaborate.
Given Ron Paul’s very left-leaning isolationist foreign policy, especially his claim that Iran is hardly a threat to the United States, an affinity by Ayers to Paul should be expected. The one time Tucker Carlson tried to confront Dohrn and Ayers about their past with the Weather Underground and terrorism, she and Ayers responded that the questions were irrelevant and ancient history. “Read something contemporary,” Ayers responded.
Had I been there, I would have seized that moment to ask the couple about their support of Hamas and Hezbollah, and their prime role in organizing the Hamas-backed flotillas to Israel for the “Free Gaza Movement,” for which they had been scheduled to be part of. I would have also asked Ayers about his recent blurb for his imprisoned comrade David Gilbert’s new book, and his reference to Gilbert’s incarceration in what Ayers calls “the American gulag,” and his belief that his former comrade -- in prison for life in his role in the Brinks robbery that killed two police officers -- is a political prisoner and a fellow fighter for social justice. You can’t get more contemporary than that. (Ayers and Dohrn raised Gilbert and Kathy Boudin’s son Chesa since both were in prison)
The Caller guests did confront them on one point, asking Ayers and Dohrn “how [Ayers] could speak so approvingly of the current president when he, Ayers, had personally launched a terrorist bombing campaign to protest Richard Nixon’s foreign interventions.” They had previously noted that Ayers' support to Obama occurs even though our president has ordered increased drone attacks, increased troops to Afghanistan, and overthrown the Libyan dictator as well as authorized the extrajudicial killing of American citizens abroad. Ayers responded that “Nixon probably was a nice guy.”
If that comment means anything, it is that Ayers is saying that people who appear to be nice -- something very few have actually said about Richard Nixon -- can do evil things. Hitler, after all, loved dogs and other animals, and was an opponent of smoking because it caused cancer. Anyone would be silly to believe Ayers really thinks of the late Nixon as a nice person. Nor can the fact that Nixon implemented policies more liberal than conservative be something Ayers really supports, since in all of his writings, he has favored the overthrow of the liberal welfare state as a mask for the imperialist repressive reality that is the U.S. government.
So, if you ask me, Tucker Carlson wasted more than two grand for a nice dinner, plus hotel and airfare for his entourage. But he does deserve kudos for bringing to our attention that a state council affiliate of the NEH, one funded by taxpayer dollars sent to them by the national NEH, has proudly used Bill Ayers in many of its programs, and believed that posting a dinner by both Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, the latter who served a year in jail for her activities. As recently as two years ago, Dohrn proclaimed on Indian television that “The real terrorist is the American government,[which is guilty of] state terrorism unleashed against the world.” She also referred in that same interview to a new “armed, hard Right” that she says “is in control of the media.”
Dohrn goes to stress that “we never apologized,” that “we are radicals today,” and she thinks it crazy that people like her and Ayers, both “grandparents, can be [thought of as] the enemy.” About her own past, Dohrn reflectively asks, “Why would we renounce it?” After all, Dohrn tells her interviewer, the “bigger things of what we stood up for” were all correct. Dohrn tells her Indian television audience that since they are “living in the heart of the empire,” they support the “countries of the Third World [who are] trying to free themselves from imperialism.” She also believes they had “a very good grasp” in the 60s of how much racism, slavery and white oppression was the heart of the American character.
Laughing, Dohrn says “we were wrong about a lot of things, including the immediate possibility of revolution in the United States,” but as she puts it, “we wanted to be on that side and wanted to open up a front, as we thought of it, inside the heartland, inside the belly of the beast, and show that we would not be caught by surprise, that we could still have a public voice, and we thought we’d do it.” She is, clearly, more than proud of her stance for revolution, and obviously feels sadness that it is not imminent, as she once thought it was.
No one watching her recent video interview can come away with any response other than that the couple still believes in their revolutionary mission as defined in the late 60s and 70s, that they have not changed, and that unless they are in hostile company -- as they clearly defined the party for Tucker Carlson and guests -- they are more than willing to lay out what they believe and stand for.
All of what they think and now believe can be found from friendly interviewers. As to the details of what the relationship of the Obamas and Ayers and Dohrn really was, that has to be pieced together by investigative journalists like Stanley Kurtz and others, who do the legwork and find out information from files others have ignored. One has to be naïve, as perhaps Carlson was, to think that he would get any answers at a dinner party. For that matter, skilled professional radicals like Ayers and Dohrn would never willingly provide information that could be used to hurt their cause to those they consider the class enemy. To think otherwise, and to participate in an endeavor on their terms, sadly made the Daily Caller party almost into Ayers and Dohrn’s “useful idiots.”
Well, at least they evidently had a very good meal. Was it worth $2,500? I don’t think so, but it’s your call. I hope, at least, that the Caller can get a tax deduction on the cost. It was money spent in pursuit of a story, albeit one without real legs.
Addendum: East Coast Time 7:30 p.m.
Late this afternoon, I spoke with Alton Harris, Chairman of the Board of the Illinois Humanities Council. He told me, when I asked him what the Board’s response was to the NEH conveying that they thought the Ayers-Dohrn dinner should be canceled, that the Illinois Board regarded matters discussed at their meetings as confidential. He added that it was always regretful when people feel they have to resign, but stressed that 26 Board members stayed on.
I then queried Mr. Harris about whether he thought it was appropriate to have someone like Bill Ayers featured on their programs. He replied that their Board is dedicated to a variety of points of view and believed in promoting civil discourse between people of various persuasions. He then cited to me a statement made on a radio interview held at the Drake Hotel with Andrew Breitbart, broadcast right after he, Tucker Carlson and the others, left the meeting.
At that interview, Breitbart said - and this is what Harris quoted to me as a point in favor of his argument - that “I like being in the room talking with [Ayers] rather than sitting in the outside where people cast aspersion. He is a huge cultural figure so I am glad I got to meet him so I could be a conduit so I can tell people what he’s about.”
Unless Breitbart misspoke, which is possible in an impromptu radio interview, one must ask why shouldn’t people cast aspersion on the likes of Ayers and Dohrn? Do they really need Andrew Breitbart to tell people about them, since it is clear he is most unfamiliar with what they believe and think? Given this statement, it is no wonder that Alton Harris used Breitbart’s words to justify the Illinois Humanities Council making use of the proud terrorist.
With that remark, as well as other points made by Breitbart about the dinner, the clever conservative media mogul took a stance that fed right into Ayers’ and Dohrn’s own agenda, as he seemed to realize when he spoke on another radio program. On the “Tom and Todd” program, Breitbart said he likes “impish, mischievous behavior,” and liked the fact that the couple thought they would be serving dinner to some Chicago “left-wing knuckleheads,” and instead faced well-known conservatives. He said that Tucker Carlson asked him because he thought Breitbart would be the one who would “soften them up” and get them to divulge everything, and his very presence would “serve to break them.”
Instead, Breitbart found that “they put on the charm like you would never believe.” Ayers told him that he eschewed politics and was a cultural guy, which is how Breitbart sees himself as well. He too mentioned how Dohrn had told them she can’t take politics anymore and listens in the morning to sports radio on ESPN.
The meeting never got testy, Breitbrt continued, and he acknowledged that his radio interviewers were correct that the dinner “didn’t accomplish much.” They thought after the first half of the Super Bowl (the dinner was on Super Bowl Sunday) they would then get to the real discussion, but instead, they were asked to leave. The only thing they got out of them was the radical couple’s insistence that the media portrayed them as something they are not, and that their actions that people find reprehensible were “over forty years ago.” To that, Breitbart said, “they played the thing absolutely perfectly. It’s a fair assessment to say we got played by them.”
Breitbart, who is clear that he disagrees with them, and wants to expose how the organized Left really lives - in this case, a rich and extravagant lifestyle - Breitbart said he came out feeling Ayers and Dohrn, like Barack Obama, “are really movers and shakers.” He would like to take a road trip with Ayers, he said, to show him his America while Ayers did the same for him.
Breitbart then said that Ayers’ work in education was meant, he thought, to “cleanse their uneasy past.” It was clear that he has no acquaintance at all with Ayers’ work, since those who have looked at it, know that he has developed a radical curriculum meant to radicalize young people in the style of the education going on in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela. It is anything but an attempt to cleanse an ancient past. And, as Ayers and Dohrn have revealed in all their other work, they have no intent to cleanse their past, only to personally work to legitimize themselves so that people cannot feel threatened when they talk, and then hopefully gain more converts for their revolutionary communist politics.
As it turned out, the evidence from Breitbart’s own account of the Super Bowl Sunday dinner did in fact do as Ayers and Dohrn hoped, as they certainly succeeded in playing them. So, Tucker Carlson and Andrew Breitbart both got good publicity and some radio time and one TV interview with Jamie Weinstein on the Fox News morning program. All in all, a waste of $2500 and unneeded publicity for a vile radical couple whose political activities they hid from their guests and which now they can use to gain a wider audience.