How Bobby Kennedy Started the War on Gangs

How Bobby Kennedy Started the War on Gangs

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In his 2018 State of the Union speech, Donald Trump repeatedly referenced a specific gang, MS-13, by name. These mentions were intended to justify his administration’s anti-immigration policies. Though MS-13 originated among Salvadoran immigrant communities in L.A., most of its members are now concentrated in Central America, particularly El Salvador. The group is relatively small: Of the 1.4 million gang members the FBI estimates are in the U.S., less than one percent of them belong to MS-13.

To most Americans, it makes sense that the federal government might target a large organization that commits crimes nationally. But before Robert F. Kennedy’s term as Attorney General from 1961 to ‘63, the federal government—as well as many Americans—didn’t really understand the concept of “organized crime.”

When Kennedy arrived at the Department of Justice, its organized crime and racketeering section “was just two or three lawyers reading files,” says Ronald Goldfarb, a lawyer who worked in the section under Kennedy and wrote a book about the subject titled Perfect Villains, Imperfect Heroes. “[Kennedy] enlivened it so that it quickly grew to about 60 lawyers, and it was the department’s priority.”

Admittedly, Kennedy only gained control of the DOJ because his older brother, John F. Kennedy, was president. At 35 years old, Robert Kennedy had no experience for the job, and JFK acknowledged this by saying that his brother “needs some solid legal experience and this job should provide it.” (Goldfarb says the quip is an example of JFK’s wry humor, but it was also kind of true.)

Despite his lack of experience, Goldfarb maintains that Robert Kennedy rose to the occasion. Under Kennedy, one of the DOJ’s main focuses became the Mafia, which by the mid-20th century had an estimated 5,000 members and thousands of associates across the country. Previously, individual gang members had been investigated for crimes, but this was the first time the government had attempted to take on a whole criminal organization.

Kennedy was the first Attorney General to encourage the government’s investigative agencies—the DOJ, the FBI, the IRS and others— to work together to investigate large-scale crimes and national crime syndicates.

The department also investigated crooked unions, gambling rings, and other organizations that broke laws in multiple parts of the country. In 1961, Kennedy sent Goldfarb and others to Newport, Kentucky, with instructions to look into a lurid case. When a man named George Ratterman ran for sheriff of Newport’s county of Campbell on a platform of tackling the city’s rampant crime, his opponents drugged him and planted him in bed with a stripper named April Flowers to discredit him.

Known as “Sin City”, Newport was then a hub for prostitution and the center of a national gambling ring, where a betting syndicate handled “over the wires, extraordinary sums of money bet around the country,” Goldfarb writes in his book. In the end, Ratterman won the sheriff’s seat and crime began to go down.

“Robert Kennedy, when he went to testify before Congress, used Newport as an example of why it was a myth to consider crime as local,” Goldfarb says. “Because much of organized crime was interstate.”

Kennedy also had to push past resistance from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who at the time spoke and behaved as if he didn’t believe the Mafia existed. It’s not clear if Hoover really believed that; but in any case, Goldfarb says Hoover had other reasons for avoiding organized crime.

“He was so powerful in those days that he resented being subjected to the controls of the Attorney General,” Goldfarb says. “He was more interested in catching communists in those days. He was interested in bank robberies, auto thefts, things where the media made him look good when he went up to Congress for money.”

In contrast, Goldfarb says “our cases would take years to develop and tremendous resources, so [Hoover] was very, very reluctant to do what RFK wanted him to do.” Even so, under Kennedy’s leadership, the DOJ began to work with the FBI to investigate organized crime.

Because of Kennedy’s contributions, the federal government came to understand that sometimes crime in different parts of the country is connected—a concept that, in the era of cyberhackers, seems obvious.

But distinguishing valid international organizations from the political scapegoats? That’s the part of organized crime that modern America is still struggling with.

Watch RFK: The Kennedy Family Remembers, a new HISTORY special about the life of Robert F. Kennedy.

The Strange Connection Between Bobby Kennedy’s Death and Scooby-Doo

Scooby-Doo, one of the most enduring animated characters ever to emerge from U.S. television, celebrates his 50th birthday this month.

Created by Hanna-Barbera Productions in 1969 for CBS Saturday morning, the original series “Scooby-Doo, Where are You!” premiered on Sept. 13, 1969, ran for two seasons and spun off 15 subsequent series. The formula of four mystery-solving teenagers – Fred, Daphne, Velma and Shaggy along with the titular talking Great Dane – remained mostly intact as the group stumbled their way into pop-culture history.

But as I explain in my forthcoming book on the franchise, Scooby-Doo’s creation was no happy accident it was a strategic move in response to cultural shifts and political exigencies. The genesis of the series was inextricably bound up with the societal upheavals of 1968 – in particular, the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.

The world Bobby Kennedy hoped for isn't here yet – we need to try harder

Bobby Kennedy tried to bring people together, at a time when America was tearing itself apart over the Vietnam war, and black and white Americans were fighting in the streets at home. Photograph: Andrew Sacks/Getty Images

Bobby Kennedy tried to bring people together, at a time when America was tearing itself apart over the Vietnam war, and black and white Americans were fighting in the streets at home. Photograph: Andrew Sacks/Getty Images

Most politicians have a political hero. Someone they look up to. Someone they wish they were half as good as.

Mine died 50 years ago this week. Murdered in a kitchen in a Californian hotel.

His dad called him a runt. His enemies called him ruthless. His brother called him Black Robert. We know him as Bobby.

When he died so did the dream of Camelot restored, of another Kennedy in the White House. But Bobby wasn’t just another Kennedy. He was different from his famous brother.

For a start, he was shorter. But he was also tougher. Jack wrote a book about political courage. Bobby had it in spades. He took on everyone from Jimmy Hoffa to the mafia to white segregationists.

He also had a clearer moral compass than his older brother. When the world was on the brink of nuclear war for 13 days in October 1962, it was Bobby who convinced his brother not to bomb Cuba. With the memories of Pearl Harbour still fresh, he told JFK that America didn’t launch sneak attacks. The president took his advice and it probably averted a nuclear war. It was also Bobby who urged him to act on civil rights.

When his brother died, Bobby could have crawled up in a ball, never to be seen again. But he didn’t do that. Instead he used his fame and his name to shine a light on the darkest parts of America. On poverty and prejudice. On children dying of hunger in the richest country in the world. On the plight of migrant farm workers who picked but didn’t share in the national bounty and on what he called “a national disgrace” – the desperate deprivation endured by Native Americans.

At a time when America was tearing itself apart over a war it was losing in Vietnam and black and white Americans were fighting in the streets at home, Bobby Kennedy also tried to bring people together. If you haven’t seen it, watch the speech he made in Indianapolis on the night Martin Luther King died. No other white man could have made that speech. That night, fires burned in more than 60 cities across America, but Indianapolis was quiet.

Like any politician, he made mistakes. A big one was the decision he made when he was attorney general to tap Martin Luther King’s phone. He also admitted that the war he tried to end in Vietnam, he had also helped to start.

And, like most politicians, he was ambitious – but he was ambitious with a purpose.

In South Africa in 1966, in the depths of apartheid, he told a group of university students: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.”

That pretty much sums up Bobby Kennedy. He believed change starts with the actions of a single person and that if enough people do the same thing, they can bend history.

The world he hoped for isn’t here. Apartheid has gone, but poverty and prejudice are still here. The divide between rich and poor and black and white still exists – and not just in America. That doesn’t mean he was wrong. It just means we need to try harder.

We will never know what would have happened if Bobby Kennedy hadn’t walked through that kitchen 50 years ago, whether he would have won the Democratic nomination, whether he would have become president or even whether he would have been any good.

But I do know we need more people like Bobby Kennedy. Not just in politics. Everywhere. More people trying to bring us together. More people willing to act to improve the lives of others. More people seeking what Lord Tennyson called “a newer world”. More tiny ripples of hope.

Jason Clare MP, member for Blaxland, is shadow minister for trade and investment, and shadow minister for resources and northern Australia

Bobby Kennedy personified America’s better angels

Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated a half-century ago. Since then, he has been lionized as an American hero — a defender of liberty and champion of civil rights for the downtrodden, the poor, and persecuted.

Ironically, Bobby wasn’t always described in such glowing terms.

Initially, many Americans were skeptical about John F. Kennedy’s younger brother. They saw him as ambitious, arrogant and aggressive. They even questioned his qualifications to be attorney general. When critics accused President Kennedy of nepotism, JFK disarmed them with humor, saying: “I can’t see that it’s wrong to give him a little legal experience before he goes out to practice law.”

Bobby proved he was up to the job. He took on some of the biggest challenges of the day, including organized crime, the Teamsters, civil rights violations. Arguably, his finest moment came during the Cuban Missile Crisis when his calm analysis and creative arguments helped the president avoid nuclear war.

No one was more devastated by JFK’s assassination than Bobby. Yet, he knew he had to soldier on. At the Democratic National Convention in 1964, he gave a moving speech imploring the audience never to give up. He explained that his brother identified with Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Said Bobby: “But we could apply it to the Democratic Party and to all of us as individuals. ‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.’"

Bobby Kennedy never forgot those promises. Not even when he had to deal with his brother’s successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson. Bobby and LBJ had never gotten along Bobby even argued against adding Lyndon to the ticket in 1960. Their relationship worsened when Bobby and not Vice President Johnson became JFK’s chief confidant and adviser. Things deteriorated after the assassination the new president didn’t trust the attorney general he inherited and believed Bobby was undermining his every move. When Johnson made it clear that, despite popular sentiment, he would not choose RFK as his running mate in 1964, Bobby eventually resigned from the cabinet to run for the U.S. Senate from New York. After his election, Bobby supported President Johnson on most issues but the two soon tangled over Vietnam War policy.

Sen. Robert Kennedy — like John F. Kennedy before him — was loved by his supporters and despised by his detractors. Bobby’s supporters saw him as the rightful heir to the Kennedy legacy, while his political enemies denounced him as a ruthless carpetbagger. The charismatic young senator became an advocate for civil rights and more opportunities for minorities and have-nots he promoted social justice and questioned America’s role in Vietnam. Those positions made him an idealistic hero to progressives but a demagogic villain for conservatives.

Bobby Kennedy eventually split with President Johnson over Vietnam. Kennedy did not support escalation of the war and sought a negotiated settlement as soon as possible. That anti-war position was a bold move at the time, but Bobby wasn’t yet ready to launch a primary challenge to Johnson. So, the nation’s peace movement turned to Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-Minn.). Kennedy didn’t announce his candidacy until after McCarthy weakened LBJ in the New Hampshire primary the delay opened him to all the old charges that he was just a ruthless opportunist. Equally important, it divided the peace movement and lessened RFK’s chances of winning the nomination.

We’ll never know for certain whether Bobby would have won the Democratic nomination because he was assassinated after his stunning victory over McCarthy in the California primary. What we do know is that after California, Bobby still had a very steep hill to climb to become the Democrats’ nominee in 1968. Vice President Hubert Humphrey had the backing of President Johnson and most of the Democratic establishment, which controlled the nominating process at the convention. If Bobby could have won his party’s nomination — and that’s a very big “if” — he arguably would have had an easier time defeating Richard Nixon than did Humphrey, who was viewed as the establishment candidate. Since Humphrey came within a whisker of beating Nixon, Bobby — with a broader base and more passionate supporters — might have won.

America never got the chance to see if Bobby could have fulfilled the promise of John F. Kennedy’s “New Frontier.” His death turned out to be every bit as devastating and demoralizing as JFK’s. Arguably, America still is suffering the consequences of it.

Had Bobby become president, the world might well be a different place today. Then again, like the old nursery rhyme says, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” The reality is that America got Nixon instead of Bobby, war not peace, despair and division instead of hope and unity. That dark road eventually led to Donald Trump Donald TrumpAOC said she doubts Biden's win would have been certified if GOP controlled the House Trump aides drafted order to invoke Insurrection Act during Floyd protests: report Overnight Defense: Intel releases highly anticipated UFO report | Biden meets with Afghan president | Conservatives lash out at Milley MORE .

Fifty years have passed since Robert F. Kennedy died on June 6, 1968, but his dream of a better America lived on. Given everything that’s going on today at home and abroad, Kennedy’s patriotism, principles, sense of decency and dedication to truth, liberty and justice for all are more relevant than ever. Bobby personified America’s better angels. He became a symbol for civil rights and aided those in need regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, class or religion.

Bobby Kennedy’s significance and the bittersweet mood of the nation after his death inspired Dion’s 1968 hit record, “Abraham, Martin, and John.” The song linked RFK to other martyred American heroes and offered hope that change eventually would come. “Didn't you love the things they stood for? Didn't they try to find some good for you and me?” sang Dion. The elegy ended with a poignant question: “Has anybody here seen my old friend Bobby, can you tell me where he's gone? I thought I saw him walkin' up over the hill, with Abraham, Martin and John.”

More horror, better ratings

In the late 1960s, the television and film studio Hanna-Barbera was the largest producer of animated television programming.

For years, Hanna-Barbera had created slapstick comedy cartoons – “Tom and Jerry” in the 1940s and 1950s, followed by television series like “The Yogi Bear Show” and “The Flintstones.” But by the 1960s, the most popular cartoons were those that capitalized on the secret agent craze, the space race and the popularity of superheroes.

In what would serve as a turning point in television animation, the three broadcast networks – CBS, ABC and NBC – launched nine new action-adventure cartoons on Saturday morning in the fall of 1966. In particular, Hanna-Barbera’s “Space Ghost and Dino Boy” and Filmation’s “The New Adventures of Superman” were hits with kids. These and other action-adventure series featured non-stop action and violence, with the heroes working to defeat, even kill, a menace or monster by any means necessary.

So for the 1967-1968 Saturday morning lineup, Hanna-Barbera supplied the networks with six new action-adventure cartoons, including “The Herculoids” and “Birdman and the Galaxy Trio.” Gone were the days of funny human and animal hijinks in their place: terror, peril, jeopardy and child endangerment.

The networks, wrote The New York Times’ Sam Blum, “had instructed its cartoon suppliers to turn out more of the same – in fact, to go ‘stronger’ – on the theory, which proved correct, that the more horror, the higher the Saturday morning ratings.”

Such horror generally took the form of “fantasy violence” – what Joe Barbera called “out-of-this-world hard action.” The studio churned out these grim series “not out of choice,” Barbera explained. “It’s the only thing we can sell to the networks, and we have to stay in business.”

Hanna-Barbera co-founder Joe Barbera poses with three of his studio’s most popular animated characters, Scooby-Doo, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, in this 1996 photograph. AP Photo/Reed Saxon

Barbera’s remarks highlighted the immense authority then held by the broadcast networks in dictating the content of Saturday morning television.

In his book “Entertainment, Education and the Hard Sell,” communication scholar Joseph Turow studied the first three decades of network children’s programming. He notes the fading influence of government bodies and public pressure groups on children’s programming in the mid-1960s – a shift that enabled the networks to serve their own commercial needs and those of their advertisers.

The decline in regulation of children’s television spurred criticism over violence, commercialism and the lack of diversity in children’s programming. No doubt sparked by the oversaturation of action-adventure cartoons on Saturday morning, the nonprofit corporation National Association for Better Broadcasting declared that year’s children’s television programming in March 1968 to be the “worst in the history of TV.”

The Real Bobby Kennedy

I think we can end the divisions in the United States…the violence, the disenchantment with our society, the divisions, whether it’s between blacks and whites, between the poor and the affluent, or between age groups, or over the war in Vietnam–that we can start to work together again. We are a great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country…. So my thanks to all of you, and it’s on to Chicago, and let’s win there.

Robert F. Kennedy said this to ecstatic supporters at the Ambassador Hotel following his triumph in the California Democratic primary on June 4, 1968. Shortly after his victory speech, Kennedy left the stage, and as he was entering the crowded hotel kitchen to greet supporters, he was shot and mortally wounded. Two days later, he died.

For many liberals, the hopes for progressive political change died with him. “The 󈨀s came to an end in a Los Angeles hospital on June 6, 1968,” Richard Goodwin mournfully declared in his popular memoir Remembering America: A Voice from the Sixties. Goodwin was a former White House staffer during the Kennedy-Johnson administrations who had resigned over the escalation of the war in Vietnam. He would later become a speechwriter for Sens. Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy during their 1968 presidential campaigns.

Jack Newfield, one of the leading journalists of the Village Voice, wrote in his memoir of Robert Kennedy that after his death “from this time forward, things would get worse.”

Goodwin, along with historians like Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and many members of an adoring press corps who could barely contain their enthusiasm for Bobby Kennedy’s quest for the White House when he was alive, would transform his life and death into a powerful liberal myth that has lasted to this very day.

Bobby Kennedy–in reality, an arrogant and intolerant political operative obsessed with his older brother John F. Kennedy’s political career–is now remembered as a thoughtful, pained prophet who identified with the dispossessed and forgotten of American society.

He has been placed alongside his brother and Martin Luther King Jr. as a trio whose assassinations collectively put America on the wrong historical path. Had they lived, much of the “turmoil” of the 1960s–the urban rebellions, the war in Vietnam and the long decades of conservative rule begun with Richard Nixon’s election to the presidency in 1968–could have been avoided.

Bobby Kennedy was the last hope–so goes the myth–for peaceful, progressive change. In the words of Michael Harrington, author of The Other America, “he was a man who actually could have changed the course of American history.”

The question we have to ask four decades later is whether any of this is remotely true.

ROBERT FRANCIS Kennedy was the third son of Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., a ruthless and politically ambitious businessman from Massachusetts. Kennedy Sr. made a fortune from a variety of enterprises, including real estate, moviemaking, the stock market and bootlegging alcohol during Prohibition.

Joe Kennedy had extensive ties to organized crime and corrupt politicians, who helped make him very rich and to pursue his political ambitions. His own ambition to be the first Irish Catholic president of the United States, however, was thwarted by Franklin Roosevelt, and he transferred his dream to his sons. Three out of four would either become president or run for the presidency.

It is one of the great ironies of U.S. political mythology that the Kennedy family, viewed today as the very symbol of liberalism, was, in fact, deeply conservative.

Joe Kennedy was openly supportive of the pro-fascist forces in Spain during that country’s civil war in the 1930s. He was appointed U.S. ambassador to Great Britain by Roosevelt in 1938, and was known as an “appeaser”–one of those who supported making concessions to Hitler on the eve of the Second World War. Herbert von Dirksen, the German ambassador to Britain, told his superiors that Ambassador Kennedy was “Germany’s best friend” in London. Kennedy was fired as U.S. ambassador in 1940.

From this point onward, Joe Kennedy concentrated on promoting his sons’ political careers and conservative causes in more covert ways. He was very close to the infamous anticommunist Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, after McCarthy became famous for persecuting liberals and radicals. During McCarthy’s 1952 reelection campaign, Joe made a sizeable contribution and then asked that his son Bobby be placed on the McCarthy subcommittee investigating “subversives.”

Bobby only stayed on McCarthy’s committee for six months, using it as a springboard for an assignment to another congressional committee that gained him greater notoriety–the Senate Rackets Committee led by the reactionary Democratic Sen. John McClellan of Arkansas, whom the conservative labor leader George Meany described as “an anti-labor nut.”

As an assistant counsel to McClellan, Bobby carried on his particularly vicious persecution of Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa, gaining a reputation for ruthlessness in pursuit of his political enemies and rivals. Joe Kennedy complimented his son on this character trait. “He’s a great kid,” Joe said. “He hates the same way I do.”

Throughout the 1950s, Bobby remained focused on building his older brother’s political career. He was campaign manager for John F. Kennedy’s first U.S. Senate campaign in 1952 and his presidential campaign in 1960. Bobby was his brother’s closest advisor (after Joe Kennedy Sr.). When JFK won the presidency, he made Bobby his attorney general.

THE KENNEDY presidency took place during a crucial time for three issues that would later come to dominate the rest of the decade: the civil rights movement, the Cuban Revolution and the war in Vietnam.

The Kennedys relied heavily on the Black vote to win the presidency in 1960, making certain symbolic overtures to Martin Luther King during the campaign. But as Bobby recalled in 1964, “I did not lie awake at night worrying about the problems of Negroes.”

That would soon change as Freedom Riders challenged segregation on interstate bus lines during the first year of the Kennedy presidency. The year before, a wave of sit-ins took place across the country to desegregate everything from lunch counters to public swimming pools. A mass movement against Jim Crow segregation was emerging–and the Kennedys did everything they could to contain it.

The Democratic Party was still a Jim Crow party–white Southern Democrats were known as “Dixiecrats”–with Blacks almost entirely disenfranchised in the South and the border states. For most of the 20th century, the Democrats needed the “solid South” (the states of the former Confederacy voting for the Democratic ticket as a bloc) to win national elections, and Kennedy was no exception. During his short time in office, John Kennedy appointed five supporters of segregation to the federal judiciary.

The Freedom Riders and sit-ins threatened to push the Dixiecrats into the Republican Party. The Kennedys hoped to pressure civil rights activists in a direction that wouldn’t jeopardize their southern support.

John Kennedy told Louisiana Gov. James H. Davis that his administration was trying “to put this stuff in the courts and get it off the street.” As attorney general, Bobby Kennedy famously told representatives of student civil rights groups, “If you cut out this Freedom Rider and sitting-in stuff and concentrate on voter registration, I’ll get you a tax exemption.”

He told Harris Wofford, special assistant to the president on civil rights, “This is too much,” after King refused to call off the protests. RFK added, “I wonder if they have the best interests of the country at heart. Do you know that one of them is against the atom bomb? Yes, he even picketed against it in jail! The president is going abroad, and all this is embarrassing him.”

Robert Kennedy also authorized FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover to begin wiretapping Martin Luther King’s telephone conversations on the grounds that Stanley Levison, King’s closest adviser, was allegedly a closet member of the Communist Party. Of King, RFK remarked, “We never wanted to get very close to him just because of these contacts and connections that he had, which we felt were damaging to the civil rights movement.”

The Kennedys put enormous pressure on the organizers of the historic March on Washington in August 1963 to cancel the event then, when that failed, to control it. Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee leader and future member of Congress John Lewis wanted to say in his speech: “I want to know: Which side is the federal government on?” The administration compelled him to take this out because, according to Bobby Kennedy, it “attacked the president.”

Lewis’s frustration with the Kennedy administration would have resonated with many civil rights supporters. One major source of frustration with the Kennedys was their refusal to provide federal protection to civil rights activists. Bobby later admitted, “We abandoned the solution, really, of trying to give people protection.”

A generation of civil rights activists became radicalized in the face of the waffling compromises and inaction of the Kennedy administration.

MANY OF that generation also became radicalized by the Kennedy administration’s foreign policy, particularly when it came to Cuba and Vietnam. The Kennedy brothers were as committed to defending the American empire as any reactionary Republican.

For much of the 20th century, Cuba had ben, for all intents and purposes, a colony of the United States, where poverty wages were being paid–and huge profits reaped–by American corporations. It also was a haven for the American Mafia.

Castro’s nationalist revolution in 1959 drove the American ruling class to hysterics, and they set out to destroy Castro. The Kennedy administration inherited plans from the Eisenhower administration and authorized the CIA’s disastrous “Bay of Pigs” invasion of Cuba in early 1961, the most spectacular of the U.S. government’s failed attempts to crush the Cuban Revolution.

But it didn’t stop there. Bobby Kennedy led a special White House committee that oversaw “Operation Mongoose,” a wide-ranging covert program of sabotage, assassination, blackmail and other activities directed against Fidel Castro and the Cuban government. Bobby declared that it was “top priority” to get rid of Castro. The U.S. failed, but its campaign resulted in untold death and destruction across Cuba.

The Kennedy brothers’ failure in Cuba only made them more determined to succeed elsewhere. They became fascinated with “unorthodox” warfare: counter-insurgency, assassination and covert action. The Eisenhower administration had authorized the CIA to carry out 170 major covert operations in eight years, while the Kennedy brothers authorized 163 in less than three years.

Vietnam became a laboratory for all these deadly programs. By the time of John F. Kennedy’s death in November 1963, the United States was already fighting a proxy war in Vietnam. Its 15,000 military advisors were leading combat operations and bombing missions in a faltering effort to prevent the victory of the National Liberation Front (NLF) of South Vietnam, called derisively by U.S. officials the “Viet Cong.”

In early November 1963, after the United States engineered the assassination of the corrupt South Vietnamese dictator Ngo Dinh Diem, Bobby said to his brother, “It’s better if you don’t have him, but you have to have somebody that can win the war, and who is that?” The “who” never emerged, but that didn’t stop the United States from destroying large parts of Vietnam in the hopes of winning the war against the NLF and the North Vietnamese.

After John Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in November 1963, Bobby remained in the cabinet as a lame-duck attorney general until August 1964, when he resigned and ran successfully for a U.S. Senate seat from New York.

Despite his personal hatred for the reigning Democratic President Lyndon Johnson, who triumphed over his Republican rival Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election in part by pledging to keep the U.S. out of a ground war in Vietnam, Bobby supported Johnson’s war policies in Vietnam. As a U.S. senator, he never voted against any appropriation bills that funded the war. I.F. Stone, the great radical journalist, wrote an article in October 1966 titled “While Others Dodge the Draft, Bobby Dodges the War.”

In the Democratic congressional primaries in 1966, a number of antiwar candidates ran against incumbents supporting Johnson’s war policies. The best known of these was radical journalist Robert Scheer, who challenged Representative Jeffrey Cohelan, representing a district covering parts of Berkeley and Oakland in California. Kennedy endorsed Cohelan.

Even the slavishly loyal Kennedy biographer Arthur Schlesinger was forced to admit, “Kennedy brooded about Vietnam, but said less in public.” What were Bobby and other Senate liberals “brooding” about? Two things: the prospect of the United States losing the war, and the growing dissent in the country that threatened the Democratic Party’s domination of national politics since the early 1930s. How could the Democrats–the “war party” in Vietnam–capture the antiwar vote?

Antiwar sentiment was bound to find expression in the Democratic Party it may have been the governing war party, but it was still the liberal party, and more importantly, it was the party that had traditionally played the role of capturing and disarming mass movements for social change.

When Bobby Kennedy made it clear that he would not challenge Johnson for the Democratic nomination, the field was left open for a little-known Democratic senator from Minnesota, Eugene “Gene” McCarthy, to run as an antiwar candidate. In November 1967, at the press conference announcing his candidacy, McCarthy was quite open about his political objective:

There is growing evidence of a deepening moral crisis in America–discontent and frustration and a disposition to take extralegal if not illegal actions to manifest protest. I am hopeful that this challenge…may counter the growing sense of alienation from politics which I think is currently reflected in a tendency to withdraw from political action, to talk of nonparticipation, to become cynical and to make threats of support for third parties or fourth parties or other irregular political movements.

Kennedy’s “broodings” got worse after the Tet Offensive by the NLF and its North Vietnamese allies at the end of January 1968. A large majority of the U.S. population concluded from the offensive that the war had become a “quagmire” and couldn’t be won. The leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Richard Nixon, was proposing “peace with honor” to the Democrats’ war policies.

Gene McCarthy’s campaign would have gone down as a footnote in history, but because of the Tet Offensive, he won 42 percent of the vote in the first primary contest in New Hampshire. It shocked Johnson, leading him to withdraw from the race. It was at this moment that Bobby announced his candidacy for the presidency.

IT’S IMPORTANT to be clear that Robert Kennedy never advocated unilateral withdrawal of U.S. forces from Southeast Asia in fact, he voted against this. While he peppered most of his campaign speeches in 1968 with rhetoric about the need for “peace” in Vietnam, he offered little more than talk of a “negotiated settlement,” which was not very different from what Johnson or Nixon proposed, while they continued to wage war against the Vietnamese people.

Bobby’s chief political goal, like Eugene McCarthy’s, was to capture the support of the antiwar movement and to deliver it into the safe confines of the Democratic Party.

With a political record like his, why did Bobby Kennedy’s campaign generate such excitement? Kennedy attracted large, enthusiastic, sometimes frantic crowds that just wanted to reach out and touch him. His most bland speeches elicited roaring approval from supporters. The media at the time described him as having a “pop star” appeal to the young.

In many ways, Kennedy became the receptacle for the hopes of those millions of Americans who still desired change through the established political system.

He encouraged these illusions in him. He met with well-known antiwar activists like former Students for a Democratic Society president Tom Hayden and former Yale professor Staughton Lynd. He had a well-publicized meeting with United Farm Workers union leader Cesar Chavez while he was on hunger strike.

Kennedy would also confide to reporters, “I wish I’d had been born an Indian” and “I’m jealous of the fact that you grew up in a ghetto, I wish I’d had that experience”–or even more ridiculously, “If I hadn’t been born rich, I’d probably be a revolutionary.”

But he could also strike a chord with people. On the night of Martin Luther King’s assassination, he spoke to a predominately Black audience and told them that he could identify with their anger because “his brother was killed by a white man.”

Kennedy, however, worked both sides of the street. While crafting a left-wing, even rebellious, image for the younger generation, he also sought the support of the party bosses for his campaign. He sought but failed to get the support of Mayor Richard Daley of Chicago, the very symbol of Jim Crow in the North, for his presidential bid. “Daley’s the whole ballgame,” Kennedy declared.

One of his earliest supporters was Jesse Unruh, the speaker of the California State Assembly, who is attributed to popularizing the saying, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.”

Kennedy also didn’t sound very progressive on many key issues. He opposed economic sanctions on South Africa for its apartheid policies, and he opposed busing to integrate schools. Kennedy even attacked Gene McCarthy during their televised debate prior to the California primary for his support for building public housing in the suburbs. Kennedy said incredulously, “You say you are going to take 10,000 Black people and move them into Orange County.”

McCarthy believed that Kennedy advocated a “segregated residential apartheid.” Kennedy’s big idea to alleviate poverty in the inner cities was to provide tax breaks to corporations to move into blighted neighborhoods. Then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan believed that “Kennedy is talking more and more like me.”

With all this in mind, how could Bobby Kennedy be turned into such an icon?

The American myth-making machine is very powerful and usually does two things. It elevates people like the Kennedy brothers to a status that they do not deserve, while washing away the real radical politics that were at the core of activists like Martin Luther King. They are all mushed together into a candy-coated picture of the alleged greatness of American society and its political system. “The yearning for Robert Kennedy–or someone like him–is an open wound in some parts of America,” wrote one reporter two decades after his death.

Some would say Barack Obama is an example of “someone like him” today. Yet when we remember Robert Kennedy, it should not be as someone who promised hope and idealism, but as an opportunist who was part of a political establishment responsible for the things the movements of 1960s struggled against.


Ayers grew up in Glen Ellyn, a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. His parents are Mary (née Andrew) and Thomas G. Ayers, who was later chairman and chief executive officer of Commonwealth Edison (1973 to 1980), [4] and for whom Northwestern's Thomas G. Ayers College of Commerce and Industry was named. [5] [6] He attended public schools until his second year in high school, when he transferred to Lake Forest Academy, a small prep school. [7] Ayers earned a Bachelor of Arts in American Studies from the University of Michigan in 1968. (His father, mother and older brother had preceded him there.) [7]

Ayers was affected at a 1965 Ann Arbor teach-in against the Vietnam War, when Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) President Paul Potter, asked his audience, "How will you live your life so that it doesn't make a mockery of your values?" Ayers later wrote in his memoir, Fugitive Days, that his reaction was: "You could not be a moral person with the means to act, and stand still. [. ] To stand still was to choose indifference. Indifference was the opposite of moral". [8]

In 1965, Ayers joined a picket line protesting an Ann Arbor, Michigan pizzeria for refusing to seat African Americans. His first arrest came for a sit-in at a local draft board, resulting in 10 days in jail. His first teaching job came shortly afterward at the Children's Community School, a preschool with a very small enrollment operating in a church basement, founded by a group of students in emulation of the Summerhill method of education. [9]

The school was a part of the nationwide "free school movement". Schools in the movement had no grades or report cards they aimed to encourage cooperation rather than competition, and pupils addressed teachers by their first names. Within a few months, at age 21, Ayers became director of the school. There also he met Diana Oughton, who would become his girlfriend until her death in 1970 after a bomb exploded while being prepared for Weather Underground activities. [7]

Ayers became involved in the New Left and the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). [10] He rose to national prominence as an SDS leader in 1968 and 1969 as head of an SDS regional group, the "Jesse James Gang". [11]

The group Ayers headed in Detroit, Michigan, became one of the earliest gatherings of what became the Weathermen. Before the June 1969 SDS convention, Ayers became a prominent leader of the group, which arose as a result of a schism in SDS. [8] "During that time his infatuation with street fighting grew and he developed a language of confrontational militancy that became more and more pronounced over the year [1969]", disaffected former Weathermen member Cathy Wilkerson wrote in 2001. Ayers had previously been a roommate of Terry Robbins, a fellow militant who was killed in 1970 along with Ayers' girlfriend Oughton and one other member in the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion, while constructing anti-personnel bombs (nail bombs) intended for a non-commissioned officer dance at Fort Dix, New Jersey. [12]

In June 1969, the Weathermen took control of the SDS at its national convention, where Ayers was elected Education Secretary. [8] Later in 1969, Ayers participated in planting a bomb at a statue dedicated to police casualties in the 1886 Haymarket affair confrontation between labor supporters and the Chicago police. [13] The blast broke almost 100 windows and blew pieces of the statue onto the nearby Kennedy Expressway. [14] (The statue was rebuilt and unveiled on May 4, 1970, and blown up again by other Weathermen on October 6, 1970. [14] [15] Rebuilding it yet again, the city posted a 24-hour police guard to prevent another blast, and in January 1972 it was moved to Chicago police headquarters). [16]

Ayers participated in the Days of Rage riot in Chicago in October 1969, and in December was at the "War Council" meeting in Flint, Michigan. Two major decisions came out of the "War Council". The first was to immediately begin a violent, armed struggle (e.g., bombings and armed robberies) against the state without attempting to organize or mobilize a broad swath of the public. The second was to create underground collectives in major cities throughout the country. [17] Larry Grathwohl, a Federal Bureau of Investigation informant in the Weathermen group from the fall of 1969 to the spring of 1970, stated that "Ayers, along with Bernardine Dohrn, probably had the most authority within the Weathermen". [18]

After the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion in 1970, in which Weatherman member Ted Gold, Ayers's close friend Terry Robbins, and Ayers's girlfriend, Diana Oughton, were killed when a nail bomb being assembled in the house exploded, Ayers and several associates evaded pursuit by law enforcement officials. Kathy Boudin and Cathy Wilkerson survived the blast. Ayers was not facing criminal charges at the time, but the federal government later filed charges against him. [7]

Ayers participated in the bombings of New York City Police Department headquarters in 1970, the United States Capitol building in 1971, and the Pentagon in 1972, as he noted in his 2001 book, Fugitive Days. Ayers writes:

Although the bomb that rocked the Pentagon was itsy-bitsy—weighing close to two pounds—it caused 'tens of thousands of dollars' of damage. The operation cost under $500, and no one was killed or even hurt. [19]

After the bombing, Ayers became a fugitive. During this time, Ayers and fellow member Bernardine Dohrn married and remained fugitives together, changing identities, jobs and locations.

In 1973, Ayers co-authored the book Prairie Fire with other members of the Weather Underground. The book was dedicated to close to 200 people, including Harriet Tubman, John Brown, "All Who Continue to Fight", and "All Political Prisoners in the U.S." [20] The book dedication includes Sirhan Sirhan, the convicted assassin of Robert F. Kennedy. [21]

In 1973, new information came to light about FBI operations targeted against Weather Underground and the New Left, all part of a series of covert and often illegal FBI projects called COINTEL. [22] Due to the illegal tactics of FBI agents involved with the program, including conducting wiretaps and property searches without warrants, government attorneys requested all weapons-related and bomb-related charges be dropped against the Weather Underground, including charges against Ayers. [23] [24]

However, state charges against Dohrn remained. Dohrn was still reluctant to turn herself in to authorities. "He was sweet and patient, as he always is, to let me come to my senses on my own," she later said of Ayers. [7] She turned herself in to authorities in 1980. She was fined $1,500 and given three years probation. [25]

In The New York Times of September 11, 2001, reporter Dinitia Smith noted that Ayers had allegedly summed up the Weatherman philosophy into the following:

Kill all the rich people. Break up their cars and apartments. Bring the revolution home, kill your parents, that's where it's really at. [26]

In response, Ayers says that he does not remember suggesting so, and that "It was a joke about the distribution of wealth".

Later reflections on underground period Edit

Fugitive Days: A Memoir Edit

In 2001, Ayers published Fugitive Days: A Memoir, which he explained in part as an attempt to answer the questions of Kathy Boudin's son, and his speculation that Diana Oughton died trying to stop the Greenwich Village bomb-makers. [27] Some have questioned the truth, accuracy, and tone of the book. Brent Staples wrote for The New York Times Book Review that "Ayers reminds us often that he can't tell everything without endangering people involved in the story." [28] Historian Jesse Lemisch (himself a former member of SDS) contrasted Ayers' recollections with those of other former members of the Weathermen, and claimed that the book had many errors. [29] Ayers, in the foreword to his book, stated that it was written as his personal memories and impressions over time, not a scholarly research project. [26] Reviewing Ayers' memoir in Slate Magazine, Timothy Noah said he could not recall reading "a memoir quite so self-indulgent and morally clueless as Fugitive Days". [30] Studs Terkel called Ayers' memoir "a deeply moving elegy to all those young dreamers who tried to live decently in an indecent world". [31]

Statements made in 2001 Edit

Chicago Magazine reported that "just before the September 11th attacks", Richard Elrod, a city lawyer injured in the Weathermen's Chicago "Days of Rage", received an apology from Ayers and Dohrn for their part in the violence. "[T]hey were remorseful," Elrod says. "They said, 'We're sorry that things turned out this way.' " [32]

Much of the controversy about Ayers during the decade since 2000 stems from an interview he gave to Dinitia Smith for The New York Times on the occasion of the memoir's publication on September 11, 2001. [33] The reporter quoted him as saying "I don't regret setting bombs" and "I feel we didn't do enough", and, when asked if he would "do it all again", as saying "I don't want to discount the possibility." [26]

Four days later, Ayers protested the interviewer's characterizations in a Letter to the Editor published September 15, 2001: "This is not a question of being misunderstood or 'taken out of context', but of deliberate distortion." [34] In the ensuing years, Ayers has repeatedly avowed that when he said he had "no regrets" and that "we didn't do enough" he was speaking only in reference to his efforts to stop the United States from waging the Vietnam War, efforts which he has described as ". inadequate [as] the war dragged on for a decade". [35] Ayers has maintained that the two statements were not intended to imply a wish they had set more bombs. [35] [36] In a November 2008 interview with The New Yorker, Ayers said that he had not meant to imply that he wished he and the Weathermen had committed further violence. Instead, he said, "I wish I had done more, but it doesn't mean I wish we'd bombed more shit." Ayers said that he had never been responsible for violence against other people and was acting to end a war in Vietnam in which "thousands of people were being killed every week". He also stated, "While we did claim several extreme acts, they were acts of extreme radicalism against property," and "We killed no one and hurt no one. Three of our people killed themselves." [37]

The interview mentioned an alleged quote of his about killing rich people and parents. He responded saying that he didn't recall saying that, but that "it's been quoted so many times I'm beginning to think I did. It was a joke about the distribution of wealth.'" [26]

The interviewer also quoted some of Ayers' own criticism of the Weathermen in the foreword to the memoir, whereby Ayers reacts to having watched Emile de Antonio's 1976 documentary film about the Weathermen, Underground: "[Ayers] was 'embarrassed by the arrogance, the solipsism, the absolute certainty that we and we alone knew the way. The rigidity and the narcissism.' " [26] "We weren't terrorists," Ayers told an interviewer for the Chicago Tribune in 2001. "The reason we weren't terrorists is because we did not commit random acts of terror against people. Terrorism was what was being practiced in the countryside of Vietnam by the United States." [7]

In a letter to the editor in the Chicago Tribune, Ayers wrote, "I condemn all forms of terrorism—individual, group and official". He also condemned the September 11 terrorist attacks in that letter. [38]

Views on his past expressed since 2001 Edit

Ayers was asked in a January 2004 interview, "How do you feel about what you did? Would you do it again under similar circumstances?" He replied: [39] "I've thought about this a lot. Being almost 60, it's impossible to not have lots and lots of regrets about lots and lots of things, but the question of did we do something that was horrendous, awful? [. ] I don't think so. I think what we did was to respond to a situation that was unconscionable."

On September 9, 2008, journalist Jake Tapper copied to his ABC News "Political Punch" blog and opined on a four-panel comic strip by Ryan Alexander-Tanner from Bill Ayers' blog site. [40] In the comic strip, the Ayers cartoon character says: "The one thing I don't regret is opposing the war in Vietnam with every ounce of my being. When I say, 'We didn't do enough,' a lot of people rush to think, 'That must mean, "We didn't bomb enough shit." ' But that's not the point at all. It's not a tactical statement, it's an obvious political and ethical statement. In this context, 'we' means 'everyone.' " [40]

After the 2008 presidential election, Ayers published an op-ed piece in The New York Times giving his assessment of his activism. Feminist critic Katha Pollitt criticized Ayers' opinion piece as a "sentimentalized, self-justifying whitewash of his role in the weirdo violent fringe of the 1960s–1970s antiwar left". She says Ayers and his Weathermen cohorts made "the antiwar movement look like the enemy of ordinary people" during the Vietnam War era. [41] Ayers gave this assessment of his actions:

The Weather Underground crossed lines of legality, of propriety and perhaps even of common sense. Our effectiveness can be—and still is being—debated. [42]

He also reiterated his rebuttal to the description of his actions as terrorism despite the use of shrapnel devices:

The Weather Underground went on to take responsibility for placing several small bombs in empty offices. We did carry out symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism, and the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam war. Peaceful protests had failed to stop the war. So we issued a screaming response. But it was not terrorism we were not engaged in a campaign to kill and injure people indiscriminately, spreading fear and suffering for political ends. [42]

Ayers is a retired professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, College of Education. His interests include teaching for social justice, urban educational reform, narrative and interpretive research, children in trouble with the law, and related issues. [3]

He began his career in primary education while an undergraduate, teaching at the Children's Community School (CCS), a project founded by a group of students and based on the Summerhill method of education. After leaving the underground, he earned an M.Ed from Bank Street College in Early Childhood Education (1984), an M.Ed from Teachers College, Columbia University in Early Childhood Education (1987) and an Ed. D from Teachers College, Columbia University in Curriculum and Instruction (1987).

Ayers was elected Vice President for Curriculum Studies by the American Educational Research Association in 2008. [43] William H. Schubert, a fellow professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, wrote that his election was "a testimony of [Ayers'] stature and [the] high esteem he holds in the field of education locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally". [44] Writer Sol Stern, a conservative opponent of progressive education policies, has criticized Ayers as having a virulent "hatred of America", and said, "Calling Bill Ayers a school reformer is a bit like calling Joseph Stalin an agricultural reformer." [45] [46]

Ayers has edited and written many books and articles on education theory, policy and practice, and has received several honors for his work. His book To Teach: The Journey of A Teacher was named the Kappa Delta Pi Book of the Year in 1993 and subsequently won the Witten award for Distinguished Work in Biography and Autobiography in 1995. [47] On August 5, 2010, Ayers officially announced his intent to retire from the University of Illinois at Chicago. [48]

On September 23, 2010, William Ayers was unanimously denied emeritus status by the University of Illinois, after a speech by the university's board chair Christopher G. Kennedy (son of assassinated U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy), containing the quote "I intend to vote against conferring the honorific title of our university to a man whose body of work includes a book dedicated in part to the man who murdered my father, Robert F. Kennedy." [49] He added, "There is nothing more antithetical to the hopes for a university that is lively and yet civil. than to permanently seal off debate with one's opponents by killing them". [50] Kennedy referred to a 1974 book Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism, written by Ayers and other Weather Underground members. The book was dedicated to a list of over 200 revolutionary figures, musicians and others, including Sirhan Sirhan, who was convicted of the 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and sentenced to life in prison. [51] Ayers denied having ever dedicated a book to Sirhan Sirhan and accused right-wing bloggers of having started a rumor to that effect. [52] [53]

In an October 2010 Chicago Sun Times editorial entitled Attacks on Ayers distort our history, former students of Ayers and UIC Alumni, Daniel Schneider and Adam Kuranishi, responded in opposition to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees' decision to deny Ayers emeritus status. They wrote:

"We juxtaposed the image of him painted by the media with the teacher we saw in class and the two could not be more distinct. The Ayers in the media was frozen in time he never left the 1960s, never aged out of his 20s, and never grew in perspective. As his students, we see through this representation . Ayers is still committed to movements for peace and justice. His worldview and tactics are evolved and elaborate, thoughtful and wise, making him unrecognizable to the media's caricature. Should we not expect someone to evolve after 40 years? One may disagree with his activism, but it is impossible to ignore his hard work and contributions to urban education, juvenile justice reform, the University of Illinois and Chicago." [54]

Ayers worked with Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley in shaping the city's school reform program, [55] and was one of three co-authors of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge grant proposal that in 1995 won $49.2 million over five years for public school reform. [56] In 1997, Chicago awarded him its Citizen of the Year award for his work on the project. [57] Since 1999, he has served on the board of directors of the Woods Fund of Chicago, an anti-poverty, philanthropic foundation established as the Woods Charitable Fund in 1941. [58] The Wall Street Journal columnist Thomas Frank praised Ayers as a "model citizen" and a scholar whose "work is esteemed by colleagues of different political viewpoints". [59]

According to Ayers, his radical past occasionally affects him, as when, by his account, he was asked not to attend a progressive educators' conference in the fall of 2006 on the basis that the organizers did not want to risk an association with his past. On January 18, 2009, on his way to speak about education reform at the Centre for Urban Schooling at the University of Toronto, he was refused admission to Canada when he arrived at the Toronto City Centre Airport although he has traveled to Canada more than a dozen times in the past. According to Ayers, "It seems very arbitrary. The border agent said I had a conviction for a felony from 1969. I have several arrests for misdemeanors, but not for felonies." [60]

Political views Edit

In an interview published in 1995, Ayers characterized his political beliefs at that time and in the 1960s and 1970s: "I am a radical, Leftist, small 'c' communist . [Laughs] Maybe I'm the last communist who is willing to admit it. [Laughs] We have always been small 'c' communists in the sense that we were never in the Communist party and never Stalinists. The ethics of communism still appeal to me. I don't like Lenin as much as the early Marx. I also like Henry David Thoreau, Mother Jones and Jane Addams [. ]". [61]

In 1970, The New York Times called Ayers "a national leader" [62] of the Weatherman organization and "one of the chief theoreticians of the Weathermen". [63] The Weathermen were initially part of the Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM) within the SDS, splitting from the RYM's Maoists by claiming there was no time to build a vanguard party and that revolutionary war against the United States government and the capitalist system should begin immediately. Their founding document called for the establishment of a "white fighting force" to be allied with the "Black Liberation Movement" and other "anti-colonial" movements [64] to achieve "the destruction of US imperialism and the achievement of a classless world: world communism". [65]

In June 1974, the Weather Underground released a 151-page volume titled Prairie Fire, which stated: "We are a guerrilla organization [. ] We are communist women and men underground in the United States [. ]" [66] The Weatherman leadership, including Ayers, pushed for a radical reformulation of sexual relations under the slogan "Smash Monogamy". [67] [68] Radical bomber and feminist [69] Jane Alpert criticized the Weatherman group in 1974 for still being dominated by men, including Ayers, and referred to his "callous treatment and abandonment of Diana Oughton before her death, and for his generally fickle and high-handed treatment of women". [70]

Larry Grathwohl, an undercover FBI agent who infiltrated The Weather Underground, says Ayers told him where to plant bombs. He says Ayers was bent on overthrowing the government. In response to Grathwohl's claims, Ayers stated, "Now that's being blown into dishonest narratives about hurting people, killing people, planning to kill people. That's just not true. We destroyed government property". [71]

On June 18, 2013, Ayers gave an interview to RealClearPolitics' Morning Commute in which he stated that every president in this century should be tried for war crimes, including President Obama for his use of drone attacks, which Ayers considers an act of terror. [72]

Obama–Ayers controversy Edit

During the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, a controversy arose about Ayers' contacts with then-candidate Barack Obama, a matter that had been public knowledge in Chicago for years. [73] After being raised by the American and British press, [73] [74] the connection was picked up by conservative blogs and newspapers in the United States. The matter was raised in a campaign debate by moderator George Stephanopoulos, and later became an issue for the John McCain presidential campaign. Investigations by The New York Times, CNN, and other news organizations concluded that Obama did not have a close relationship with Ayers. [74] [75] [76] [77]

In an op-ed piece after the election, Ayers denied any close association with Obama, and criticized the Republican campaign for its use of guilt by association tactics. [42]

Ayers is married to Bernardine Dohrn, a fellow former leader of the Weather Underground. They have two adult children, Zayd and Malik, and shared legal guardianship of Chesa Boudin, son of Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert. Boudin and Gilbert were former Weather Underground members who later joined the May 19 Communist Organization and were convicted of felony murder for their roles in that group's Brinks robbery. Chesa Boudin went on to win a Rhodes scholarship [78] and was elected District Attorney of San Francisco in November 2019. [79] Ayers and Dohrn currently live in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. [80]

Robert F. Kennedy's Crusade Against The Mafia

American history talks much about the Kennedys but Robert F. Kennedy was never known as just the brother of a president. During his brother's time in office, then Attorney General Robert, sometimes called RFK, was credited as being the "doer" in the administration. Robert F. Kennedy's crusade against the Mafia is one of the most celebrated parts of his career.

His Early Years

In 1951, Robert F. Kennedy started out as an ordinary lawyer working in the criminal division of the USA Justice Department. After six years, he headed the Senate Rackets Committee and exposed corruption in labor unions all around the country. He was considered an authority on labor racketeering and was generally regarded as an outstanding investigator.

RFK was appointed as Attorney General in 1961. He knew that organized crime was alive and running and that the so-called "big bosses" were looking to make their place in criminal history. Gambling, prostitution, and narcotics: these were just a handful of illegal practices that a group called the Cosa Nostra was involved in. They were also involved in protection rackets and shakedowns as well as murders and other petty crimes.

The Crusade

In 1961, organized crime was a new and foreign concept. Regular Americans weren't familiar with its history and even the FBI doubted its existence. Robert Kennedy, however, what it was all about.

When he started, RFK focused on the Crime and Rackets Section of the Justice Department. They didn't have any investigations regarding organized crime at all. Seeking to inform the public, RFK wrote a detailed history and made speeches warning the USA of the existence of a private government that ran on human suffering and had billions of dollars in annual income.

He did not want the history of the USA to be blighted by this organization. Through his leadership, he started the first coordinated effort that involved all Federal law enforcement agencies to attack and take down organized crime.

Also during his time as Attorney General, Congress was able to approve 7 laws that were anti-crime. Several illegal establishments were shut down in direct relation to those laws, like a nationwide betting system and a prostitution and gambling den in Detroit.

1963 saw the closure of several illegal gambling organizations in several parts of the country. If in 1960 only 24 racketeers were indicted, RFK managed to indict more than six times the original figure. During his term, convictions against members of organized crime rose by 800 percent.

Cosa Nostra

In what was considered his most well-known victory in history against the criminal underworld, RFK was able to persuade Joseph Valachi to testify in court. Valachi was a member of the syndicate known as the Cosa Nostra. He requested for government protection and once it was granted, he became the first person in American history to ever testify against the organization. These hearings were broadcast live on television to a shocked American people who had to face the reality of a group like this existing in their country.

With the prevalence of the Mafia in popular culture, the general public isn't as fearful as they used to be. Now, organized crime is relegated to the small screen and a handful of films. Most people born in the later generations don't know that just a few decades earlier, the threat was very real. If not for Robert F. Kennedy's crusade against the Mafia and organized crime, the threat could have been much graver.

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Robert F. Kennedy Pictures

Robert F. Kennedy


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Back in Washington, he got to work. But the Senate proved a bad fit for the brooding legislator. He chafed at being a junior member with little influence. Yet the chamber gave him a bully pulpit from which to inveigh against the ills plaguing the nation. At John&rsquos last cabinet meeting, the President wrote &ldquopoverty&rdquo a number of times on a piece of paper and circled the word. Bobby had the crumpled paper framed, and he found his own voice in giving voice to the dispossessed. As the nation&rsquos attorney general he had traveled widely across the United States in his quest to understand poverty, making his way to Chicago slums and Native American reservations in North Dakota. Now he started heading to such countries as Poland, Peru and Argentina to get a better sense of international affairs.

Kennedy&rsquos favorite song was &ldquoThe Battle Hymn of the Republic&rdquo and, like some anointed soldier of the Lord, he flew to South Africa in June 1966. Invited by the anti-apartheid National Union of South African Students, he came to deliver the annual Day of Affirmation speech.

The land was under the yoke of apartheid, and Bobby and Ethel toured Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Pretoria. He met with Nobel Peace Prize winner Chief Albert Luthuli, the president of the outlawed African National Congress. He walked down streets shaking the hands of black servants, and crowds swarmed to gaze at him. He delivered five speeches, the most famous at the University of Cape Town. &ldquoEach time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope,&rdquo he said, &ldquoand crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.&rdquo

Change, Bobby believed, was possible. A fan of the song &ldquoThe Impossible Dream&rdquo from the musical Man of La Mancha, he took to heart the idea of tilting against windmills. He read the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson and embraced the idea of the dignity of work. In Delano, Calif., he met with Cesar Chavez, who was trying to organize farm workers. In Brooklyn&rsquos Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood he launched a community development organization. Hungry children especially troubled him. After returning from the Mississippi Delta, he expressed to friend Amanda Burden the feeling that, given what he had seen, all the work he had done in his life amounted to nothing.

Bobby&rsquos pained and looming presence haunted Johnson. The President feared Kennedy. By the mid-1960s the war in Vietnam had started consuming the nation. Kennedy, who during his brother&rsquos administration saw the slow growth of U.S. presence there, had long had concerns about Johnson&rsquos military buildup, which took the nation&rsquos commitment from 23,300 troops in 1964 to 485,000 in 1967.

Bobby felt he had no other choice but to speak out in opposition to President Johnson&rsquos course. He took to the Senate floor and called for an end to the bombing of North Vietnam and the start of peace talks with Hanoi. &ldquoI can testify that if fault is to be found or responsibility assessed,&rdquo he said, &ldquothere is enough to go around for all&mdashincluding myself.&rdquo

Many of his advisers and friends wanted him to do more than just object. They wanted him to seek the presidency.

Ethel even had the children hang a banner reading &ldquoRun, Bobby, Run&rdquo outside the house. When John won in 1960, he had given Bobby a cigarette case inscribed, &ldquoWhen I&rsquom through, how about you?&rdquo But the Senator feared being accused of ambition and envy, and he didn&rsquot want to run until and unless the time was ripe.

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Kennedy had traveled to what was then still British Mandatory Palestine in April 1948. The reports were published after he returned home – and by then Israel had gained its independence.

The front page of the Boston Post with Robert Kennedy's story "British Hated by Both Sides," June 3, 1948. Boston Public Library/Boston Pos

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During its heyday in the 1930s, the Boston Post – which folded in 1956 – was one of the largest newspapers in the United States. Copies of the original clippings were obtained from the Boston Public Library, where they are now stored.

Kennedy was 22 when he embarked on his travels to the region. Each of the four dispatches was featured on the Post’s front page, with an editor’s note clarifying that it was part of a series of stories “on the Palestine situation written for the Post by Robert Kennedy, Harvard senior and son of the former ambassador to Great Britain.”

The editor’s note added that “Young Kennedy has been traveling through the Middle East and his first-hand observations, appearing exclusively in the Post, will be of considerable interest in view of the current crisis.”

The first article in the series features a head shot of a smiling young Kennedy alongside the text.

Kennedy’s dispatches read more like a travelogue than strictly objective news reports. Rarely does he quote people by name, referring to them instead as “a Jew” or “an Arab.” Although he does his best to present both sides of the conflict, he does not conceal his overwhelming sympathy and admiration for the Jews.

The June 3, 1948 story filed by Bobby Kennedy for the Boston Post, headlined "British Hated by Both Sides." Boston Public Library/Boston Pos

Kennedy was based in Tel Aviv for most of the trip, but also visited Jerusalem and other locales. He was fascinated by kibbutz life and deeply moved by his encounters with Holocaust survivors. Shortly after his arrival, while strolling around the streets of Tel Aviv, Kennedy was detained by soldiers from the Haganah (the pre-independence army of Palestine’s Jews), who thought he looked suspicious. As he recounted in his dispatches, he was blindfolded and taken to Haganah headquarters for questioning.

Upon his release, the soldiers, who apologized profusely, explained that “one can’t be too careful.” His reports also included musings on some of the more mundane aspects of everyday life in a conflict – such as being forced to wait over an hour in line at Tel Aviv’s post office in order to purchase stamps.

A Jewish state in California

Kennedy’s first report was headlined “British Hated By Both Sides.” The subhead read: “Robert Kennedy, Special Writer for Post, Struck by Antipathy Shown by Arabs and Jews.”

It opened with the young journalist’s musings on the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which Great Britain expressed its support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people in Palestine.”

“Certainly, if Arthur Balfour, Britain’s foreign minister during the first World war, had realized the conflicting interpretations which were to be placed on his famous ‘declaration’ calling for a homeland for the Jews, he probably would have drawn it with its meaning clearer and saved the world the bloodshed that its double promises have caused,” Kennedy wrote.

In the article, Kennedy recounted a conversation with Jamal Husseini (written “Jemal Heusenni” in the article), a local Arab leader who had suggested to him “that we Americans, who had been so solicitous of the rights of the Jewish people, take the Jews into the United States and set up a national state for them in California.”

In this opening piece in the series, Kennedy laid out the arguments of both sides, lamenting that the gaps between them appeared irreconcilable. “It is an unfortunate fact that because there are such well-founded arguments on either side each grows more bitter toward the other,” he wrote. “Confidence in their right increases in direct proportion to the hatred and mistrust for the other side for not acknowledging it.”

In this initial report, Kennedy sang the praises of Tel Aviv, the first Hebrew city of modern times, noting how it had grown from “a small village of a few thousand inhabitants” to a “most impressive modern metropolis of over 200,000.”

“They have truly done much with what all agree was very little,” he wrote.

Expressing his admiration for the Jews of Palestine who had joined the Allied forces during World War II, he noted: “They were perhaps doing no more than their duty, but they did their duty well.”

The second of Bobby Kennedy's four articles for the Boston Post on the Palestine situation, titled "Jews Have Fine Fighting Force." Boston Public Library/Boston Pos

Trying to understand why both the Jews and Arabs hated the British so much, Kennedy wrote that he approached a senior British officer with the question. The answer he received was that the British police were to blame. “He called them the ‘underpaid uneducated dregs of society,’” Kennedy wrote.

Grandpa’s friend at the kibbutz

The second dispatch was headlined “Jews Have Fine Fighting Force.” The subhead read: “Make up for lack of arms with undying spirit, unparalleled courage --- impress world.”

His lead was nothing less than an ode to the Jews of Palestine. “The Jewish people in Palestine who believe in and who have been working toward this national state have become an immensely proud and determined people,” he wrote. “It is already a truly great modern example of the birth of a nation with the primary ingredients of dignity and self-respect.”

In his report, Kennedy recounted a conversation with a 23-year-old Jewish woman named Malca (among the few individuals ever identified by name in his dispatches), who, together with her husband and brothers – all of them members of the Haganah – were “the personification of that determination.”

The young foreign correspondent heard a horrifying story from Malca about a young Jewish woman who had been shot dead by her brother after it was discovered she had a British boyfriend “and wanted nothing to do with the Jews.”

He also wrote in this dispatch about his visit to Kibbutz Givat Brenner, just outside of Rehovot. The visit was arranged, he noted, “through the kindness of a Jew who 40 years ago was in Boston making speeches for my grandfather, John F. Fitzgerald, when he was a candidate for Congress.” (Fitzgerald had served two terms as mayor of Boston.)

Clearly intrigued by the concept of communal living, Kennedy described the kibbutzim as “self-sustaining States within a State.” He marveled at the willingness of parents in these communities to live separately from their children, “with the result that all but the sick and infirm are able to devote their talents to the common cause.”

He concluded, however, that the idea could never work in the United States. “They get paid nothing for they need no money,” he wrote. “Everything is financed by a group of elected overseers who get their money by selling what the farms produce. In our country we shrink from such tactics but in that country their very lives depend on them.”

Kennedy also recounted a conversation with members of the Irgun, the pre-state Jewish underground militia, who told him “proudly” that they were responsible for blowing up a train that had just killed 50 British soldiers.

The report included an account of Kennedy’s visit to a military training camp in Netanya, where he watched a group of young recruits attempt an obstacle course. “For many the flesh was weak,” he noted, “but it emphasized all the more what can be accomplished when the spirit is willing.” He also observed a graduating class that “gave the appearance that they might well be whipped into a fighting force before much time had passed.”

Kennedy devoted considerable space to the Haganah in this report. Although it was officially a volunteer organization, he noted, non-volunteers tended to be shunned by society. By way of example, he reported that he had witnessed a young man being denied entrance to a nightclub because he was unable to present a “Jewish agency ‘draft card.’”

“The proprietor refused to have music played or food and drinks served until the young Jew left the premises,” Kennedy wrote.

Since no other country will offer them all refuge, the “hardy and tough” Jews of Palestine, Kennedy concluded, have only two alternatives: “They can go into the Mediterranean Sea and get drowned or they can stay and fight and perhaps get killed.”

The third of Bobby Kennedy's special reports for the Boston Post in 1948, titled "British Position hit in Palestine." Boston Public Library/Boston Pos

He went on to offer his own prediction of what they would choose. “They will fight and they will fight with unparalleled courage,” wrote Kennedy. “This is their greatest and last chance. The eyes of the world are upon them and there can be no turning back.”

Calling out the British

The third dispatch was headlined “British Position Hit in Palestine.” Its subhead read: “Kennedy says they seek to crush Jewish cause because they are not in accord with it.”

Reporting on a visit to Jerusalem, Kennedy noted how progress in the city was defined by access to water. “The Arabs living in the old city of Jerusalem have kept the age old habit of procuring their water from the individual cisterns that exist in almost every home,” he wrote. “The Jews being more ‘educated’ (an Arab told me that this was their trouble and now the Jews were going to really pay for it) had a central water system installed with pipes bringing fresh hot and cold water.”

On his journey through Jerusalem, Kennedy also visited the ultra-Orthodox section of the city, where he encountered Jews of a very different mind-set. “They wanted no part of this fight but just wanted to be left along with their wailing wall,” he wrote, referring to the Western Wall. “Unfortunately for them,” he added, “the Arabs are unkindly disposed toward any kind of Jew and their annihilation would now undoubtedly have been a fact had it not been that at the beginning of hostilities the Haganah moved several hundred well-equipped men into their quarter.”

In this third dispatch, Kennedy set out to show that the British were siding with the Arabs against the Jews. By way of example, he reported on a conversation he had with an Arab who had arranged for the escape of a comrade who had blown up the Jewish Agency headquarters in Jerusalem. This Arab told Kennedy he had boasted to a British officer about what he had done. The response of the British officer, as Kennedy reported, was to give him “immediate passage with the remark ‘Nice going.’”

The fourth and final article in Bobby Kennedy's stories for the Boston Post about the Palestine situation, titled "Communism Not to Get Foothold." Boston Public Library/Boston Pos

The young journalist ended his dispatch urging the U.S. government not to take its cue from the British. “I believe we have burdened ourselves with a great responsibility in our own eyes and in the eyes of the world,” he wrote. “We fail to live up to that responsibility if we knowingly support the British government who behind the skirts of their official position attempt to crush a cause with which they are not in accord.”

U.S. needs to take the lead

The fourth dispatch, clearly influenced by American fears at the time, was titled “Communism Not to Get Foothold,” with the subhead “Jews guard against Red agents in guise of refugees --- want no part of Russian tyrant.”

Kennedy noted in this final dispatch “there is no question that Russia is sending agents into Palestine in the guise of refugees,” but it is inconceivable, he emphasized, that communism would ever appeal to the local population. “That the people might accept communism or that communism could exist in Palestine is fantastically absurd,” he wrote. “Communism thrives on static discontent as sin thrives on idleness. With the type of issues and people involved, that state of affairs is nonexistent. I am as certain of that as of my name.”

As hostilities between Jews and Arab intensified, Kennedy reported, there were also small signs of hope. As an example, he noted he had observed Jews and Arabs working side by side in orange groves. “Perhaps these Jews and Arabs are making a greater contribution to the future peace in Palestine than those who carry guns on both sides,” he reflected.

And despite their mutual contempt, he concluded, “both sides still hate the British far more deeply than they hate one another.”

He ended his four-part series with a plea that seems as relevant today as it did 70 years ago, declaring: “The United States through the United Nations must take the lead in bringing about peace in the Holy Land.”


  1. Fontaine

    Wonderful, very funny message

  2. Allen

    but yourself, you were trying to do so?

  3. Angel

    Nothing special

  4. Diamont

    Just what you need. Together we can come to the right answer. I'm sure.

  5. Nabhan

    What words ... the imaginary

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