By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
When he made his far-ranging confession, Bottom was already destined for prison. A revolver found with him at the time of his arrest had been traced to New York City Police Officer Waverly Jones, who was gunned down with his partner, Joseph Piagentini, by BLA members in a Manhattan housing project that May. Today, Bottom is imprisoned at Auburn Correctional Facility in upstate New York, serving a life sentence for his conviction in their murders.
A number of law-enforcement officials with knowledge of the Park station case view a BLA link to the bombing with skepticism. Bottom, in particular, was famous among detectives of the era for his big mouth. “He was just a guy who liked to hear himself talk,” one investigator said. “We could not corroborate independently what he told us about Park.” Another former investigator connected to the case is more blunt: Bottom, he said, “would confess to the quake of ’89.”
Mark Goldrosen, a San Francisco attorney who represented Bottom when he was charged in 2007, with seven other defendants, for the 1971 attack on Ingleside station, concurs with investigators’ dismissive takes on his client’s statements about the Park bombing. “If he had admitted it, and if it was considered credible, this would have been prosecuted a long time ago,” he said.
Another former BLA member, Ruben Scott, also told police in the 1970s that the organization was involved in the Park station killing, according to law-enforcement sources. Scott reportedly said that he was not personally present the night of the bombing.
The BLA connection to Park station may be a red herring — or it could mean that McDonnell’s murder was simply the result of two militant groups working in tandem. A prime tenet of the Weathermen’s through-the-looking-glass revolutionary doctrine was that it was their duty to shed “white-skin privilege” and put themselves at the service of black radicals, and there are indications that the affinity between the BLA and Weathermen was particularly strong.
For example, the BLA collaborated with former Weather Underground members Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert in a 1981 armed robbery in Nanuet, N.Y., which ended with the deaths of two police officers and a Brink’s armored-truck guard. Ayers and Dohrn have also expressed their fondness for members of the BLA in surprisingly personal ways: Their son, Zayd Dohrn, is named after BLA member Zayd Shakur, who died in a shootout with New Jersey state troopers in 1973.
From today’s vantage point, the spectacle of so many revolutionary groups competing to blow up or shoot sworn peace officers might seem strange. But in the late 1960s and early 1970s, America’s major cities were in something of a guerrilla war. In 1972 alone, the FBI attributed 1,500 bombings within the United States to “civil unrest” from domestic radical groups. Noel, the retired San Francisco FBI agent, said police officers routinely searched their patrol cars for bombs before starting their engines.
In this environment, many law-enforcement officials resorted, with unfortunate results, to dubious practices of their own. The era’s most notorious example of police overreach was doubtless the FBI’s COINTELPRO, an elaborate program of domestic espionage that targeted peaceful civil-rights groups alongside the Black Panthers and the Weathermen. Senate hearings on the program in the late 1970s concluded with a formal denunciation of such FBI tactics as wiretapping and illegal property searches.
The rise and fall of the Weather Underground is one of the more outlandish chapters in the phantasmagoria of Vietnam-era radicalism. Formed in 1969 as a militant faction of the mass antiwar movement Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), what was then commonly called the Weathermen — named after the Bob Dylan lyric, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows” — proclaimed a desire to foment what they saw as an imminent, global communist revolution within the U.S. Their motto: “Bring the war home.” (After the winter of 1970, “Weathermen” became the Weather Underground, a nod to the group’s fugitive status and disdain for sexist pronouns.)
In December 1969, the group convened a “war council” in Flint, Mich., announcing its plans to attack institutions of the U.S. government and oppose “everything that’s good and decent in honky America,” according to an account of the meeting by former Weatherman Mark Rudd in his memoir, Underground. Rudd goes on to recount his own contribution to the proceedings: “It’s a wonderful feeling to hit a pig,” he told the group, using the slang term for a police officer. “It must be a really wonderful feeling to kill a pig or blow up a building.” Presiding over the meeting was Dohrn, the mercurial beauty FBI director J. Edgar Hoover once called “the most dangerous woman in America.”
The University of Chicago–educated Dohrn was a diva of the radical left, known for her shrill revolutionary creed. “We’re about being crazy motherfuckers,” she announced at the war council. Raising four fingers in what became known as the “fork salute,” she praised Charles Manson acolytes for stabbing pregnant actress Sharon Tate in the stomach with a fork when they killed her in 1969.