WikiLeaks and Other Failed Radicals
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
WASHINGTON — They are beginning to die out, or at least to retire. So long suckers. Surely the Clintons, Senator Jean-Francois Kerry, Al Gore and dozens of others who presented themselves as reasonable alternatives to the radicals of the 1960s thought they were suckers. I thought about all of them this week as problems mounted for Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks thief.
Late in June death took Dwight Armstrong, the anti-Viet Nam War protester who blew up a building at the University of Wisconsin, killing an innocent graduate student, Robert Fassnacht. I have always wondered about Fassnacht. He supposedly was opposed to the Viet Nam war too. I wondered what his life would be like if he had not been in the building at the time the bomb went off. Armstrong and his accomplices were eventually caught. None had much promise, but there was a tremendous legitimacy to them at first, at least in comparison to those of us who favored the war.
Armstrong was sentenced to concurrent seven-year terms in prison and was paroled in 1980. On a less idealistic note he was later apprehended for running a methamphetamine lab in Indiana and sentenced to ten years in prison. He lived his last years driving a cab and caring for his mother. “My life,” he told Madison’s Capital Times, “has not been something to write home about.” Well, maybe at the end the light began to dawn.
Then there was Fritz Teufel who turned room temperature on July 6. He began his career less spectacularly. Auspicating it as a “fun guerrilla,” the German equivalent of Abbie Hoffman (a suicide) and Jerry Rubin (death by jaywalking), demonstrating against the shah of Iran and planning to ambush Hubert H. Humphrey with cake-mix “bombs.” His politics were one part Maoism and an equal part psychoanalysis. He claimed to resent his parents’ softness toward Nazism. It led him to softness toward Mao. In time he moved to Munich and joined a radical commune, eventually enlisting in the Red Army Faction, which carried out assassinations, bombings and kidnappings. He spent a couple of years in prison in the 1970s. In 1975 he spent another stretch in prison. He devoted his last years giving interviews to journalists nostalgic for the 1960s and 1970s, but first his guests had to play him in table tennis.
Now we are told that Bill Ayers is going to retire from the University of Illinois’ Chicago campus. Ayers was a co-founder of the radical — today we would say terrorist — Weather Underground, which in the late 1960s and early 1970s engaged in quite a lot of political activism that involved bombs, but also street demonstrations and other acts of violence. Ayers was involved in blowing up a statue dedicated to police casualties in the 1886 Haymarket Riot, twice. I take that personally, for my great grandfather was, for many years, the sole survivor of that riot. As a little boy I was chosen by the Chicago Police Department to place a wreath on the monument. Today, I have a splendid picture of the monument in my office.
Ayers went on to other bombings, for instance at the New York City Police Department, the United States Capitol and the Pentagon. He recalled these acts and others in a spectacularly ill-timed memoir, Fugitive Days, which came out on September 10, 2001. We all know what happened a day later. When the New York Times quoted him as saying “I don’t regret setting bombs” and “I feel we didn’t do enough,” he relied on his formidable gifts at obfuscation to argue that he was talking about peaceful ways to end the Viet Nam War, though what they might have been is unclear. All we know is that he relied mostly on bombs, and several of his colleagues blew themselves up making them. Perhaps in retirement he will explain.
Which brings me to Assange. He published last month 76,000 documents classified by the US military about the war in Afghanistan. The left views this act as hugely legitimate. Undoubtedly soldiers and other friends of democracy have been killed and will be killed because of it, but Assange promises more documents. Also he says this talk of him molesting women is a dirty trick and he hints darkly at the Pentagon. Will Assange come out of it looking like a Dwight Armstrong or a Bill Ayers? Will he perhaps manage to appear reasonable and go into legitimate politics? It is too early to tell. All we know is that history works in mysterious ways. Some become footnotes, others presidential candidates.
Mr. Tyrrell, editor in chief of The American Spectator, is a contributing editor of the Sun.