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.

FBI evidence photos document bombmaking supplies found in a Weather Underground safe house in Nob Hill in 1971.
Courtesy of Max Noel
FBI evidence photos document bombmaking supplies found in a Weather Underground safe house in Nob Hill in 1971.
Retired FBI special agent Max Noel was angered by arguments defending the Weather Underground during the 2008 election
Jacob Poehls
Retired FBI special agent Max Noel was angered by arguments defending the Weather Underground during the 2008 election

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., that 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 close to 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 most notorious example of police overreach from the era 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, 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, Michigan, 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 '60s slang for 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 the acolytes of cult leader Charles Manson for stabbing pregnant actress Sharon Tate in the stomach with a fork when they killed her in 1969.

This darker phase of the Weathermen lasted through March 6, 1970, when three members of the group were killed in an accidental explosion while building a bomb at a Greenwich Village townhouse. That bomb, members of the group would later reveal, was intended to cause a massacre at an Army dance in Fort Dix, N.J.

Following the townhouse explosion, the Weather leadership convened a summit at a beach house on California's fog-hung Mendocino coast. At that conference, they decided to alter their bombing campaign, targeting only empty government facilities, according to Rudd's memoir. Now in hiding or "underground" because of riot and conspiracy charges, the Weathermen went on to claim responsibility for setting small bombs at the Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol, and the State Department, none of which resulted in loss of human life.

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6 comments
Ted McKim
Ted McKim

I loved this article. I think that last statement shows where the article gets its sources, from one-sided speculation! I especially enjoyed the last statement, "...she disappeared..." Cut to man's face not blinking.... Cut to: woman's back as she hurrriedly moves away from view...fading into dark smoke.

Hey, she disappeared to Chicago where she lives!

Ted McKim
Ted McKim

Having lived through that time I wouldn't trust an FBI agent's word for anything that they said about then. Not sure I trust what they say about people now!

Joe Curwen
Joe Curwen

Emil's comments are quite perceptive. One thing to bear in mind foremost in my opinion, is the operations of COINTELPRO at the time. Their activities continually muddied the waters concerning who was who and who did what.

During that time I was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, home to the White Panther Party (among other groups). I recall that then several of the WPP people were either incarcerated or wanted for various radical activities, including a small bombing alleged to have been perpetrated by them. They always asserted that COINTELPRO was behind a lot of it. Many people wrote their stories off as counter-culture paranoia.

Decades later, though, the truth came out. COINTELPRO had been behind a lot of the grief that came their way. Paranoid or not, they had been correct about that much.

I never cared much for the SDS or the Weathermen. They were (aside from the violence) a bunch of jerks and party poopers. The SDS always rambled on about Marxism and who wanted to hear that crap? The WPP were a lot more fun. Still, at the time, the government provoked people toward unreasonable measures, and sometimes the government aided and abetted the radicals with entrapment and fabrication of evidence.

Emil Pulsifer
Emil Pulsifer

(1) The article cites former Weatherman Mark Rudd's "memoir" in describing the group's "charismatic leader", a woman, as "praising the acolytes of cult leader Charles Manson for stabbing pregnant actress Sharon Tate in the stomach with a fork" -- scarcely an act of revolutionary violence. Is it possible that Mr. Rudd, like so many authors of scandalous "tell-all" biographies, added this and other shocking details to increase the notoriety (hence salability) of his book at a time when the group had been out of the spotlight? (2) The article states that the Weathermen "decided to alter their bombing campaign, targeting only empty government facilities" in March, 1970. Yet it also states that a 1971 search of "one of the group's principal safe-houses" by FBI and SFPD inspectors discovered "voice activated bomb switches", and quotes FBI Special Agent Noel in explaining that " 'voice activated switch' means the bomb goes off when a person comes in and talks". So, did the group "alter their bombing campaign" or not? Also note that in 1971 there was no such thing as a "voice activated switch": there were sound activated switches, but these would be very dangerous for anyone planting a bomb since, once the bomb was activated, any sufficiently loud noise would set it off, like a sneeze, or (depending on the sensitivity of the microphone) such random sounds as a door or window slamming nearby, honking car horns, slamming car doors, or the rumble of a passing truck. One possible use for a sound-activated switch would be to function as a killswitch to (permanently) deactivate the bomb, if anyone (such as an office cleaning crew) came in during the night when the bomb's timer would otherwise detonate it. This would be consistent with attempts to prevent injuries or deaths. (3) The article is surprisingly mute on the issue of forensic evidence, specifically on the design and materials used in the Park Station bomb. While it is always possible that this particular bomb could have been specially made to throw investigators off the track, it is more common for bomb makers to have a modus operandi in which certain elements of design and certain materials are used over and over, despite other variations. Parts must be purchased somewhere (the Unibomber notwithstanding) and they can be traced to manufacturers. Microscopic examination of bits of wire can reveal characteristic tool-marks (e.g., wirecutters and strippers). The authorities had numerous examples of Weatherman bombs and even some seized materials and tools. Was there a match to the Park Station bombing? Presumably not, since that kind of forensic evidence would allow a case to be built on the basis of independent corroborative evidence. (4) The article quotes FBI Special Agent Reagan as saying, of the Weathermen's culpability in the Park Station murder, that "...common sense tells you something. Who else could it be?" Yet, the article elsewhere characterizes America's major cities at the time as being "in something close to a guerrilla war" with "the spectacle so many revolutionary groups competing to blow up or kill sworn peace officers". The article notes that a different group, the BLA, actually took credit for the Park Station bombing: a group actually known to have committed, and attempted to commit more, murders of police officers. The two choices offered to the reader in connection with this admission, is that it was either empty bragging and the Weathermen are the real culprits, or else that the two groups were "working in tandem". But two other possibilities exist: (a) the BLA alone was responsible; (b) the bombing was the work of neither group. (5) The FBI was equally sure (perhaps on the basis of "common sense") that security guard Richard Jewell was responsible for the Centennial Olympic Park bombing at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. After having his career ruined, Jewell was exonerated and successfully sued various media sources, including NBS News for Tom Brokaw's statement (apparently made on the basis of leaked information) that "The speculation is that the FBI is close to making the case. They probably have enough to arrest him right now, probably enough to prosecute him, but you always want to have enough to convict him as well. There are still some holes in this case". (6) The article cites FBI Special Agent Reagan, paraphrasing informant Karen Latimer (now dead) as saying in 2000 that she was "looking for a form a justice" and that she was "deeply disappointed that there wasn't enough evidence to prosecute" other former members of the Weathermen. Yet the article also states that Latimer did not come forward until the mid-1970s, years after the Park Station murder, and quotes an investigator as saying that she did so "to have a federal hold on her passport lifted so that she could travel abroad". (7) Informant Matthew Steen was not described by the article as a current or former member of the group at the time he told investigators, more than two years after the Park Station bombing, that he had attended a planning meeting at which the group discussed plans to bomb Park Station. But it isn't clear why a non-member, even if sympathetic, would be admitted to a planning meeting at which a police station is the intended target of a murderous bomb packed with industrial staples; particularly in an age when undercover police agents and informants were common and every radical group knew it. Steen might well have attended a Weathermen meeting or two, but this? Also omitted from the article is any mention of the circumstances of Steen's interview: was he being investigated on unrelated criminal charges or did he come forward voluntarily; and if the latter, why did he wait two and a half years? The Weathermen were publicly mentioned in the press as suspects in the heated, high-profile coverage following the murder. Investigators coming across any known or suspected associates or sympathizers of the group would question them about it, and anyone seeking a quid pro quo from the authorities wouldn't need much prompting to know that an identification of those responsible for the Park Station murder constituted a kind of golden ticket. (8) The most damning evidence presented in the article is twofold: (a) FBI Special Agent Reagan asserting that the descriptions of the Park Station planning sessions held by the Weathermen (as given by informants Steen and Latimer) were "consistent with each other and strikingly similar to other Weather Underground planning sessions he had personally attended as an undercover agent", a characterization backed up by FBI Special Agent Noel; and (b) the detail of informant Latimer's narration of the supposed planning of the Park Station bombing, as recounted by an unnamed "another inspector familiar with the case". Well, the descriptions given by Steen and Latimer couldn't be too similar to what was observed by SA Reagan in an undercover capacity, since he would then have had grounds to arrange some arrests. As a member, Latimer would have been familiar with the general layout and process, and if Steen attended some meetings he would be too. Aside from the fact that the reader isn't told whether "another inspector familiar with the case" was personally involved at the time or had acquired this familiarity second or third hand in reviewing the (cold) case files, it's a shame that New Times went to press before obtaining the (no doubt heavily redacted) primary documents in the case. That's because anyone who has seen enough original case notes understands that what investigators characterize one way in statements to the press (or other verbal testimony) may be less impressive when evaluated by third parties with different attitudes and goals. Ask any criminal defense attorney about the discrepancies between investigators' verbal characterizations and the casefile materials they've acquired through the discovery process. Note that none of these observations and counter-arguments exonerates the Weathermen of the Park Station murder: but the matter may be less clear-cut than suggested by the article.

Jack Swift
Jack Swift

libertyinjeopardy, you're an effen racist moron.

libertynjeopardy
libertynjeopardy

Wow the New Times uncovers a great story! The only problem you leftists have is that Drudge had this story 9 months ago. We warned you fools about Odumba way back when but of course liberalism is a mental disease.

 
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