Sam Green’s Oscar nominated film The Weather Underground is an in depth look at the radical group which grew out of the Students for a Democratic Society and turned into a domestic terrorist organization opposed to racism, the war in Viet Nam and the oppression of people in the United States and around the world.
Anger at the United States government policies at home and abroad propelled this group forward. They were young, white middle class, intelligent, articulate and driven by what they saw was wrong with United States policies at home and abroad. To that end the group took to bombing government buildings, alerting the occupants in order to minimize casualties. Three members were killed while building a bomb, but no other live were lost, though millions of dollar worth of damage occurred, and a sense of fear was instilled in the American public. The group bombed the Capitol building and the Pentagon, broke Timothy Leary out of prison, and evaded one of the largest FBI manhunts in history.
Green’s documentary allows the Weathermen to speak for themselves, though not all their secrets are revealed; while members hint at additional actions and crimes including bank robberies they committed, they stick to the list of crimes with which they were charged.
Many of the charges against the Weathermen were dropped because the FBI acted illegally, and FBI Associate Director W. Mark Fell, Edward Miller and FBI acting Director Patrick Grey were charged with conspiracy to violate the constitutional rights of American citizens by searching their homes without warrants. Fell and Miller were eventually found guilty, and were then pardoned by Ronald Reagan. The trial of Fell and Miller and the end of COINTELPRO, the outrage over the FBI spying on citizens were radical and unanticipated outcomes of the Weather Underground’s actions.
When the Viet Nam War ended, it looked the Weather Underground had in some ways become unnecessary. With the charges dropped, many members re-emerged into society over the next five years and integrated themselves back into an above ground existence.
Today’s domestic terrorists also oppose the United States government and its policies: The Unabomber, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, Scott Roeder, unknown mailers of white powder; these are pretty solo acts, rather than organized groups. Domestic leftist terrorism and violent actions opposed to the current wars seem non-existent; though underground right wing militias with their potential for violent action are now on the radar.
Director Green – whose most recent documentary, Utopia in Four Movements, explores the idea of the utopian impulse (though our future looks pretty bleak) – has complied a thought provoking, honest and not entirely sympathetic look at these young revolutionaries who sought to create what they felt was an ideal society based in communist ideology, using bombing as their means to work towards that goal.