Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
Hundreds of educators have endorsed a letter opposing the “demonization” of Williams Ayers – the domestic terrorist who helped launch Barack Obama’s poliltical career, and whose relationship with the Democratic presidential candidate continues to be major controversy – arguing that frequent reports of his involvement in domestic bombings are “designed to intimidate free thinking and stifle critical dialogue.”
“We write to support our colleague Professor William Ayers, Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who is currently under determined and sustained political attack,” reads the letter, available for endorsement at www.supportbillayers.org.
“The current characterizations of Professor Ayers – ‘unrepentant terrorist,’ ‘lunatic leftist’ – are unrecognizable to those who know or work with him,” the letter continues.
Ayers, as WND has reported, was a key member of the radical Weathermen group – a band of revolutionaries who declared war on the U.S. government and the free enterprise system – during the 1970s and has written about his involvement in bombing the New York City police headquarters in 1970, the Capitol in 1971 and the Pentagon in 1972.
“Everything was absolutely ideal on the day I bombed the Pentagon,” Ayers wrote in his memoir, “Fugitive Days,” released the day before the Pentagon was struck again in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. “The sky was blue. The birds were singing. And the bastards were finally going to get what was coming to them.”
The New York Times reported that Ayers later clarified, saying he didn’t actually set the bomb, but was visualizing it to dramatize his participation in organizing the attack.
In a Times interview published Sept. 11, 2001, Ayers said, “I don’t regret setting bombs. I feel we didn’t do enough.” He posed for a photograph accompanying the piece that shows him stepping on an American flag.
The Times also reported that when asked if he would rule out planting another bomb someday, Ayers responded, ”I can’t imagine entirely dismissing the possibility.”
Nevertheless, more than 600 educators have endorsed the letter, which dismisses Ayers’ terrorist past, fails to mention his more recent statements and asserts, “What is most relevant now is his continued engagement in progressive causes, and his exemplary contribution – including publishing 16 books – to the field of education.”
Marvin Hoffman of the University of Chicago is one of letter’s endorsers. He told WND he has worked with Ayers for years and the bombings happened “in a time period difficult for any of us to reconstruct, a time of great anger during the Vietnam War when the government was unresponsive to the people.”
Ayers should be judged, Hoffman said, by his contributions to the community and to education in the present, not his activities in the past.
The educators’ letter also contends that teachers have a moral obligation to promote the free flow of ideas and that public criticism of Ayers serves as a warning that “anyone who voices perspectives and advances questions that challenge orthodoxy and political power may become a target.”
Reports that characterize Ayers as a leftist or a terrorist, the letter claims, represent a “crusade” to “crush” the “inevitable clash of ideas” that follows when challenges to the status quo present “the possibility of change.”
“All citizens, but particularly teachers and scholars, are called upon to challenge orthodoxy, dogma and mindless complacency, to be skeptical of authoritative claims, to interrogate and trouble the given and the taken-for-granted,” the letter states. “Without critical dialogue and dissent we would likely be burning witches and enslaving our fellow human beings to this day.”
The letter concludes: “We, the undersigned, stand on the side of education as an enterprise devoted to human inquiry, enlightenment and liberation. We oppose the demonization of Professor William Ayers.”
Though WND could not confirm the validity of every name on the list, several of those recorded as endorsing the letter match educators, such as Hoffman, serving in universities across the country.
Another name listed as endorsing the letter is Mike Klonsky, who, as WND reported, was a former student activist with Ayers in the 1960s and who runs an education organization founded by Ayers that received a substantial grant from a group directed by Sen. Barack Obama.
Ayers’ past activities have come under increased national scrutiny lately as his connections to Obama have been highlighted in the press. Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, referencing Ayers, said on the campaign trail this week Obama had been “palling around with terrorists who would target their own country.”