On March 6, 1970 a group of The Weatherman was preparing a bomb intended for a police dance in Fort Dix , New Jersey when the wiring short secreted and killed three WU members. Theodore Gold (member of Columbia University student protests), Terry Robins (leader at Kent State rebellions) and Diana Oughton (Organizer of SDS 1969 national convention) were all killed, three youths that Mark Rudd notes as “beautiful” and “intelligent”. According to Mark Rudd, the Townhouse explosion was one of the biggest regrets of the Weathermen and is a source for much of the criticism they gain today. Rudd also on many occasions notes that this was an act of “doing the FBIs work for them” better than the FBI ever could have.
There were two survivors of the explosion, Boudin and Wilkerson were ID’d but unable to be charged with dynamite when successfully escaping to The Underground and put on the FBI’s most wanted list.
This explosion marks the turning point of the Weatherman living openly to the Weather Underground and false identities. Cathy Wilkerson wrote a book “Flying from the Sun” in which an excerpt is shown here: “The Explosion”. The explosion is an in depth description of what happened when the bomb went off, and Cathy’s first steps towards going Underground which started with a subway ticket. Wilkerson went Underground for 10 years but eventually surfaced and served her sentence. She now teaches how to teach math to new teachers. Despite her apologetic tone in her book for the Weatherman actions, she does not regret her own radicalism.
Fire bombing was a common occurrence at this time and dynamite was a new experiment, an interview with Cathy Wilkerson by NPR makes clear that there were differing views among the Weather Underground that included the organizational and tactical approach. While Wilkerson is noted as being more cautious in her organizing and pointed demonstrations however “…their more hot headed colleges in SDS had shown that their more impulsive destructive actions attracted big followings, they provoked the police and, in ensuing violence, made radicals out of moderates at least for a time.” This for Wilkerson was a way in which she had abandoned her own critical thinking and somewhat blindly followed the Weather Underground and their tactical actions.
This is also a period known for another change in tactics, they issued a communiqué 9 months after the explosion called “New Morning” that I talk about in the post “Communiqués and Publications“. This tactical change effected their targets. While the explosion that backfired was meant for Fort Dix, they realized that the fine line of perhaps “terrorism” was crossed. The Weather Underground were consciously retreating from this position in hopes that their reaction would be taken positively by the public.