Declaring War: The Death of Fred Hampton

Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois sect of the Black Panther Party, was one of the most prominent leaders in the organization during the 60’s. Even for his young age, and lack of formal education Hampton was one of the most eloquent, and intelligent members of the party. Arguably he was the primary face of the party during the 60’s, his speeches being heard and interpreted, by members of the party throughout the nation, and by almost any individual involved in left social movements during the era. On the night of December 3rd 1969, Fred Hampton was drugged with a powerful barbiturate by undercover F.B.I informant William O’neal. Later that night, or actually morning at 4 a.m. the Chicago police raided Hampton’s apartment killing him, and several others in what was arguably a cold blooded unprovoked raid.

Fallowing Hampton’s death on May 21st 1970, the Weather Underground issued a declaration of war, against the United States, in outrage. Although Hampton was quite critical of the Undergrounds tactics and beliefs, this did not detour the organization to seek justice for this fellow revolutionary. Within the “Declaration of War”, presented by The Weather Underground, initially included the preparations for bombing the non-commissioned officers ball at Fort Dix New Jersey. This document is also the first time when the Weather first adopted there new title formally, The Weather Underground.

Also within this document The Weather stated that due the outrage another structure of American imperialism would be bombed, however no formal attack occurred till June  9th when the New York City police station was bombed.

The document ended with a quote by Bernadine Dohrn Stating, “We felt that the murder of Fred required us to be more grave, more serious, more determined to raise the stakes and not just be the white people who wrung their hands when black people were being murdered.”

Greenwich Village Townhouse Explosion

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.

Brinks Robbery: The End of The Underground

After the dissolution of much of the Weather Underground, remaining members David Gilbert, Samuel Brown, Judith Alice Clark, and Kathy Boudin, formed a new organization titled, ” The May 19th Communist Organization”. In coalition with Wayne Williams, and Donald Weems, two senior members of “The Black Liberation Army”, a plan was set in action to rob a Brinks Armored truck, in Nanuet New York, carrying 1.6 million dollars in order to fund further militant activism.

The plan went into action at 3:55 p.m. at the Nanuet Mall, on October 20th 1981. Two brinks security guards Peter Paige and Joe Trombino, had just begun to load bags of money taken from the mall that day into their armored brinks truck. As they where loading this is when the members of the “Black Liberation Army”, and the newly formed “May 19th Communist Organization”, emerged from a nearby van and began to fire on the two security guards with shotguns and M16. All for mentioned members where present for the shooting except for Kathy Boudin, and David Gilbert, who were waiting in a U-haul truck in a nearby parking lot. Paige was killed instantly at the scene, and Trombino was severely injured, but managed to survive.

After taking the money and fleeing the scene in the original van, the two groups reconvened, at the U-Haul truck, and loaded the van into the back, to drive off. A college student who lived across the street, however witnessed the exchange and warned local authorities. Four police officers later spotted the truck, and pulled it over off the entrance ramp of New York State route 59. The officers where then confused if they had apprehended the right vehicle, with Boudin and Gilbert in the drivers seats. Both of whom did not match the description of any of the original assailants.

Feigning innocence Boudin, and Gilbert where able to convinve the officers to lower their weapons. As they did the remaining six members of the robbery sprung from the back of the U-Haul firing into the 4 officers. Officer Waverly Brown was instantly shot multiple times and dies at the scene. Officer Edwin O’grady, who was also hit died soon after in the ambulance the the hospital. The other two officers where injured. At this point the members of the robbery retreated back into the armored truck and fled the scene of the second shoot-out.

While fleeing though one of the remaining officers, Brian Lennon, shot the speeding U-Haul, catching it’s tire and causing it to collide with his police cruiser.

With U-Haul totaled, the assailants fled the scene, some leaving in the van in the back, others attempting to steal vehicles from nearby motorists. Kathy Boudin, attempted to flee on foot. Soon after the van carrying Gilbert, and Clark, during the high speed, getaway collided with a guard rail, and the two where soon apprehended. Another “May 19th Communist”, and former “Weather Underground”, member Marylin Buck was traced back to her home using the license plate off the Van, and was soon arrested.  Boudin, Brown, and Weems, where soon arrested later. Finally in 1986, enough evidence was compiled to apprehend Williams.

Many have described the Brinks robbery as the last of the “Weather Underground”. The film “The Weather Underground”, describes the event as the unofficial end. The reasons behind this coincided with the fact that this was the resort of the few remaining members of the organization, to regain power. The event rested on the death of individuals, which earlier and more prominent tactics of the organization did not, causing the once semi-sound ideology of the movement to rupture. This break in ideology marked the end of the organization, and the beginning of new forms of activism.