‘Mother Country Radicals’ Spotlight Weather Underground

There are some satisfyingly in-depth accounts of the inner workings of the Weather Underground, a left-wing group active in the late 1960s and 1970s that claimed to fight US imperialist violence around the world through violence at home. This rarity is likely because major players stayed “underground” to avoid law enforcement. Fifty years later, a new podcast, Mother Country RadicalsAims to provide a more thorough history of the gang.

Weather was the child of two of the underground’s most notorious members, Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, one of whom is the host of this podcast. Zayd Ayers Dohrn thus has a uniquely intimate, and uniquely comfortable, view of their violent molestation. The podcast succeeds, although not in the way the creative team intended.

It is fair to say that the Weather Underground comrades were largely motivated by righteous anger. But the podcast does little to interrogate the most obvious elephant in the room: whether their theoretical ends justify their original means, which were, among other things, blowing up buildings. A botched explosion famously killed three of its own members, and host Dohrn admitted they weren’t victims in the traditional sense. But then you hear him interview his father, Bill, who laughs as he talks of Bernardine’s place on the FBI’s most wanted list as “at the top of his field.”

Former members described in detail humiliation sessions in which they would target a comrade, put him down and berate him for accepting his racist, sexist nature, sometimes filled with yelling and crying. We heard about uncomfortable intersections before there were words for it. Perhaps unintentionally, this podcast holds up a mirror to today’s social justice movement.