Weather Report

History Professor’s Book Investigates 1960s Radicals
by Liam Farrell | portrait by John T. Consoli '86, Weather Underground photos courtesy of Arthur Eckstein

It’s one of the most shocking stories of the 1960s and ’70s: A group of left-wing radicals bombs the State Department, the Capitol Building and the Pentagon but never serves a day behind bars.

In the new book “Bad Moon Rising: How the Weather Underground Beat the FBI and Lost the Revolution,” UMD history Professor Arthur Eckstein investigates the strange-but-true story of the organization called Weatherman and how the government under- estimated and then overestimated the group’s power, unleashing a campaign of illegal surveillance and break-ins that ultimately ensured the perpetrators’ freedom.

TERP: What attracted you to doing a book on this subject?

Eckstein: A friend of mine emailed me one day and asked if I would give a talk on conflict in 1960s left-wing activism. I thought that would be fun to revisit the past, my past. Weatherman is simply the most extreme version of us. I was a hippie, counterculture person.

TERP: Did conventional peaceful protests in the 1960s have to be unsuccessful for this group, with its agenda of violence and chaos, to become possible?

Eckstein: Weather veterans don’t believe the movement failed and neither do I. It succeeded culturally and even politically—Nixon withdrew from Vietnam, he ended the draft. One of the ways Nixon defeated the far left was by fulfilling their major demands so that people had no reason to support a radical position. Gay rights, black rights (very important to Weatherman), Hispanic rights, women’s rights—these were the ideals of the movement, and they have been to a large extent carried out.

TERP: By using illegal surveillance and searches, the FBI’s tactics meant they couldn’t prosecute Weatherman. Why did that happen?

Eckstein: The FBI had two conflicting tasks: gather evidence for criminal trials, but also be the domestic intelligence agency. Gathering intelligence doesn’t necessarily mean you can use that evidence in a trial if it is gained illegally. But the FBI never captured any of the Weathermen.

TERP: Was the decision to avoid human targets, after blundered attempts, the ultimate reason Weatherman members stayed free?

Eckstein: If they had gone ahead with lethal bombings—which they only discussed for 90 days early on—Nixon would have declared a national emergency, and the fbi had a list of 11,000 leftists they were ready to round up. They survived because people didn’t think that they were doing anything really wrong. Blowing up property is not the same as killing. Because they didn’t kill, and because the charges were dropped against them, when they decided to give up they were able to integrate back into society.

TERP: Why has Weatherman persisted in the popular imagination?

Eckstein: The FBI made Weatherman’s prestige. They set up famous wanted posters in every post office in the United States. Weather’s reputation is bigger than the facts. It’s theater, more than anything else.


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