Bill Ayers, the 1960s radical who went on to become a college professor and associate of President Obama, said Saturday the bombings he helped the Weather Underground carry out to protest the Vietnam War bear no resemblance to the deadly Boston Marathon attack - and glossed over the fact that his group's bombs killed three fellow terrorists and have been linked to the murder of a San Francisco police officer.
“How different is the shooting in Connecticut from shooting at a hunting range?” Ayers told a reporter who asked him to compare the incidents after Ayers spoke at a commemoration of the 1970 incident at Kent State University, where Ohio National Guard members killed four students during a protest. “Just because they use the same thing, there’s no relationship at all.”
Ayers went on to accuse Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who spent five years in a POW camp, of murdering civilians in the war, lament the deaths of two fellow Weather Underground members – skipping over the fact that they blew themselves up while trying to make bombs – and painted his actions as a heroic bid to end U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Ayers was the keynote speaker at the event, which drew an estimated 350 people on the university’s Commons, according to the Akron Beacon Journal. But it was after Ayers made his prepared remarks that he bristled over a possible comparison of terrorist acts separated by more than four decades.
“To conflate a group of fundamentalist people [in Boston] who are nihilistic in some way with a group of people who spent their lives trying to oppose the murder of 6,000 people a week … and still the killing went on. And still the killing went on. What would you have done?” Ayers said. “There’s no equivalence [with Boston]. Property damage. That’s what we did.”
John Murtagh, who was 9 years old when his father, a New York judge, presided over the trial of members of the Black Panther Party accused of a plot to bomb New York landmarks and department stores, blames the Weather Underground for setting three gasoline-filled firebombs at his boyhood home while the family slept. Two were placed at the front door and the third under the gas tank of the family car.
The bombs only managed to damage the car and destroy a snowman the little boy had built a few days earlier, but Murtagh, now an attorney, said the Weather Underground’s intentions were to kill, whether they succeeded or not.
“The notion that Bill Ayers and the Weather Underground were about property damage – like they were egging cars on Halloween -- is absurd,” Murtagh said. “The only difference between Bill Ayers and the Tsarnaev brothers is that [Ayers] was incompetent, apparently.”
It was not clear if Ayers sees the difference between bombings he and his associates carried out and the April 15 attack by brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as one of intent or outcome. Although no one was killed in the bombings of NYPD headquarters, the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol building between 1970 and 1972, Ayers’ then-girlfriend Diana Oughton, pal Terry Robbins and fellow Weather Underground member Ted Gold were all killed when a bomb they were making in a Greenwich Village townhouse exploded. That bomb, which was packed with nails similar to the pressure cooker bombs used to kill three and injure more than 200 at the Boston Marathon, was intended for use on newly drafted soldiers at Fort Dix, according to authorities.
“No one knows for sure but I think they were. And had they carried it out it would have been a catastrophe,” Ayers said. “But they didn’t and it didn’t happen. But what did happen is, on that same day John McCain murdered civilians. Do we have any responsibility for that? Should there be any reconciliation for that? Should he tell the truth about it?”
Brian Rogers, communications director for McCain, the five-term senator and former Navy aviator who spent more than half a decade as a prisoner of war after being shot down over Vietnam, refused to respond to Ayers’ comments.
“Mr. Ayers’ latest rant is beneath contempt or comment,” Rogers told FoxNews.com.
Larry Grathwohl, the FBI informant who infiltrated the terrorist group and later wrote the 1976 book “Bringing Down America,” said he Ayers told him personally that fellow Weather Underground member and future wife Bernadine Dohrn set the bomb that killed San Francisco Park Police Sgt. Brian McDonnell in 1970.
“Bill Ayers told me in Buffalo that we weren’t doing enough bombings and strategic sabotages,” Grathwohl told FoxNews.com. “He complained that it was a sad situation when [Dohrn] had to plan and place the bomb at the San Francisco Park Police station.”
Grathwohl said the bomb used in San Francisco and the ones that killed the three Weather Underground members when it exploded prematurely were all packed with roofing nails and fence staples and designed to kill as many people as possible.
Ayers retired in 2010 from his post as a professor of education at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Prior to his career in academia, he was a fugitive for years for his role with the Weather Underground until surrendering in 1980. Charges against him were dropped because of government misconduct. His ties to President Obama have been in dispute since becoming a campaign issue during the 2008 presidential race, though it is known he served with Obama on a Chicago charity's board.